JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 6, 2013 – Celebrating the goodness and providence of God, Union University alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends gathered Feb. 5 to mark the five-year anniversary of a tornado that destroyed much of the university’s campus.
“Our purpose in gathering tonight is not to be nostalgic,” Union President David S. Dockery said. “It’s not to remember anything about Union prior to the tornado. What we’re doing tonight is something very biblical, which is to remember.”
The service in G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel on the Union campus featured singing, prayer, testimonies from students and a devotional from Dockery.
The EF-4 tornado that hammered Union on Feb. 5, 2008, caused about $40 million in damage, leveling 17 buildings and trapping dozens of students in collapsed apartments. Fifty-one students went to the hospital for treatment, nine of them who were injured seriously. But despite the damage, no lives were lost.
“We prayed diligently and desperately beginning that night for God to bring renewal out of rubble, to bring restoration out of ruin, and he has answered our prayers,” Dockery said.
Kevin Furniss, one of the students trapped in the Watters Commons building that night, shared his story about how God orchestrated his rescue. Furniss and several friends were buried almost 25 feet under tons of rubble for several hours before rescue workers were able to free them.
“We began to pray,” Furniss recalled about the experience he was trapped. “We began to sing hymns and give thanks to God for protecting us to that point. … We didn’t really feel like we had much hope, to be honest.”
Furniss remembers hearing the chainsaws cutting through the debris and smelling the gasoline, until he was finally able to stick his hand into the cold night air and feel a rescue worker grab it.
“It felt like the first time that I received Christ and salvation – the feeling of knowing that I no longer was a part of my sin and my filth, and God has rescued me from that,” he said.
Danny Song was another former Union student who was trapped in a different part of the same building as Furniss. As the tornado ripped through and crushed the structure, Song was thrown to the ground and a couch was blown and wedged right next to him. That couch propped up a concrete wall that otherwise would have crushed Song.
“I have heard, and I’ve been tempted to feel that, man, I must be pretty great for God to have spared me,” Song said. “I must have either done something great or am about to do something great, because God spared me.
“It’s just a recent realization that it wasn’t about me at all,” he continued. “It wasn’t about us. It’s just because God’s good. God’s not good because he saved me. God saved me because he’s good. It’s just that the works of God might be displayed in us.”
In his devotional, Dockery referenced King Hezekiah, of whom the Bible says that God heard his prayers and saw his tears.
“Somehow God uses tears,” Dockery said. “It’s not that our tears get his attention, but he responds with a kind, benevolent, compassionate heart to our tears that cry out for him. And we cried out to God during those times.”
Basing his comments on 2 Chronicles 29, Dockery mentioned Hezekiah’s call for a renewal among the people of Jerusalem, and said the tornado changed the way of life on the Union campus.
“Tonight I invite us to recommit ourselves once again to a Godward kind of consecration, to a Christ-centeredness that comes out of God doing something deep in our lives,” Dockery said.
Dockery said that the original hopes in the days after the tornado were that the campus could be rebuilt within five years. Two years later, in February of 2010, Union celebrated the completion of the Bowld Student Commons – the last facility that was destroyed by the tornado to be rebuilt.
“That’s the ultimate story tonight – that God is good, and God did something here in our midst that only God can do,” Dockery said. “He did something for us that we could not do for ourselves. Just as he saved us in Christ, so he brought renewal to this campus.”