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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Peace in the Storm

By Jolynn Coleman
Oct. 9, 2011

Sirens wailed. The gathering hour before the Sunday evening service was suddenly transformed. Church members as well as families from the community sought safety with the warning of the approaching storm.

Galena (Kan.) Assembly of God, sitting on the Kansas-Missouri border, quickly drew in more than 60 people. Some took shelter deeper in the building; others stood at the large windows in the foyer gazing at the menacing rotation of clouds above.

Suddenly, the winds shifted and literally sucked rain right under the foyer doors. Several Weather Channel storm chasers hesitantly waited in the church parking lot. A television in the foyer broadcast warnings from a local newscast. Phone calls from concerned family rang in; voices began to lift in prayer.

On this Sunday night lives were about to be forever altered. The peaceful evening of May 22 was shattered at 5:41 p.m. as a multi-vortex EF-5 tornado ripped through the heart of neighboring Joplin, Mo.

Standing in the foyer, Galena Assembly Young Adult Pastors Aaron and Jen Little pondered the news of the tornado’s path. They had heard that service was being canceled due to the impending storm but had chosen to stay and help those arriving to take shelter.

Concerned voices soon shouted across the police scanner, announcing intersections of discovered damage. Quietly, the Littles began to come to grips with the possibility their home could be destroyed. Peace settled in their spirits as they stood in the safety of the church with their 7-month-old son, Jude.

Across Joplin, destruction was vast. Winds gusting to over 250 mph and the powerful suction of the three-in-one tornado destroyed property and took lives, pulling people right out of their homes and vehicles. Those at the church now prayed for the protection and rescue of those in the path of the storm. They would later learn from several of their own members of the answers to those prayers.


Peace and protection

David Durall, 51, had not made it to the church that night. Covering himself with a blanket, David sat on the lowest stair inside his home. He suddenly heard what sounded like softballs hitting his roof. Every door and every window blew out of the structure as the fury hit his home.

“I could feel the wind tugging at me, trying to pull me out a window about six feet away from me,” David says. “But, at the same time, I felt the hand of God on my back, holding me down. If it had not been for that, I wouldn’t be here today.”

The mighty storm proved no match for the peace that passes all understanding. In the midst of the most deafening noise, an unexplainable calm settled over David.

“Even though it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever been through,” he says, “it was like God enveloped me with His love and His peace.”

Just five blocks from St. John’s Hospital on South Jackson Street, Galena AG member Chrystal Frey heard the eerie sounds of the approaching tornado. Rushing into the house, Chrystal took cover between a bed and the wall, lying over her 12-year-old son, Ryan.

Throwing the mattress over them, husband Paul lay on top of it, giving the family more protection. The house began coming apart.

“I could hear boards breaking apart from each other and the roar of the tornado,” Chrystal remembers.

Pain shot through her body as something hit her head and she was lifted from her place of cover.

“I opened my eyes and I could see the tornado rotating around me. I knew right then, I’m in the middle of this thing. I could see the debris flying around me and it was just so awesome because the peace of God came over me.”

The tornado lifted all three family members into its raging swirl.

“I thought it would be a hard drop, but I was gently laid down on a door, lying flat. It was like God’s hands were under me and just gently laid me down.”

With the storm still raging around her, Chrystal covered her head and prayed that the storm would be still. As calm came, it became clear her entire house was completely cleaned from its foundation and she and her family had been carried across the street.

Chrystal spotted people climbing out from under the rubble of homes. One man approached them. Picking Chrystal up, he carried her for two blocks to a damaged nursing home for temporary shelter. Her ankle was sprained and her heel broken. Paul and Ryan followed closely.

“Through the whole thing, I had this peace,” says Chrystal. “I knew God was going to take care of us. He’s got us covered. He’s gotten us this far; He’s not going to quit now.”


Peace in the midst of tragedy

Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (NIV). The peace Jesus offers will carry those who trust Him through the most horrific of circumstances.

Crystal Cogdill, another Joplin resident and Galena AG member, was cradled by that peace that Sunday as the tornado bore down upon her home. A single mother of two, Crystal sat on her bathroom floor holding 4-year-old David under one arm and 9-year-old Zachary under the other. Praying aloud, she reassured her boys that Jesus would protect them.

Suddenly her house was swept away, ripping the boys from her grasp. The violent winds pushed and pulled at her body, throwing debris into her back, head and shoulder. Crystal remembers being unable to open her mouth as it would fill with dirt.

In spite of her pain, a peace came over her.

“It was almost like background music,” she says, “but I could hear the song playing, ‘I will praise You in this storm … and I will lift my hands.’”

Finally feeling the winds die down, she sat up on the only thing left of her home — the bare floor.

“When I sat up, I saw that a utility pole had come across the boys, and David was screaming, ‘Jesus save us! Jesus save us!’”

Crystal moved over to her sons, reassuring them that Jesus was there. She tried with what strength she could muster to lift the pole from the boys, yet it remained unmoved. Standing to her feet, Crystal could see people running and calling out. She began to scream at them for help. Clarence, a young neighbor, approached to offer assistance but was uncertain if he could lift the weighty pole.

“If you will lift it even just a little, I will pull the boys out.” Crystal urged him. Clarence raised the pole just enough for Crystal to free her sons; when they were free, he ran off to help others.

Alone, Crystal pulled Zach onto her lap with David hanging on her neck. She lifted her eyes to the devastation around her, certain the entire world was gone. As far as she could see there was nothing but ruin and destruction.

“Jesus protected us.” Crystal told her boys.

It seemed there were suddenly people everywhere, hurt and unhurt. Strangers approached them.

“We’re going to take you to the park,” they told her.

Crystal asked them to take her children first. One picked up David and another reached for Zach. Pressing Zach’s neck, the rescuer searched repeatedly for a pulse.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said, “this one is gone.”

A man urged Crystal and David to get into his truck. Not wanting to leave Zach behind, Crystal resisted. The driver insisted there was nothing they could do for Zach. Lying in the back of a truck riding away from her 9-year-old son, Crystal cried out, “Please God, don’t let my baby lie there alone!”

Later, Crystal learned a close friend and neighbor soon came to check on the family and sat holding Zach until someone arrived to pick him up. God heard and answered Crystal’s prayer.

 Rushed to Memorial Hall where hundreds were being triaged and treated for their injuries, Crystal wept before God. “I know we don’t always understand why things happen. I know that the Bible says to praise You, so I will praise You. I will praise You in this storm and I will praise You for the rest of my life … for everything You’ve given me. I thank You for everything You’ve given me.”

Crystal now declares God’s faithfulness and peace through the entire experience.

“Even in the midst of this tragedy, God was gracious,” she says. “Children are a gift from God. Zach was a wonderful gift for the almost 10 years I had him. He belongs to God and was on loan to me. That brings me peace.”


Peace for an uncertain future

God doesn’t always keep the faithful from the storm, but His peace always goes with them through the storm.

Venturing towards Joplin with Galena AG Children’s Pastors Kyle and Ren Vagle, Aaron and Jen Little set out for their home nearly two hours after the tornado raged through. The closer they got to the destruction, the more overwhelming it appeared. Gridlocked by traffic just 12 blocks from home, Aaron set out on foot to his neighborhood.

“It was like turning the corner and stepping onto a movie set with everything smoking, people frantic, the smell of gas, and a haze in the air,” he remembers. “It was surreal.”

Jen and the Vagles were eventually able to drive within five blocks of the Littles’ home.

“Things were unrecognizable,” Jen remembers. “I finally found our house. It was very unsettling to know that what you had built for almost 10 years was strewn everywhere.”

Climbing over the mess of glass and broken boards into what was left of their home, she joined Aaron.

“I remember standing in what was once the dining room looking above at the sky. I thought, Thank You, Lord, for Your protection. There was this flood of peace as God was saying, Your stuff may be gone, but I took care of you in My own way. You will come back from this stronger than you’ve ever been before.”

“Growing up in a church planter’s home,” Aaron says, “there was always change, always unknowns, and always loss. I learned early on that God will take care of our family no matter what.”

Joplin has witnessed an outpouring of love and help from across the nation and even internationally. Kindness reigns in this tragedy as people reach beyond themselves to help those in need. The loss of this storm, however, is life altering. For so many, the storm continues to rage in the aftermath.

Nevertheless, there is a peace that stills the spirit and steadies the heart in the midst of any storm. That peace does not come from any governmental agency, humanitarian aid, or neighborly well wishing.

That peace, the peace that transcends human understanding, walks a ministry family through the loss of their home. That peace holds a man still when the raging winds aim to pull him away. That peace covers a family of three as they spin and topple inside a tornado, only to set them gently down in safety. That peace carries a 9-year-old boy home to eternity and sings to his grieving mother.

On the clearest or stormiest day, during the best or worst of circumstances, that is the peace we cannot live without.


JOLYNN COLEMAN ministers alongside her husband, Galena (Kan.) Assembly of God Lead Pastor Kurt Coleman.

Email your comments to pe@ag.org.