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Salvaging Windswept Lives

Christ in Action helps in the aftermath of deadly Tennessee tornadoes.

By the time the Christ In Action (CIA) wraps up salvage work around Cookeville, Tennessee, this month, the ministry will have saved homeowners hundreds of thousands of dollars following deadly tornadoes in March.

More importantly, according to Executive Director Denny L. Nissley, CIA volunteers will have shared the gospel with numerous people while showing Christ’s love in practical ways.

“We’re an evangelistic ministry,” ordained Assemblies of God chaplain Nissley says of CIA, part of U.S. Missions. “We’re here to share the hope of the gospel.” He notes that relatives of one assisted tornado victim are inquiring about God.

Most national news coverage centered on damage in Nashville. However, 19 of the 25 people killed in the tornadoes lived around Cookeville, a city of 34,000 about 80 miles to the east.

By the weekend after the storms, CIA dispatched its first team from its headquarters near Manassas, Virginia. Between 15 and 30 volunteers have worked in the Cookeville area the past month.

However, because they work in isolated conditions, volunteers always have worn N-95 masks for home demolitions. Because they also follow other safety protocols, the coronavirus pandemic has had little impact on their work, says Nissley, 65.

Normally after a disaster, the ministry sends in generators, portable shower units, toilets, laundry facilities, and a feeding kitchen. But the Cookeville relief project is what Nissley calls a rapid response.

“We just brought heavy equipment and chainsaws,” Nissley says. “In Putnam County, the biggest thing we’re doing is tearing down houses and removing debris.”

Among those CIA has helped is A. Marie Stockton, a 33-year-old single mother of two girls. An employee of a clothing chain whose stores are closed because of the coronavirus, her younger daughter uses prosthetic devices because both legs have been amputated.

“It was very overwhelming and heartwarming,” Stockton says of the help she and her father Lonnie Webb — who owned the four-bedroom house — received. “It would have taken us forever to do it. It was a huge relief.”


Thankfully, Stockton found free temporary lodging in a home owned by one of her daughter’s teachers. Outside sits the 31-foot motor home donated to Marie last week by Kathy and Wayne Cunningham of Pittsburgh.

Kathy Cunningham, a chaplain with CIA who also does initial damage assessments, says God directed her to give the vehicle to Stockton after seeing the woman on a Weather Channel report after the tornadoes.

“She captivated my heart,” says Cunningham, herself disabled from her job as a Pittsburgh police officer.

A week after arriving, Cunningham instantly recognized Stockton at a community meeting. Soon after, in addition to tearing down Stockton’s house, volunteers purchased $200 worth of toys to replace new items the girls had lost in the tornado.

Later, as they talked, Cunningham told Stockton the Lord also had directed her to give the family the motor home.

“It made my day,” Stockton says. “My kids absolutely love it. It definitely made me believe stronger; it was a big wake-up call to what God is capable of doing.”

Ironically, the morning the Cunninghams presented the title to Stockton, Nissley experienced his own miracle. He and another worker were changing a hydraulic hose on a track loader when the bucket slammed down on the arch of Nissley’s left foot.

“It hurt so bad I could hardly breathe,” Nissley says. “The guy with me grabbed me and started praying. We thought I would be in surgery, but within 45 minutes I was driving to the job site.”

Despite the heaviness of the deaths, the stories that emerged from survivors boosted spirits, Cunningham says.

“So many more people could have been killed, but God’s protection was on those families,” she says.

CIA also responds to disasters such as floods and hurricanes.


Kenneth C. Walker

Kenneth C. Walker is a freelance writer, co-author, and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He has more than 4,500 article bylines and has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books.