Anniversaries are usually times of joy and celebration. Wedding anniversaries are certainly that kind of experience. Anniversaries for church families are a time to celebrate their histories and to praise the Lord for His blessings upon them.
Some anniversaries are a time of somber reflections and sad memories. The anniversary of the passing of a loved one is an occasion that causes a degree of grief. It causes us to remember our loss.
Every year since September 11, 2001, our nation has observed a special time to remember the attack on American soil by terrorists. The deaths of almost 3,000 people are a reminder that our nation is vulnerable to wartime-like attacks.
On April 27, 2011, Alabama had an outbreak of at least 62 separate tornados which raged like angry beasts across our state impacting more than 40 counties and killing 238 people. The devastation left in the wake of these tornados was breathtaking. Whole communities were left destroyed like they had been carpet-bombed in a war. Church facilities were left in shambles as well. Thousands of people were without homes and such basic necessities as food and water.
Disaster Relief workers from 12 states in the SBC flooded into Alabama to help our teams of volunteers do what they do best in such times of need. When many other groups had left the area, the Yellow Shirt Army was still hard at work making a difference in people’s lives.
From my numerous travels across the state during that time, I have three reflections to share with you. You could make your own list of remembrances, but for me these three thoughts stand out as signposts from what happened ten years ago.
This is a time to remember the trauma we experienced.
People died. Others were injured. Communities were hit harder than any of us can describe. Churches were meeting in the open air because their facilities were condemned.
Each life was important. For ten years now, people have been absent from the dinner table or at the church where they worshipped. Injured people have sought to recover, and communities as well as churches have rebuilt.
My recollections are of seeing people who were so stunned by the damage and loss of life that they could not even speak and, when they did, more than a few broke down and cried. I tried my best to be a voice of encouragement, but I too felt the trauma which impacted my beloved state. I had my own times of weeping.
This was a time to remember the testing we encountered.
I can recall how people talked about the experience as testing their resilience and strength. Several pastors indicated to me that now they would find out what we as people are made of in terms of courage and commitment.
I remember vividly being in a room late one night after seeing all the destruction and hearing the news from so many people, including pastors, and thinking to myself, “How are we going to rebuild? Do we have the resources to build back these churches and help these communities?”
In a matter of days, not just weeks, funds came from Alabama Baptists and well beyond our borders to help in the recovery from this historic tornado outbreak. In a brief period of time, the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions had distributed $3.5 million to the impacted areas.
Yes, we were tested. Yes, this was a difficult time for us. However, this horrific experience brought the best out in us. Alabama Baptists and our fellow Southern Baptists rose to the occasion in a way which in time would be astounding to us all.
This is a time to remember the trusting we expressed.
Life is filled with trauma and testing, but often those times become a time of trusting. This was the case during that eventful period ten years ago.
People often expressed more hope than ever before. They talked of trusting God in times of trouble. They trusted each other in ways never realized in the past.
For me, I have always loved the Psalms. All of the Bible speaks to us, but the Psalms speak for us. In troubling times, we can be almost speechless. I can recall over and over reading Psalm 46. I do remember thanking God for being our “refuge and strength, a very present help” in time of need.
What was one of our darkest hours in our history may well have been one of our finest hours in Christian ministry. I have never seen the people of Alabama work together any better than after that outbreak of tornados.
Let’s take time to remember the trauma we experienced. It was the worst weather we have had in recorded history. Let’s take time to remember the testing we encountered. We came together like never before as a state. Let’s remember the time of trusting we expressed. We learned to trust in God. We learned to lean on Jesus anew and afresh. All of this is worth remembering.