Chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team were in Lee County, Alabama, recently, offering emotional and spiritual care to residents. One particular young resident encouraged them with his heart for others.
He rushed to the hallway, questioning whether he’d survive.
On a recent Sunday, 11-year-old Preston Couch took cover after seeing black, swirling clouds outside his home in Smiths Station, a city on the southeast tip of Lee County, Alabama. Although Couch often hears tornado warnings, the fifth-grader had never actually witnessed a twister. He had a “real big feeling” this time was different. And it was.
Couch faced one of two tornadoes that touched down in Lee County, where at least 23 people lost their lives and dozens more were injured. Several more remain missing.
The powerful storm system first hit Alabama, then raced along the Southeast and tossed off twisters in Georgia and Florida.
“[People] said it would sound like a train, but it felt like a train was in my yard,” Couch explained.
Two days after he’d hunkered down with his dad and one-year-old sister, Couch rode his lime green mountain bike up and down his street, checking on neighbors and asking how he could help. Although it was a Tuesday, he didn’t have school — his was partially destroyed in the storm.
Nearby, among some fallen trees, Couch found Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplains talking with his neighbors and Samaritan’s Purse volunteers helping clear debris. Although both the RRT and Samaritan’s Purse still have volunteers in Panama City, Florida, and Paradise, California, due to a hurricane and fire last year, this marks their first response to a natural disaster in 2019.
Thinking back to when he first heard about a possible tornado nearby, Couch recalled how he quit playing with his cop cars to sit on his bed and pray.
“God help me. Don’t let anything bad happen,” he had asked with his hands clasped in reverence.
To have the faith of a child.
And although Couch’s yard had considerable damage, his home stayed in one piece.
“I think it’s because I prayed so much … God helped our home not be destroyed,” Couch said. “After the tornado I was thanking Him so much.”
Grasping the handlebars of his bike, he looked straight ahead at the debris and nodded before sighing at God’s faithfulness.
Still, he feels for those who died in the storm, and said he’d been sick to his stomach just thinking about it.
Witnessing the pre-teen’s big heart, crisis-trained RRT chaplains Rand Bowman and Bruce Button asked him if he attended church. Couch explained he hadn’t been in a couple of years — since before he moved to the area — but that he would really like to go back.
In the meantime, he’d managed to find a way to stay in the Word: “Every morning I go to my neighbor’s house and read a verse from the Bible and pray,” he said.
A friend to many, Couch is well-known and loved by his neighbors, who often see him riding his bike.
One of those neighbors who talked with Bowman and Button said she’s been meaning to get back into church. The chaplains saw a divine opportunity.
“He [Couch] wants to go to church. She hasn’t been in church. She can take him to church,” Button said. “God’s drawing people’s lives together in the community.”