Oklahoma tornadoes: Chaplains minister to disaster's victims

Chaplains are among those to respond to Moore after a tornado damaged and destroyed hundreds of homes.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: May 25, 2013
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— They held hands before the chaplains, their family and friends looking on from the front yard.

Except instead of an altar, Jason Kluge and Jenae Green stood before their crumpled home on SW 16; instead of exchanging vows, they were simply looking for support.

The wedding is planned June 15. Until then, there's a lot of work to be done.

“I would encourage you guys to tell your story; don't be afraid to share your needs,” said Gene Grounds, senior chaplain for Victim Relief Ministries.

“If you keep this up, you're going to have to ask them to give their I-do's,” joked Edward Smith, the organization's president.

Perhaps for the first time since before Monday's tornado, Kluge and Green shared a laugh.

That's one goal of the two yellow-jacketed chaplains, who went door to door this week to offer encouragement and support to those who need it most.

In the driveway of the Kluge and Green house, the chaplains found a family — five children between the two of them — pushing hard to keep their spirits high while they rummaged through their belongings.

Grounds has been visiting Moore families this week.

“Right now they're very resilient, they're very upbeat,” Grounds said. “But that's normal in the first few days because they're still in shock. The problem is 30, 60, 90 days from now when the media is gone, the street is bulldozed, they no longer have their community — they lose their relationships, and that's why it is important to have a structure to be there for them.”

Grounds and Smith are but two of several relief ministers that have taken to the streets to offer spiritual support to the victims of Monday's tornadoes.

Just a few blocks away, on NW 14, another pair of chaplains — these wearing blue jackets instead — tended to a different set of residents.

“The best thing we can do is listen. Let people talk,” Grounds said. “We hand them a bottle of water, we might put an arm around them, but they don't really care what we say until we show them we are going to walk along with them tomorrow.”

The two came up from the Dallas area, where they're associated with one of the nation's largest Baptist megachurches, Prestonwood.

Jason Kluge's brother attends that church, and he's the one that sent the chaplains to the home on SW 16.

Grounds said he and Smith are coming off a deployment to a tornado-stricken community in Granbury, Texas. Before that, they were in West, Texas, where several people were killed when a fertilizer plant exploded in April.

Before that they tended to other disasters stretching all the way back to the terrorist attacks in New York City in 2001.

After making contact and assessing these residents' needs, they'll dispatch a crew of about 20 to come help the families clean up. The responders will come with relief in hand, whether it be a $20 gas card or simply the comfort of a Bible verse.

Maybe, if the timing works out, they'll watch Green walk down the aisle in Yukon next month, where, tornado or not, she plans to marry the man she loves.