On August 21, 2011 at roughly 4pm an F3 tornado struck the town of Goderich. Within a matter of 15 seconds the beautiful town in which I minister, work, and live was transformed. Many people that I know lost their homes, businesses, and employment. The streets that used to be lined with large, mature trees were empty and bare. Worst of all was the toll it took on the people of my town. The pain, suffering, and agony could be seen in their eyes and on their faces. I mourned and cried over the destruction and loss that took place on that Sunday afternoon.
But in the aftermath of the F3 tornado we as a church had the opportunity to minister for Jesus to the people of our town. In partnership with the Salvation Army and other churches we cooked 500 supper meals a day for the displaced and first responders. Our sanctuary was transformed into a food distribution center which made it impossible for us hold formal worship services for two weeks. As the chairman of the Goderich ministerial, I initiated and organized with our church’s worship band a community wide worship service in which all the churches participated. We helped people in our community clean up the debris from their yards. Ministry just seemed to happen in the days following the tornado.
As I looked back on this very difficult time in our town I come away with a number of important lessons.
First, I learned that light shines in the darkness. In the weeks that followed the tornado I saw how goodness was abundant. The amount of help, compassion, and generosity was a light that was brighter than all the darkness. Once again I was shown how God can use all people, both Christian and non-Christians, to bring light and hope in the midst of tragedy.
Second, I learned to say what Isaiah said “Here I am, send me.” Work needed to be done. Food needed to be cooked. Lawns needed to be cleaned up. Food needed to be distributed. It was interesting that decisions that might have taken weeks to make now could be made in a few seconds. When God calls us all we can do is say “Here I am God, use me.”
Thirdly, I learned that the power of the gospel is seen more in the things we do than the words we say. Saint Francis once stated “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” The gospel message has to become incarnate in order for it to make sense to the people of our world. People in our community were watching us and through our deeds they were coming to see Jesus.
Finally I learned that when local churches come together the glory of Jesus Christ is seen. So often we don’t work closely with other churches in our towns. We put up barriers because of our theological differences. This however doesn’t make sense to many people in our communities. After our combined worship service I heard more positive comments about the church then I have in all my years in ministry. People saw us working together and this became a powerful witness. It reminds me of Jesus’ prayer: “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (John 17:22 NLT)