Prayer, praise, Scripture and a sense of being family help Samaritan’s Purse volunteers remain calm as more storms rage in Oklahoma
By Nikki Roberti Miller, who was among the Samaritan’s Purse staff and volunteers who rode out the dangerous storms that hit Oklahoma Friday night
If you ever want to get to know random strangers really well, stuff a bunch of them in an underground bunker as impending doom hammers above you with hail, thunder, and of course the winds of a nearby tornado.
Last night, I got to know the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers in Shawnee, Oklahoma, really well when another round of deadly storms hit the area.
Shawnee volunteers headed from our host church to safety before sirens even sounded because Samaritan’s Purse leadership wanted to be extra sure we’d all be safe. So, we headed to a day-care center that had offered us use of their multiple underground bunkers.
At first, I didn’t know what to do. I had spent the past couple of days in Moore and had driven up to Shawnee just for the day. I hardly knew anyone and definitely didn’t know where the safe house was located. As the crowd of volunteers swiftly made their way to their cars to drive to the day care, I decided I’d pick the nicest looking lady I could find and ask for a ride.
I picked Vicki, a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association chaplain and my new best friend. As it turns out, she and her husband are both from my childhood church in Florida, Calvary Chapel of Melbourne. Vicki said she’d adopt me, and called me her daughter the whole night. The entire time this emergency was happening, she and her husband kept an eye out for me. By the way, did I mention my own mother’s name is actually Vickie?
Divine appointment? I think so. I mean, seriously. What are the odds of meeting someone from your childhood church in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a storm? Here I was, in rural Oklahoma, and God sent me a piece of home for some extra comfort.
We all stood in groups of 25 outside the bunkers, mixed with local folk also waiting to see if and when we’d need to take cover. Lightning was everywhere around us, and the clouds were rolling in quickly with a shade of black I had never seen before.
And yet, no one was panicking.
Instead, they prayed. Instead, they sang hymns. There was no fear.
After the group had finished praying together and reciting scripture that claimed God’s promises of refuge and strength, the siren sounded. My mind raced back to a volunteer at the Moore base who admitted to the entire group at share time how scared he was at the thought of hearing the siren for the first time. Little did he know, he’d hear that dreaded sound multiple times this week. And even in that moment as we stood outside the bunkers in Shawnee, Moore was facing more tornadoes themselves.
This man was from Maine, and like me, was not used to tornadoes. But although he admitted his fears, he also mentioned a verse two friends shared with him on separate occasions.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9.
A lot of people only serve others when it’s convenient. And I guess, to some extent, I’ve always believed that to be true for most people.
But if I learned one thing this night, it’s that this mindset is not the case for Samaritan’s Purse volunteers at all.
That man from Maine still came despite his fear. All the volunteers around me still came despite the forecasts. And they were happy to be here. They were happy to help. They wouldn’t trade this terrifying situation for the world because they were confident in their calling to be in Oklahoma at this time.
When we all crammed into those bunkers and closed the doors, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a tad bit claustrophobic. Sweat poured down everyone’s faces and necks. And the smell was delightful in the we-unfortunately-ate-beans-for-dinner-tonight sort of way.
But when the little local boy in front of me started complaining about how his biggest worry was the possibility of his baseball game being cancelled tomorrow, I just had to smile. Not even the kid was worried.
Hail started beating down on the cellar roof and winds definitely picked up.
“You know, if I wasn’t a Christian, I’d be terrified,” Tony McNeil, the program manager and fearless leader, laughed to everyone with a smile. “But we have Jesus so we have no reason to fear.”
Everyone cracked jokes in the bunker, until the heat set in. Water was hurriedly passed around just in case. One lady nearly fainted, but by God’s great planning she was standing next to a nurse, so she was completely taken care of.
When we got the all clear via phone (yes, these awesome bunkers had cell reception), we ran through the rain into the main building. I have never seen so much lightning in my life. Soaking wet, we looked out the window of the front of the building and to our horror, live power lines had fallen onto our cars and there was a fire not that far from them.
And still, no one panicked. In fact, the fire went out right away. Firemen came and took care of us. God was in control the whole time.
After waiting out the worst of the storm, the day care offered their vans to shuttle us all back to the base church because we couldn’t approach our cars due to the live wires. When we got here, people started asking me the question I was already thinking.
“So kid, what are you going to do?”
I had only driven up to Shawnee for the day. My plan was to leave in the early afternoon to miss the bad weather, but after seeing the amazing outreach going on in Shawnee, I felt really drawn to stay until after dinner to find out more. I’m very glad for that impulse too, by the way, because otherwise I would have been caught on the highway during the terrible storm.
But now, I didn’t have a change of clothes or a sleeping bag or even a toothbrush.
Like they had planned for me to come, a woman said there was an extra air mattress and sleeping bag already waiting for me.
Samaritan’s Purse volunteers are really special people. They come from all over the country, dropping whatever they’re doing, to serve others like Jesus would—whether it’s convenient or not.
As the woman led me up the stairs to the bed she made for me, my new friend Vicki hollered after us, “Hey! Take care of my daughter.”
Cram inside a bunker with a group of strangers, and pretty soon you’ll realize that none of them are strangers at all.
I wrote about our volunteers being like each other’s family when I covered my first disaster for Samaritan’s Purse in February. Now I know what it feels like to be part of that family. This time I was adopted.