(Editor’s note: this is the second in a two-part series. Click here to read the previous story. )
Justin Murphy serves a dual role as pastor of Beck Spur Baptist Church in Forrest City and as a unit leader for the Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) Beck Spur Unit.
During a recent deployment to assist with recovery efforts in Wynne after a EF-4 tornado ripped through town, Murphy and his son carved a cross out of a tree stump. At the bottom, they carved the word “hope.” He says he is always amazed at how God uses his carving to impact many who have been affected by the storms.
“We try to carve a cross anywhere we go on Disaster Relief,” Murphy said. “We carve the cross and put hope at the bottom, because where do you find hope, man? You find hope at the foot of the cross.”
This simple act became a staple of disaster relief ministry for Murphy during a deployment to Buckhorn, MO in 2019. An EF-3 tornado touched down in Burkhorn before continuing to Jefferson City. Murphy and Gene Lashlee, another ABSC Disaster Relief volunteer arrived in the small community to find complete devastation. He said there was literally nothing there and no one around to talk to.
Murphy said they couldn’t even find a place to carve a cross. Lashlee finally found an overturned stump and set it back upright into its hole. They finished carving the cross, along with the message of hope. When they finally finished and left that night, they still had not seen a single person.
At 2 a.m. that morning, Murphy says he got a text message from a number he didn’t recognize.
The message was from a woman who lived in Buckhorn. She shared that she was completely alone because her son had died some time back and her husband had recently passed away. Then the tornado hit and destroyed everything she had, including her home. That night she was going back to her property to put an end to her suffering. She was planning to commit suicide until she pulled into her driveway and her headlights hit the recently carved cross.
She said at that moment she had such a peace in her heart and knew that although she had lost everything she had on this earth, she had not completely lost her faith in a holy God. She wanted Murphy to know that she was not going to give up, so she sent the text that morning to thank him.
Murphy jumped out of bed, woke Lashlee up and said, “Dude, you’ve got to read this!”
“I have no idea how she got my number. I have no clue,” Murphy said. “But one thing I do know, from now one we’re always going to carve the cross and share the message of hope.”
During the cleanup in Wynne, Murphy was asked to speak to a Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) group in Paragould. They wanted to know what DR was doing and how they could be involved. He was tired and still busy with the cleanup efforts, but Murphy said he felt compelled to go and share.
He carried a big chainsaw and a much smaller chainsaw into the meeting. He shared his story and told the WMU ladies how he had grown up in that area. He had been a horrible person who had done some terrible things.
“Prior to 2006, I was out there in the world, and I was lost,” he told them. “I was a horrible person, and I was doing what I wanted to do.”
Murphy told them that there was a group of ladies just like them who had prayed fervently that God would do a mighty miracle in him and change his life. “That’s the group of ladies that prayed for me to be able to stand in front of you today,” he told them. “Those are the ladies that prayed for me to be able to pick that chainsaw up and get involved in disaster relief ministry.”
He then pointed to the big saw and offered to let them run it. They laughed and said there was no way they could even pick it up. Murphy shared with them how they could help make a difference even if they couldn’t pick up the chainsaw.
“Y’all are those ladies that are praying up those warriors that are carrying the saws. Y’all are the ladies that are praying up the ones that are feeding the folks that are out there serving. Y’all are the ladies that are praying that God is fixing to do a mighty work in the lives of the people whose homes we’re going to.”
He passed around a puzzle and had each lady take a piece. He then pointed to the small saw and told them how he had gone to buy parts for the bigger saw and decided to purchase the smaller one at the same time. While he was in the checkout line, he was told that a woman had called the store and purchased the smaller saw for him. She had told the cashier that she wanted to be a part of what God was doing to bring hope to the people in need.
He found out that the woman who purchased the saw was a member of his church who was going through a very difficult time in her own life. She had lost her son right before the Covid pandemic and her husband passed away from Covid. Then the man who had been helping her run her produce stand suddenly dropped dead of a massive heart attack.
The woman had talked to Murphy just a few days before the storm hit and shared that even though things had been rough, she was the closest to God that she’d ever been. She said, “I feel like me and Him are in a one-on-one relationship. I speak to Him and He answers, and He just tells me what I need to do and that He’s got this under control and that I’ve got to trust Him and not worry or try to figure things out on my own. “
Once Murphy figured out that she was the one who bought the saw, he called her and told her he couldn’t thank her enough. He also wanted to let her know what the saw was going to be used to do.
He told her that the saw would never be used to cut a tree or remove a limb. “This saw has one purpose,” he said. “This is the saw that we use to carve hope on the cross when we go into a city. This is the one that makes it possible for people to see the cross and when they look down, to see the hope at the bottom of it. And that’s the puzzle piece that you are playing in this ministry.”
Murphy concluded the WMU meeting by revealing the picture on the outside of the puzzle box. When all the pieces are put together, this thousand-piece puzzle would become a beautiful church. He shared that the puzzle would never be complete without each one of them.
“You’re the piece of the puzzle that completes it. Every single one of us is that piece,” he said. “We got some jagged edges, some of us might be a corner, some of us might be a middle, but every one of us is a piece to that puzzle that makes this happen.”