This week, I was encouraged to have a few people from UBC contact Ryan and me to ask about volunteering at Mission Joplin on a day other than this past Saturday, including weekdays. It would be fantastic if any of you who are available would drive up to Joplin on your own on a Tuesday or Thursday to work between 12:00 and 7:00. (You shouldn’t feel obligated to stay all day if you need to come late or leave early.) Otherwise, Mission Joplin is open Saturdays from 9:00 to 3:00. It would be great to run into some of you up there someday!
This Saturday, my cousin Missy and I drove up to Mission Joplin together. We worked as “personal shoppers” [see August 17 post] helping tornado survivors and other needy Joplin residents find the goods they needed, listening to their stories, praying with them, and sharing the Gospel with them, even if it’s only a small part, like Pastor Mike said tonight at UBC.
One survivor, a middle-aged Hispanic lady, did not speak much. I pushed a shopping cart behind her as we proceeded silently through the shelves and the separate house where clothes are kept. She selected each item with great care and deliberation, especially when we reached the housewares section and she picked out a couple of dinner glasses and a small mirror. Glancing down at my clipboard, I saw that she had lost her home and everything in it during the tornado. When I felt that I could talk to her, I asked where she had lived and if she attended church anywhere. “23rd and Virginia, behind Sonic” came the first answer without further details, and “No” the simple second. I recalled having driven down Virginia before and frequently eyeing the remains of that neighborhood while driving past on Main, one block away. Her answer to my question about church had been so abrupt that she later surprised me by answering my request to pray with her with a resolute, insistent, “Yes.”
A few moments earlier, I had met her son, a young man probably in his upper teens, who had waited in their vehicle the entire time in the heat and barely made eye contact with me. It became increasingly apparent that both mother and son were living in a fog. Even 104 days after the tornado, they still lived in a state of disbelief, uncertainty, and fear, with the mother doing the best she could in her own strength to cobble together some random goods.
After I prayed with her, she had tears in her eyes. With her son sweltering outside in the car, it wasn’t the time to start a deep spiritual discussion. I simply shared very briefly how the tornado had impacted my family and me, and how much we and the people at Forest Park Baptist Church care about the tornado survivors and are continuously praying for them. When the Mission Joplin staff calls her someday to follow up on her prayer requests, I pray that they find her even more responsive than I did and that she and her son might soon come to know Jesus personally.
A final word about the Mission Joplin staff – Misty, Audrey, Lori, Brock, and all the other supervisors. They know exactly what they are doing. Misty brought the model for Mission Joplin home from repeated trips to Mission Arlington before the tornado happened, and with the support of their pastor and God’s provision of donations and volunteers, they have developed a fantastically organized operation. Misty’s mother, a spiritual rock in the community known affectionately as “Gammy,” passed away suddenly in July, shocking her family and the church, but the ministry did not miss a beat. The Chris Tomlin song, “God of This City,” is their anthem, and it could have been written for them. God is using Forest Park and Mission Joplin to bring greater things to that city. Don’t pass up an opportunity to be part of this amazing response to tragedy. In the meantime, keep the people of Joplin in your prayers.
Written by Jonathan VerHoeven
Photos by Missy Lloyd