Dancing Amid Destruction

July 21, 2014 • United States

Volunteers and staff bring a moment of joy to an elderly woman after a tornado

Nikki Roberti Miller is a writer who covered the tornado that hit Louisville, Mississippi, in May.

It’s hard to find joy during life’s storms—let alone a real one. And yet, we were dancing in an adorable, elderly lady’s driveway.


Miss Nellie Nathan was shocked when a tornado swept through her Mississippi community and caused a tree to damage her roof.

It probably looked odd. Weird even. The tornado had blind-sided Louisville, Mississippi, and the community was reeling. Entire neighborhoods were wiped out. Families were grieving the loss of loved ones.

But we still danced, because well, we didn’t have a reason not to.

Miss Nellie Nathan was shocked to see a tree fall through her bedroom’s ceiling. But she was thrilled to see a group of orange-shirt wearing volunteers arrive at her door to help tarp her roof for her.

She spent the day chatting with volunteers, sharing stories from her 35 years of teaching Physical Education and coaching children’s sports teams in Louisville. Even a former student of hers happened to be volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse and was all too happy to oblige her command to do jumping jacks right there on the spot.

The next day, after the large group of volunteers had left, things had quieted down. On a tip from some friends of mine who are volunteer team leaders, I decided to visit Miss Nellie for an interview. My friends loved her so much, they insisted on coming too.

And that’s how we all ended up in her driveway. Dancing.

Disaster relief volunteers and staff writer, Nikki, join Miss Nellie in her driveway for a quick dance lesson.

Disaster relief volunteers and staff writer, Nikki, join Miss Nellie in her driveway for a quick dance lesson.

Apparently Miss Nellie was well known for teaching a certain line dance to her students at the local school. While the volunteers worked on the house the day before, she told everyone all about how it was her students’ favorite thing to do during class.

“You’ve got to show me how it’s done, Miss Nel,” my friend Bri insisted.

She folded her arms and raised an eyebrow over her glasses. “Well, I need some music, darlin’.”

And thanks to a handy iPhone, the music played. Miss Nel got the three of us to join her, and together we all danced, we all laughed, and we all just breathed a little lighter.

For a moment, it didn’t matter that destruction surrounded us. Miss Nellie wasn’t worried about what was going to happen next.

With tears in her eyes, she turned to me and said, “That was real good. Reminds me of my kids.”

She wiped her tears away with her trembling hand, and hugged us all. “That song always makes me happy,” she said.

Disaster relief with Samaritan’s Purse is more than cleaning up debris or tarping roofs. It’s bringing hope and love to people whose entire lives have been shaken to the core by an unexpected storm.

And sometimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference in the life of someone who had been feeling crushed by hopelessness. In this case, all it took was a few extra moments, an old song, and some volunteers who cared enough to connect with a homeowner in a way that brought her joy.