Finding Healing in the Heartland

June 5, 2013 • United States

Oklahoma homeowners express gratitude for Samaritan’s Purse volunteers helping in the aftermath of the deadly storms

Janay Roberts stood in a pile of rubble. Around her were the remnants of where her home of three and a half years once stood. Her neighbors’ houses were also completely destroyed in the EF-5 tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20.

In the all-too-close distance, she could see Plaza Towers Elementary, the school where seven children died when it that took a direct hit from the tornado.

GiveDark clouds were beginning to roll in as Janay quickly dug through the remains of her home, searching for her family’s personal belongings—specifically handwritten songs by one of her young daughters.

HELPING STORM VICTIMS IN OKLAHOMA: Samaritan’s Purse is responding to devastating tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area.

PHOTO GALLERY: With hammers, tarp, chainsaws, rakes, Bibles, prayer, and willing hearts, volunteers are helping people recover.

The day of the tornado, she knew in her gut she needed to pull her daughters, ages 10 and 13, out of school. She was able to get them out 20 minutes before the facility went into lockdown. With their two dogs in tow, they climbed into a neighbor’s storm cellar and rode out the storm.

Janay said it felt like an earthquake. So much debris landed on the cellar door that it took five men to help free the people trapped inside.

When they emerged, everything was gone. Their neighborhood was completely wiped out.

A week later, police were still making their rounds in neighborhoods as the smell of rotting food abandoned in damaged refrigerators wafted through the air in between gusts of wind. People tended to their homes the best they could—some with tears in their eyes and others with a chilling numbness on their faces.

Oklahoma-tornado-response-Samaritan's-Purse-helping-homeowners-Janay“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster,” Janay said through a smile and tired eyes, though it was evident that the phrase was an understatement to what she had experienced the last week.

“But God has made a disaster into an overwhelming blessing,” Janay continued as Samaritan’s Purse volunteers in orange T-shirts searched with her through the rubble. “We look back day to day, and every day God has proven Himself further.”

The People in Orange

Within 24 hours after the storm, Samaritan’s Purse was on the ground in Oklahoma to help tornado victims in both Moore and nearby Shawnee, which was hit by a twister the day before. Volunteers are assisting homeowners by searching for valuables, clearing debris, cutting trees, and tarping roofs.

Oklahoma-tornado-response-Samaritan's-Purse-helping-homeowners-debrisFor many like Janay, all that can be done is sift through what’s left to find keepsakes and shovel the rest of the debris to the street corner.

Steve Gerberth had lived in his house for 15 years. During the storm, it was ripped in half with pieces of plywood and insulation strewn everywhere. He said at first he was overwhelmed, but now he feels beyond blessed by Samaritan’s Purse assistance.

“When the city said they wanted everything to the curb, I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I was like, ‘That’s impossible.’ It was yet another hurdle I’d have to go through. But the people in orange took care of it for me.”

Samaritan’s Purse volunteers have come from all over the country, and even the world with one woman coming all the way from Australia, to help in Oklahoma.

When Moore resident Bob Brady first saw the sea of volunteers clad in their brightly colored T-shirts, he thought they were workers from the city. But when he realized they were ordinary people doing what they could to help complete strangers, he got an entirely new impression.

“I didn’t know angels wore orange shirts,” he said. “I just can’t believe there’s an organized crew going house to house offering to do things. I cannot express my gratitude enough to Samaritan’s Purse.”

Oklahoma-tornado-response-Samaritan's-Purse-helping-homeowners-pressure-washBob’s house sustained minimal damage. However, there was still a lot of debris in and the house was covered in dirt and mud from the high winds. Originally, Bob and his wife, Irla had refused help because they knew others needed it more than they did, but Samaritan’s Purse volunteers still offered to pressure wash their house for them.

The couple, who had both just retired that month and were tight on money, were touched.

“When I see orange shirts working on washing my house, I’m amazed,” Bob said. “There’s volunteers from Wisconsin and Georgia. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought that I’d have volunteers pressure washing my house right now.”

Faithfulness and Unfailing Love

Samaritan’s Purse volunteers also did a small job for Nancy Schlehuber, a homeowner whose house of 16 years suffered roof damage but remained intact.

Oklahoma-tornado-response-Samaritan's-Purse-roofing-1355US-E-192Her son-in-law had attached a tarp to the roof to prevent leaks if more foul weather came. But when Samaritan’s Purse offered to help, she was excited to receive a more professional job on such an important part of her house.

“These people are more experienced, so I feel a little better now that they’ve worked on the tarp too,” she said. “I could have never done that by myself. I haven’t seen anything like this. I’ve seen tragedy, but to see this much goodwill for other people? It’s just amazing.”

The work Samaritan’s Purse volunteers are doing to help troubled homeowners goes beyond the rubble. It’s more than just pressure washing a house or tarping a roof. Volunteers care about each victim’s emotional and spiritual state too, offering to pray at every chance and always presenting the homeowners with a Bible at the end of each job.

Oklahoma-tornado-response-Samaritan's-Purse-helping-homeowners-prayerThe volunteers who acted as the hands and feet of Christ, who prayed, and who presented the Bible were evidence of God’s care after the storm.

“It’s just proven His faithfulness and His protection and unfailing love,” Janay said. “There really are no words.”

Nancy also saw Christ at work as she watched volunteers finish tarping her roof and cleaning up her yard.

“I think I’m going to have more faith in God now,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “He was watching over me. It’s a miracle.”

U.S. Disaster Relief Samaritan's Purse mobilizes and equips thousands of disaster relief 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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