Words cannot describe the devastation that the town of Joplin, Missouri experienced when it got hit with a deadly tornado last month. The stories, images, and video footage portray the tragedy as best as technology will allow but one cannot appreciate the full extent of this disastrous event unless one is on the ground. It will take many years for the people of Joplin to come to terms with the destruction of their town and the loss of property and lives.
Nonetheless, the community has come together with the help of disaster relief organizations to start the process of rebuilding. Together they are working to address the needs of the community in these challenging times. The hope is that Joplin, like the proverbial phoenix rises from its “ashes”. At the core of the relief efforts is a commitment by the federal government to stay with the people of Joplin until the town is rebuilt. As stated by President Obama:
"We’re going to be here long after the cameras are gone; we’re not going to stop until Joplin jumps back on its feet.”
Meanwhile, another story has been unfolding in the town of Joplin. It is the story of how volunteers, having heard of the plight of the people of little known Joplin, have poured in from all over the nation to put their shoulders to the wheel and help the town back on its feet. I was privileged to be part of a group of volunteers who spent the second weekend of June clearing debris and sifting through what remained of the ranch of a Joplin resident.
Two friends and I drove from Edwardsville, Illinois to meet with other volunteers in Joplin, Missouri. The story of how the three of us ended up volunteering in Joplin is in itself a miracle. It all started with one of us feeling the need to make a difference in the world at the end of a grueling regimen of graduate coursework. Having been hampered by the logistics of traveling to far away Alabama to lend a hand, our friend immediately decided to help when the Joplin tornado struck.
With much prayer and a burning desire to love people and please God, our friend started a search for disaster relief organizations in the area. She posted an ad on Craigslist and was contacted by the leader of a Christian group from St Louis. They were headed to Joplin to help with the disaster relief efforts. When she alerted her friends on Facebook, we seized the opportunity to do God’s work even though the announcement was short notice.
I must point out that this particular volunteering effort was made possible by the amazing sacrifice of the members of the Abundant Life Christian Center in Joplin and the expertise of Service International - an organization that coordinates and equips communities and volunteers for restoration in the wake of disasters. Under the able leadership of their pastor, members of the Abundant Life Christian Center in Joplin gladly gave of their time and resources to house and feed the army of volunteers (nearly 2000) who have worked with Service International to clear debris from an estimated 176 acres.
I remain enchanted by the warm hospitality of the church community and will forever carry with me sweet memories of the bonfires after a hard day of work, the hugs freely distributed, the conversations about how there is a stronger sense of community after the disaster and the sense of hope that things will get better. It is a testimony to the resilience of the people of Joplin that in the midst of such vast destruction, they are still able to welcome total strangers with open arms and maintain a sense of dignity and faith in God. I am blessed because I met the people of Abundant Life Christian Center in Joplin. They taught me that God is omnipresent in every good or bad situation.
As I write these lines, about a month after the tornado, the death toll stands at 155 people. According to Reuters, the Joplin tornado is the deadliest tornado in the United States in more than 60 years. But in Joplin, I witnessed many miracles. One of the volunteers gave his life to Christ while helping the people of Joplin. Upon hearing the news, the owner of the ranch where we worked the whole day on Saturday, said losing his ranch was all worth it knowing that a soul has been added to the kingdom of God.
At church service the following day, I noticed a beautiful red rose on the altar as the pastor of Abundant Life preached about being led by God’s Spirit. It turned out that the rose was meant as a gift for a newborn infant. How miraculous to welcome a new soul into the world when all around there is death and devastation. Perhaps, this is God’s way of telling the people of Joplin that there is hope. The new baby embodies the dreams and aspirations of the people of Joplin for their community.
The tornado has left a trail of destruction in its path but it is these miracles that remind us that in tragedies lay the seeds of rebirth. The people of Joplin remain in our prayers as they rebuild their community. To all volunteers from the four corners of the United States and the world, I say: you are true human beings. God bless you!
For more information on Abundant Life and Service International, go to the following websites: