Category Archives: Joplin

Joplin – October 2011

“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

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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in General Missions, Jerusalem, Joplin


Joplin – October 2011

“All these people came out to support you tonight.  Show this town, show that community and the world what you didn’t lose in the storm…perseverance, resiliency, hard work, dedication, teamwork…”  Joplin High School head football coach Chris Shields used these words to urge his players on in the locker room prior to the Eagles’ first home game after the May 22 tornado.  ESPN has produced a 20-minute documentary in its Outside the Lines series that tells the story of the Eagles and their resolute return to the gridiron barely three months after the storm changed their lives forever.  Players and cheerleaders who lived through the tornado share their accounts of the disaster and its aftermath.  They lost their school, some of them lost their homes, others lost friends, and one lost both his parents and his ability to play football.  What they did not lose was their commitment to each other and their community and their determination to carry on with life no matter what.  Watch it here:  It is powerful.

Meanwhile, Mission Joplin continues to operate at a steady, sometimes relentless pace.  Two church groups drove down from Kansas City to volunteer this Saturday, which was good because one of the semi trailers used for storage needed to be tarped due to holes in the roof, and it took six of us all morning to get the job done.  There’s always something to be done, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10:00 and 3:00.  Those are the days when volunteers are needed the most to assist shoppers, visit with them, listen to their stories, and share Jesus with them.  Obviously, the majority of you work during those days, but if any of you do not work those days or can sacrifice a day off, your assistance will be greatly appreciated.

Many people have expressed to me their intentions to eventually help out in Joplin.  One hundred forty-nine days have passed since the tornado, and as far as I know, those people still haven’t found the time.  They probably never will find it.  They will need to make it.  The needs still exist.  They are evolving somewhat as actual rebuilding efforts gain steam, but they have not gone away.  They won’t for at least another 149 days, but a few hours of your time on a single day could change your life and that of a tornado victim.

Someone accepts Christ at Mission Joplin seemingly every week.  All go “home” (whatever that means now) with the understanding that God’s people are the ones to turn to when they have physical needs.  I continue to be amazed by the simplicity of some of these needs.  One middle-aged woman proudly showed her husband a coffee pot she had found as I helped load their truck.  Later, from across the room, I watched as another woman could barely contain her joy when a volunteer handed her a boxed frying pan.  Last week, a tornado victim who had read this very blog and is preparing to move into a new house called Ryan Martin at UBC asking if we knew where she could find some bunk beds and mattresses.  We referred her to Mission Joplin for the mattresses and have appealed to the UBC church body for the bunk beds.  Contact Ryan Martin ( to assist.

If you happen to be someone who has been waiting to volunteer in Joplin because you have a specific skill you are hoping to use, send Ryan an e-mail, and we will do our best to find out when, where, and how you might be needed.  Consider Mission Joplin anyway, though, and watch the Outside the Lines episode.  As I said before, it’s powerful.

Written by Jonathan VerHoeven

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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in General Missions, Jerusalem, Joplin


Joplin – September 2011

“Tyvek” is now the most visible word in Joplin, and if you’re wondering what on Earth I’m talking about, that’s a name-brand insulating wrap that goes on underneath siding or bricks.  Residential rebuilding has officially begun.  New homes are scattered, so there are no scenes reminiscent of late-1940s Long Island when blocks of suburban houses sprang simultaneously out of nowhere, but progress is noticeable.  It feels like Joplin has turned a corner, but as Forest Park Baptist Church’s senior pastor, John Swadley, writes in his blog this week (, the town and its people are still hurting.  These are people who have lost everything.  Their recovery will not be complete for many, many months.

Tornado survivors are still discovering Mission Joplin.  Two high school volunteers from Oklahoma and I were assigned to deliver mattresses to five homes Saturday, two of which were FEMA trailers, two others were rental houses in the center of town, and another was a duplex in Webb City.  Not everyone we visited wanted to talk, but those who did told us how much they appreciated us, Forest Park, and Denver Mattress Co.  Two of the people told us their specific stories of survival.  One man lived through the tornado two blocks west of the high school, hiding in his walk-in closet.  The clothes protected him and his family, and something (we suspect God) prevented a sycamore tree from crashing into the closet and crushing them.  He spoke of how wonderfully Joplin’s churches have responded to the disaster.  He also told us that he will be living in his new rental duplex for a year before being able to rebuild.  Another lady described how she, caught by surprise, had ridden out the twister in her vehicle outside her home.  She, too, credits God not just with her survival, but with the survival of everyone else who was not where they should have been at the time.  (An incredible number of people survived in their vehicles, while more people died in their homes than on the roads.)  These are just two stories of thousands.  In a future post, I’ll recount the story of my mom’s best friend and her church family’s survival when the tornado hit their church building directly across the street from the high school.  They are still waiting to rebuild.

Last week, I introduced by cousin, Missy Lloyd, who volunteered with me at Mission Joplin last Saturday.  Today, I am also sharing her thoughts.  She is a John Brown University freshman from Hemet, California.

“I had an amazing time in Joplin on Saturday.  Being from California I had never seen tornado damage before, and I didn’t realize how powerful they can be.  While we drove through the devastated area, seeing the rubble and barrenness that the tornado left behind had me in awe. I liked some of the signs that we saw, saying things like ‘Thank You Volunteers’ and ‘God protected me.’  Also, I saw so many American flags that day, which really depicted the hearts and attitudes of the people of Joplin.  Volunteering at Mission Joplin was such a humbling experience.  I was able to visit and pray with people who had lost everything and help them get the provisions that they needed.”

Mission Joplin is still open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 to 7 and Saturdays from 9 to 3.  Visit Pastor Swadley’s blog at the link above to see how you can donate goods, and please consider sacrificing one day to pitch in and help.  Continue praying for the people of Joplin as well.

Written by Jonathan VerHoeven/Photo Credits – Missy Lloyd

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Posted by on September 14, 2011 in General Missions, Jerusalem, Joplin


Joplin – September 2011

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

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Posted by on September 8, 2011 in General Missions, Jerusalem, Joplin


Joplin – August 2011

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 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

Written by Jonathan VerHoeven

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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in General Missions, Jerusalem, Joplin


Joplin – Summer 2011

As I write on Monday evening, it has been three months to the day since the tornado killed 160 people and displaced as many as 15,000 from their homes.  Joplin has passed some milestones toward recovery recently.  School started on time last Wednesday, an extraordinary accomplishment considering that several school campuses still lie in ruins.  Also, St. John’s Regional Medical Center announced its relocation site.  The walls of the Walmart and Home Depot are up, with the former slated to open the week before Thanksgiving.  Both damaged Walgreens re-opened today.  A number of damaged homes are clearly being remodeled, while an increasing number of empty lots are missing even their slabs, a sign that the owners are ready to sell.  An encouraging number of sold signs have popped up on these lots, too.

Joplin is coming back, but it will be a years-long process.  Saturday, my dad and I once again delivered mattresses for Mission Joplin to people who had not slept in beds they could call their own for three months.  I’ve written before about families whose first pieces of furniture were the mattresses from Mission Joplin.  A Forest Park Baptist Church member and I delivered a mattress to another man who is just now collecting furniture for his new rental house – a tiny shack not much larger than the garage in his old house must have been.  He described to us how the tornado had simply seemed to stop over his house as he lay curled up in the bathtub.  (Literally a mile wide, the twister took 2 ½ minutes to pass any given location and was so large that it had an eye.)  “I don’t ever want to experience that again,” he told us repeatedly with a weary, hollow gaze that told us that much more than three months time would be required to heal his wounds.

Our next stop was in a neighborhood that was missing most of the trees it once had despite being on “the edge” of the damage.  We carried the mattresses into a cramped house that looked as if it had recently undergone some repairs and found a person sitting on nearly every piece of furniture.  The homeowner ran down a roster of no fewer than five relatives who were now staying with her after losing their homes.  There was hardly room to walk as the floor was cluttered with what I imagine were salvaged belongings owned by the refugees.  My dad told me similar stories after he finished his deliveries on a separate route.  That afternoon, he and I drove through one of the two villages of FEMA trailers set up near the Joplin airport.  The lengths to which the city went to set up mailboxes, storm shelters, street signs, a police sub-station, and a trolley stop highlight the length of time the residents are expected to live there, and the number of trailers falls far short of the number that could be occupied.

The staff at Mission Joplin have mentioned a number of times that the donations they seek are the items a person might need to move into a new apartment with no possessions to their name, or that a newlywed couple might need to set up a home.  Many victims are starting from scratch.

Starting this week, Mission Joplin’s hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 7:00 and Saturdays from 9:00 to 3:00.  Surely someone reading this blog in Northwest Arkansas can find time to drive 90 minutes or less to Joplin and fill a crucial need for a few hours.  Every hour worked is a blessing, and every task is necessary.

In the meantime, pray for the people of Joplin as they attempt to live normally in an environment that will not let them.  No matter what encouraging signs of progress fill the headlines, and no matter how many days pass, the dark afternoon of May 22 is only a thought away.

Check out for more info.

Written by Jonathan VerHoeven

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Posted by on August 24, 2011 in General Missions, Jerusalem, Joplin


Joplin – August 2011

Two other members of UBC’s young adults Bible Fellowship, Hannah Jenkins and Mindy Epp, drove with me to Joplin this past Saturday to volunteer at Mission Joplin, a donations collection and distribution center set up by Forest Park Baptist Church to aid victims of the May 22 tornado.  We spent the day unloading pallets of nonperishable food items and stocking shelves, some of which emptied almost as quickly as we                                                                                             could fill them.

Mindy comments, “The staff and people working at Mission Joplin were all kind and generous. They run an efficient and organized area where families can come to get groceries and have an assortment of needs met.  It is clear that people are still recovering and in need of support and even basic necessities.  The laundry detergent, sugar, and flour were items that quickly left the shelves.  I was told ‘thank you’ for my time as we left, but I felt I had given such a small contribution compared to the many hours and dollars others have dedicated to this cause. The people who are there day in and day out providing and uplifting those in need are the ones who should be thanked.”

Volunteers are needed for “personal shoppers.”  I’ll let Forest Park’s senior pastor, John Swadley, explain that concept to you as well as the life-changing encounters it can lead to.  From his blog at

“The greatest gift God ever gave us was the gift of Himself. That’s why we try to make ministry personal at Mission Joplin. Instead of setting up a “help yourself” experience, we take people through our distribution center one at a time. We listen to their stories. We pray for their needs. We attempt to show the love that God did when He came to this planet, PERSONALLY.

“It’s why the act of volunteering is more than just ‘being nice.’ It is putting skin on the love of God. It’s being a bridge which can help people connect to the GREATEST LOVE.

“It happened today. Stacey Johnson met a woman who thought she needed only furniture. We helped her with that. But it turns out that she also needed and wanted a personal relationship with God. She needed and wanted forgiveness through Jesus.  She needed and wanted salvation. Stacey helped her receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior.  She got all of that…along with a couch!

“Some of you live within driving distance of Mission Joplin but you have never volunteered. You don’t have to be a saint to do important work on our team. We need people to stock shelves, receive donations, and do office work. It takes a team effort. Here is my challenge: volunteer for half a day and see if this ministry is for you. Help us help people for just 4 hours. You can spare that, can’t you? The greatest gift you will ever give is the gift of yourself—just like God. We could also use pots and pans, blenders, mac and cheese and pull ups.  Someone may come by tomorrow and think that all they need is a bag of pull ups. And God will give them SO MUCH MORE!”

Folks, Fayetteville is within driving distance, and just a few hours of your time on any given day could help make an eternal difference to people who have lost nearly everything except their lives, who lived through the tornado itself and are wondering how or why they survived.  The stories are hair-raising, tragic, and miraculous; the opportunities to share the Gospel are plentiful.

Speaking of the tornado, on our way into town, we drove through the destruction.  Parking next to the bare slab of Harmony Heights Baptist Church, Mindy and Hannah examined the high school across Indiana Street for the first time.  “As a teacher,” Mindy writes, “it was so strange to see a school building with its walls ripped off but with some bookshelves still standing as if someone had peeled off one side so you could see in.  I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have your home and workplace destroyed.”  As hard as it is to imagine, this is life for thousands of Joplin residents, and Mission Joplin is one of the best places for you to help them get a new start, perhaps in more ways than one.

Written by Jonathan VerHoeven

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Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Jerusalem, Joplin