Arkansas Baptist DR chaplain shares experience responding to tornado devastation in Wynne

Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer Jerry Bolander shared several photos on social media showing the devastation caused in Wynne by the March 31 tornado.

WYNNE, Ark. – While walking through the backyard of a home in Wynne recently destroyed by the March 31 tornado, Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer Jerry Bolander became emotional.  

The ground was scattered with framed photographs, Christmas decorations, children’s toys, clothing and so many other personal belongings. Bolander videoed the destruction and shared it on his social media to let other people understand what this event was and how devastating this is to those who lost their homes to the twister.  

“Most of us have not ever been through something like this so it is hard for other people to understand,” Bolander said. “In a couple of weeks, three weeks, four weeks, everybody will roll out of this area and there are still going to be people who don’t have a home. Even if they have insurance and are able to rebuild, contractors are a premium. They’re going to be so busy it’s going to be weeks or months before they get to where they can rebuild homes.” 

Bolander said several of the residents in Wynne watched the storm clouds coming and when they realized it was going to hit, they ran with only a few seconds to get into a safe spot.  

“A lot of these houses that are destroyed, people crawled out or walked out of them without any major injuries. Many of these people, I have told them that God has something else for them to do and that they need to not make little of that,” Bolander said.  

Bolander is a “blue cap,” or unit leader, with the Northwest Arkansas Feeding Unit, but his primary role is chaplain with Disaster Relief. Oftentimes, he is one of the first ones to come into an area where disaster has struck.  

Prior to heading to Wynne, Bolander was serving in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where residents were devastated by a tornado on March 24. He had just returned home after a week stint in Mississippi when the twisters struck Arkansas. He had a couple of nights in his own bed before rolling out Sunday, April 2, to Wynne.  

“The residents immediately are still shellshocked,” Bolander said on Thursday, April 6. “You’ll find somebody who will look at you and say, ‘We don’t know what we’re going to do next’ or ‘What are we going to do next?’” 

Bolander, a member of First Baptist Church in Rogers, joined Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. He was sent to Katy, Texas, where he was part of a mass feeding unit, feeding 10,000 people twice a day.  

Bolander was then sent to Orange, Texas, where they fed the Disaster Relief teams. While there, he asked a chaplain and assessor team if he could ride out with them.  

“I got to see first-hand things and thought this is what I’ve got to do. I have to be on the front end of these situations,” Bolander said. “Everybody that works out here is very important, but I wanted to be on the front end of this. I get to hear a lot of the stories about how this was grandma and grandpa’s house or how this was handed down. I get to hear all these stories and get to cry with people because of all the memories or things they lost.” 

Though chaplain is his primary role, Bolander said he does whatever is asked of him. Bolander described Disaster Relief as “one of the most rewarding things that you can do.”  

Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief is having regional training on Saturday, April 15. The next training will be Aug. 19 at Indian Springs Baptist Church in Bryant. For more about Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief, click here.  

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