David S. Dockery (pictured), who received his Master of Divinity degree from Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana, is the president of tornado-ravaged Union University in Tennessee. On this first anniversary of the devastating tornadoes of last year, he reflects on how God has worked.
FIRST PERSON: Out of devastation, God has worked good
By David S. Dockery
JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–On the evening of Feb. 5, 2008 — a year ago today — people across Tennessee and the entire Southeast were going about their normal, everyday business — until 87 tornadoes broke out in the region.
The outbreak killed at least 57 people in four states. Hundreds of others were injured, including several here at Union University.
My life, like so many others on the Union campus, will never be the same on this side of Feb. 5, 2008. That night’s events will be etched in my memory for years to come. I will never forget the eerie darkness, the loud sound of the swirling tornado, the initial phone call informing us that large portions of the Union campus had been hit.
I will long remember the first impressions I had after arriving at the residence life area where walls were crumbling. Imprinted in my memory will be the look on the faces of shocked students, the amazing efforts of the rescue workers and heroic work of all of those involved in the initial response.
Devastation was all around, but there was no despair. The words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 became our own. We were given a new way to see what had taken place on the Union campus. We began to pray that out of the rubble God would bring renewal to our campus.
We are now able to look back over the past year with both wonder and thanksgiving at the recovery and rebuilding process. Indeed, so many of our prayers have been answered in amazing ways. From the rubble, renewal has come, not just in the rebuilding process, but in the lives of students, staff, faculty, administrators and trustees alike.
First and foremost, we offer thanksgiving for God’s good and gracious providence. We also are grateful to the thousands of people who have helped us over the past year by working on campus, caring for our students, encouraging us, praying for us and generously offering financial support.
The devastation to the campus exceeded $40 million, the worst natural disaster in Southern Baptist history. Today, all six academic and administration buildings that were hit have been repaired. Seventeen new residence life facilities have been constructed. For every good work provided by the architects, engineers, contractors, sub-contractors and construction workers, we will forever be grateful.
Over the past year we have often found ourselves in uncharted waters. But by God’s grace, the Union family, with the help of so many, has moved forward with a renewed hopefulness in God’s amazing provision.
Hope is a powerful word. It is an eager, confident expectation that sustains us while we work diligently and wait patiently. Hope is not escapism, but is an energizing motivation for faithful living in the here and now. In the midst of our many challenges, hope has stabilized our lives, serving as an anchor to link us to God’s faithful providence.
Over the past year, we have learned anew that hope can shape and direct our service and provide motivation. While we have waited and watched, we have worked faithfully. This hope is not self-reliant motivation, but a confidence in God who oversees the affairs of human history.
As we look back over the past year, we still have many unanswered questions. Without hope and trust in God, the challenges of the past year would have seemed insurmountable. As a university community, we are now prepared to take the next steps with a full recognition that God’s good providence transcends the experiences of men and women.
Feb. 5, 2008, was the worst night in Union history, but there have been many, many good days over the past 12 months. We have learned that God can take actions that seem bad to us and use them for good.
But despite the difficulties over the past year, we now turn our attention to new challenges and new opportunities. As we refocus on the distinctive mission of Union University, we do so with hope and assurance that our great God can and does use such events as those of Feb. 5 for His eternal good — even events that are quite difficult for us to fully understand. Therefore, we face the future as a most grateful and hopeful people.
David S. Dockery is president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Union is located on the Internet at uu.edu.