"Stepping into the Uncomfortable" - A Chaplain's Story in the Aftermath of the Nashville Tornadoes

March 19, 2020

Brian Wagner.ChaplainDay 3 is a wrap...

This afternoon I put my chaplain shirt on and walked several streets. A friend of mine said something many years ago that stuck with me. He said, "When struggles or trauma come, whatever is in someone's heart comes out." If this is true, and I think it is, then the people of north Nashville are filled with hospitality, love, and grit. 

Today I had the privilege of being welcomed to sit on several porches and enter many homes. So many stories to share, but I'll pick one. “C's” home was hit in such a way that only the roof was compromised. She said that four layers of shingles were up there and now five layers are on the ground. She is a wonderful woman who has battled illness but today she said she felt good. As a sarcastic person, I must admit this woman put me to shame.  I found myself laughing and joking like I do with my best of friends. 

Brian at workShe showed me the damage and said that it revealed that squirrels were living in her back room. She hasn't used that part of the house in 5 years and it's been blocked off to save on utilities. Apparently, without her knowing, a family of squirrels were renting from her, and two of them passed away...not too long ago. If it hadn't been for the tornado she never would have known. Apparently squirrels are not tidy renters, and so these squirrels aren't getting their deposit back. But then again, they're dead.

We will be doing extensive tarping on her roof, and I can't wait to spend more time with her. 

Tarp 1People wonder, including myself, why a God who loves would allow this kind of hurt and struggle in life. I may not have a good answer, though I've heard a lot of churchy bad ones.  My job is not to defend God. He can handle that. But what I can say is that because of this tragedy lives have crossed and community has grown. I have met some of the most resilient and joyful people who have lost so much, and there are beautiful connections that have been made in the trenches of tragedy. Do I wish I never had to come to Nashville?  Yes!  Because that means there was no tornado. And since there was, am I glad I've entered into this struggle and embraced the challenges?  Absolutely!  Though it sounds selfish and confusing, in some strange and very real way, I am blessed because of this work. Those I have met have forever impacted me.

Tarp 2My hope is that the Church in America would stop protecting itself and run towards those who are hurting, those who are forgotten and alone, those who are falsely termed “the least of these.” I am not saying I am somehow a hero. That is the farthest thing from the truth.  Just ask people who really know me. I'm pretty messed up in need of a Savior!  What I am saying is that I desire to be a follower of Jesus who is willing to step into the uncomfortable and embrace tragedy. I think it is here that we discover our need for a Savior, because let's be honest, otherwise we are like squirrels who board themselves in the safety of a back room. We are safe, but how alive are we — really?

Brian Wagner is a Hope Force staff member who recently left his pastoral position to join HFI full-time.  His main role is the oversight of HFI’s long-term work in West Virginia, but he also serves as a Hope Force chaplain in the aftermath of disasters. Brian has also learned many construction skills throughout his years of service, which he often utilizes in the field. 

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