by Craig Hobbs
Though you might disagree after reading this, I know that I am not supposed to be in a car during a tornado. I just didn’t know there was a tornado.
None of my statements in the recounting of this event are intended to justify my actions during this storm, but are meant to allow you to know what I was thinking. Obviously, my judgment was wrong. Also, it is not because my mother, my wife and I are alive that God is good. He is good whether we are alive or dead, healthy or unhealthy. God’s goodness is not based on results or outcome or circumstances, but He is good in all things at all times. Not only is He good, but all good things come from Him.
On Tuesday May 24, the forecast of severe weather had canceled our revival service for the evening. My wife, Traci, and I had been in Eufaula, ministering to a family, and we returned home a little after 6 p.m. As I tuned into the weather station, it became apparent that we should vacate our doublewide, and we went to my mother’s house one-half mile to our northeast. As the path of the storm bore down on us from the west, the thought of numerous people in Joplin, Mo., from just two days prior who had lost their lives, even having been in the safest place in their homes, crossed my mind.
With clear skies to the south, I determined to leave the path of this tornado (that just a few minutes later would pass on the path of our house and my mother’s house). We never dreamed that we would drive into the path of a second tornado just eight miles away from where we started.
After a short delay to get my mother in the car with us, we began driving south to clear skies. During the course of our travel, we never felt we were in danger, but rather that we had escaped the severe storm headed to the location we had fled. As I drove south with the edge of the wall cloud to our south and west, I determined to turn east after three miles and then head further south at some point. We now know that as we drove east, we were being followed by the tornado that we would be in the middle of in a few moments. After driving five miles east, I turned south, and, for the first time, encountered rain and strong wind. For some reason, I turned around to drive north, and in less than a mile, while driving about 45 m.p.h., something hit the back of our van and knocked out the back glass. Something else hit the side of the van, jarring us sharply. At that point, I said, “We’re in the middle of it.” I was able to get the van in park as other windows were knocked out and the van was pelted by debris. Traci told my mother to cover her head with my Bible, which was in the back seat beside her, and my wife began to pray as we hunkered down and joined her.
It is difficult to say how long we were in the tornado, because I’m certain the time was different than it seemed. If it was only two or three minutes, it was the longest two or three minutes I’ve ever experienced. We knew our van was in the tornado, but now realize that the tornado was in our van. Traci’s hair was flying all over the place, and the headliner and windows in our van were caked with mud. I had the sensation that, at any moment, we would be lifted about 10 feet in the air and thrown rolling into the field to our east. We are thankful to God that this didn’t happen, but we did have our passenger side tires in the ditch when the tornado was finally gone. To the best of my recollection, I got the van stopped in the middle of the road, and thus feel certain that we were moved sideways a few feet.
In the middle of this, I was able to peek out the window and see the siding from a house and a barn nearby passing over, around and into the side of our vehicle. There were also tree limbs and other foreign objects spinning and flying out of control. For just a moment, things calmed to the point that we felt all was clear, but in less than five seconds, the strength of the spinning wind returned, sending us back to our former protected position with heads covered. My mother said later, “There was a lot of conversation taking place in that car, but most of it was the three of us talking to God.”
We all later agreed that the calm and the peace in the middle of the situation far outweighed any fear we had. For each of us, there is only one explanation for this calm and peace: God is greater than any storm!
When the tornado had finally passed and, physically, we were unharmed, the van was still running. With windows missing, my side view mirror detached, and debris dragging under our vehicle, we set out to drive back home. Unable to go forward because of downed power lines, we turned around and began the eight-mile trip back. Our first thought when we saw the destruction near the house that we left was that maybe we were better off than if we had stayed. Soon, however, we saw that our houses were still intact, and we had another thing for which to praise the Lord.
This same tornado would, in less than two miles, turn semi-trucks on their sides, but God kept our van upright and protected us through this ordeal. We praise Him for His hand of protection, and thank those who have helped in meeting our needs in the damage to our van including Okmulgee, Second and its pastor, Steve Gallagher; The Christian Men’s Fellowship through the leadership of our friend, Don Witt; and Randy and Stephanie Kimbley at R&S auto repair. We also thank God that the other tornado that passed on the course of our homes left both our house and my mother’s house undamaged, though trees were uprooted in our yards.
I have often quoted and felt that I was living the passage from the Bible, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:5-6) I realize that often times, I trust my judgment. I believe God gifts us with the ability to come to good conclusions and to make good decisions, but our trust still needs to be placed in Him, and not in our own “sound” choices that come from our best judgment.
Whether we survived the storm in a hallway in the inner part of my mother’s house, or had time to make it to a cellar, or lived through it in our van, God is our refuge and strength. Though we often say that God protected us, we probably have a tendency to think that we were safe because we made the right judgment call. I feel certain that had we taken refuge in Mom’s house, and the tornado miraculously left her house, we would tend to give the credit for our safety to the structure and our decision to seek shelter there. As things turned out, we won’t have to wonder or guess at the reason that we are alive; it is because of God’s love and mercy. But again I say, His love and mercy is still perfect, regardless of the outcome. We thank Him for the outcome He has given to us.
Craig Hobbs is is president of the Oklahoma Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. More of this story is available at www.evangelistcraighobbs.org.