By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
At age 93, John H. Thompson Jr. has pretty well seen it all, from fighting on Saipan in World War II, to being a deputy sheriff and homicide investigator, to being a Kansas City, Mo., minister, community activist, parent and grandparent.
But nothing had prepared him for waking up that January night to find flames crackling around him in his bedroom. He knew those in the three-story house only had a few minutes to flee into the cold night with little more than the clothes they were wearing.
Once outside, a quick headcount found everyone had made it out – his son Juan and Juan’s wife Niane, 9-year-old daughter Jade and 3-year-old son Lemuel, plus a neighbor and her four children staying there because they had no place else to go.
“Getting everybody out was my first thought. I told everybody to remain calm and everybody got out,” John recalled. “I was on Saipan with a platoon of 160 and was among eight to get back. That was the worst thing in my life, but losing my house was number two.”
Although John said the smoke alarms in the home were working when firefighters arrived, the longtime clergyman said something else accounted for everyone’s survival.
“The spirit of the Lord woke me up and it was the voice of God that told me to get out. It was a miracle. The important thing is that the Lord allowed us all to live,” he said. “I truly believe that.”
Niane and Jade suffered smoke inhalation and were hospitalized for two days. Lemuel escaped unharmed but Niane said she can ever forget seeing the scorch marks on the shoulder of his sleep shirt that night.
“It was terrible. The floors started buckling and I knew I had no choice. I was going to have to get down those steps with my kids,” she recalled, hugging her daughter.
“We had to walk through the fire to get out. It’s something I can never forget,” she said
John, who served for years as bishop of the Metropolitan Spiritual Church of Christ in Kansas City, had lived in that house since the 1950s, raising his family and often offering a place to stay for anyone down on their luck.
Like the rest of his family, John lost his clothes and mementos from his days his days in law enforcement and as a civil rights activist who at times marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of his more prized possessions that burned was a letter from Barrack Obama thanking him for his work in the presidential campaign.
“All my worldly possessions were gone, everything. But I’m thankful that we all got out because that’s really what matters,’ he said.
Juan and his family had been staying with John while they were rehabbing their home in Rich Hill, about 70 miles southeast of Kansas City, where Juan is the minister at the Holy Tabernacle Church. After the fire, they quickly got the house in shape so they could move in.
But the fire left them with hardly anything and that’s where the American Red Cross helped out. Red Cross volunteers were at the fire to help with immediate needs like temporary lodging, clothes and other essentials.
Working with its partners, the Red Cross also was able to provide the family with other essentials such as furniture for the living room and bedrooms and kitchen appliances.
“Everything you see here is because the Red Cross helped us,” John said. “We are very thankful. We couldn’t have made it without the Red Cross.”
Niane nodded in agreement, adding, “I appreciate them a lot. I really do.”