Well, we were narrowly missed by an F5 tornado just three weeks after moving here. Meanwhile, the main campus of our church is perched on the edge of the devastation, and we have been crazy busy trying to help people recover and get basic necessities. I spent some time in the area of the tornado on Tuesday and Wednesday after the storm hit on Sunday. It was astounding. It was just mile after mile of complete destruction. Looking at house after house, it was difficult to imagine how anyone survived such violence. But people did, and we came across those people, standing on top of what used to be their homes, just looking for anything they could salvage. I met people this week who lost their home and their place of employment, who lost apartments, cars, people who did have insurance, and so many people who didn't. I met people who lost loved ones. I have heard story after story and have seen one heartbreaking scene after another.
Joplin has lost its high school, its middle school, its technical high school, two or three elementary schools, one of its hospitals, several apartment complexes, a nursing home, most of its Main Street, in addition to the main shopping/restaurant/hotel district of the town. It has lost 6,000 homes. I don't know how many churches are gone, but I've seen at least five in the rubble while driving around. It has lost 139 of its people, and counting.
We have 85 families in our church who had damage to their homes; 57 of those have lost their homes completely. We had a church member who gave his own life at the Pizza Hut, holding the door to the freezer closed in order to save all of his customers and employees who were inside. We have a number of others who are either dead or missing, I don't know exactly how many.
Anyway, I wanted to share two things: first of all, this video of my husband, who is working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week until this crisis eases:
And second of all, I wanted to write down a picture of all that is going on at our church. That place is like ants on an ant hill. In the parking lot when you first drive up, there are multiple trailers of equipment from Samaritan's Purse. I can't say enough how much I love that ministry right now. They have been training and sending out hundreds of volunteers each day to work at homes repairing roofs and cleaning up debris. They are amazing.
Also in the parking lot are tents and food stands set up by random people who have just driven here wanting to help. There are ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs, spaghetti, and cold drinks available at different tents, for volunteers as well as survivors, all for free. There are random trucks parked there handing out diapers and cases of water. When you walk inside, you will find members of our church manning information desks; one to direct volunteers where they are needed throughout the city, and one desk for survivors to give information on the help that is available, and sign them up to get it. I had the privilege of working there one day this week, and it was amazing how many people came in and just wanted someone to listen to their stories.
We have crisis counselors that have set up in Sunday School rooms, available for free to rescue workers as well as survivors of the tornado.
Yesterday when I was up there, someone was setting up a toy store in the lobby and had broadcast to all the radio stations to send kids here to get free toys.
In the doorway of the lobby, there is a pile of wet photographs that someone brought to dry out.
Downstairs in the kitchen, there are snacks and drinks set up for volunteers. There is also a group of ladies and teenagers tirelessly assembling sandwiches and sack lunches. Each time they run out of bread or chips, the church puts a notice on Facebook, and people show up with it. The same goes for all of the supplies that we have received this week. We put out a call for it, and people show up in droves with it.
We have been sending out between 1,000 and 2,000 sack lunches every day into the devastation zone. I had the privilege of doing that for two days this week, and I was amazed to find elderly people, sitting alone in a damaged house with no power and no water, and no car to get them to where they can find help. One lady answered her door and said she had just been wondering how she was going to be able to eat today. I was also amazed to see people, standing on the rubble that used to be their home, who told me no, they didn't need food, and that I should save it for people who were needy. Um, yeah, that's you, dude.
Back in the basement kitchen, we have a first aid station and a tornado shelter that was used twice this week; once when the injured and stunned survivors came wandering in the night of the storm, and again on Tuesday night when the sirens sounded and several hundred frightened people, including myself and my family, came down there to seek shelter. Every time that I go down there, the refrigerators have multiplied. We keep calling for more freezer space to store all of the donated food, and people keep driving up with extra freezers and refrigerators. We got an unexpected shipment of 1,000 pounds of frozen pizza (not the most practical donation), and there we have it, all in a donated freezer to store it in.
Back upstairs and outside in the back parking lot, there is a trailer set up with free showers. The ladies who run it are from a church in Arkansas; they just have the trailer ready and they drive to wherever they are needed. They have been sitting out there for days, just helping people get showers.
There are also semi-truck trailers full of heavy equipment, for use by Samaritan's Purse. On the other side of the property, there is a house filled with donated clothing, being organized by volunteers who are turning it into a free clothing store. Then, behind that house, there is a warehouse, formerly a garage for the church's buses, that houses every single item you could ever need. It has shelves and shelves and shelves- wall to wall- of donated items for people in need. It is basically a Wal-Mart with no cash register- it is all free. I worked in the warehouse for one day this week, shelving diapers and formula and Tylenol and flashlights and chapstick and shampoo and EVERY baby item you could ever desire. As soon as we would get it shelved, another church van would pull up and haul out more bags and boxes to be sorted. It was amazing. I helped a lady whose baby was allergic to every kind of formula; she basically told me there was no way we would have the specific kind her baby needs- and then I loaded her car up with about a two months' supply of it. It has been such a joy to see the generosity of the nation as they have sent their stuff to us, and then to see the looks on people's faces when we extend that generosity to them, and tell them that God loves them.
Outside the warehouse, across another parking lot, there are seven semi-trailers, parked and loaded with supplies, just waiting for the time when we have room to even sort them to give them out.
Off of the church property, we have THREE warehouses full of donated goods. We've had people that have shown up with forklifts and pallets to stack all of the supplies that we have been given. We've had people donating and assembling industrial shelving to stack all of those pallets of supplies up to the ceiling. We've had volunteers that have worked unloading semi-trucks into the warehouses until two in the morning.
We've had a church in Texas that has committed to serving lunch and dinner outside in our parking lot for the ENTIRE summer! That is huge. The workers that are out there now have been giving away about 2,000 burgers a day.
A guy that we went to college with is a pastor of a church in Lebanon, MO, which is about an hour away. They showed up Wednesday with a huge check, 1,500 hamburgers, a truck full of supplies, and 40 people or so to distribute them.
Someone showed up with about 4,000 donuts and eclairs. Others have just shown up with their camping gear, ready to help where they can. Somehow Chic-Fil-A delivered 1,000 sandwiches to us, even though their main store in town was destroyed.
It has been an amazing and exhausting 8 days since the storm. Many of you have asked me what you can do to help. The answer is, you can pray for us, and you can donate money at www.fpbc.net. We will definitely need money to get people through this.
I don't know how to summarize this post, except to say that I am so proud of my church, my husband, and of the people of God this week. They have all stepped up to serve and to give, and I am just continually amazed by it.
There is one more video that I want to share, which also depicts what has been happening at our church, and it is a tear-jerker, I am afraid:
Joplin, Missouri - May 2011 from Oak Hills Church on Vimeo.
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