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Tears of Joy for Survival

"It was very emotional at Union" the day after the tornado, said Josh Clarke, immediate past president of the Student Government Association.

"There were hugs, prayers, and tears everywhere as students were coming back to campus and roommates were seeing each other for the first time since last night. There were tears of joy for surviving."

The daylight also revealed the full extent of the destruction wrought by the February 5 tornado throughout the Baptist-affiliated campus in Jackson, Tennessee.

An estimated 40 percent of the campus dormitories were destroyed, and another 40 percent were severely damaged, along with several of Union's academic buildings.

Clarke, now Union's pharmacy admissions coordinator, was buoyed by the outpouring of concern across the country, calling it a "miracle."

"God is so good," Clarke said. "The student body outlook is very positive, and the hand of God was all over us last night. No doubt the Lord will allow us to rebuild. No doubt we will be back to normal."

Recounting the events of February 5, Clarke said he and eight other male students were outside "when we heard a train-like whistle and ran inside to get under cover in a dorm bathroom." Clarke was a resident of the Pollock dorm which sustained only minor damage compared to other dorms in Union's Watters complex.

"We heard the tornado hit and then we heard a knock on the door," Clarke said. "A married couple and a UPS driver were at the door, and we let them in and got them cleaned up." The couple and the UPS driver had been in an accident near the LifeWay Christian Bookstore at the Union campus.

Clarke and other students then headed out to help dig through the rubble, especially at the female dorms which had been reduced to piles of brick and stone.

"People were literally crawling out of their dorm rooms," Clarke said. "Male students were helping the firefighters move debris. A lot of guys from every walk of life were helping get all of the students safe."

Clarke spent most of his night at Union, helping students make their way to the Pennick Academic Complex where nursing students had set up a station to provide any immediate aid. As students were accounted for, different churches, faculty, and families from around Jackson offered places for the students to stay overnight.

On February 6, the six Greek organization houses on campus, which were not damaged, became stations to serve the students.

"Every Greek house had a different command center in it to make sure we got students in and out as efficiently as possible with the guidance of faculty and student leaders," Clarke said of the first day of Union's recovery.


Katherine Kipp is a Union University student currently serving an internship with the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's Washington office and the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

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April 2008 Edition
Volume 16, Issue 6
April 2008