On July 16, I volunteered in Joplin with UBC interns, youth group students, the Dudley family, and Kevin Carpenter and his son, Wally. We worked at Mission Joplin, a ministry of Forest Park Baptist Church. An emergency version of our own Second Mile, Mission Joplin exists to provide tornado survivors with free food, clothing, household items, toiletries, books, toys, and other items such as mattresses. Tornado survivors who had lost their homes had signed up by the dozens to receive these mattresses, and our job was to load them into their vehicles.
As two of the interns began to maneuver a brand-new mattress into the back of one Joplin tornado survivor’s SUV, a few water-stained receipts and documents slid out of the vehicle. “Be careful,” the 75-year-old man warned. “My whole life is in there.”
Not long after that, I approached J.D. Dudley, who was visiting with our supervisor, a local woman named Naomi. As I came within earshot, I heard her telling J.D. about her first drive through the damage zone. The destruction had been so complete that she had not been able to recognize the neighborhoods along 26th Street near St. John’s hospital. “By the time I got to Main Street,” she said with tears welling up in her eyes, “I broke down crying. I looked for somewhere to pull over, but there wasn’t any place. There was too much debris.”
Misty, the coordinator of Mission Joplin, had been planning to set up the ministry for a year without knowing why. A series of trips to Mission Arlington in Texas had simply inspired her and her husband to start a similar ministry based out of Forest Park. Just days after the tornado, their pastor called and asked, “Are you ready for Mission Joplin?” They were indeed.
Donations have flooded into Mission Joplin from all across the country, but after a disaster of this magnitude – 6,700 homes destroyed and around 15,000 people displaced – donations alone are not enough. Volunteers are needed badly. Mission Joplin has been staffed by people like Misty and Naomi more than eight hours a day, six days a week, for two months. Like Naomi, they are still dealing with the personal impact of the storm and they are at risk for burning out.
This is where I believe our church comes in. Joplin is only 90 minutes away. It is closer to us than most towns in Arkansas. We have Joplin natives in our congregation. Families like mine have roots in the area dating back more than a century. The people of Joplin are our neighbors, and Mission Joplin provides us a prime opportunity to represent Christ to them. I ask each one of you to consider gathering your families, your Bible fellowships, and your life groups and driving up there to help minister to the tornado victims and to the members of Forest Park. From what I’ve seen, they would drive to N.W. Arkansas en masse if the roles were reversed.
If you are willing to join or help lead a volunteer group, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are already planning some trips in August.
Written by Jonathan VerHoeven