Finally the day had come. We were leaving! The last important piece, the “P card” that we would be using for purchases on the trip had to be picked up. Before we could get this oh so special piece of plastic, the entire ROALT crew had to meet with Scott Bullman, director of ministry teams for Liberty University. We went inside, read and signed the contract papers, then left to get Liberty merchandise and to pack the rest of our gear. We decided to make one last stop at Cook Out to get what we hoped would be our last fast food for the month. We used the restrooms and finally at 9:30 pm on June 4, 2013, after months of preparation, and weeks of anticipation, we were on the road, so excited we didn’t know what to think.
We were off, on an adventure of which we honestly did not know what to expect. We knew it was going to be amazing, but just like in anything, you cant really know what to expect until you do it! So we are doing it. The first leg of the trip and every one is on cloud nine. Rock and roll music and a bunch of goofy guys make for a very comical time when you’re packed into a little van. We each found our own little nook for our personal gear, and as the night got later discovered the most comfortable places to sleep. Phil took the first shift, charging into the night and clearing the entire state of Virginia by 1:00 am Wednesday morning. Tom took over for the state of Tennessee and like a champ drove through the night and didn’t tag Justin in until after 7:00 am! Justin drove from some where just east of Memphis and drove on through much of Arkansas.
Arkansas, very flat and rocky, was our first major change in terrain. We didn’t really see much of Tennessee since we passed though in the dark of night, but Arkansas that next day really started to make it sink in that we were going west, on that great adventure so many dream about, while far fewer actually get to live it out. We made our way through Arkansas and after entering Oklahoma, Tim took over driving. “Tim Riordan’s brother Jonathan” proposed that we make a slight detour from our route to make a stop in Moore Ok., where a devastating tornado touched down only a few weeks earlier. The stop was well worth our time.
Moore shocked us all. Most of us were not paying attention to where we were until some one at the front of the bus said, “whoa!! Look!” and we saw it. From the free way we looked out the right side of the bus and saw a mall and a theater, but not one hundred yards from the theater was the debris of what used to be a massive building, leveled in the wake of the tornado. As we took the exit, we began to see cars that looked like they have been flying down a high way 100 miles an hour and then turned on their sides and rolled and flipped hundreds of yards.
Everything was destroyed. Cars were crushed and massive buildings ripped to shreds. We drove through the mall area and passed Plaza Towers Elementary school, or at least where it used to be. The school property is almost entirely cleared to the ground, Large Construction equipment graded dirt and pushed building and other trash debris into piles to be hauled away. The word is they plan to rebuild, but that is obviously not going to happen over night. Being there in person affected us greatly; you realize that it’s not just the disaster itself, but the recovery that is the biggest challenge. Churches and schools had signs out front stating that summer schools would be opening up, and that food and lodging was available. People every where were out cleaning up and it was encouraging to see our fellow country men from all over the US there helping clean and rebuild. We saw trucks and equipment from states as far away as New York, Delaware, Virginia, Florida, and Texas. We drove into what used to be the neighborhood beyond the school and that was a sight like none of us had ever seen. Entire homes were flat, even the floorboards and carpets were gone. Nothing remained but the concrete slab where a house had once been. Trees that once towered over back yards and front porches had been ripped to shreds and little more than waist high splinters sticking out of the ground remained.
We came across one house that was flat except for the center most part of the house. Four walls about three feet by three feet with a small door facing the street. We walked across the trash in the front yard to the slab where the house once sat. We all reached the slab about the same time but Tim stepped forward from the group and opened the little door. We all stopped short when the door opened. We couldn’t believe it, it was a small pantry and nothing had been touched. That little door had once been in someone’s kitchen, but now it was all that remained of the entire house.
We still had a long way to go, so we loaded back onto the bus and before we headed out, took some time to pray for those affected by the tornado and its devastation. The bus was pretty quiet for some time, which is saying something for this crew of typically goofy and hilarious adventurers. On this trip we intend to experience God’s power through the beauty of His creation, we didn’t expect to see his power like this, rampaging force and destruction. So often as Christians, we get wrapped up in talking about God as if He is just a lover and a friend who will only make us feel good all the time. We forget that life is not about us, but that instead it’s about God and his glory. We think it’s all about us and we get angry at God when disaster strikes. In all the preparation for this trip we have been so excited to see Gods beauty in creation; it’s interesting how God allowed us to first see His power. We can’t ignore that God is in control, even in the hard times. What we can do is fall into the arms of the everlasting God, trusting Him when he promises in scripture to work ALL THINGS together for the good of those that love God. (Ephesians 2). We can look to the scriptures for how to respond to these types of situation. Job is a prime example when after losing everything, he owned “Naked I came from my mothers womb and naked will I depart, the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.” As we drove away, the thought of being one of the people who used to live where we had just walked, and trying to pray that prayer, weighed heavy on the entire ROALT crew.