Tornado Devastates Mission

Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of Oklahomans like the words "Take cover now!" The screeching immediacy of a tornado siren springs us into action to protect ourselves and our loved ones. But on April 24, there were no words or sound of warning for the Mexico border city of Piedras Negras. Three people died while thousands of others sought refuge from a twister that destroyed their homes and livelihoods. For thirteen members of an Edmond church group, it would prove to be a difficult, but inspiring testament to the true meaning of hope.

Max Pope is an Elder of Memorial Road Church of Christ. During the last week of April, he and twelve members of the church's singles ministry were continuing a mission in Piedras Negras…one that had begun two years earlier.

"Piedras Negras was desperately in need of a new church building and a special needs school for the physically and mentally handicapped in the area," explained Pope. "For two years, our church had sent groups to assist the community there. The school was well underway. More than 200 children were already signed up to attend the school. Then, suddenly there was nothing left. Two years of hard work was gone in just minutes."

The singles ministry had not been there when the tornado struck unexpectedly in the dead of night. They had gone to another town 30 miles away for dinner with friends. Their hosts had a radio that broadcast limited coverage of the tornado strike in Piedras Negras.

Despite the reports of power outages, flooding and road closings, they decided to return that night.

"We didn't get back until after midnight," said Dusty Hutchison, one of the singles in the group. "We could make out some damage with just our headlights, but it wasn't until the next morning that we realized we had completely lost the school. It was hard to look at. We all had an emotional attachment to the school. It had meant more than just brick and mortar to us and the people in that community."

The school began as the dream of Josea Holquin, a local special education teacher in the Mexican community. In the days following the tornado, Josea would help with clean-up efforts in the morning and then go back and teach classes in the afternoon.

"The Patriarch of the Church of Christ there was actually Josea's 70 year old father," said Hutchison. "I saw him staring at the scattered remains of the school that had meant so much to his son. He was just standing there crying. That really brought the emotion of the tragedy home to me."

After the initial shock and terrible disappointment had fully registered, a flame of hope began to flicker inside the church group and the Piedras Negras community. They were not going to quit or be beaten by Mother Nature. The community began immediate efforts to recover. The decision to rebuild the school was unanimous.

"Everyone just started working to clean up the area," said Pope. "All day Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we sifted through the debris for what could be salvaged like reusable concrete blocks. It was so inspiring to see even the neighborhood children helping."

In addition to cleaning up the school area, the Memorial Road Church of Christ group also helped move debris and vehicles in the surrounding neighborhood. They even bought hamburgers for the workers.

"I was so impressed with the people of Piedras Negras," said Hutchison. "They didn't complain or even waste time being upset. They just started rebuilding their community and helping each other. The electric company was out the next day restoring power. The city had backhoes and front loaders moving twisted wreckage out of the way. Everywhere you looked, it was neighbor helping neighbor."

When the group returned home, they made an appeal to the church to increase financial aid. The additional funds would allow the church to hire local workers to make up for the time that had been lost in the construction of the school.

"It was a major setback," said Pope. "But, we will continue to send funds and volunteers until the dream becomes a reality. It will take at least three more years, but we're going to do all we can to make sure those children have their school."

Anyone who would like to help with financial donations is asked to send a check to the Memorial Road Church of Christ at 222l E. Memorial Road, Edmond, OK 73013. Please earmark it for Piedras Negras Tornado Relief.

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