While the physical address of the Eastlake Cumberland Presbyterian Church is Oklahoma City we are located within a mile of the city boundaries of Moore and OKC. Since Oklahoma City is over 600 square miles, it is often easier to tell folks you live near Moore when describing your residence.
Eastlake Church is no stranger to tornadoes but you will know God’s hand is in the picture when you realize that tornadoes have crossed on the north side of our street (before the church was built), once hopped over the church before continuing its path of destruction in Moore in 2003 and recently killed 23 people, injured 377 and killed dozens of horses at the Orr Family Farm which abuts the south end of our 20 acre lot.
Losses of dear children and those that care for them are so unsettling that they still bring tears to my eyes as I write this six weeks after the event. The eary sound of tornado sirens gave 16 minutes of warning of the advancing storm but even that is not always enough to allow for proper sheltering. There was so much damage (nearly $5 billion dollars) that is has taken more than a month to asses the impact and the process is ongoing. Oklahoma Emergency Management now says that 1,307 homes were destroyed and 1,506 homes damaged. This includes a second EF-5 tornado that threatened us just over a week later on 31 May. Tornado winds combined with record setting rains (11 inches in one night) to wipe out anything that might have remained in the disaster zone.
With power out in the surrounding neighborhood, at 4 o’clock on a Monday afternoon, I see Pastor Leslie standing on the front porch of the church watching the standstill traffic and hundreds of emergency vehicles try to make their way into the neighborhoods. We hadn’t yet learned of the destruction of two elementary schools with many of their children still sheltering inside. I walked with a lady for two miles as she tried to get the Briarwood School to check on her daughter. You can only imagine the pace at which we were “walking” trying to plot a path from street to sidewalk, stepping over downed power lines, noticing the smell of natural gas and smoke from fires and hearing water spewing from places where there were once houses. Cell phones were not working and hard wired telephone service was disrupted by the loss of hundreds of utility poles. I was focused on finding out the condition of my family who were all sheltering at home.
Meanwhile the news spreads rapidly in Oklahoma. First responders are called from all over the state to provide mutual aid and they drive for hours to get to Moore. The National Guard is activated as their vehicles are some of the few that can navigate through the disaster. Bobby Kammerer, Marlow Cumberland Presbyterian Church calls Pastor Leslie to check on our status and realizes he can help by bringing a generator to Moore. Not one of those little generators to light up a bulb and a refrigerator but rather a 60,000 watt generator that can light up and air condition a whole church. Eastlake church is now the only beacon of light within many square miles of Moore Oklahoma. People see the light and offers of assistance on our sign by Highway 37 (we estimate that 20,000 people that see our church sign every day). The sign has made an impact – Accepting Donations, Providing Assistance!
Bobby arrives with a generator from 80 miles away in a matter of hours but how do you wire something like that to a church? God will provide. A local AT&T crew asks if they can set up a portable cell tower iin our parking lot. We welcome them and they ask how they can help? They have brought their own generator with them and offer to hook ours up to the church. Power for air conditioning, lights and communications is a life saver.
The Red Cross provides 30 cots so we can house temporary work crews arriving from all over the country. Ladies of the church prepare meals for the volunteer crews, sort, fold, stack, unload, clean donations. Many thousands of dollars in donations arrive and we try to figure out how to discern need for cash versus need for supplies. This separate disaster fund still holds $10,000. Feed The Children, based in Oklahoma City sends truckloads of supplies.
We are hosting one group, Moore Books for Moore Kids, in their efforts to collect and distribute 100,000 books to the 75 teachers who lost everything at our two elementary schools. Each teacher will walk out with boxes of books, gift cards, and supplies on Jul 13th.
It is now July 4th and we are still providing assistance. Normal power has been restored, we have seen many more than 5,000 people come to the church to receive over 25 tons of food, toys, cleaning supplies, gift cards, clothing. One lady came in wanting nothing more than a hug and to have someone to listen to her story. New faces are appearing regularly in Sunday worship. There are 50,000 people in Moore and each one of them has been directly impacted by this disaster and have a story to tell.
FEMA stops by often to see how we are doing and how they can help. The civil government knows there is no way they can handle a disaster like this without volunteers and the community of faith. That will be true anywhere you go in the country but no more than in a place that is Oklahoma Strong.
It is often through struggles like this disaster that God is able to use our hands and hearts to provide comfort and relief in times of need.