“We’ve had some very unusual ministries and frankly, we’re just looking for the ministries wherever we travel,” says Major Don Wildish, an officer with The Salvation Army in Sherman, Texas.
Wildish’s 2-week deployment to Oklahoma has been anything but usual, if there is such a thing.
He arrived on May 31, 2013, with an assignment to offer Emotional and Spiritual Care to those affected by the tornado that touched down in Moore 11 days earlier. The first night in town he and a few others headed out for dinner, but shortly after arriving the tornado sirens began to blare.
“The restaurant invited us to take shelter, but there was no way I was going to take shelter in a place where there was big hot stoves and sharp knives,” Wildish recalls.
So without knowing his way around town, Wildish drove toward the one thing he could see – bright blue skies above the airport.
“But then the skies turned dark and we had to go a different way. We ran from one tornado only to run into another one,” he says.
With the skies turning overhead, Wildish and his group took cover at the next place they saw, a hotel outside of the airport. The staff inside was in the process of asking guests to come down from their rooms and occupy the first floor.
“We gathered into the bathroom and stuffed as many people into the men’s restroom as we could – both women and men. I had an opportunity to have a word of prayer with them and let them know the Lord was with us.”
The storm brewing outside left her mark; the National Weather Service has since marked it as the ‘widest known tornado in U.S. history,’ stretching 2.6 miles at its widest point. With two massive storms less than two weeks apart, Wildish certainly had his work as an Emotional and Spiritual Care volunteer cut out for him.
A few days later he decided to go into Moore.
“I wanted to see if there was any movement. I wanted to see if there was anyone I could serve. When I got into the middle of destruction, a place where there was nothing left at all, I found a woman, an older woman, working outside to trim her hedges. I asked her if she needed help, and she said, ‘Well, there’s a few spots up there that are too high for me to reach’.”
Wildish took the clippers from her and began to trim her hedges. As he finished the area she asked if he could help with a few other spots on the other side.
“Once I finished the second area she told me that we needed to move the clippings to the curb,” he recounts.
“Well we have to take it to the curb,” she explained, “That’s where the collectors come to pick up the trash.”
Wildish looked at the devastation around, but recognized what it meant for this woman to be able to take care of the one thing left standing among all of her belongings.
“…so we climbed over a few piles of debris, in order to place the hedge clippings in a spot where the collector would find them.”
When Major Wildish finished the task he asked the woman if she needed additional help.
“No, I’m just gonna go back and sweep my porch; it needs sweeping,” she answered.
“You’re right,” he said back to her. “It does need sweeping.”
Major Wildish asked the woman if he could pray with her and then was on his way.
Throughout the rest of the day he had other chances to serve.
“My ministry has taken me to places where I don’t even know where I’m at. In Union City, going towards El Reno, we would stop and I would just give a drink and some snacks to the men working on the electrical lines and the other crews that were just working to free up traffic.
Later I found a family who needed help loading a box spring and a mattress into their new home.
Another time we found a house where power lines were down. I could not get to the house. We stood out in front and I yelled, ‘If there’s anyone inside, please step out,’ and a moment later a couple came to the door. I couldn’t get to them, and they couldn’t get to me, because the power lines were down in between us. But we were able to toss them a dozen drinks over the power line into their yard. We got them a large plastic bag of snacks and threw it over the power line too.”
Major Wildish says his assignment is simple, and he’s honored by the chance he has to serve.
“We’ve been in some real peculiar situations out there, but it’s my roll just to bring some comfort, bring some strength to those in need.”