I think about it every year – a storm that was unlike any I had ever experienced. That day, June 8, 1982, had started off like any other spring day in Evansville, Indiana. The sun was shining, and the temperatures were pleasant.
What was about to come was unthinkable, and no one was really ready for it.
At that time, I was the operations manager for a Christian radio station, and my boss was in town for meetings. We were on our way to a fancy restaurant that was situated on the top floor of an 18-story building, the tallest structure in town. And while we were driving, the weather was changing…rapidly.
By the time we got to the downtown area, I had a clear view to the west – and what I saw coming was downright frightening. Not just one tornado, but a “mother cloud” of nine tornadoes was about to strike our city’s downtown area.
I had spent years as a TV weatherman, studying clouds under the supervision of the friendly crew at the National Weather Service – and I knew something bad was about to hit. We were mid-step, walking out of the elevator when the power suddenly failed – all lights in the restaurant went dark.
I quickly rushed to the host, and asked him where I could make an emergency phone call (yes, this was BEFORE cell phones!). He would not let me in to the room adjacent to us that held the guest phone. I appealed, but he said I couldn’t use it, that it wasn’t safe…and in the next instant, I understood why.
You see, that room, and all of the other dining rooms in this building, had giant glass walls that gave a panoramic view of the city. Had I been in that room using the phone, it would have been very bad – for in an instant, the storm blew out the entire side wall of the restaurant. Seemingly millions of pieces of broken tempered glass blew in. And the powerful force of nine tornadoes was now blowing through those rooms, and literally shaking the building.
What a surreal moment – people were screaming, and most of us were praying. I really thought the entire building was going down. But in ten minutes time, it was over. So was our lunch meeting – that never really started.
We began the long descent down, walking through the darkened stairways of that building, finally reaching ground level, and there we walked out to what looked like a war zone.
The destruction was massive.
Sign boards were blown down, street lights broken, trees were pushed over, windows blown out. Debris was everywhere. All power was gone for much of the city, as the overhead power lines were no match for 200 MPH winds. One radio station tower was brought down, twisted like a pretzel.
Looking back on that day, one thing that has always amazed me is this – the speed at which everything changed. It came on us in an instant.
The Bible has a couple of verses that take that concept into our spiritual walk. One passage is 1 Peter 4:12, where Peter warns us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” We shouldn’t be surprised that storms come. We have been duly warned that they will occur.
The second deals with our response to sudden bad news… I particularly like the NIV’s reading of Psalm 112:7 – speaking of the righteous man, it says “He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.” When the news comes that we didn’t expect, we can hang onto this promise. We will have our heart held in steadfast trust.
Life’s storms will come, and sometimes quite suddenly. But His love and grace will see us through to calmer days.
Mike Gilland is Operations Manager for The Shepherd Radio Network, a group of radio stations in Florida that features the “Christian Teach/Talk” format. Mike hosts a daily talk radio show in the 2 PM hour called “Afternoons with Mike”, talking to local pastors and newsmakers. In Gainesville, Mike is heard on WTMN – 96.3 FM / 1430 AM. In Ocala, on WRZN – 103.5 FM / 720 AM. In addition to his broadcast experience, Mike spent 36 years in full-time ministry as a pastor and worship leader. As a guitarist, Mike performs at concerts, restaurants, private parties, etc. He is married to Cindy, the father of four grown children and grandfather to seven grandchildren.