When the Joplin tornado occurred 98 days ago, it immediately became a national story. Actually, it became an international story. Even before the death count reached its final tally, the tornado was known to be the deadliest in the last 60 years. The whole world’s attention focused on the town for a few days and then shifted back to other events a little at a time until now the story only occasionally pops up in some random Yahoo! photo galleries. That trend is typical of disasters. I understand that not everyone can direct their attention toward one disaster or one town indefinitely, but the people closest to the disaster should be expected to pay attention the longest.
Joplin should have been more of a local story for us. Granted, many of you reading this blog may be like me and have strong ties to the Joplin area, but it doesn’t seem that many other people really understand how close we live to the site of the worst natural disaster to ever occur within 100 miles of Fayetteville.
Think about that for a moment. The May 22 Joplin tornado was the worst natural disaster to ever occur within 100 miles of Fayetteville. No tornado, earthquake, hurricane, fire, or flood has ever killed as many people and destroyed as much property as close to us as that tornado did. It destroyed every structure in a path that, if superimposed on Fayetteville, would stretch from Penguin Ed’s West to Penguin Ed’s East and from the intersection of Garland and Wedington/North to Deane Street (8 miles long x ¾ mile wide, with extensive damage for another ½ mile to the north and the south of the line). Imagine if Washington Regional, Fayetteville High School, and a good portion of MLK Boulevard were also in that swathe, and you can begin to fathom what that tornado would have done to our city. It demolished 8,000 structures and displaced as many as 15,000 people.
The retreat of the news vehicles from Joplin left the tornado as a memory for the world, but it is still a fact of life for the people of Joplin. Fifty-five families in Forest Park Baptist Church, which runs Mission Joplin, lost their homes. The man with whom I have delivered mattresses several times now calls his daughter while we’re out to see if she and her family need him to bring them anything. There will come a time when they will not need anything, but that time is still too distant to see.
Helping the people of Joplin is our responsibility in Northwest Arkansas. We are too close not to serve them for as long as they need us. Mission Joplin was created on the same model as Mission Arlington, a ministry we travel a great distance to serve. The fact that we are so close to Joplin, however, means that no one needs to take a whole week off of work to volunteer. You just need to volunteer for one day at a time.
Let Ryan Martin know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in forming a carpool to drive to Mission Joplin this Saturday, September 3. Mission Joplin will be open from 9:00 to 3:00 that day, and it is also open from 12:00 to 7:00 on Tuesday and Thursday.
For more information visit www.missionjoplin.tv.
Written by Jonathan VerHoeven