Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Joplin, part 1

I don't even know where to begin...

It was Sunday night, May 22nd, and our High School ministry at church, Collide, had just ended. I overheard my boss/friend, Cody Walker, talking to 2 other leaders about how he hadn't yet heard from his mom. I asked what was going on, and he said that there had been a huge tornado in Joplin, MO and they hadn't heard from his mom or brother. The next hour or so had to be traumatic for Cody & his wife Rachael as they frantically texted and called everyone they knew in Joplin (where they're both from) to make any contact they could with their families.

I started to check Twitter & Facebook from my phone, and from all of the friends I have in Joplin through CIY or Ozark Christian College or at churches there, I was seeing comments like "I'm OK" or posts on friends' walls saying "So glad you're OK" and so on... I heard "Chick-fil-A is gone" and I heard "supposedly it was an F5" and "half of Joplin is flattened." This wasn't the kind of tornado I'd expected at all. This was bigger.

Obviously, you all know that by now after seeing the news, and the world is well aware that this was something bigger than anyone ever expected. No one expected it to happen in Joplin, MO, let alone anywhere.

That night, someone finally got a hold of Cody's mom, and though she had been pulled out of her flattened house, she was ok. His brother got access to facebook long enough from the Stained Glass Theater where he was (also flattened) and wrote on Cody's wall "Tell mom I'm ok." No one knew what kind of miracle this was until later on.

Pictures, video footage, and the news drew me in and I couldn't pull myself away that night. Over the next couple days I tried to pull myself from having my eyes glued to the TV to having my knees glued to the floor in prayer. I know I'm not able to do much, but I can pray, and I knew I could find some other way to simply help.

I had almost moved to Joplin several years ago after a job offer from CIY that I happened to turn down. I can't imagine if I'd been living there. Honestly, I wasn't impressed with the city of Joplin when I visited (this has changed now...more to come on this later), but there are a lot of great people there. Everyone I know who works at CIY (Christ In Youth) is good people. Those I've met from Ozark Christian College are good people.

All of them - faith-filled, Jesus-loving Kingdom workers who seek to change the world. That's what I knew of Joplin before the tornado.

That hasn't changed.

I had to do something last week to help. I felt like I couldn't NOT do anything. The Spirit was tugging on me to act, and I just didn't know what to do but what many other churches knew to do: 1) Pray, 2) Collect donations for people in need, and 3) Go there. I was willing to drive a big truck down there if that's what it took, because I knew it was something God was calling me to do for His glory.

So I asked some of the leaders at my church if I could help. Oddly, at the exact same time I sent a facebook message to our campus pastor to ask if I could do something, he was sending me a message asking if I'd consider brainstorming ways we could help. The next day I found some resources via facebook (social media has been an INCREDIBLE help to those in Joplin - communicating needs to one another and to the world), and found a list of items that were needed. After we made plans, changed them, thought they were set, and then changed them about 17 more times, the plan was this: we'd rent a big truck, ask people in the area to donate supplies on the list, and drive it down there. So that's what we did.

I take no credit and no glory. I'm just thankful I got to do something. I knew I HAD to do something. The Church (big C) had to do something. I put the word out...again, on Facebook. And people responded. Items started coming in, slowly on Tuesday, a few more on Wednesday, and then an overload on Thursday.

My good friend Crista Williford, who teaches at North Oldham High School just outside of Louisville, asked students to fill backpacks with supplies, and there was an overwhelming response from teenagers who may or may not even be believers.

Three guys who work at Humana collected about $350 from the people in their office, and over their lunch hour they went to Wal-Mart to buy all kinds of things (including feminine products - impressive, guys!) to donate.

A high school student went around to his neighborhood and collected whatever his neighbors were willing/able to give.

Countless people gave what money they had in cash or gift cards directed to Cody's mom to help her rebuild and fill her home with needs in the future.

It was overwhelming to see the response that people had shown, but this is what I know: in times of need, communities come together. And in times of despair, God is still good. So are His people.

With so many vivid images still in my mind from the 2 days I got to spend in Joplin, I'm still processing what to say about my time there, but I'm hoping God will give me the words. He allowed me to go, and I think it's His story to share how He's at work in Joplin and in me.

Stay tuned...I'll share more in days to come.
And please, keep praying for the people of Joplin. There is more devastation than you can even imagine.