Friday, March 9, 2012


The approaching tornado in Henryville, Indiana - March 2, 2012
Thank you for your prayers and your concern for me and for the people that have been devastated by Friday's storms. The days following Friday have been a whirlwind of their own; it's a lot to remember and write down.

 Sister Ford and I are best friends with the Sisters in Charlestown and had been anticipating exchanges all week because we love any time we get to spend with them. We met up in a town called Scottsburg. The four of us ate lunch and then Sister Ford and Sister Wood headed back to Salem while Sister Noakes and I were aimed at Charlestown. The last time Sister Noakes and I were on exchanges together we tracted into Logan Hall; he was baptized three weeks later. We were determined to "get another baptism together" and couldn't wait to hit the pavement in C-Town. But first we needed to stop in Henryville to see some recent converts.

Sister Noakes and Sister Wood
 The Hicks Family live (or I guess lived) in a small house near the Henryville High School. Like any family, they were experiencing trials of all different kinds and intensities. They were humble yet welcoming. I always enjoy walking around someone's home and looking at the pictures on the walls and the different doilies and keepsakes that mean enough to them to be prominently displayed. We sat on a comfortable couch and played with their dogs and their guinea pig and talked about trying to find the time between work schedules and school to have family scripture study and prayer. Our lesson was supposed to be about 45 minutes or so, but 20 minutes in the husband looked at us and said, "There's a tornado that's supposed to hit here in about 45 minutes. You might want to head home and take cover. You won't want to be out driving when the storm hits." Neither of us were very scared, but we didn't want to undervalue this man's advice, so we said goodbye and wished them a good week and headed for Charlestown.

 Once we got in the car the weather started to look worse and worse. The wind was blowing and the rain was coming in spurts. The drive to C-Town is about 20 minutes or so from Henryville. We're both from Las Vegas so we had no way of gauging the weather to tell how serious this warning was or if it was just a precaution but the storm would avoid the area. When we got into town and could hear the tornado siren screaming full blast, I looked at Sister Noakes and raised my eyebrows indicating my approval if she wanted to push her foot a little harder on that gas pedal. Instead of heading for the apartment (which is on the second floor) we drove to a member family's home. They have a basement. We went down there and tried to all get to know each other without trying to scare their two young children. He's in Dental School and served in Derek's mission. She stays home with their kids. They're a sweet family. 

And we really did have a good time together-- except for the fact that every couple minutes we couldn't take it anymore and would go look out one of their tiny windows at the skies, looking for signs of a tornado. I'd always heard that the sky turns green in tornado weather. It does. Not a rich, leafy green, but it turns more like a pukey, watery green. The sky was foggy and green almost like they draw different gasses in the cartoons. The wind was crazy. The hail was very loud on the storm door. We had to raise our voices to hear each other. The mission leaders were trying to get ahold of us and find out if we were safe and in a basement but the cell-towers were either damaged or crowded because we couldn't get any messages back out besides our initial ones saying we were heading for a basement. 

I kept trying to call the Sisters in Salem because I knew they had an appointment in Pekin (not "the hen was peckin' at the ground" but "the snoop was peekin' around the corner") and Pekin was supposed to be in the tornado's path. Of course we couldn't get ahold of them so we waited and texted because texting seemed to be working a little better than calling. We sat in the basement and watched and listened and waited and when we'd get ready to go upstairs the Werners would check the radio and it would say that the alert had been extended another 45 minutes or so. It was extended a couple times. 

We were safe where we were. I knew we would be. I've been so blessed as a missionary to be able to have complete faith that the Lord will keep me safe if I use my brain and try to avoid danger. I don't know if I've ever had faith so pure and impenetrable as I've been blessed with in regards to my safety as a missionary except for maybe when I was a small child. I felt calm through the whole thing in regards to myself and the people we were with. I was anxious and in awe as I watched the sky, but I knew I'd be safe. I know that faith and peace comes in large part because of the many people I have back home praying for me. Thank you. I really can feel your prayers in my behalf and I know that those prayers have kept me safe and have helped fulfill the blessing of safety that President Teshima gave me as he set me apart last year.

 The storm finally passed completely. There were flash flood warnings, but we were in the country enough that we thought we could chance it. We went outside. I don't know why, but it was beautiful weather. The sun was shining and the clouds were dispersing. The fields were wet and the ground was muddy, but it was beautiful. I looked up at the house to make sure there wasn't any damage to the roof and that's when I saw a double rainbow all the way across the sky. It was enormous and so vivid that it almost looked tangible. I admired it for a bit and then continued my search of the area around us. When I looked back up, the rainbow had disappeared. It left so quickly. 

We tried calling people in the area to make sure they were ok. That was pointless. The phones wouldn't work for any of us. So, we jumped in our cars. The Werners went to one part of Henryville and we headed back to the area of the Hicks'. We didn't know yet that Henryville had been wiped out. As we drove, we looked around, trying to take in what we were seeing. I wish I had paid better attention on our drive through there an hour earlier. I knew it had all been in tact and in one piece, but as we drove through it was hard to believe that it had ever stood on its own. Trees were everywhere. GIANT trees were all lying horizontally. Their roots, just these huge tufts of dirt were pulled out of the ground like nothing. Power lines were torn and down and wires were strewn everywhere. Cars were dented from the softball-sized hail. The paneling of houses was caught on power lines and in trees and on cars. Light poles were smashed into cars. The insulation was showing on most houses. There were giant chunks of paneling gone where the hail had hit. Sticks and leaves and mud covered the pavement. 
Golfball- and softball-sized hail dented cars

The farther into the town we got, the worse the damage was. The roads were blocked off where the worst damage was and people were parking their cars and walking in past the barricades. It was raining again. Cars were getting stuck in the mud. The truck in front of us got stuck and tried to rev out and just showered our windshield with mud. Families were walking together, hand in hand, to find the people they loved behind the police blockades. We kept trying to get through to the Hicks but the phone lines wouldn't be working well for the next couple days. After an hour of trying to find a way through, we realized there wasn't a way in and the Hicks probably weren't there anymore anyways so we headed to an appointment back in Charlestown.
What's left of Henryville
The neighborhood surrounding the High School
 Late that night was the first time that someone in the ward was able to make contact with Sister Hicks. They were all safe. Their house is gone. It doesn't exist anymore. Those walls I paced, looking at their family pictures, the heater that was making all the weird noises, the comfy couches, they're gone. Just gone. We sat and visited with this family in their home and an hour later that home wasn't there anymore. It's all so crazy. What a blessing it was that the Lord protected us and them. It's almost too much to think about without getting emotional. 

We spent the rest of the night trying to check on people we care about. Driving places was pointless. Calling was almost as pointless. Sister Ford and Sister Wood had been in the home of a member and were teaching her friend. They were listening to the weather report and the reporter said that the tornado would go south of Pekin when the power went out. (They never got to hear the report that actually Pekin WOULD be hit) The Sisters were like, "Should we go down to the basement?" The member said, "It's not that close. We'll be fine here." The Sisters were still a little wary. The member finally said, "You can go down there if you want, we're staying up here." The Sisters felt stupid and neither of them knew much about tornadoes so they sat upstairs and waited the storm out. After it passed they started the drive back to Salem. A mile away from the member's home Sister Wood asked Sister Ford, "Was that junkyard here on our drive in?" "Uhh... I don't think so." That's when they realized how close they'd been to the tornadoes. An entire trailer park was wiped out. It looks like matchsticks. It was just flattened. 

Angel Babcock was found in a field in New Pekin, Indiana, after tornadoes ripped through the area.
Angel - the baby who was found in a field 10 miles from home
I haven't been able to watch the news or anything so I don't know if these stories have been well-covered or not, but there was a family in Pekin that got blown away while trying to find cover. The dad, mom and two kids died. The last child was found 10 miles away from their home and was flown to Louisville to the ICU, but later died as well. There was another story in a different town where a grandma was trying to hold on to her grandchildren and had one in each arm. She was able to hold on to one of them but broke her collar bone in the process. The other was ripped out of her arm and was found dead in a field. It's all so heartbreaking. People have lost everything. They've lost their homes, their cars, their comfort, their everything. Where do you even begin to pick up the pieces? 

Saturday morning we headed to the church to be part of a cleaning party. (I hadn't anticipated this so the only clothing I brought that wasn't a dress was a moose nightgown and some reindeer pajama pants... I borrowed a shirt and had a sweatshirt but I was the only person there without jeans on. Needless to say I looked GREAT.) The other Sisters ended up joining us (Sister Wood went to the apartment and got her jeans). Some of the other missionaries in the zone came as well. 

The High School in Henryville and the surrounding homes were destroyed and the police still wouldn't let people in so we went to north Henryville to a member's farm. All I can say was that it was the most surreal experience of my life. Hands down. I felt like I was watching a movie. I won't be able to describe it justly, but it seriously looked like-- haha, the only thing I can compare it to is like a tornado went through it. The barn had completely collapsed. Half of his house was gone. It looked like a dollhouse where you have three walls but the fourth wall doesn't exist so that you can see inside. That's what this looked like. You could see in and see his tv and his chairs and everything in their proper places, but outside where the fourth wall had been was a dump. 

Henryville High School
The chicken coop had been carried into the mess and there was a shed and miscellaneous other things just all thrown in a pile. The trees looked like those razor commercials where they do a close-up of the whiskers being cut. Some of the trees were completely uprooted and some of them were cut off near the stump. You could clearly decipher the path the tornado took because some trees were still standing but there was a definite line, a WIDE line where the trees were all mowed down. Paneling as wrapped around the power line. Trees were blocking the long drive. Wood was everywhere. I looked around and honestly felt like the best thing we could do for the place is light a match and burn it all up. But of course you can't do that. 

So, we went to work clearing trees. There were men with chainsaws hacking through the branches and us missionaries hauled the pieces out into the field to make a burn pile. We made a salvage pile of non-tree items. We made a trash pile. We made a wood pile for next winter. But most of it went to the burn pile. It was muddy and cold and bright. We got very dirty, sweaty and clammy. At one point we found a little bird that had been injured and probably isn't alive anymore. Because I had gloves on and because of the circumstances, I was able to pick it up without a lot of anxiety and protect it and find a safer place to let it try and recover. At one point we went in to the house and went to the bathroom (though it was hard because there was no power so we went in the dark). The man who lived there was telling us how it was by far the scaredest he'd ever been in his life. Said it sounded worse than a double freight train. 

My shoes
There were forty of us and we spent almost 6 hours there and all we could do was clear his driveway of trees. We didn't even make a dent in the work he needs done there. It was just insane. The next day was Fast Sunday. None of us fasted though because the last two hours of church were cancelled and after Sacrament Meeting we left to help out again. This time Sister Ford and I went to Pekin and helped at the drop-off center for donations. The United Methodist Church in Pekin let us use its gymnasium. Everything you can imagine from clothes, food, hygiene supplies, toys, dishes, clocks, motor oil, rakes, baby formula, everything was being dropped off. Truckloads. Everyone wanted to help in any way they could. As they'd drop it off, we were with a group of people that had to sort it all. It was a madhouse. People were folding and sorting clothes. People were busing food to tables. People were piling toilet-paper. The gym is a big gym. You can't hardly see the walls anymore. There is SO much stuff in there. It was hectic and tiring and hot and frantic. But it was so wonderful to see the people come in with boxes full of anything they could think of to help out with. 

Tornadoes give birth to wide range of  stories based on people’s experiences
United Methodist Church in Pekin loading donated supplies

People were cleaning off their shelves. People were buying things in bulk from the stores. People were coming in from over 100 miles away to donate. There were groups of people cutting trees and trying to clear rubble. It was a full day of helping people as fast as we could. They set up the gym like a store so people who needed help could come in and get a shopping cart and walk through and get whatever they needed and walk out. It was of course all free of charge. People would come in and try to take the bare minimum saying they didn't need everything they were being offered, just a little. It was so humbling to see them and imagine what they were experiencing emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. The people helping at the donation center would insist people take more and usually the person would leave with a carload of things, barely even enough to keep them going, but being so grateful for what they'd been given because before they got there they literally had NOTHING. 

People were coming in and donating and then asking what else they could do. Some would stay and help organize. We didn't need to know each other's names or be formally introduced or have an excuse to speak to each other. We all talked like we were friends and family because we were that day. No one was afraid of us or timid around us because of our name tags. We were just people that day. And people meant family after something like this. It was like living the law of consecration. People had excess. They'd bring it in and people who were in need would come and get what they needed. No money was involved. No bickering over who earned what. It was all of us helping each other like we're supposed to. How sad that Heavenly Father has to send tornadoes to His children before they'll start acting this way towards each other. And the Spirit is so strong when we will show love like that. The Spirit filled whatever was left in that gym to the point where I thought the place was going to burst. It was uplifting and humbling. 

High School parking lot
So often we pretend like we're in control of things. We trick ourselves into thinking that we can do anything we want to. We can do all things. Then something like this happens and we remember Who really has power, Who really is in control. We can do all things through God and not through any other way. There is a man in the Salem Ward who bore his testimony on Sunday. He's a big bald man who is loud and rough around the edges but a good member of the church. He broke down and cried like a baby as he told us that his wife was in the High School under a conference table holding onto some children as the tornadoes passed through Henryville. He tried to get through the barricades to his wife and the police wouldn't let him. He said he almost did bodily harm to a fire fighter.

Once the storm passed, the room his wife was blocked and they had to cut their way to them and it would take a while. They could smell gas leaking and knew they had to get them out quickly. This man was helpless. His wife was in trouble and he couldn't save her. The police gave him a can of spray paint and told him to check the cars in the parking lot for dead people. He marked them with an x once they'd been cleared. He talked about how the only thing that he could do for his wife was pray and put her into the care of Heavenly Father. That's why horrible things like this have to happen. We need to come unto Christ. If we as a people won't come on our own, the Lord will humble us and hope that that works.

 Driving through Pekin, Sister Ford and I noticed of the homes that were hit by the tornado that the ones that had at least a little bit left standing were only the homes that had a firm foundation. The mobile homes, the ones without a foundation were all gone. They were destroyed. This life is temporal. We know that everything we have here is temporary. I've learned that even more this week. But our spirits aren't temporal. They're eternal. If we will build on the Rock, on our Savior, our foundation will see us through life's storms. 

In the hymn "How Firm a Foundation" it talks about the benefits and the need of a firm foundation. In the verses that we don't get to sing too often it says, "When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o'erflow, For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to the thy deepest distress. Then through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine." 

We're here on earth not to live forever, but to find eternal life through the Atonement. If we will let the Lord refine us, though it will hurt, it will be for our everlasting welfare. I always hated when people said they were grateful for their trials. That makes no sense. Well, that makes no sense to the natural man. But if my trials get rid of my dross and refine me into something worthy of heaven, then I am grateful for my trials. Prayer is real communication with the Father. His whole goal is to bring us back to Him. He knows what needs to happen before you can make it back. Trust Him. Let him change you.

I love you all. I'll write a more upbeat email later today. This is Christ's Church. Share it by sharing His love and His peace.

Love Yuns,

Sis Nelson

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**Note to readers from Mom**
As an addendum, you may be interested to know that Erv and I went the temple the Saturday before and Erv put Brooke's name on the prayer rolls. The Friday that the drama below was unfolding, I was watching the weather news quite closely, knowing that the tornadoes of the midwest were going to be hitting Southern Indiana and coming close to Salem, where Brooke is currently serving. I felt a sudden prompting to drop to my knees and pray for Brooke immediately, which I did - out loud - for several minutes, and then rose and immediately texted my family and extended families and asked for their prayers in her behalf as well. Many responded immediately, letting me know they were praying right then as well. I was at peace that she would ultimately be fine, but I still felt the need to pray for her. The time was late morning. With the time difference of 3 hours, and the reports later that the storm she speaks of hit the area around 4:40 pm, you can see the timing was not coincidental. The subsequent blessings and increase of testimonies for all of us has been tremendous. The tender mercies of the Lord and outright miracle He granted us above keeps up humbled and in awe and full of endless gratitude. Thank you to all who joined us in petitioning Him for his care over Sister Nelson

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