JACKSON, Tenn. – Nov. 18, 2003 – The glory of Christianity is that whether our hearts are aching or rejoicing, there is no incident or circumstance, no matter how great or small, how significant or trivial -- that is without meaning or purpose.
Life is hard to understand, especially when we are in the midst of a challenging situation -- a crisis -- when we feel overwhelmed by confusion -- whether it's international conflict -- national debates -- local budget challenges -- personal matters seemingly that come out of nowhere -- or devastation that comes from winds, rains, and storms over which we have no control.
How well I remember those winds, rains and storms last Nov. 10. On Saturday evening I was preparing to speak at First Baptist here in Jackson with one eye on the television to get regular weather reports. As the forecasts intensified I began to place calls to the leaders across the campus -- all of whom were amazing in a time of crisis last year.
The storms hit the campus shortly after midnight. The tower clock stood still at 12:05 a.m. As soon as possible many of us were gathered across this campus walking around for hours looking with unbelief at the shattered windows, damaged roofs, the hundreds of cars and extensive devastation everywhere you looked.
We all knew that as bad is it was, it could have been so much worse. We had come within an eyelash of massive destruction to the Union campus. But we were spared -- by God's providential hand -- by His faithfulness.
When all the reports had come in we learned that there were no major injuries -- all lives were spared. The damage, which eventually totaled $2 million, could all be repaired and would eventually result in improvements and renovations for major parts of the residential section of the campus. But that night I didn't know when the campus would even be functional again.
That Sunday we observed, took stock of the damage and began a plan to address the issues, which would begin with a workday on Monday. But first, we had to sit through Sunday night winds and rain and frightening reports of more possible tornados.
When the tornado watch passed, we could breathe. We could re-focus. And we realized that in the midst of the devastation there was much for which to be grateful. My memories are many. I remember the capable and hard work of the residential life teams and facilities management teams.
I remember students caring for one another -- even as some were moving to new places because their dorm rooms were so badly damaged. People called to help. Temporary housing arrangements were set up. People brought food, water, supplies -- and they gave of themselves.
I was overwhelmed. Others came: insurance adjusters, construction workers, roof repair people, glass experts, tree and debris removal teams. The outpouring of help from the Jackson community was amazing.
Soon, action plans began to come together. I thank God for this community that came together and like an Amish barn-raising; the campus was soon clean and almost functional some 48 hours later.
It would be months, however, before repairs were completed, but we were functional and soon back to work. And we all found a new dependence on God -- we drew strength from Scripture and prayer, from God's people, and from one another.
Our confidence is not in our love for God, which is frail, fickle, and faltering. But our confidence is in His love for us, which is steadfast, faithful and persevering. Our hope is not so much in our hold on God, but in His eternal hold on us.
We offer thanks to this faithful God. We celebrate with thankful hearts God's goodness and providential protection to Union University one year ago.
And we offer thanks for God's instruments of grace, encouragement, and support -- the good people from all over the Jackson community who helped so much one year ago today. And in response today we declare our gratitude.
And we not only offer thanks but we chose to demonstrate our gratitude as nearly 1,000 students, staff, and faculty invested in the Union campus and across the Jackson community in over 45 different service projects. We want to be instruments of love and care in the lives of others, to show gratitude for God's great grace and His marvelous mercy to us, not just one year ago -- but this day as well.
Dr. Dockery is president of Union University, founded in 1823 as one of the nation's oldest Southern Baptist institutions.
By David S. Dockery