In the wake of the unrelenting May outbreak of tornadoes that ravaged areas of Oklahoma, the Lafayette Church of Christ Youth Group recently returned from volunteer work in “The Sooner State”.
Through a partnership with Churches of Christ Disaster Response Teams, the group of eleven left Lafayette on Monday morning, June 17 for Norman, Oklahoma and returned from the scene of death and destruction late Friday night, June 21. Those taking the trip were Youth Minister Terry Gillim, Martha Doss, Kyle Jones, Cole Maness, Brandon Wells, Eli Doss, Eric Davis, Bryce Nichols, Jacob Doss, Lydia Doss and Lacie Gillim.
As the areas around Oklahoma City, Norman, McCloud, and Moore began the painful work of digging out from under the wreckage of the twisters, hundreds of volunteers, including our group from Lafayette, rushed in to help aid these victims in the recovery efforts. Some carried shovels and plastic bags and others came with chain saws and rakes to clean up yards of those who had other problems to take care of.
The Lafayette youth group stayed at the Alameda Church of Christ in Norman, and according to Gillim they were up each morning at 7:00 a.m. for breakfast. “We had a devotional period together,” said Gillim, “and then we got our working orders for the day and the places where we would go.”
The first house the group went to was in McCloud, Oklahoma, which is southeast of Oklahoma City, and the storms that hit there were in the same system of the big storm that hit Moore. “Our crew spent all three days running chain saws, cutting trees and limbs, and cleaning up several yards that would have otherwise taken days for the homeowners to have done themselves.”
The team also worked around a lake area, where hundreds of trees were down and they also cleaned up an animal refuge or sanctuary that had 18 or 19 dogs along with several other animals.
“We took the time to go to Moore, Okla., after we finished our work one morning, and see for ourselves the destruction of the Plaza Towers Elementary School where hundreds of kids rode out the EF 5 tornado,” said Gillim. “But sadly six students and one teacher were killed.”
Gillim said when they came to the area and drove over the by pass, everything looked normal. Walmart and Home Depot were open and people were going about their business. “But less than a half a mile and we turned right and a church building came in sight that had lost a few shingles. However, after that block, everything was gone. There was a chain link fence around the area where Plaza Towers School had been and there were flags, tee shirts and stuffed animals serving as a memorial to remember the dead.”
“There was devastation as far as you could see,” added Gillim. “There were seven big crosses for those killed at the school. We actually signed one of our red group shirts and put it on the fence memorial.”
While at the school site, Gillim says they talked to a 13-year-old boy named Bobby, who showed them where his classroom had been. “It was heartbreaking to hear that some of the students who died had actually survived the initial impact of the EF5 tornado, but had drown after the water pooled up where they were trapped under the rubble.”
“A lot of attention was brought to Moore, but there were so many other communities that were hit as bad as we were in 2008. We wanted to go and work in the areas that weren’t necessarily in the limelight.”
Gillim says this was definitely a life changing experience for the group. “We have been together as a group before, but never on a trip like this. The students knew each other but by the end of the trip they were a lot closer. They built a strong bond while working together during the week. The Church of Christ Disaster Response Team did a great job organizing everything for us and providing for us.”
“The kids are changed forever, as well as Martha and I,” said Terry. “The people in Oklahoma are experiencing the same emotions and the same problems that we experienced here in 2008. It just happened to more people there. I told the students that God sends rain on the just and unjust and he sends sunlight on good and evil. Just because we are children of God doesn’t make us immune to the things that happen in this world. God doesn’t discriminate. He doesn’t pick and chose who is going to be hit by a tornado.”
“I am really proud of our group and I thanked them for everything they did when we got back Friday night. I told them that I appreciated them and that I want them to develop a serving heart and look for ways to make a difference. It doesn’t have to be big things. If you do little things over and over it makes a big difference.”
“I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to work with Christians and young people,” said Youth Minister Terry Gillim. “And watching young people grow and develop Christ like attitudes, is priceless.”