Sunday, June 5, 2011
RETURN TO JOPLIN
Only as we headed west did we tune into the radio news and learned of what had actually happened while we were hiding in that stairwell of the Inn.
A monster tornado believed to consist of three vortexes whirled it's way through that lovely town.
Just a mile north of our hiding place it tore up the land, houses, cars, businesses, and landscape. As of today 146 have been counted as dead with thousands of injuries. Some are simply missing!
Today we drove back to Joplin, 100 miles from our house. We'd seen the pictures and videos, heard survivors stories and poured over the map of the swath of destruction. But for the past few days our minds just wouldn't let our arms wrap around the truth of what had actually happened.
How could we be so oblivious as to just casually drive away as all those people lay dead and dying? Was it true that 1/3 of the town was obliterated from the face of the earth? Our minds knew the reality but our hearts were still troubled. I'm sure a physiologist could explain the mixed and troubling emotions.
This past week we decided that we had to return, perhaps to convince ourselves of the horror.
Today we prepared with sun hats, gloves and Gatorade and drove over. We had no formal plan, we'd step in wherever we saw someone that needed help in anyway.
We exited off the highway just as we did 2 weeks ago, everything looked fine. The Hampton Inn was open for business and the parking lot was full. We drove north just 1 mile when the landscape changed. The Home Depot was demolished, a twisted junkyard. EVERYTHING in the area had been reduced to toothpicks. The trees were topped and the bark was stripped. Piles and piles of rubble were the only thing visible. Occasionally an open fire was blazing. The smell of wood burning filled the air. People gathered around make-shift open air kitchens picking up free food, water, and essentials of life. Roofs, walls, cars, windows, trees were all gone! Just gone!
American flags flew everywhere offering hope.
Walmart was leveled, paint was stripped off cars and malls. The high school was destroyed, the hospital looked like a skeleton, it's dark glassless windows reeking of death. Some folks had spray painted messages on partial walls left standing. One said, "gone to Florida." Another person wrote, "God spared us." Another sentiment was, "gone with the wind." Huge trucks with claws to pick up debris dotted the landscape.
Are there enough trucks in the whole world to even make a dent in the massive piles? In one area the devestation is as far as the eye can see in all directions.
We found Forest Park Baptist Church and the huge Samaritans Purse truck. We drove into the parking lot and noticed that the front door had a paper taped to it that read, "Volunteers, Sign in Here." We parked and headed for the entrance. Samaritans Purse was the first organization to arrive 2 weeks ago. They were set up and helping the confused and hurt find food and help just 24 hours after that monster wind had left town.
Several folks milled about the lobby and we signed in. We autographed the huge paper map of the US, almost every state of the union has been represented thus far. We were given the task of helping out in the church kitchen and dining room for the afternoon. Hundreds of cardboard boxes needed to be folded and carried to the dumpster. (Who knew that all those donations came in cardboard boxes that had to be broken down and recycled??) We emptied trash barrels, filled ice coolers and prepared the dining room for the next influx of victims coming in for a meal.
A temporary women's dorm was on the third floor of the church. We carried bedding and ice up there for the women resting on cots.
We heard stories of people that had lost their homes, cars that were now being cared for and housed in the homes of their Joplin neighbors, those that still had homes! Funerals were being held daily.
Joplin is going to need a lot of love and compassion for years to come. I'm sure our Tulsa church will be sending teams over in the days ahead. Now is the time for the church to step up to the plate!
Many folks will be lending a hand. Many more will be needed to offer a listening ear.
People tell us that "God answered our prayers and spared us." That is true, but so many others were praying that day and they received a very different answer. Did God NOT love them? Did He NOT have a plan for them to live? Could He have stopped that monster storm from lowering to the ground? Did He make a mistake? Why are we alive and so many gone?
It's a survivors dilemma. There are no answers, but TRUTH must prevail. God loves all people!!
We have to trust His heart when we do not see His hand!