Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Greensburg: A Lesson in Courage

A quote found on the wall of The Green Bean Coffee Co., Greensburg, Kansas

It's been almost four years since an EF5 tornado swept away 95 percent of the Kiowa County community of Greensburg and took 11 lives.

Until my recent trip, I hadn't been to Greensburg since the tornado May 4, 2007. Neither Randy or I wanted to go. I wanted to remember Greensburg as it used to be. It was the place where I sat on the visitors' side of the football field and watched Brent play football. The track where I'd cheered for Jill as she rounded the curve during the third leg of the 4 X 100 relay may have been there, but I just wasn't interested in seeing it amid collapsed bleachers, uprooted trees and a nearby school in shambles. The United Methodist Church where I'd given a program years before was reduced to a pile of bricks and rubble.

I sent cookies for the workers. We made donations. But we didn't go. **

At first, I didn't want to be among the gawkers in Greesnburg, the people who flock to disasters just to see the destruction. After that initial reluctance, though, I don't really have a good excuse.

It's a good thing the people of Greensburg have more courage than I do. I was among seven of the Stafford Chapter BK PEO members who traveled to Greensburg earlier this month for a road trip.

And it was an inspiration. For me, the theme of the day was faith.

Wind turbine outside Kiowa County Memorial Hospital

It is the faith and courage of the people of Greensburg that is helping them rebuild.

One of our stops was the Silo Eco-Home, which houses Greensburg Greentown's offices.

Ruth Ann Wedel was our tour guide. She showed us all the "green" features, which are mighty impressive.

But I was most impacted by what she said, not what she showed us.

"This town was put back together with faith," Ruth Ann said. "The Bible tells us that you don't see faith. You just believe it. We believed that someday, Greensburg would be as big as it was before the tornado. We believed it could be better."
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1
"The churches were among some of the first buildings to be rebuilt," Ruth Ann said. "It was a way of being normal, coming together as church families. In many cases, the churches were rebuilt before the families were back in their own homes and businesses."

Greensburg rebuilt eight churches. The congregation leaders built them with the faith and hope that the residents would return and again fill the pews and do the work of the church. Before the tornado, there were in the neighborhood of 1,400 residents in the county seat of Kiowa County. Today, four years later, approximately 900 people call Greensburg home.

For a freelance writing project in 2008, I did phone interviews with some Greensburg United Methodist Church members who were rebuilding their church and their lives. On our recent trip to Greensburg, I got to meet one of those people. Mitzi Hesser, a Greensburg PEO member, met us for a few minutes at lunch at The Green Bean.

Back in 2008, she said: "It is important for us to keep the faith because we are going to be such a witness to people throughout the world in how we deal with this, how we grow through this," Mitzi said for the Kansas Area United Methodist Foundation annual report.

Another of the people I interviewed in 2008 was Jan West, who served on the Greensburg UMC stewardship team.
"The tornado has blown a fresh new appreciation into my life of all things beautiful that before, I only gave lip service to. Before the storm, I blindly lived each day, putting one foot in front of the other. My world had narrowed to petty habits and minor issues. The purposes of my life were 'I'-centered. I do not want to go back to that. Today, I have a new purpose. I put myself into the path of my church family on purpose, and I want to continue this journey with purpose."
It's a message we can all heed. Hopefully, it won't take a tornado or some other crisis for us to realize it.


** Though we didn't go to Greensburg to help, we did take a more hands-on approach in response to the May 2007 storms. We helped close friends who lost their Stafford County home in the storm that same night. My brother and I sang at the funeral of a family friend who lost his life during the deadly storm as it continued its track into Pratt County. And we took a Sunday morning breakfast to Trousdale United Methodist parishioners who gathered in a member's home after a May 5 tornado destroyed their church. All of these also showed remarkable courage in rebuilding their lives after the storms.

This isn't to blow my own horn but to say that I do know there is value in getting your hands dirty, so to speak. And there would have been plenty of opportunities to go to Greensburg to help after the gawkers were gone and the real work was just beginning.

So, hats off to those who had the vision for the resurrection of this Kansas town and who helped get the job done.

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