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Review

A Lasting Impact

F.R.E.E. International offers invaluable help in aftermath of Mississippi tornado.

Mississippi native Jody E. Dyess knew what he had to do when a trio of EF4 tornadoes hit the southern part of the Magnolia State on Easter night.

The director of student awareness with F.R.E.E. International, Dyess helped marshal resources as a response center in Collins.

Dyess normally would be speaking at school assemblies this time of year or helping with the organization’s anti-trafficking activities, but COVID-19 has put a halt to those functions.

So when the tornadoes hit the southern Mississippi region called the Pine Belt on April 12, Dyess filled a Speed the Light (STL) truck with tarps and roofing nails, and went to Collins. There, Columbia Police Chief Michael Kelly had set up a makeshift operation center in a bus that also served as a mass casualty vehicle. Collins is 35 miles northeast of Columbia. STL is the Assemblies of God’s Youth missions program that focuses on meeting the transportation and communication needs of missionaries.

Dyess, a U.S. missionary serving with Intercultural Ministries, offered Kelly the use of F.R.E.E. International’s 48-foot-long trailer as a command center in the sparsely populated region.

“We drove 71 miles home, hooked up the rig, and drove back,” recalls Dyess, 50. “Once the rig was delivered, one end was used as logistics for supplies and the back office of the trailer was used as an office for the volunteer coordinator for team putting up tarps and removing debris.”

Kelly, who serves as a campus pastor for The Springs Church in Collins, expressed gratitude for the lending hand from F.R.E.E. International.

“Jody brought with him capabilities that assisted first responders, work crews, and church staff in meeting the needs of a hurting community,” Kelly says. “Jody and his guys, the command post, and the resources that responded from his contacts made a lasting impact on this region.”

The tornadoes packed estimated winds of 170 mph, left a 68-mile damage path, and reached a width of two miles that impacted approximately 800 homes. Dozens of people sustained injuries, but no one died in Covington County, where Collins is located. However, adjoining Jeff Davis County had four tornado-related casualties.

“We have been able to minister and pray with people as we deliver goods and supplies to them, cut out roads, and do searches.” Dyess says. “There are numerous people we have come in contact with that, after seeing their homes, we know only by the grace of God they survived.”

Dyess notes that through social media, people and businesses donated supplies and funds for the relief help.

“We started out with three volunteers, but soon we realized that the police and sheriff’s office didn’t have the funds to pay their team overtime for security of facilities,” Dyess says. “So we furnished 10 F.R.E.E. team members, who rotated and stayed the night in pairs.”

The Say Something Assembly team of F.R.E.E. had put on school assemblies in Columbia just a couple of months earlier.

“The area that was hit by the tornadoes is where my father is from.” Dyess says. “Add to that the school assemblies, it was a personal thing as well as an immediate need in our home state.”

Columbia Mayor Justin McKenzie had nothing but praise for the response from F.R.E.E. International.

“The generosity of F.R.E.E. International and all of Jody’s team during such a difficult time was invaluable,” McKenzie says.

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Eric Tiansay

Eric Tiansay has been a full-time journalist since 1993, writing articles for Christian media for the past 16 years.He lives with his wife, Tammy, and five boys, aged 3 to 13, in Central Florida, where they are members of an Assemblies of God church.