Tornado relief: World Hope goes to Alabama

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 11, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
On April 27, tornadoes and thunderstorms ripped through parts of the South, leaving devastation and hundreds dead. Parts of Alabama were left ravaged.
Pastor David Cowger of Salisbury’s World Hope Worship Center lived in Hueytown, Ala., for four years in the early 1990s and remains in touch with friends who live there.
When he heard about the widespread devastation in the area, “it sparked something in my heart,” he says, and he and others at World Hope began thinking of how they could help.
Cowger traveled to Birmingham, Ala., June 2 and recorded his thoughts and emotions in a journal. Upon arrival, he wrote, everything seemed “fairly normal.”
As he drove with a friend toward some of the devastated areas of Pleasant Grove, he came to a place where the landscape “immediately and violently” changed.
“Where once stood large mature trees that blocked the skyline of the community, all of a sudden, all that was visible to me was blue sky…literally, there was nothing.”
Thousands of trees were gone, beautifully landscaped properties were nowhere to be seen, Cowger says.
“Immediately a knot grew in the pit of my stomach as I began to visualize, for myself, what I have never seen in my lifetime in America.
“Unfamiliar streets, where only crushed, broken debris lined the curbs, mailboxes with street numbers indicated an address where a family lived, yet the house no longer existed.
“This well-established, beautiful community was gone. As far as I could see, rolling hills of what used to be hundreds of homes looked like a war-ravaged area. I could see foundations, representing what used to be small or large homes. Families used to go outside and walk their dogs, yet there were no dogs, and there were no people…not even the sound of birds chirping as they would normally nestle in their nests in trees or in a rain gutter at someone’s home. There was nothing … just the quiet, very sobering sound of devastation all around … All of these families, devastated by something they could not control.
“One side of the street I saw a home that was seemingly untouched by the storm, and then dozens of homes around it were completely destroyed. I could not understand. I could feel my emotions becoming numb by all of the lives that were represented in this community.”
Cowger is home now, trying to get back in the rhythm of his normal life while continuing to process what he saw in Alabama. He’s leading an effort at World Hope Worship Center to provide relief to the tornado victims. After seeing the great need there, he feels even more challenged, he says, to see what we as a city can do to make an impact. He’s encouraging other local churches to get involved with the effort.
“Anything is something,” he says.
FEMA and the Red Cross have come and gone, he explains, but needs are growing and will continue into the future. “Families are left living in basements, trying to survive and make sense of it all,” he says. “It’s really heart-wrenching.”
During the week of June 20 -24, 15-20 World Hope church members will travel to the devastated areas of Alabama, including West Birmingham, Hueytown, Pleasant Grove and Concord. The team will partner with individuals and families already on site to assess the needs and take action. They’ll be doing some cleanup, as well as partnering with an organization called Grace’s Kitchen to provide meals.
World Hope is inviting people to donate items that will be taken to Alabama with the team.
A tractor trailer is on site at the church and is collecting the following:
• bottled water
• dental supplies
• diapers
• infant clothing
• Gatorade-type drink powder
• ice chests and coolers
The ice chests and coolers are a particular need, Cowger says. As people go to shelters and receive water to take back home, many have no way of keeping it cool, or of keeping any food cool, since they are without refrigerators or storage.
Someone will be available to receive donations at World Hope, 2203 Mooresville Road in Salisbury, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday June 14 through Friday, June 17.
Rack Room Shoes has donated 1,000 pairs of shoes. Also joining in the project are Diamond Springs Water, Granite Knitwear, Cornerstone Church, High Rock Community Church and China Grove Church of God.
Monetary donations are also being accepted, in any amount, and will go entirely to the relief effort. (Checks can be made payable to World Hope.)
Cowger says he hopes to plan another mission trip to Alabama in the near future, and if anyone would like to talk to him about it, they can contact him through the church office at 704-636-9159 or email