Editor’s note: This is the first of a two part series.
“We like to carve a cross, and we try to put hope at the bottom of it because where do you find hope? You find hope at the foot of the cross,” Justin Murphy said when asked about the cross he carved after the recent tornado.
Murphy serves a dual role as pastor of Beck Spur Baptist Church of Forrest City and unit leader for the Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) Beck Spur Unit. He is passionate about reaching the lost, helping those in need and bringing hope and healing to those in crisis. Whether running a chainsaw, assessing storm damage, or serving as Incident Command or as chaplain, his time with DR has afforded many opportunities to travel the state and the country serving those impacted by natural disasters.
Murphy would return home each time to resume his role as shepherd of his local church and wait for the next deployment. He never expected that the next deployment would one day be in his own backyard. But that is exactly what happened on Friday, March 31 as an EF3 tornado ripped through the center of Wynne, less than 20 miles from his church.
That morning Murphy had travelled to Mississippi to work with a group of 7th and 8th grade boys at a small Christian school. As he travelled back, he was tracking the weather as the storms approached and hit Little Rock. Arriving home safely from Mississippi, Murphy continued to monitor the weather. He soon realized that another severe storm was forming and heading their way. He called his son, who is also a DR volunteer, and told him to be ready to go because a tornado was coming.
Immediately after the storm had passed, Murphy said they loaded up their trailer and headed to town. He had received a message about a young couple trapped in their home with their newborn baby. He asked his wife to send out a message to the DR team and tell them where to meet. When they arrived, Murphy couldn’t believe what he saw. “It was just wild. You know? So much devastation. So many homes that are just non-existent,” he said. “People were distraught, hurting, and just broken.”
The damage was so great that the roads were not passable. So, they parked the truck and began to unload their equipment. Team members jumped out and began cutting up the downed trees and shoving debris off the road. Eventually, Murphy and his team were able to rescue the couple from their home.
The next home they came to was owned by a nurse who asked for help removing a tree from across her house and driveway. She was trying get to the hospital to help the many who were injured in the storm. She was unable to leave because a tree had fallen across her house, blocking her from moving her car. Murphy had a tractor with a grapple, but he knew that it was too small to move the big tree. Still, he jumped into the cab, started it up and began to pray. “I’m like Lord, I know this machine isn’t gonna lift this, but I’m about to grab it and I know you are going to take care of the rest.” And He did. Miraculously, Murphy said he was able to pick up the tree and move it, even though there was no physical way that should have been possible.
Even with all the loss that day, one of the main concerns at the time was the need for food. People were hungry. They were worried about how they would feed their kids. Murphy said his heart was broken and he promised everyone that food was coming. The feeding unit was scheduled to arrive from Forrest City the next morning to begin serving meals to the community. He spread the word that lunch would be provided at the Odell McCallum Community Center at noon the next day.
A curfew was put in place, so his team had to pull out and head back home. The next morning, they were back early, as other teams also began to arrive. They began cutting and removing trees as fast as they could because people were still trapped in their homes. In the meantime, Murphy said he got a call that the feeding unit was having mechanical issues and couldn’t be moved. Noon was approaching fast and still there was no food. Rather than panic, he once again remained calm and being to pray that God would provide. “I said, the Lord’s got this. We’re just going to pray that it all works out.”
Suddenly, a group of men from First Baptist Church of Des Arc arrived on the scene pulling a grill behind them. They said they had just felt compelled to come and cook that day. They had brought 500 hamburgers and a bunch of hot dogs. Murphy sent the group over to the Community Center where they set up and began cooking. At noon families began pouring in as hamburgers and hot dogs were coming off the grill. In the meantime, the feeding unit had arrived and began setting up to start mass feeding that night. Murphy said that once again God showed up and provided when things seemed hopeless
“And that’s how Disaster Relief functions. We are a ministry, and we are made up of some of the godliest men and women you’ve ever met in your life,” Murphy said. “Our number one goal is to be able to go into a situation when it seems like all hope is lost and show that we have got hope, we have got healing. And man, it’s all found at the foot of the cross and through Jesus Christ.”