In addition to these two testimonies be on the look out for testimonies from our own church members who went on the trip - those will be posted in the next few days!
One person that came to speak was a personal friend and colleague, Rev. Fay Barnes Blevins who is the pastor at First Christian Church, Joplin, MO. We were staying at South Joplin, but First Christian and South Joplin both worked together in the weeks and months afterward as they responded to needs in Joplin, MO. Fay shared her personal story as well as the story of her church as they all were affected by the storm in one way or another.
We also had a tour from Kenton Foster, a South Joplin CC member and individual who lost his home. He gave us a tour around Joplin and shared his personal story. In addition to this though, his son Kenny Foster, a musician living and working in Nashville, TN wrote a song that has a music video you can watch below.
When the rain and hail let up some, we got back on to the highway and drove into Joplin. I still wasn’t able to get a hold of Wes, my husband. Then I heard the radio say, “There is complete devastation at 7th and Range Line.” I panicked as that was half a mile from our apartment and the tornado would have moved directly towards it. As we pulled into town we didn’t see much of anything except for tree damage, even though the radio reported mass destruction. I pulled up to my apartment complex and it was fine…not a shingle off or busted window! Just debris everywhere. I screamed for Wes and ran to our apartment to find he and the dog, Randy, just fine, but all of us shaken. Wes had attempted to film the tornado from the balcony of our apartment, but when he discovered it wouldn’t work he went inside to take cover. Shortly, thereafter, we noticed the constant sound of sirens from emergency vehicles. That sound would be constant for the next 36-48 hours.
We didn’t have power or water in a our apartment and I wanted to check on the church and get numbers to call people. We headed to the church and our route didn’t take us anywhere near the damage, but there was absolute chaos in the streets. It tool 45 minutes to get to the church, when it normally took 15. Once I saw that the physical structure was sound, I opened our Family Life Center/Gym area thinking it could be used as emergency shelter. Within 2 hours churches from Kansas were delivering water, food, clothes, towels and soap. Within 3-4 hours, survivors of the storm were arriving. People covered in dirt, leaves and grass plastered to their body. Tattered clothes, wet and cold. All in shock and afraid. We served soup and coffee. We worked to help them find family and friends who would be looking for them. It was one of the most overwhelming moments of my life while at the same time being one of the most blessed. I don’t know who any of those people were or where they are now, I can only hope that we provided a bit of comfort and a sense of hope.
Our apartment was safe, but without utilities. We just closed on our first house the week before. It was left unharmed as well…though 75% of the homes we looked at were destroyed. We packed up towels, air mattress, toiletries, and a change of clothes and headed to our house. It was completely empty, but it had hot water and lights. There was no sleep to be had the first several nights. The next day I began the search for congregants and discovered a young 20-something couple who moved to Joplin about the same time we did, lost everything. They came and camped with us at our house for a week until we could find a more permanent solution. Which, coincidentally, was that they helped us move out of the apartment into the house and they assumed the lease on the apartment.
For two weeks I would search for people, trying to remember little tidbits of information I might have picked up on extended family members; picking the brains of others who might know something. All the members were found alive and accounted for…an amazing blessing, perhaps a real miracle. 14 families lost their homes, and over 30 families had severe damage or lost a job as a result of the storm.
The damage was/is incomprehensible. It was like the scenes from war movies…I thought I was watching “Saving Private Ryan” only without the tanks. Entire sections, neighborhoods, in piles of broken wood and glass. People wading through the debris were pitiful. Looking for any little thing they might be able to salvage.