We Are Oklahoma – How Locals Are Uniting After the Tornado

John Sowers

Last year, we began dreaming with leaders from Oklahoma City…

As we dreamed, we met business leaders and pastors standing together for the fatherless. We heard Governor Fallin say fatherlessness was Oklahoma’s greatest challenge. We saw a city united and committed to reaching youth through foster care, adoption and mentoring.

Something special was happening in Oklahoma. And it embodied the heart and mission of The Mentoring Project. So last June, we loaded up the truck and moved. A few months later, our friend Bob Goff helped us launch our second office of The Mentoring Project, the new TMPOKC.

Immediately, we learned Oklahomans are hospitable and generous. Humble. They fly below the radar. Actually, they don’t even know about the radar. The first time I met the former mayor, he helped me carry my twin babies to the car. Then he bought us lunch.

Oklahomans also have grit. Backbone. A stubborn commitment to love and make their State a better place.

So on Monday, when it was hit with a F5 monster tornado, it didn’t take long for Oklahomans to shine.

Whole neighborhoods were crushed by the tornado, which was over a mile wide. Two elementary schools were hit. Pancaked. The tornado was on the ground for 40 minutes, hitting Shawnee, Little Ax, and Moore (suburbs of Oklahoma City) with a force up to 600 times that of an atomic bomb.

24 people were killed. Including nine children.

As the media cameras focused in on the horror, stories of hope began to surface. Stories of these humble and tenacious Oklahomans.

    • Teachers protected students with their own bodies.
    • Kevin Durant gave one million dollars to the Red Cross.
    • An anonymous neighbor dug out an old man and saved his life.
    • Victory Church opened its doors for the 20,000 displaced families.
    • Dozens of teams came forward; including Rex Barrett from Frontline Church who led two thousand volunteers to clean up Moore.

• • •

My prayer partner, Tom C, started an email chain with local Oklahoma leaders, determined to help. In the next 24 hours, I got about 140 replies to Tom’s original “Urgent Needs” email.

Here are some excerpts:

    Tom C: I am praying as we all are. I can provide 53-foot trucks, bobcats, forklifts, warehousing and labor, and anything else I can get my hands on.

    Beth: We are providing gift cards from Target and Wal-Mart for victims, and will hand them out on Wednesday.

    Susan: Buy For Less will be donating trucks of food, water and snacks. We are taking donations at our 14 stores that go directly to Red Cross.

    Tom H: We have contacted the Governor’s Office and they are coordinating, please pray for our 28 men who are digging tonight at Plaza Elementary School. We have 2 skid steers, a backhoe, a trencher and generators, lights and trucks on the scene. Please pray for them.

    Susan: We are lifting up your team in prayer. Please let us know if anyone sees opportunity that may not be widely publicized.

    Patrice: We are working to return safe power and to make sure there are no gas leaks from the damage. We have several employees who have lost homes. One employee reported that her granddaughter who was at Plaza Tower Elementary, is out. Thank you for your help and prayers.

    John: (Television Station Director) Let me know what message you may need to get out to the public. We want to notify the public of any coordinated areas of assistance.

    David: Though there are obviously immediate needs, in the coming weeks and months we can offer the most assistance. When the dust settles, some people will feel desperate and hopeless. We must be diligent after the crowds, media and others have moved onto the next big thing.

    Jim: (Hospital President) Mercy stands ready to assist. We have vast medical resources, doctors, nurses and medicine. Let me know if you are aware of need.

    (A few hours later, Mercy sets up a medical clinic)

    Jim: Spent today setting up medical clinic at the ‘ground zero’ area. While there are super-human efforts taking place, many people are still in need. Of love, prayer, food, clothing, transportation, love, medicine, shelter, love … did I say love?

    Kerri: Buy For Less delivered 20,000 snacks to a church in Moore via Susan. Susan also delivered a truck of water. Also, the Red Cross just said, “The DA’s office is whipping through the backlog of people who called on the disaster line.” We appreciate you David!

    Kerri: We have enough BBQ to make 1500 sandwiches, hot on the truck en route to OKC now. Red Cross desperately needs refrigeration. Can anyone help?

    Tom C.: I can have a refrigeration truck on site anywhere you need it for as long as you need it. And I have over 70 emails in the last four hours from you guys. Haha. We are Oklahoma. This is what we do.

    Nathan: I loved this quote from NBC’s Brian Williams tonight, as he was speaking with Governor Fallin: “I watched your entire briefing today, you had heads of all State Departments, including churches and conferences of churches. You almost have a faith-based FEMA here, as well as FEMA.”

    Nathan: Love God, Serve People. It is making a difference and the world is watching. Salt and Light.

The world is seeing the grace and strength of the people of Oklahoma. I’m honored to call these people neighbors, friends, brothers and sisters. But when you tell them how great they are, they just shrug and say:

We are Oklahoma. This is what we do.

If you want to help, donate or volunteer to a local outreach, follow us on Twitter @tmproject – as we highlight local initiatives our friends are leading. The Mentoring Project will continue helping the long-term recovery effort by teaching mentors to love and serve Oklahoma. And along the way, Oklahoma is teaching us as well.

John Sowers

John Sowers

This is a post by John Sowers, one of the Storyline Contributors. John has just released his latest book, The Heroic Path: In Search of the Masculine Heart. Learn more about John's story by visiting his website or by following along on Twitter (@johnsowers).