Building Up Selma

January 29, 2024 • United States

Samaritan’s Purse is building new homes and repairing badly damaged ones in Alabama following a devastating tornado last January.

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“Nobody ever told us it was coming,” Lewis Sharpe, 49, said, referring to the powerful EF2 tornado that ripped through historic Selma, Alabama, on Jan. 12, 2023. The twister destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other structures. “When the tornado warning came on, it was already on the ground. People were hollering and screaming. I went out the door and looked up and there it was.”

Lewis Sharpe's home destroyed when a deadly tornado ripped through Selma, Alabama, last year.

Lewis Sharpe’s home was destroyed when a deadly tornado ripped through Selma, Alabama, last January.

The strong, swirling winds picked Lewis up and threw him inside the house and slammed him against a wall. Bricks from a nearby church and other buildings were shooting through the sheetrock like bullets. He crawled to the bathroom and held tight to a handrail.

“I just kept saying to God that I wasn’t ready to go,” Lewis said. “My feet were dangling in the air. The tornado peeled the roof off the house like it was piece of paper.”

“I just kept saying to God that I wasn’t ready to go.”

Lewis’ house was totally destroyed, along with all of his possessions. What the twister didn’t smash, the pounding rain ruined. He was left with nothing and nowhere to go. For the past year, he’s lived on the streets or in abandoned houses or with anyone who would take him in.

Now Lewis is smiling as he celebrates his his new kitchen, especially the kitchen.  He really enjoys cooking and is really looking forward his new space and appliances to prepare meals.

Now Lewis is smiling as he celebrates his his new home, especially the kitchen. He really enjoys cooking and is looking forward his new space and appliances to prepare meals.

“This was just about the worst time I ever had in my life,” Lewis said. “Just walking these streets. You can’t eat what you want to eat. You wear the same clothes for three or four months. Staying house to house and walking on eggshells. It’s not good when you don’t have your own place.”

But on Jan. 22 of this year all that changed. Lewis was presented with the keys to a new, completely furnished, two-bedroom home, built by Samaritan’s Purse volunteers on the site where his previous house stood. Dozens from the community and several who helped with construction attended a special dedication ceremony.

Paid in Full

Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries at Samaritan’s Purse, was on hand for the dedication and presented Lewis with a framed bill showing that everything was paid in full—just like our sin debt has been fully paid by Jesus, he explained.

Our rebuild team celebrated Lewis Sharpe's new home provided by Samaritan's Purse.

Our rebuild team celebrated with Lewis and all that God has done in Selma through our rebuild teams.

“The worst thing we could do is build you this temporary home and then one day you go stand before the Lord and not have a permanent home for eternity,” Harrison said. “Life is short. Eternity is going to be forever. Let this be a reminder that this is how much God loves you. He sent His people to represent Him and give you this home.”

“When the storm hit me, it just shut me down. Now, I have a new home and a new life.”

Lewis was also presented with a Billy Graham Study Bible that was signed by Samaritan’s Purse volunteers and staff. His new home was then dedicated to God in prayer.

Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries at Samaritan's Purse, encourages Lewis and his wife to enjoy the riches of Scripture.

Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries at Samaritan’s Purse, encourages Lewis to enjoy the riches of Scripture as they continue to rebuild their lives again.

“When the storm hit me, it just shut me down,” Lewis said. “Now, I have a new home and a new life. It’s bringing me back hope. Nobody ever did nothing for me like this. I’m back on my feet again. I thank all of you.”

Helping a Civil Rights Leader

Lewis’ house is one of 10 new homes that Samaritan’s Purse is building in Selma. We also are making major repairs to 12 other houses that were severely damaged in the storm. All of our work should be completed sometime in February 2024.

Rev. Benny Tucker served as a body guard for Dr. Martin Luther King during his 1965 year-long stay in Selma. Rev. Tucker is pictured in the top left of his treasured photograph.

Rev. Benny Tucker served as a body guard for Dr. Martin Luther King during his time in Selma. Rev. Tucker is pictured in the top left of his treasured photograph.

One of the damaged houses belongs to Rev. Benny Tucker, 83, who lives across the road from Lewis. His home is known locally as the Freedom House because many civil rights leaders met and stayed there during the mid-1960s when they were in Selma pushing to get African Americans the right to vote. Tucker served as a bodyguard for Martin Luther King Jr. whenever he would visit the area. And he was with King in March 1965 as the tragic events unfolded on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Hundreds of demonstrators attempted to march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery and were beaten back by police with billy clubs and tear gas.

“When I learned that Samaritan’s Purse was going to repair my home, I said, ‘Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!’”

Tucker, who started preaching when he was 19, bought the house in 1985. When the tornado barreled through, he was sitting downtown in his car. “It shook and shook and shook it,” he said. When he later drove down his street, he saw that his house had been badly battered by the storm. He didn’t know what he was going to do, so he prayed that someone would help him.

“When I learned that Samaritan’s Purse was going to repair my home, I said, ‘Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!’ You know, God doesn’t have hands and feet. He uses our hands and feet to help others and uplift His kingdom. The work that these volunteers have done has been excellent. They are surely blessed by the Holy Spirit.”

Shouting for Joy

A few streets over from Lewis and Benny, Inetta Taylor, 44, and her mother, Alene Scott, 79, are watching as the finishing touches are put on their new home, made possible by generous donors to Samaritan’s Purse.

Inetta Taylor and her mother, Alene Scott, watch as the finishing touches are put on their new home.

Inetta Taylor and her mother, Alene Scott, watch as the finishing touches are put on their new home.

“The tornado destroyed both of our houses, which were side by side,” Inetta said. “My roof was completely off. The house was twisted off the foundation. My mom’s house was caved in. The ceiling and the roof were gone. You could see the sky from inside.”

Inetta was at work when the twister came, but Alene was home sitting on a couch. She prayed that God would cover her. “And He did,” she said. She received a few scratches on her face from flying glass, but was otherwise unharmed.

Both of their homes were destroyed in the January 2023 tornado.

Both of their homes were destroyed in the January 2023 tornado.

Their new house will be completed soon. And they can’t wait to move in.

“I’m going to shout for joy!” Alene said, when she enters her new home. “I thank God that He took care of us.” Inetta agreed. “We’re truly blessed. Samaritan’s Purse is a Godsend. Keep on doing what the Lord would have you do. We’re so grateful.”

Giving God the Glory

Back at Lewis’ house, the dedication ceremony was concluding. Everyone in attendance joined in singing the uplifting Fanny Crosby hymn, “To God Be the Glory, Great Things He Hath Done.”

“Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice;
Oh, come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory; great things He hath done.’’

Amen!

Our teams joined the Lewises in celebration and worship for what God has done in their lives.

Our teams joined the Lewises in celebration and worship for what God has done in their lives.

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U.S. Disaster Relief Samaritan's Purse mobilizes and equips thousands of volunteers to provide emergency aid to U.S. victims of wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In the aftermath of major storms, we often stay behind to rebuild houses for people with nowhere else to turn for help.

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