Teacher, students sing during monster tornado

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 8, 2013

Of all the stories I’ve heard in the aftermath of the deadly tornadoes in Moore, Okla., one of the most touching stories comes from an elementary school teacher.

She described during a community-wide memorial service held in the First Baptist Church the harrowing details of what she and her first graders experienced at Briarwood Elementary. Teacher Waynel Mayes told about hearing announ-cements telling the teachers this was not a tornado drill.

Mayes recalled asking the children to move their desks against an interior wall and telling them to get under their desks to cover their heads. She said since most of the teachers use music on a daily basis to promote intellectual and emotional development, “it was natural that many of us used music to calm the children through this crisis, knowing the power of music to soothe.”

The teacher continued, “My students got out musical instruments that we use to learn about patterns. We played the instruments, and then we started singing.  First we sang He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands. Around me, other teachers were leading their children in songs like The Star Spangled Banner, Fifty Nifty United States and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

“Soon, one of my children asked if we could sing Jesus Loves Me. This did not surprise me, as my children frequently came in on Monday mornings telling me their memory verse from Sunday school, and singing songs they learned at church.  I knew they would be comforted by singing Jesus Loves Me, as would I.

Mayes went on to say, “The children started hearing the roar of the approaching tornado, but we kept singing Jesus Loves Me.  I told them we would sing louder, and when they couldn’t hear my voice any longer they could scream, but not before.  When we could bear it no longer, they screamed, but the teacher assistant and I kept singing.  Debris started falling around us, and there was so much dirt in the air it turned black and then everything stopped and we were in darkness.”

She told the children they were heroes because they did what she asked them to do and that real live heroes would be there soon.  Someone outside said, “hello,” and the children used their musical instruments and banged on their desks so rescuers could find them.

Mayes thanked the parents and community who rushed to help them. “All teachers teach because of their love for children. That was never more apparent than on this terrible day that brought out the best in our teachers, our administrators, our parents, and most of all, our children. There are still many uncertainties to be faced in the days ahead, but of this one thing I am sure:  Jesus loves me, this I know.”

I’ve heard it said, “He who sings, prays twice.”  That’s what the children did during the tornado.   No matter what happens we know that He is with us.  Remember He’s got the whole world in His hands and “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).


Jan White is an award-winning religion columnist.  Her email address is jwhite@andycable.com.