August 10, 2020, started out as an ordinary day for the people of east-central Iowa. Students, parents and teachers were eager to start school after five months away due to COVID-19. At Andrews Christian Academy—the Seventh-day Adventist elementary school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa—teachers Julie Olson, Ashley Schebo, and Kelley Glazier were preparing for the first day of school by taping X’s on the sidewalk to show proper social distancing for the students when they arrived. 

No storms were forecast for the day, and no sirens were blaring to warn of the impending disaster. There was no apparent cause for concern when clouds suddenly rolled in—until winds began to blow so strongly that they caused a tree in front of the school to bend over and send branches flying, denting Mrs. Olson’s car and smashing her windshield. The teachers raced to the safety of the storeroom at the back of the school to wait out the storm and then fought to keep the door shut by pushing against it as the storm intensified. 

The winds and rain roared and increased to hurricane strength. The storm, called a derecho, recorded sustained wind speeds of 110 to 140 mph.

Chaos and destruction

The storm was still raging when Mrs. Olson received a phone call from a very frightened student. This student heard the same roaring wind and rain, saw the lights and power go off, felt the rumbling and creaking of the building he and his family were in, and then watched as the roof of his apartment building was lifted with a massive jolt. He needed to hear his teacher’s reassuring voice. Mrs. Olson made sure he was headed to a lower level, then prayed and gave him the reassurance and encouragement he needed to get through the rest of the storm. 

Mrs. Olson states that bonds of trust and confidence have been forged between the students and their teachers, helping the students to gain a sense of assurance and stability in life’s storms. During the storm, the students knew that God and their teachers cared about them. 

The derecho raged for more than half an hour before finally subsiding, but the rain and lightning continued. Just as the teachers were finally able to check outside, Mrs. Olson’s husband, Loren, called for her to come home because of the devastation on their farm. Animals were trapped under their fallen barn. Their house also sustained extensive damage when the roof of a large outbuilding landed on it, letting in rain and debris. Almost every structure, including their huge barn, had given way to the storm. Most trees were down, and, sadly, some of the animals did not survive. Mrs. Schebo, family members, church members, friends and neighbors gathered to help Julie and Loren. 

In the following evenings, despite the chaos at the Olson’s home, Mrs. Olson and Mrs. Schebo went to see their students and take food and comfort to their families. Seven families had serious damage to their homes and were displaced. Several lost their vehicles because trees or poles snapped and fell on them. Power lines littered the streets, as well as downed trees and building debris, but the teachers continued to check on their students and tried to meet their basic needs of food, clothing and other supplies. 

Almost every home and business in Cedar Rapids and the surrounding areas sustained some type of damage, and most were without power from one to three weeks. Grocery stores and homes lost thousands of dollars’ worth of food due to spoilage. 

Needless to say, classes had to be delayed for two weeks.

Prioritizing needs

As the teachers, students, and their families recovered, plans were made to ensure the students could get back to school as soon as possible. The teachers felt it was important not only for the students to learn but to talk and work through their frightening experiences. 

The students were eager to return to school, not only to see their friends but also because they knew it was a safe haven—a place where their lives would have a normal routine again and where they would be loved and supported. The first day back was a joyful reunion, and every student was happy to be in school.

The Cedar Rapids Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Iowa-Missouri Conference have worked together to provide for the immediate needs of the displaced families following the storm. Two of the seven families lost everything, including one family who suffered a devastating fire before they could remove their remaining belongings.

Now, months later, the cleanup and repairs continue. Debris remains along many streets, and numerous homes, businesses, stores, churches and schools still need repairs. Many of the church’s refugee and immigrant families had already lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and now, because of the storm, some families are still seeking housing. However, the parents are grateful to have their children back in school and are committed to Christian education for their children. They are doing whatever they can to make it happen. 

The greatest mission

Mrs. Olson says, “We are trusting God to help us guide this school through the midst of a pandemic and the aftermath of a derecho. As teachers, we have a real passion to develop Christian characters in our students—not only for their lives here on earth but also for heaven—and grow their faith. While we teach a thorough curriculum, building their relationship with Jesus is our greatest mission. Though our lives have been shaken, our confidence in God’s love for us and His plans for our future are still strong!” 

We are very grateful for the aid given by individuals and the Iowa-Missouri Conference to help our school’s students and their families. But there is still need. If you are interested in helping Andrews Christian Academy, or any other schools in the conference, please contact the Iowa-Missouri Conference Office of Education at 515.223.1197 or


Jeanette Rawson is a former teacher at Andrews Christian Academy.