For one Gaston County man, a supercell thunderstorm had him literally flying through the air last week.
Jason Day, a deacon at Shady Grove Baptist Church in Cherryville, was getting into his car at a local ballpark on Tuesday, May 16, when a massive storm began sweeping through the area. Just before he exited the parking lot, he saw a tree fall on a nearby car with a mom and her daughter trapped inside.
Day remembers running to help, but nothing afterward.
“Pretty much that’s the last thing I remember,” Day said. “I remember getting out of my truck and walking towards the car … and the next thing I remember was getting in an ambulance.”
Several witnesses would later tell Day that, after he approached the vehicle, a second tree collapsed and launched him high into the air — “as high as the power lines,” witnesses told him, due to strong wind gusts.
“It knocked me out,” said Day, who ended up receiving treatment for a concussion, lacerations, a broken nose and a broken cheekbone. The mother and daughter in the vehicle were uninjured.
“God laid his hand on me and brought me through this situation,” Day said. “I wasn’t trying to be a hero …. I just hope that God’s light shines through me, that people can see God’s light shining through me in this situation.”
That desire to “shine God’s light” has been the goal for Day, his church and over 100 Baptists on Mission volunteers throughout the past week as N.C. Baptists have banded together to serve in and around Cherryville — a small town nearly 40 miles west of Charlotte — which experienced the brunt of the storm.
According to the National Weather Service, Cherryville experienced a “microburst,” a weather phenomenon where downward bursts of air cause strong winds to spread out in all directions. The microburst knocked down trees, destroyed rooftops and damaged power lines as wind speeds reached up to 85 mph.
A state of emergency was issued for Cherryville as hundreds were left without power. By the next evening power had been restored, according to a local news source. No casualties have been reported.
On Wednesday morning, Shady Grove spearheaded N.C. Baptist disaster relief efforts by providing essential services and resources to the local community, including arranging free meals, beds, electronic charging stations, medical assistance and hygiene stations on the church property. The church — only a few miles away from Cherryville — did not incur any damage.
“The main motivation for us is simply to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to allow people to see Jesus through us,” said Dale Hendricks, pastor of Shady Grove. “We’re simply doing the work because of our relationship with Him.”
On Friday, Shady Grove began hosting disaster relief volunteers led by Baptists on Mission, an auxiliary ministry of N.C. Baptists.
Since then, Baptists on Mission disaster relief volunteers have been working to rebuild roofs and remove fallen trees scattered across Cherryville, with members of Shady Grove assisting in the efforts. In total, as of Sunday evening, 115 volunteers have been deployed in the cleanup, some of whom are staying at Shady Grove until relief efforts are completed.
“We’ve dealt with huge trees on houses, trees blocking access to the roads, and a general mess in a certain area around Cherryville,” said Dennis Holloway, onsite relief coordinator for Baptists on Mission. “It was a lot worse storm than they first had anticipated.”
Amid the challenges of the cleanup, Holloway said there has seen a tremendous partnership between the local community and N.C. Baptist volunteers, who have come from all across the state to support the small town.
“It’s just been an outpouring of help coming from so many different people,” Holloway said.
The outpouring of help is already having an effect on the local community, according to Hendricks.
Over the weekend, Hendricks interacted with one homeowner — a widow who had recently experienced a heart attack — who saw an entire portion of her home collapse onto her wheelchair ramp.
While visiting her during an initial damage assessment, Hendricks observed that she had an overwhelming amount of gratitude for the disaster relief team.
“She was simply sitting outside, crying,” Hendricks said. “We came there and offered the hope, and she said, ‘I’ve just been praying because I didn’t know what I was gonna do.’”
Hendricks later visited her after a Baptists on Mission team repaired her home and cleared debris from her yard. On her walker, the homeowner took Hendricks around the house to show him their work.
“She said, ‘Look at my yard,’” Hendricks recalled. “‘It looks better than before the storm. I can’t believe what they’ve done. They look like a bunch of worker ants all over the place.’”
Tom Beam, disaster relief coordinator for Baptists on Mission, anticipates that the relief efforts will wrap up by the end of the week. As of noon Monday, the crews had completed a dozen projects, with about 20 projects remaining.
“Our volunteers have been able to do jobs as small as cleaning up debris in yards, to bringing in a crane to get a tree off a house, to cutting up large trees,” Beam said. “We’re very thankful that our volunteers are able to do the work that we feel like the Lord has called us to do.”
That calling is what has motivated these volunteers to cut down trees, clean up debris, provide food and shelter — and it’s that same calling which prompted Day to run out in the thunderstorm.
“That’s God’s calling, right? I mean, you’re supposed to go out and help others in need,” Day said. “I know I fail at this every day — you know it’s hard not to think about yourself first. But you’ve got to put others first.
“Jesus is the perfect example of this. And that’s about the best way I can say it — I’m just trying to follow Jesus’ example.”