An Arkansas couple was nearly killed during a 2014 tornado. Samaritan’s Purse recently built them a new home and God gave them a fresh start in life.
It was a loving embrace Bruce and Lori Johnson will never forget. Miraculously, it wasn’t their last.
With sirens wailing in the background as a monstrous tornado approached their mobile home in central Arkansas at around 7:30 p.m., April 27, 2014, the couple knew they had just a spilt second to say “I love you.”
“When we saw the first sign of the tornado, we had only enough time to grab each other and say we loved each other,” Bruce said. “Then the funnel cloud touched down maybe 80 feet behind our trailer.”
They remember nothing else.
“We had only enough time to grab each other and say we loved each other.”
The 200-mile-per-hour winds shredded the trailer. Lori was lifted into the air and catapulted a quarter mile away. Neighbors found Bruce some 200 feet from where their trailer once stood. Each sustained multiple lacerations and fractures as well as serious head injuries. Both were in medically induced comas for a month afterward.
That tornado killed 16 people in Faulkner County and destroyed dozens of homes. It was touch and go for a while for the Johnsons. At the hospital, Lori woke first. She kept asking medical personnel if Bruce was alive but couldn’t recall from day to day their reassurances that he was. She then found out he was right next door but was strapped down because he had been violent and trying to pull out his IVs.
“He was trying to find me unconsciously,” Lori said. “They normally didn’t let two people per room, but my family and I insisted that they let me stay with him, and if they didn’t I was going to crawl into his room even though I had two broken legs.”
The hospital permitted that move and what a turnaround. “Bruce woke up and I asked him ‘Do you know who I am?’ He smiled real big, and he never tried to get out of his bed again or pull his IV out.”
Bruce acknowledged the power of his wife’s presence. “When I woke up and saw her smiling, they said my attitude changed and they had no more problems with me,” he explained.
Next Steps Lead to Samaritan’s Purse
Both stayed in the hospital for about three months. While Bruce returned to be with family, Lori needed to stay in a nursing home for further rehabilitation. Eventually she was discharged to rejoin Bruce and the capable and loving care of family—especially that of 21-year-old daughter Jana.
But what about a permanent home that Bruce and Lori could call their own?
That’s where Samaritan’s Purse intersects with the couple. For the past year in Vilonia—a town of about 4,000 people east of Conway and north of Little Rock that was especially devastated by the tornado—541 volunteers from 31 states and Ontario, Canada, logged more than 24,275 hours to construct nine new homes.
Each has a FEMA-approved safe room that doubles as their bathroom/laundry room. Our homes are complete with appliances, ceiling fans, landscaping, a driveway, and a deck on the back.
The house Samaritan’s Purse built for Bruce and Lori is a 1,080-square-foot, two-bedroom home. It’s located about 10 miles from where their mobile home sat. After an emotional dedication ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 25, the keys were handed over to the couple and they moved in.
Our ninth and final home will be dedicated Wednesday, March 2.
God Bless This Home
“As many of these rebuilds that I’ve had the privilege to do, I’m still amazed at the joy that God gives each homeowner,” said Andy Beauchamp, Samaritan’s Purse program manager overseeing the Arkansas rebuild project. “It was our honor to share Jesus’ love with Bruce and Lori and that we could help get them back on their feet by providing them a place to live.”
Bruce and Lori are both so thankful—to God, to their family and friends and to our volunteers.
“It was very overwhelming,” Lori said of the dedication ceremony. “I’m still rejoicing. Bruce and me said a prayer as we walked in the front door, and the first thing I hung on my porch was a sign ‘God bless this home.’ I know He will.”
Bruce is astonished that people who don’t know him and his wife of 27 years would invest in their lives. “Samaritan’s Purse has helped so many people around the world, so for them to come and help us, it had me in tears.”
The 48-year-old said this new home not only brings “stability and security,” it represents something greater, something of eternal value that symbolizes God’s victory at the end of a fiery personal trial.
“The tornado was very violent to me, but the abuse of my former drug lifestyle was even more destructive to me,” Bruce said. “I have a hard time talking about my past because I’m ashamed of it. But I know God’s forgiven me, and I praise the Lord He’s allowed me to see another day.
“Lori and I have lost a lot, but we’ve gained so much more,” he added. “The love of God, that’s what we’ve gained. God used that tornado to take some things from me I had been trying to get rid of. We see how powerful God is, and now we want to take as many people with us to heaven as we can.”