Renewed by the Spirit of Mississippians

Jonah Thompson

After her first deployment with Team Rubicon, Mary Ann Weema is uplifted by a community coming together in the wake of disaster.

At 70 years young, Mary Ann Weema deployed on her first operation with Team Rubicon.

Most who know me know I have looked forward to my first Team Rubicon deployment. My call came on Monday Jan. 23, 2017. Emotions ran the gambit: excited, scared, happy, worried!

When I arrived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, I had no reason to feel anxious any longer. Warm, friendly faces on my fellow team members assured me I was welcome here. These people are and will always be a band of brothers, men and women who want to do good and make a difference in this world one step at a time. Teams were quickly established and assignments handed out.

Members assembled in Hattiesburg, MS in the wake of an EF-3 tornado on Jan. 21.

Our first day on Operation Iron Bird, we were in the field looking to identify those who needed help after an EF-3 tornado affected hundreds of homes in Forrest County. A drive through the area left doubt in no one’s mind that the need here was real. The scope of the project was overwhelming, as entire communities were just gone – a jumble of trees where homes used to be. No power, no gas, no running water.

We started walking the streets in teams to see if anyone could use our help. What I had not expected was the warm welcome we received. People who were trying to sift through piles of debris that had once been called home graciously stopped and talked to us. They had lost all their material wealth but I learned they were not angry or upset but were actually feeling blessed because they were still alive.

Lunch was delivered from our base and there were leftovers. We all chose to give them to a poor man who had disabled children to care for and not much else. We asked simply that he share this food, we were thinking his family. He was seeing a much bigger picture. As we climbed into the truck, we noticed the man happily passing out lunches to anyone who passed him on the street and was even waving down passing cars to see if they too needed a meal.

In Mississippi, Mary Ann served alongside her son, Lloyd Weema who is in the role of Planning Section Chief on Op Iron Bird.

We talked with a woman who had just gotten off work. She was tired, but her sister gave her our number and she tracked us down. She said she wasn’t sure how much we could do but if we’d come and see her home, maybe there was something. I was amazed as we pulled up to what had been her home. Beautiful trees now lay in a twisted mass on the ground, and there behind the tangled of downed trees was a roof still intact but all four walls had been ripped away and everything inside was reduced to maybe a foot in height. She asked if there were any way for us to help her get inside. She wasn’t upset when we told her we couldn’t in that moment but we’d get a work order together to see if we could get some man power out to her. She said she really didn’t care if she couldn’t get to anything but rather felt blessed that she had been at work when the tornado hit and felt saved because she was certain she would have died if she had been inside. “Things,” she told us, “could be replaced.”

We spoke with a woman who took us to her home. Her uncle, 78 years young, had been in the house at the time the tornado hit. She told us he had to climb out of the house and find his way through the woods until he got to open land. These were big trees, some over 2 feet across and broken down branches everywhere. He couldn’t find the road but worked hard getting through brush and over fallen trees until he finally came out of the devastation. The tornado hit at 4 a.m. Can you imagine stumbling through the dark in a storm trying to find help? Once again, these people were humble and happy they were spared.

If I have learned anything from the people in Mississippi, it is I want to be more like them. My Team Rubicon brothers and sisters are awesome, and I am once again renewed as I had begun to feel there weren’t many of these folks left in this world. I am proud they allowed me to be a part of this team.

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