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Jason Leger shares his experience of devastation and hope
On May 20 at 11:30 a.m., even without a cloud in the sky, our children were let out of school in anticipation of the bad weather.
When I got home that afternoon, our children were jumping on the couch, putting on helmets and superhero masks, saying they were ready. One of those masks still sits in our cellar.
The bad weather started southwest of us and moved directly toward Newcastle. We watched the weather on TV and had the weather radio going.
I walked outside to have a look. Our house is on top of a hill and I can see for quite a ways. I walked into the house after watching the clouds and told my wife Kala, “You need to get everyone in the cellar.” She was already working on it.
I walked back out to where I could get a good view and saw a small funnel starting to form. I went to the cellar and checked on them, then turned back to catch another look. It was much larger and very close.
It was only about 60 seconds from the time I shut the door on the cellar to the time we felt the pressure and dust begin pouring in through the vents. The tornado struck at 3:01 p.m. The kids were all very nervous and fighting tears. Kala was right next to the kids talking them through it. “We can do anything for four minutes. We are just fine. We are totally safe here.”
The pressure is what we all remember most. Our ears popped constantly. And although we don’t remember the sound, we knew when it was gone by the silence. The violence had definitely passed directly over our heads.
I opened the cellar door and saw a pile of junk where my house had been, then ducked back in the cellar and shut the door. I grinned at my wife and said, “It’s gone.” “Really?” she said, and I nodded.
I started filming from my iPhone, stepped out of the cellar and panned around the destruction. The shock was not only that my house was gone, but that my neighborhood was totally unrecognizable. I might as well have been on another planet. No trees, no house, no neighbors’ houses.
I quickly felt a sense of being very alone and strangely close to God. Not a living thing in sight and certainly nothing recognizable. That was a feeling that I’ll never forget and wouldn’t change for the world. It felt like it was just God and I.
After panning for a minute, I had one simple thought come into my mind. I said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away … wow.”
I uploaded the video to Facebook. That night, a friend messaged me and said, “Did you know your video has been shared over 10,000 times?” I received calls that night from various networks and TV shows asking for interviews and permission to use my video.
During the next 48 hours, I would be on Good Morning America, Nightline, Fox with Friends, Fox Radio, BBC news, and some local channels. The video was shown on the Weather Channel and appeared in various other news outlets, including the Christian Chronicle.
At one point, while waiting around for a CNN interview, I talked to other locals who were there to be interviewed. They figured out I was the guy with the video that said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Their eyes lit up and they said, “My kids would be so jealous if they knew I was here talking to you. They’d be more excited to meet you than any of the celebrities that are down here.”
I thought that was the weirdest thing. But these were Christian parents, and they had used my video as a teaching moment with their kids.
A woman went on to say, “Because of your comments, the local newscasters talked about how here in Oklahoma we go to our knees before God during times like this.”
In the days that followed, I saw how God used that video to bring glory to Him and his church. The video had gone viral and was seen by millions all over the world. I had inadvertently caused millions of people to think about God – all because I’d said such a simple thing at such a pivotal moment.
People had found it inspiring and had rallied behind the idea of putting your trust in God rather than your possessions. I’ve thought a lot about that moment since then. It really seems like God used me for His own purpose. It’s almost scary how powerful a few words can be.
I was repeatedly humbled at the outpouring of support from, not only my home congregation and family, but also from congregations from out of state and total strangers. People from Oklahoma Christian, area churches, and family and friends were arriving daily. Congregations nationally sent clothes and money, sometimes in the thousands of dollars. I can’t describe or quantify the flood of support my family experienced.
I witnessed an incredible level of care, love and mercy. I saw people working tirelessly on my land that shouldn’t have been there. They shouldn’t have been there because I have not always been the right kind of person. But they showed love and mercy and I’ll never forget it.
I’ve had to ask myself if I’d spring into action like these people did or if I would sit back and let others do the dirty work. I’ve received money from people who really had to sacrifice to send anything at all. In short, this event has helped me see some holes I need to fill in my own Christian walk. It has lifted me up and brought me to another level.
In May of last year, I prayed a very specific prayer: “God, perfect me.” I’ve witnessed more tragedy, hardship, insecurity and challenges in the last year than my whole life combined. I should have realized what I was asking for.
By Jason Leger (00)
Manager of IT, Web and Workflow Automation, Integris Health