Joplin, Missouri was home to one of the US’s deadliest Tornadoes in 2011., – it was the deadliest tornado since 1940 and is one of the top deadliest tornadoes in the US on record. Having spent time in Southern Missouri growing up, Joplin’s need for help resonated with me. I was compelled to go, I felt as though I would lack as a being if i did not go and help. I ended up spending 3 weeks over the course of month and a half period helping with the clean up efforts. I served with an awesome group of volunteers each time I went down. My faith, my person, my relationships all grew stronger from this experience.
I can still feel the heat from the 115 degree in-the-shade-day. We sat, laid, and recouped under this tent. It was so hot and humid that pouring lukewarm water over our heads to keep cool was like diving in to a fresh water, glacier runoff mountain lake. It was painful but refreshing. We had been working to clear a property that was nearly leveled and who’s yard, slightly elevated in the path of the tornado, became a drop point for much of the preceding neighborhoods belongings. Every one was baked to the core, joyful and grateful to be there. I was blessed more than usual that week too, because my younger brother made time to come out with me. Eli – age 16 worked harder than I had ever seen him work. He was our big debris thrower and saved my back hundreds of times.
Here are some pictures from my 3 weeks in Joplin.
I returned again in October, on my way back from a friends wedding, to see how things had been going. They had made some progress but a lot of Joplin looked like it had been paused. I could see where some of the properties we had been working on we making progress and others were still waiting. We weren’t able to muster enough support to send a build team out, but we continued to pray for Joplin.
That brings us to our current trip. With time to hit Southern Missouri I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Joplin with my family. My boys even remembered me going and talked about seeing pictures of while I was there. In their mind Joplin was in a frozen state of recovery after I left. It was great to be able to show my boys the strength of community and be able to see how far Joplin has really come. For me it was emotional to revisit the area. I was joyful to see how things had progressed, sorrowful to see some areas that still needed work, and a bit overwhelmed at times by the massive effect this had on the area overall. Several, if not all of the properties I had worked on were rebuilt, some were bigger, some were painted and repaired and others had been sold and developed or merged into another property. The trees had leaves and were growing; hundreds of trees had been planted. Even though you could still see the deformed and sometimes dead trees that remain from after the storm it was clear that life was well under way.
One of the major stops in Joplin was the memorial. Our teams had passed this park several times while volunteering as we scurried from location to location for various cleanup tasks. The first week it was full of debris, cars, car parts, trees, bits of houses and their contents strewn about. The last week the park was clean but barren, even when I returned in October 2011 there was little to be seen but some planted trees and patches of grass. This time it was a different story. The park was completed. There were several memorial stations; a fountain for the lost, a 4 walled tribute to the volunteers and an overlook dedicated to what had transpired. Here was our journey.
First a bit about the above images. There was a storm rolling in as we arrived. these images are in order of when they were taken. I took several other pictures of houses and properties we had worked on, but i felt it disrespectful to put them here since I haven’t had any contact with those for whom we worked. If you were part of the trip with me I will share them in private.
Last. The single most emotional point in our visit to Joplin was when reading the butterfly people plaque. Not because of what it said but because the stories had lived on through the clean up. The first week I was there people were sharing these stories, and more than what was listed here. There were stories of Butterflies and Angels protecting people in the storm. There we also stories of how the tornado reached for people with dark evil arms to rip them from their houses and how God saved some, and called others home.
Many people ask “If there is a God then why do these things happen”. It’s a question derived from pain, shock, frustration, fear, and some times anger. The problem is the answers, hard or simple, right or wrong, don’t bring or peace. The outcome is what matters in this question. These events that are beyond our control, positive and negative alike, and how we respond, are the things that shape who we are. Volunteering in Joplin, literately giving blood sweat and tears for the cleanup efforts, changed who I was.