When the members of the Winchester First United Methodist Church youth group, TeenFire, first heard about the devastating tornadoes in Alabama, they immediately decided to put themselves to good use and offer assistance to the families in need.
On May 13, the 14 teenagers and their pastor, Derek Hickman, boarded a bus and headed to Tuscaloosa. Hickman had previously served at Tuscaloosa Bible Methodist Church and helped to organize the trip to deliver supplies and work in any way possible.
“Tuscaloosa was way more damaged than we could have even imagined,” Hickman said.
Thanks to the generosity of the Winchester community, Hickman and the TeenFire group were able to take a tractor trailer, donated by Oliver Trucking Co., filled with supplies donated by the people of Winchester.
“It was absolute devastation. There’s nothing standing. All the houses are flat,” Hickman said.
The teens used Tuscaloosa Bible, in the Alberta City neighborhood, as a home base and spent Saturday working in the Holt neighborhood. In addition to delivering supplies, they helped cook and serve meals for people and picked up rubble out of the streets so FEMA¿trucks could collect it and dispose of it. The teens worked out of Soma Church in Holt to serve meals, one of the only buildings in the neighborhood that survived the tornado.
“Amazingly, in the middle of all this wreckage, is this church standing. It’s like God put his hand over it,” Hickman said.
On Sunday morning, Hickman and the teens conducted services at Tuscaloosa Bible. Several of the TeenFire members spoke at the church about what the trip had been like for them.
“One teenager said, ‘I really expected to hear a lot of crying and moaning and complaining … and instead, these people were thanking us and pitching in beside us,” Hickman said.
The trip helped the teens gain perspective on what is really important, Hickman said, after seeing so many people grateful just to be alive.
“The teens saw the perspective of, ‘Hey, we’re alive and all this stuff can be replaced,’” Hickman said.
Before leaving, the crew also visited 15th Street, where the tornado is belived to have originated, and the area that received the most damage.
“Just from what we’ve seen, it’s gonna take years (to rebuild),” Hickman said.
Although Hickman had heard reports of the extreme devastation before heading to Alabama, nothing could prepare them for what they encountered.
“Words really fail to describe the panoramic view. It’s so much more powerful than seeing it on TV,” Hickman said.
The trip also was a good reminder to the TeenFire members of what they can accomplish when they work together.
“We are limited in ourselves, but when we are working toward the same goal, large things get done,” Hickman said.
Although no definite plans have been made, TeenFire may return to Tuscaloosa in July for their annual Week of Love mission project.
“We want to be opportunistic. That simply means being ready to serve and to help when the opportunity arises. We are constantly striving to do that,” Hickman said.
Contact Rachel Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org.