January 1, 2024
Last Saturday, a group of 19 of us returned from a 5-day trip to Clarksville, Tennessee where we went to help with disaster relief after tornadoes went through that area on December 9th.
We were there because two members of our church have a disaster relief organization they have developed over the last 17 years called “No Excuses Disaster Relief.” They contacted the Fellowship of Christian Farmers International and they helped coordinate the relief event. It takes a lot of impromptu coordination and planning but God has a way of bringing it all together.
Through these organizations, we made contact with a farmer who was directly affected by the storms. It was a grandmother and grandson operation. It consisted of 1000 head of Black Angus cattle and a few hundred acres of pasture and farmland. The wind had destroyed some nearby houses and business property and carried the debris a few miles away and dumped it over a long stretch of land. This land was farmland and it was covered in pieces of wood from destroyed homes, with toys, clothing and other household items, keepsakes, and people’s souvenirs. It was sobering to realize that what was once their dreams and goals and mortgage payments was now nothing but debris in a farmer’s field.
For equipment on this trip, we took wheelbarrows, UTV’s (Utility Task Vehicles also known as side-by-sides), trailers, and chainsaws. We combed pastures and fields covering every square inch of land on foot, picking up small pieces of 2x4’s, 2x6’s, 2x12’s, chunks of OSB underlayment that had been ripped into small pieces by the wind, sheets of steel roofing, and thousands upon thousands of shingles torn into pieces. We pulled trailers behind the UTV’s and loaded them high and dumped them in a common area where the debris will be processed according to their material makeup.
This particular farm had 1000 head of Angus cattle. The debris was scattered over 200 acres of pasture and wheat fields. The farmer told me that when he went to examine the damage and check on his cattle, he found them standing in the corral with the gate open. When the storm hit, apparently, they all headed there. It was a group of about 40 head on this particular pasture. They were all there except for four of them, which they found on a neighbor’s farm about six miles away. He did not know if they got scared and ran there, or if the wind had lifted them and set them down there. Either way, all of them were safe and uninjured. Back at the corral, they simply shut the gate, and loaded the cattle on trailers and hauled them to another site. Good thing too, because that pasture had thousands of boards with nails in them that the cattle would not have been able to avoid and would have ended up in their feet.
While we were working, a neighbor stopped by with questions about who we were, where we were from, why we were there, and how much were we getting paid? (Southern curiosity). He had a 40 acre wheat field that bordered the other guy’s pasture. It too was covered in debris. I told him we’d clean it up - for free. In one of the timbers there was an American flag stuck high up in a tree. One of our young men managed to get it down, fold it properly, and we brought it back home with us.
We were up every morning at six o’clock for breakfast and at the site shortly after. We worked till noon when we broke for lunch that was brought to us on site, then back to work until dark. Then it was off to the “mess hall” where we ate a delicious meal prepared by more volunteers. After supper we had a time of reflection and Bible study and then it was off to bed by about 10 or 11 o’clock. Repeat the next day.
There were 19 of us from five different states who converged in Clarksville, Tennessee for a week of service. It was a good week. Hebrews 13:16: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
(Kevin Cernek is Lead Pastor of Martintown Community Church in Martintown, Wisconsin).