|‘You drive past houses no longer there, think about the people not there.’ – Chris Dodson
UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
By Holly McCray
As he travels to and from home, Chris Dodson can’t avoid the destruction in Moore. The May 20 tornado flattened houses on all but one street in his neighborhood. The Dodson home, on that street, was damaged but not destroyed.
Moore is this young clergyman’s hometown. It’s where he planted and pastors CrossTimbers UMC, one of the newest churches in the Oklahoma Conference. It’s where he and his wife, Jennifer, are raising their children.
Two months after the tornado, the Dodsons were "like everybody in Moore, waiting on the same stuff" for repairs or rebuilding, said the pastor.
As of July 29, windows remained boarded. The 2-year-old continued to ask when her bedroom window would arrive. Cloudy days frightened the 6-year-old. Stormy nights propelled both children to their parents’ bed.
"It’s a long process. You drive past houses no longer there, think about the people not there," Rev. Dodson said.
His spirit is renewed by other people, by those helping after the disaster.
"It’s important to understand how phenomenal people are when it comes to putting others first. When that tornado hit, everywhere you looked, everyone wanted to drop everything to help," he said.
"They’re still following up. Remind people how spectacular they are," he directed.
So is Dodson, although he simply said, "We’ll be all right. We’re here to help care for our neighbors."
For a month, he lived out of one room in his damaged home. Emergency officials asked him to stay in the neighborhood, because he could identify people who lived there.
That first Sunday after the tornado, he preached at CrossTimbers, but "I could have not said a single word." The most powerful part of worship came in "being able to hold each other and cry together. They were able to find God in the community of the church."
Five CrossTimbers families lost their homes and all their possessions.
"Moore Strong" became a month-long theme for Dodson’s sermons. He spoke about God "meeting us where we hurt. It’s OK to be hurt and angry; God can handle it... People see God through our action, our hugs, our being there... We can respond even though we have questions and struggles. We may be surprised; in responding to somebody else, we may find our answers."
As numerous other groups focused on cleanup, CrossTimbers asked: What has been forgotten? They learned the City of Moore had received a tree shipment before the disaster. Those trees needed planting, so CrossTimbers volunteered for that task. The church has been paying diesel costs for a backhoe operator. Member Kylah McNabb took on the church’s communications efforts.
Dodson also praised "Mom Church," First UMC in Moore, which established CrossTimbers in collaboration with the Oklahoma Conference. "They’re doing a really good job."
The Dodson family was neither home nor together when the tornado cut its path. Dad was at First UMC; mom, working in Norman. The children rode out the storm in a vehicle with their daycare provider.
After they reunited, the Dodsons again were separated because of their damaged home. Others cared for the children.
Pastor Dodson realized he was pacing a lot.
"I just wanted my girls back with me."
After a month, one room was livable and safe for all to occupy. "We crammed in, curled up, and went to sleep," said Dodson.