The devastation in Moore, Oklahoma hits quite close to home for me, both figuratively and literally. I grew up just a few hours north of Moore, so I’ve been through my fair share of tornados and their aftermath. While blessed to have never endured a direct hit, I’ve seen the damage they can do firsthand and helped victims numerous times. Culturally, I’m cut from the same fabric as the people in Oklahoma. South Kansas and Oklahoma don’t have many differences in the people. You can tell the difference between a New Yorker and a Californian, a Carolinian and a Michigander. But there isn’t a lot of difference between someone from south Kansas and Oklahoma (minus a few variations in accents). So I feel confident in what I’m about to write.
I’ve seen some people ask, “Can the people of Oklahoma recover from this magnitude of a tragedy?” My response to that question is, “You obviously don’t know much about Oklahomans.” We went through the Dust Bowl and not only survived, but thrived. We’ve been through numerous tornados and we’re still here. The worst tragedy to ever befall the state, the Oklahoma City Bombing (and until 9/11 the worst act of terrorism on US soil), showed the world what us “flyover” folks are capable of; neighborly love.
Today, Oklahomans are picking up the pieces of what was left after the storm. Many are mourning the loss of a child, or a brother, or a father, or a mother. They have felt deep personal hurt. Others are mourning the loss (or losses) of a friend. And in typical midwest fashion, many are just mourning over the loss of brotherly strangers, people unknown, yet still loved. This mourning will continue and will never be over, but instead will ease as time goes by. The tears of today will bring about depression over the loss, but at some point people will begin to laugh about better times and reflect fondly on the time they did have with the ones they love. And through it all, they’ll rebuild.
Today, and in the days and weeks to come, neighbors will volunteer their time to help clean up the mess that was made. They’ll work together in bringing water and meals to the victims and the volunteers. During their limited breaks – and the breaks will be limited, because Oklahomans (as with all Midwesterners) don’t like to waste daylight, don’t mind a bit of sweat, and view the words “exhaustion” and “accomplishment” as synonymous – they’ll talk about the failed Thunder season, about how the Sooners will probably thrash the Cowboys this year (or vice versa, since people from Stillwater will happily go into Sooner territory to help their fellow Oklahomans). Someone will probably make a joke about how at least the Warren Theater was spared, so at least they can go enjoy a decent movie when this is all over. And through it all, they’ll rebuild.
This Sunday churches will be packed, not because people chose to come to God because of the disaster, but because it’s Sunday. They’ll cry over the losses, but rejoice over the gains. They’ll question God – and rightfully so – for allowing tragedy to occur to the innocent, but will also thank Him that they were spared, as were so many others. They’ll continue to read their Bibles and go to their churches because they have true faith in God, that through this evil at least some good will come from it. For this week and the weeks to come, they’ll put aside the titles of Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Orthodox, and Catholic and rely on a common faith in Christ to get them through this hard time. And through it all, they’ll rebuild.
These stalwart people of Oklahoma will rebuild because to not rebuild is akin to quitting, and quitting is a four-letter word in the Great Plains. Death is better than quitting, because after you quit you still have to live with the fact that you gave up. They’ll clean up the debris, lay new foundations, and build once again, because that’s just what they do.
Some will ask if God has abandoned Moore, or if God was there when the storm hit. But the people of Oklahoma know He was there because they experienced Him in the love from those who helped. In Dostoevsky’s book The Brothers Karamazov, Elder Zosima tells a woman that when it comes to evil, we cannot prove the existence of God, but we can be convinced that He exists. That conviction comes from witnessing and partaking in acts of love towards our neighbors. For the people of Moore, this is how they have conviction that not only was God there during the tornado, but that He’s remained there in the aftermath. God was there when the various teachers put their own safety at risk in order to save numerous children. God was there when neighbors let strangers into their storm shelters for protection. God was there in the aftermath when first responders began immediate rescue missions, hardly minutes after the tornado hit. And God has remained in Moore, handing out water to the thirsty, giving shelter to those with no homes, giving food to the hungry, and giving money towards the relief efforts of the various charities.
Will Moore recover? The only question we need ask when it comes to Moore’s recovery is how long we think it will take. And I promise you that it will not take that long. They will rebuild, not out of material necessity, or out of pride, or out of obstinance; they will rebuild out of their love for their neighbors. They will recover together, just as Oklahomans have always done when faced with difficulty, and they will come out stronger.