“You guys don’t hear this, but everyone in town talks about all of you volunteers and what you’ve done for us,” Liz said to my cousin, Missy, and me on Saturday morning. She gestured widely to emphasize Mission Joplin and Forest Park Baptist Church but was clearly referring collectively to every one of the thousands of volunteers who’ve streamed into Joplin over the past five months to clean up debris, feed and clothe victims, and lend a hand rebuilding. Liz is a Joplin businesswoman who I never would have guessed had lost her Main Street cupcake shop and her home in the May 22 tornado had I not already known her by reputation. She showed up at the storage trailers along with a Mission Joplin supervisor to pick up several boxes of woolen blankets, which she apparently intended to distribute on her own. She was upbeat, kind, and adamant about the town’s appreciation for volunteers and about the way people who have Christ in their hearts can respond to tragedies in ways they had never known they could.
Indeed, believers in Jesus Christ can be confident that the One who died to take the penalty of their sins, who suffered every form of pain associated with those sins during His time on the cross, will carry them as they suffer through whatever difficulties they encounter in life. Beyond that, though, Jesus is standing by those who haven’t trusted Him. He is reaching out to them in the midst of the tragedy. Many small children who survived the tornado have told how they had been sheltered by “butterfly people,” and most of the accounts and interviews I have heard given by adults speculate that the “butterfly people” were actually angels. I’ve also heard a number of stories from people who survived in the only parts of their homes that were not leveled, often with just a section of drywall leaning up against their backs. Others lived through harrowing brushes with death in their vehicles or upper-floor apartments, neither of which are a place anyone should expect to be hiding and survive a tornado, let alone a mile-wide one with 200+ mile-per-hour winds. There is no explanation for the survival of more than 10,000 people other than the hand of God.
Jesus is continuing to reach out to the survivors through places like Mission Joplin, however. Forest Park Baptist Church and numerous other local churches have provided places where tornado survivors can leave their unfurnished duplexes, overpriced apartments, friends’ basements, and relatives’ dens to find a mattress to sleep on, food for their cupboards (if they have any cupboards), diapers, toothpaste, and perhaps a coffee maker, frying pan, or child’s high chair. Furthermore, they can find compassionate ears eager to listen to their tales of miracles, misery, and mercy. Many of them are also more ready than ever to hear about the ultimate reason they are still alive, to meet Jesus Christ. These churches could not have managed these ministries without the assistance of volunteers from other churches from out of town, often as far away as Kansas City or Oklahoma City. Please join the effort on Tuesdays or Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Trust me, it will be worth the short drive. Even if you spend a day shuttling pallets of goods and never meet a tornado survivor, your presence will be noticed. Together, God is using us to change lives.
Written by Jonathan VerHoeven