God is in the midst of the storm for a city continuing to heal
Posted: Friday, July 13, 2012 8:01 pm
By: By Chris Menees, Staff Reporter
The child’s answer gave me goosebumps.
The question was to name a time when you are afraid and can trust God.
The little girl, about 10 or 11 years old, raised her hand without hesitation and calmly spoke just three words.
“During a storm,” she said.
Her answer sent a chill down my spine and brought tears to my eyes — because, at the time, we were sitting cross-legged on the floor in the basement of a church in Joplin, Mo.
Just over a year before, people had been crouched in that same basement as they took shelter from a deadly tornado that killed 161 people, injured 1,000-plus and leveled entire neighborhoods.
Looking at the faces of the children in afternoon Vacation Bible School class during a church mission trip to Joplin last week, I wondered how many of them had been affected by the tornado. I dare say several, since the deadly twister devastated more than one-fourth of their city when it struck May 22, 2011.
Their world was turned upside-down on a Sunday evening nearly 14 months ago. It was shortly after 5 p.m. when the city’s tornado sirens first began to sound. At 5:41, the tornado touched down on the southwest edge of the city and started its wide course of destruction.
The EF-5 tornado was almost a mile wide as it rolled through the heart of Joplin for a path six miles long, carrying winds up to 200 mph and wrapped in pounding rain and hail.
It blew windows from buildings, ripped roofs off homes, snapped century-old trees like twigs and lifted a nine-story hospital off its foundation.
After 20 harrowing minutes, the tornado was gone.
In those few minutes, it became the nation’s deadliest single tornado in six decades.
Today, Joplin is a city on the mend. From hurt has come healing. From heartbreak has come hope.
There is construction everywhere, but there are also still many harsh reminders of the tornado throughout Joplin’s midsection. The empty hull of St. John’s Regional Medical Center — where six people died — casts an eerie shadow and flowers adorn a broken utility pole on a corner nearby. A cross which survived the storm stands tall at the site of the destroyed St. Mary’s Catholic Church and twisted trees dot bare lots where houses once stood.
Some shells of homes still bear the remnants of hastily scrawled spray-paint messages left by rescuers who searched door-to-door after the storm, and row-upon-row of plain white FEMA trailers for those left homeless fill treeless lots near an airport.
Each day, motorists still drive along main thoroughfares past sites like the Walmart where three people died and the Lowe’s which was turned into a makeshift medical triage center for victims after the storm.
For me, spending a few days in Joplin and out of my comfort zone puts into perspective how much I am blessed back home in Tennessee. Any discomfort from a few nights sleeping on a cot in a church classroom or helping paint a house in 100-degree heat suddenly seem very trivial when I realize that — unlike some Joplin families — I have a home to come back to.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
In the months since the tornado, many stories of triumph over tragedy have emerged. There’s the powerful testimony of the man who stepped to the piano and played the gospel hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” at the funeral for his wife and 14-month-old son. There’s the heroic account of the young woman who died at her church while covering a seven-year-old child with her body as she prayed aloud.
Believers have shared testimonies of God’s faithfulness despite their loss and doors have opened for the gospel to be shared on national newscasts. Churches have been filled, volunteers have reached out to help in Jesus’ name and people have come to find the Lord amid the ruins.
It’s not about who we are, but about Whose we are.
The past few days, more than once, my mind has drifted back to the Joplin girl’s answer to the question asking about a time when she trusted God for protection. She preached a message with her simple three-word answer: “During a storm.”
There’s no doubt God is there — in the midst of the storm.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 7.13.12
Chris Menees, Joplin, Just A Thought, mission trip, Mo., tornado