'Who Am I Trusting?'
August 1, 2003 - The ill wind that blew into Moore, Okla., on the evening of May 8 was eerily and sickeningly familiar. The F3 tornado that screamed through this small community on the southwestern outskirts of Oklahoma City followed a track almost identical to the even more vicious F5 tornado that had devastated Moore four years earlier.
by Jim Dailey
Yet the aftermath of this most recent destruction has spawned far more stories of faith and thankfulness than of bitterness and anger, as victims work to rebuild battered homes, churches and businesses.
Jerry Stanislav and his wife, Binnie, have lived in Moore since l976. Their home, which was missed by only a few blocks in the 1999 storm, was destroyed in the May 8 whirlwind, but Stanislav isn't nursing any grudges. "The Lord has really showed me that there is more to life than stuff," he said. "God has provided for me a relationship with Jesus Christ, and that's something no storm can ever take away."
Stanislav came to Christ at age 34 in Minneapolis, Minn., and served as counselor in Billy Graham's 1973 Crusade there. He worked in a similar capacity during Mr. Graham's 1983 Oklahoma City Crusade. This year, in preparation for Mission Oklahoma City, he handed out more than 10,000 door hangers inviting Moore residents to the Mission.
On May 8, Stanislav closed the doors to his welding shop at 4:45 p.m. after he heard reports that the tornado was barreling down on Moore. His wife and their 3-year-old grandson had taken refuge in a broom closet in their home. Traveling as fast as he could down Interstate 35, Stanislav saw the ominous storm headed straight for his residence.
"I began to pray as I sat in the car," he recalled. "I found out later that Binnie was praying in the closet for me. I was able to get about three-quarters of a block away from our house before I just jumped out of the car and ran. The roof was blown away. Debris was everywhere. Within a few seconds I saw Binnie open the front door with our grandson in her arms. They were OK."
The Reverend Ed McCreary's Trinity Baptist Church in Moore sustained only minor damage in 1999, and immediately it became a hub from which volunteers fanned out into the community to help rebuild. "We installed showers in the church where the workers could clean up, and we built some bunk beds so they could sleep," McCreary said.
Little did McCreary know that four years later, his church would become the bulls-eye for the furious winds. McCreary, whose small church had sent 13 members to the pre-Mission Christian Life and Witness course, left the church office about 20 minutes before the storm struck. He returned later to find the church's sanctuary walls had been ripped open and its roof had been blown away. The desk in his office was under the rubble of concrete blocks and steel girders.
But that wasn't the sight that stunned him.
Behind the pulpit area, now exposed to the sky and to the passing traffic on I-35, was a small wooden cross, hanging precariously from a small nail. Cars and trucks pulled over, and people walked through the rubble into the ravaged church.
"For that entire evening, people came and stood before the cross." McCreary said, his eyes misting. "Some stood there and prayed. Others just knelt and worshipped. It was a sight I will never forget."
When he and his wife shared their devotional time together the next morning, McCreary was surprised. "I sort of expected her to be tearful about the whole thing," he said, "but instead she talked about how God must have some wonderful things in store for us. Our church committed itself to evangelism and discipleship at the beginning of the year, and this just helps us see that it is all about reaching people for Christ. Some people may wonder why we don't fold up and quit, but that's not the way God thinks. He doesn't take us out of this world; He pulls us through. This will be a fresh start for us to fulfill the Great Commission."
Ruth Mann, a member of the church, was hunkering down in the storm cellar at her neighbor's house when the twister rumbled into her neighborhood. The sprightly 79-year-old knew that when she stepped out of the cellar, the scene wouldn't be pretty.
"I knew sitting in the cellar that my home was gone," she said. "When I saw it, I just about fell to pieces. But then I just remembered to thank the Lord that I was alive and no one was hurt. We'll rebuild."
For Mann, McCreary, Stanislav and others in Moore, the adversity has only served to advance their faith in Christ, not diminish it.
"You know, the bottom line is, 'Who am I trusting?'" Stanislav said. "Is my trust in God or in something else? If it's in God, everything will be OK."
Mann stood in a gray drizzle outside the now-vacant lot where her home had been for 40 years "I haven't even thought about being angry with God," she said. "I've just learned to never question God. I know He's in control."
McCreary, standing in the open-air sanctuary where he once preached, is confident that God will guide his flock. "God always has His hands in things, and His hand is in this as well," he said.
At McCreary's feet is a soaked and tattered red hymnal, lying on top of a cinder block that was once part of the sanctuary wall. He notices that it is opened to Page 144, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."
McCreary smiles. "God is saying something, isn't He?"