March 11, 2020
By: Bill Conger
People from DeKalb County joined in the efforts to help the survivors from last week’s tornadoes that ripped a path of destruction through several middle Tennessee counties. 14 people from DeKalb and 10 people from Cannon County left last Saturday (March 7) in a disaster relief trailer from Elizabeth Chapel Baptist Church to team with the Tennessee Baptist Association Disaster Relief in Cookeville.
“We went out and assisted home owners in cleaning up where their houses were completely gone, trying to find belongings that were still usable in the rubble, and trying to aid in anything we could do for those people,” said Aaron Young, Salem Baptist Association’s Disaster Relief Director, who lead the team to Cookeville.
Young says volunteers helped in an area where the tornado had progressed to category EF-4.
“Pretty much anything that was in the path of that was completely destroyed,” Young said.
One of the volunteers, Daniel Leslie, youth pastor at Elizabeth Chapel Baptist Church, has personal ties to Putnam County. A former Cookeville resident, he lived on the side of town where the tornado stormed through. Prior to the team’s trip, he paid a visit March 4 to the home of one of his friends.
“It used to be a beautiful brick home that’s just completely gone,” Leslie says. “The highest point out there was actually the front porch. Everything else had fallen underneath where the front porch had gotten up to. It had all just collapsed.”
The youth minister says helping the survivors of the tornado gave him and the other volunteers an opportunity to put into practice his recent Bible lesson on Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
“It’s not about the things that we have; it’s about the lives that we’re given a chance to live,” explains Leslie. “We had actually just talked at church Wednesday night with my youth group about Philippians. This was another opportunity for them to live out their lives as Christians. They get to have a chance to live and to be. That’s what matters. That’s what God has given us an opportunity to do. I got to see both of those situations. There was the death, but there also were those that were spared. Looking at the destruction—there was nothing left—there is no way they should have lived through what they did, but they get that opportunity to continue to live out their lives through the gospel.”
Leslie says the volunteer effort was about more than cleaning up debris.
“There was a lady that lived just behind the houses that we mainly worked at. She was in shock. Her mind was everywhere, and we got to talk a lot to her and her son and encourage them. That’s another part of the disaster relief effort … helping the families recover emotionally too.”
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief has set up a command center in Cookeville and Nashville, and they will be there until no one is asking for help. Young has worked two previous disasters, but he was stunned by the number of volunteers who showed up.
“We’re called the Volunteer State, and you could really see why. There was almost too many volunteering. You hate to say that, but it was impressive how many people were just showing up and helping out. They were just neighbors helping neighbors.”