NORMAN, Okla. (BP)–Most of the time, believers obedient to the will of God pray that He will open a door for them. About 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, John Strappazon believes God slammed one shut for him — and he couldn’t be more grateful.
Strappazon, Baptist Collegiate Ministry director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, was leading the spring meeting of state BCM directors at the Sullivant Memorial Retreat Center alongside Lake Thunderbird when David Hogg, BCM director from Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, approached him and said, “We need to get into the storm shelter … right now!”
It was only the first day of a planned May 10-12 semiannual meeting, but a storm soon changed all of that.
“David is a storm chaser and weather guy, and he had been watching the weather all day,” Strappazon said. “He came up late in the day and said things are getting bad. A few minutes later, he said we need to get into the storm shelter now. So we picked up and started walking toward the shelter. We grabbed water and food. We weren’t running or anything, but we had 56 people to move.”
Things quickly went from bad to worse.
“We were getting close to the shelter and John Kelsey [BCM director at the University of Oklahoma] shouted, ‘There’s debris in the air. We need to get in there now!’
“We got in there, and two of the guys tried to shut the metal door and they couldn’t get it shut,” Strappazon said.
“You could hear it [the tornado] coming. They pulled and pulled and couldn’t get it shut. The door was jerked out of their hands three times before it suddenly just shut itself.”
The room had one small window in it, through which the group watched the twister move across the sky.
“We watched the tornado go over Lake Thunderbird and turn white as it picked up water from the lake,” he marveled.
Afterward, they emerged from the shelter to a scene of unbelievable destruction.
“We came out, and the place was just destroyed,” Strappazon said. “Beautiful trees just sheared off. Half a dozen of our cars were damaged; two or three were totaled. Trees were lying across them, and windows were blown out. You could see that part of the roof of the retreat center was blown away.” Another building closer to the lake was heavily damaged as well.
The group was in the shelter no longer than five minutes, Strappazon said.
“We got in there seconds before it hit,” he said. “If not, we could have had some serious injuries or worse. We were real glad David Hogg was there. He saved our lives.
“When it was over, we got out and assessed the damage. Then I got them back into the main room, and I just said the thing we need to do now is to end this thing and everybody go home.
“After it happened, we walked out on the road, and there was a car that had been flipped three times. A lady from the car had been thrown out of it and Bobby Lipscomb, BCM director at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, who is an EMT, tended to her until EMS finally got there, which was a long time.”
Strappazon said he believes God shut the door to the shelter in a miraculous way.
“I have no doubt of that, because we just could not get that thing shut,” he said.
“It was a powerful force,” he said of the tornado. “When that thing went over, my ears popped like they have never have before — three or four times.”
Bob Nigh is managing editor of the Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.