Stories & Commentaries

Our Rescue

An elderly Adventist couple in Tennessee shares their harrowing experience when a tornado destroys their home and area.

After a tornado ripped through their community, Bob and Lou Sauder stand in the rubble that was their house.

After a tornado ripped through their community, Bob and Lou Sauder stand in the rubble that was their house.

On the night of April 12, 2020, my wife Lou and I were getting ready for bed and listening to the weather forecasters announce the tornado watches and warnings. Stormy weather was hitting all across the Southeastern U.S. When they announced that the worst of the storms had passed, I turned the TV off. We changed ino our pajamas and lay on the bed holding hands as we said our prayers together, which is our nightly custom. I prayed that we would be safe from the storms.

We live in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a few miles away from Southern Adventist University where my daughter works. The small cottage we rent is perfect for two 83-year-olds. It’s in a peaceful, quiet, and woodsy location only a few miles away from our daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren. My wife had suffered two strokes in the last decade so I care for her, doing the cooking, cleaning, and monitoring her medicine. She is the love of my life, and we have greatly enjoyed our years together, both in sickness and in health. (We married when we were 19 and have celebrated 64 years of wonderful marriage together.)

The screech of metal and loud banging woke me from sleep. It was our tin roof being yanked off the house. An ear-shattering roar, like a massive freight train bearing down on us, filled the air and I called out to Lou, “Get on the floor next to the dresser.” In a few quick seconds, the walls of our bedroom exploded outward, the ceiling caved in, and the dangling ceiling fan struck me on the head. I heard trees snapping close by and one thick tree trunk came crashing into the bedroom inches away from us. Timbers, concrete blocks, and insulation swirled around me and then suddenly I felt a great pulling vacuum — as if the air pressure wanted to lift me. Fearing I would be picked up and hurled into the storm, I hung on to the lumber that had fallen around me. In total blackness, my mouth and eyes filled with scattered bits of insulation and debris. I called out to Lou, but heard nothing.

Suddenly a torrential rain began to fall, and as I opened my mouth to call for Lou again, my mouth seemed to fill with buckets of water. I had never experienced such a downpour. I was completely soaked in an instant. I called for Lou again and heard her respond. She had managed to get herself half off the bed when the chaos descended on us. She still dangled half on and half off, but had cleared her mouth and nose from the debris and called to me faintly.

I reached for her in the darkness and found her feet among the debris on the bed. I tugged on her legs and managed to pull her over to the wooden chest that used to be at the end of our bed. She was shivering from the cold. Because of the debris, I could only manage a semi-kneeling position with her near the chest. But we were together and alive. We pulled pieces of the bedcover around us as the rain continued in the darkness of our bedroom, now exposed completely to Mother Nature.

Photo of Bob and Lou Sauder's bedroom

Photo of Bob and Lou Sauder's bedroom

Help Comes

I’m not sure how long we sat crouched in those uncomfortable positions in the rain and cold. We prayed together again, thanking God for our lives. Then the first angel appeared — it was a neighbor trained in emergency response who was checking each house in the neighborhood. His actions proved that God was guiding him, and I imagined the feathered wings on the angels standing beside him, leading him to us.

He called into the rubble and we responded, and he explained that he would be back with help to get us out. Later he returned with another man, and the two managed to figure out how to carefully extricate us. The angels attending them helped the men find a pair of sneakers for each of us in the rubble so we could walk through the debris. I had difficulty walking after crouching by the bed for so many hours, and my head throbbed from the force of the ceiling fan and the bruised lump on the top of my head. The men supported us as I tried to walk.

It was determined that I needed to go to the hospital, along with our cousins Jack and Libby Mutter in the rubble next to us that had once been a beautiful ranch house. Jack had crushed ribs. The men took Lou to rest at a neighbor’s house that had a basement left intact, although the rest of the home was gone.

On the Road

Getting Jack, Libby, and me to an ambulance was another complicated task the angels helped with. The men loaded us in a pickup truck and went cross country behind houses and through yards, trying to avoid the downed power lines, the uprooted trees, and all the metal, concrete, and lumber scattered about from the destroyed homes. It was slow going, with one man walking ahead of the truck with a flashlight. After a long journey we made it to where a line of ambulances with flashing lights were being loaded.

Meanwhile, my daughter Shelly and her cousin Pat were trying to get to our house to check on us since we hadn’t answered our phones since the tornado hit. They started a prayer chain of relatives and friends across the country in the early morning hours. The police had the neighborhood blocked off, so they walked in for more than a mile through the debris in a frantic effort to get to us. When they arrived at the house, we were not there, heightening their anxiety.

After asking numerous people, they located Lou in that basement, and then discovered I was at the hospital. Shelly couldn’t get Lou out of the neighborhood without a vehicle, and the roads were still impassable. She walked the long way back to her car and drove to see me at Erlanger Medical Center, but could not enter the hospital due to COVID-19 restrictions. Shelly was finally able to connect to the doctors caring for me, and I spent the night there, with a likely concussion.

Rescued and Reunited

My dear wife spent the night in that neighbor’s basement along with several other homeless neighbors. The next day a kind man rode her out of the neighborhood on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), and I was released from the hospital. Now at last we were reunited. We lost two cars, our home, our clothing, our photos, and precious reminders of our past, but we know that God rescued us that night.

The experience has been a revival for Lou and me. God stayed with us, answered our prayers, and sent men and angels. The outpouring of help during the following days was also a powerful indication of God’s love. People from churches all around came to assist, with power saws and excavators, and helped to comb through the rubble for personal belongings. Some walked through the damaged neighborhoods with food in baskets, like the boy in the Bible who helped Jesus feed the multitudes. Union College, where my daughter-in-law Vinita and grandson work, offered to send down a crew to help. Friends in Ohio offered the same. We received calls from pastors and concerned friends from across the country, and we felt God’s love surround us in a remarkable way.

It doesn’t matter if there are wars, disasters, pandemics, divorce, abuse, or any kind of loss — our Savior is coming for us, coming to rescue us. He wipes away every tear, He answers prayer, and He is true to His Word to walk beside us, and be with us as we endure life’s trials. “The Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).

We will trust in those promises as we await His soon coming.