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Agents of Hope In the Storm

Around 7 p.m. on the evening of Friday, May 31, 1985, an F3-magnitude tornado swept through Beaver County, Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh. We were at church for a meeting, and when we got word of the storm, we had no idea how bad it had been. When our meeting came to an end, we headed to the home of some friends just as we had planned on doing.

My friend is a surgeon, and when we arrived at his home, one of his colleagues was already at the door. All the physicians in the area were being summoned to the medical center. My surgeon friend, Roy, ran to his car and left immediately. We stood there wondering what we could do. I thought, I'm a pastor. Maybe I should go to the Medical Center, too. But I did not want to go. I was frightened. I'd probably be in the way, I reasoned. What could I possibly do? They've already got people lined up for these things.

You may think pastors enter their line of work to help people, but that night I wanted no part of it! Finally, with God's sharp finger in the middle of my back, I reluctantly drove to the hospital.

The devastation was worse than we'd imagined. Phone lines were down. Traffic was at a standstill. Kids were driving around, and their parents had no idea where they were. It turned out that the hospital was the only place where worried people could think to go. Many had been injured and three people were dead. The lady in charge of the emergency room—a woman from our church—would call out from time to time: "Is there anyone from the Jack Smith family here?" Otherwise, folks sat and worried.

Having no better idea of what to do, I just started walking up to clusters of people. I would say, "I'm a pastor, and I wonder if you'd like me to pray for you and your family."

"Yes, please," they said. "That would be great."

No one asked me what church I served, and no one—not one person—even hesitated to accept my prayers. I think I was the only one at the hospital that evening praying for people.

It hit me later that night that I am an agent of Christ's compassion in this world, and that means going where people are "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." And I do this not because I'm a pastor, but because I am a Christian. When others retreat from heartache and sorrow, we step in because we walk with Jesus.

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