This week is a doozy, and as I write, it’s only Tuesday. Fires rage in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. An open-shooter alert at Ohio State University shut the campus down on Monday morning. And a plane crash in Colombia left only six survivors.
It makes for a new kind of thankfulness the week after Thanksgiving.
All the Rage in Gatlinburg
The worst drought in a decade for the region. The fires have burned for several weeks and have spread from the Smoky Mountains to residential areas due to high winds. Over 14,000 residents evacuated the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge areas. Twelve people have been admitted to to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, reports CNN. Fire Chief Greg Miller believes the worst is behind them, thanks to the wind calming down. Smoke settles in nearby towns and causes damage to homes and buildings that haven’t been affected by flames. Evacuation shelters and community centers have hosted residents overnight.
Sometimes communities come together because they want to help someone outside their community. But other times, individuals come to the aid of entire communities. Like the Chesneys, who, WBIR says, just filled up their pond with water and fish a few weeks ago, just to have the Army National Guard come and take the pond water to help the 14 reported wildfires in the area. But the Chesneys were happy to help.
We think that’s a really cool story in the middle of some serious heat.
Ohio State University’s Almost Mass Tragedy
Monday morning, a disgruntled student caused eleven people to be hospitalized when he drove his car into a group of people on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Afterward, he got out of his car and began chasing students with a knife, CNN reports. The student was a Somali immigrant who came to America with his family as refugees in 2014. CNN reports that U.S. officials say they are now all legal, permanent residents and green card holders. It is uncertain whether the student, who openly professed to be a Muslim, acted on terror-related motivations, and no statements are being made to further indicate that yet.
An open-shooter alert went out across campus for about an hour and a half, until the situation was evaluated and no longer out of control. Students found rooms and barricaded themselves in. Journalist John Gray shares on Facebook that some military students stood guard by the door in a classroom, ready to protect their fellow students.
Ohio State police showed up promptly to the scene, and the attacker was confirmed dead later that day.
As a University of Michigan alum, I don’t typically pay attention to Ohio State University news (especially after a rough rivalry game over the weekend, but we won’t talk about that), but when I saw some flurry of sympathy on Facebook from my fellow alumni friends, I read about the open-shooter alert. My first thought was that I hoped it wasn’t an unnecessary retaliation of the weekend’s football loss. As I read, I saw it wasn’t, but it didn’t make me less sad. When I saw the response of support from The University of Michigan students, I was so proud to be a Wolverine. Because tragedy transcends college rivalries and football games.
Colombian Plane Crash: A Different Story Than Planned
A chartered flight carrying Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team went down in the mountains of Colombia, near Rionegro Tuesday morning, reports CNN and affiliate correspondents. The flight had 72 passengers—the soccer team, coaches, guests and journalists—and nine crew members on board. Eighty-one people altogether, of which only six survived. Survivors included three soccer players, two crew members and one journalist. It’s unclear as of yet what caused the crash, but weather conditions are suspected to be the most likely culprit.
Football—or soccer, as Americans know it—is a major source of pride in South American and European countries, so the tragedy isn’t just a loss of life but of a tradition. The Chapecoense team’s story was one that sports writers call a Cinderella Story; the team was an unlikely contender, an underdog. The twenty journalists were traveling to capture the story first hand. Only one of them came out with a story, and it wasn’t the one he was wanting.
What Do We Do?
There’s very little here to celebrate, to be honest. Sometimes the news will make your stomach turn in all the wrong ways. Not that we would welcome back the headlines of political news in recent weeks, but we’d rather not hear about tragedy or see the images of devastation like we have in just the first two days of this week.
We’re not immune to bad news, nor should we be. Stories like the fires, the school terrors and plane crashes should make us wince and weep. But most of all it should make us pray.
But sometimes it’s hard to know what to do in the middle of deep tragedy. Sad stories will do that to you. So here are three ways you may be able to help when stories like this leave us speechless.
1. Pray and Trust. When we pray, we never inform God of anything. He already knows. He sees the tragedy and pain and knows our hearts when we pray. We can ask Him to give us opportunities to help. We can ask Him to provide relief in awesome ways to those in Gatlinburg, for healing to OSU students and the attacker’s family, and comfort to the grieving families of the Colombian plane crash. To let them feel and know God’s peace and presence with them. And trust God to be at work—because He is, even if it doesn’t make it through our preferred media outlets.
2. Send Money, Items, or People. Samaritan’s Purse doesn’t just ship shoeboxes to kids every Christmas. They often help with disaster relief around the United States and the world. They need money to get there, items to work with and people to volunteer. Find out how you can literally be the hands and feet of Jesus by getting involved with disaster relief initiatives like Samaritan’s Purse.
3. Share Stories. Preaching spiritual platitudes are often unhelpful in the wake of tragedies like these. But our stories can be so powerful to people who have never been through tragedies before. Begin by sharing your story on social media and giving hope to people who are hurting in some of the same ways you have been hurt before. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your own story, find one in our archives or perhaps ask to share one of your friends’. We believe in the power of our stories—to give hope and healing—but they’re powerless until they are shared.