Tuesday, June 12, 2012


While we were in Joplin, MO we had many chances to hear the testimonies of those who live in Joplin and were affected by the tornado on May 22, 2011.  There were pictures all over the news, and testimonies that we could read in newspapers, but it was different to hear them in person.

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.

Rev. Laura

Picking up the pieces: Fay Barnes Blevins
Posted on September 29, 2011

I am the senior pastor of First Christian Church, Joplin. I ask people to call me “pastor,” or “Fay” or whatever as long as it’s nice. This is my first call out of seminary.

First Christian Church is the typical downtown church in small-city U.S.A. We have a long history of 135+ years, planting several other churches around town in that time, and now figuring out what God is calling us to do in this time and place. I am the first female pastor and the previous pastor retired after 29 years.

I was attending an Area Board Meeting about 45 minutes out of Joplin. We just finished our meeting and were preparing to have dinner-it was a church dinner and so….I felt the need to stay and enjoy…the dessert looked really good. I noticed several people looking at their smart phones and talking about the weather. As I finished eating, the Elder who was with me, suggested we might head back and “beat the storm.” So, we climbed into the car (I was driving) and headed towards Joplin. About 20-30 miles out, I can’t remember exactly, the sky become almost black and the wind was strong. Then the rain came down so heavy I slowed to a snail’s pace. We listened to the radio and heard there was a tornado warning. The weather continued to get worse and I could barely see. Semi’s were pulled off to the side of the road. (I had just watched a show on tornados that are hidden by walls of rain. People don’t see them until they’re swept up into them.) I decided to pull off the highway and find shelter. We pulled off at the next exit and pulled under a bride/overpass. There were several other cars there as well. We sat listening to radio, feeling the car trying to be pushed by the wind, and listening to the hail as it fell. The Elder and I tried to call our spouses, but there was no phone service. So, we continued to listen to the radio as they spoke of the tornado touching down in Joplin.

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.

Life since, has been a constant sense of inadequacy…for me, at least.

It’s been about listening to stories and making connections to resources. It’s been about being hospitable to our brothers and sisters in Christ as they need a place to worship, and being a place where people can give time and donations, and a place where people can find the things they need to make it another day. We operated a Distribution Center from Friday, May 27th to Sunday, September 4th. We still have our final winter clothing give-away on October 22nd (NO CLOTHES NEEDED!) It’s been a time of prayer and constant reminder to people that this storm was not punishment from God for some ill of an individual or nation.

It’s been a baptism by fire…or wind.

There is much left to do. The local government is coordinating with local organizations and churches are forming a Long Term Recovery Committee. Part of their work will be finding those who didn’t get insurance money or enough insurance money or didn’t get FEMA assistance and find them help to rebuild or repair. The LTRC will funnel financial and people resources into these projects. So, workgroups will be needed to feed the people resources necessary to rebuild.

I received MANY notes via Facebook and MANY phone calls checking in and offering us prayers. Their support has helped me immensely. I know I can call for a listening ear, a cheerleader, or a good laugh. Some even offer wise advice from time to time. Most of them reassured me that I was right where I needed to be, when I might have thought otherwise.

We are always happy to take financial donations directly to assist the community. Come volunteer when we begin rebuilding. We would love to see you! Support Week of Compassion as they do wonderful work and we appreciate ALL the support thy have given us these last, long months. Pray, pray, pray.

Our church is SO GENEROUS! With all the cries of fiscal concerns and budgetary worries here, there, and everywhere people have been generous with their time and their gifts. We received several emails, cards, and phone calls from people just wishing us well and keeping us in prayer. It’s an incredibly powerful/humbling moment to realize how many people might actually be praying for you. I have seen the Spirit at work in the church and it’s alive and well. I’m not sure how anyone could make it through a situation like this without the support of a faith community.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Last Day

Our last day of work started at 7:30 with breakfast from our fabulous cooks: Lucy, Carol, and Beverly. Kenny, Carol, and Laura took off after breakfast and headed home. Then off to work were a team of Amy, Tom, Brandon, Darby, Michael, Joseph, Judy, and Scotty to work on Rebecca's house for the second day. Joseph, Tom, Amy, and Judy stayed late with our long term volunteers, Dwight and Steve, to finish the last of the sheeting. Now the house is complete and ready for siding.

Our chefs!

The group putting up scaffolding.

Joseph pounding in a nail with the nail gun.
Joseph, Amy, Judy and Tom with our homeowner, Rebecca, and her daughter, Destiny.

The final product!

While we were hanging the last of the particle board we met and talked with the homeowner. She was very nice and thanked us for our work. The work was hard but we all had a lot of fun. Both groups have had a lot of good memories and will cherish the times we have had for the rest of our lives. We are leaving after breakfast to head back to Baton Rouge, so keep us in your prays. P.S. Kenny is not driving so hopefully no fires this time!


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Making Progress

Everyone is feeling the effects of the hard work from this third day of mission work. We were split between two houses - Susan and Rebecca's houses. Today, Rebecca's house consisted of insulation and hanging plywood. At Susan's house, finishing touches were done, such as the hanging of doors, cleaning the yard, sweeping, mopping, and finishing of the smoke detectors and light fixtures. After these tedious tasks, Kenny, Brandon, and Tom joined the others at Rebecca's house. After sunburns, scrapes, sore muscles, thousands of Tom Cody's hilarious statements, and an ice cream van visit, we made great progress. In a course of 36 hours, Laura has force fed us ice cream three times... To say the least, we are NOT going hungry. Especially with Lucy, Carol, and Beverly's delicious cooking!  

This afternoon, we were treated to a candle-light and flowered dinner served by the youth from Lindenwood Christian Church from Memphis, Tennessee who were also here on mission duties. After dinner, two personal stories were shared which were very touching, along with a music video called "Hometown" by Kenny Foster: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fx2aHbDWzhg who grew up in Joplin and was affected by the tornado.  His family still attends South Joplin Christian Church, and his dad Kenton was our tour guide yesterday.

The first story told was from a 92 year old woman whose house was completely demolished by the tornado. She had just arrived home from church, and noticed her hanging plants on the front porch blowing sideways. She then began to take cover but lost consciousness. When she came to, the storm  passed but she was stuck in the rubble. Two neighbors found her, pulled her out and brought her to the hospital. 

The second story was from her daughter, whose house was unaffected, yet she was worried about her mother after learning the path of the tornado destroyed her mother's neighborhood. She could not drive to her mom's house due to debris, so she parked close and walked to the house in sandals. When she and her husband reached her mother's house, they were unable to find her in the pile of debris left over from her the house. Later that night, she was contacted by the neighbors to inform the daughter that her mother was safe at the hospital in Pittsburgh, KS.   

 Scotty, Joseph, and Pam hung insulation surrounding almost the entire house.

 Progress being made!

 A well deserved, and crazy, lunch break.

The gang taking a break along with our Americorps supervisor, Henry.

  Brandon and Darby 

Work and Reflection

It's been a long day in Joplin. It's been a day of hard work and remembrance. Our group was consolidated to two work sites today. Tom, Kenny, Scotty and Joseph started the day at Susan's house where they hung ceiling fans. This of course was a decision the homeowner made AFTER their team had spent the last day installing light fixtures. Tom was ready to tell her that the job was finished, and she would have to find another way to get the fans installed, but Kenny volunteered right away to get the job done right.

Trash pick-up

Later in the morning, Scotty and Joseph joined the rest of the FCCBRLA crew at Rebecca's house. The job today there was installing insulation and hanging particle board over the freshly de-sided house. Everyone worked INCREDIBLY hard, and have the sunburns to prove it! We even had a special visitor today! Rev. Laura's mom, Pat Phillips, drove down from Kansas City to work, visit and drop off some of Laura's stuff. She was a great addition to the team and we're all happy she was able to join us!

Pat, Michael, Brandon and Darby made an awesome insulation team!

Carol, Lucy and Beverly stayed at the mission station and literally slaved over a hot stove (and oven) all day. The outcome was crazy good! Pork chops with rice and sauteed vegetables :D Needless to say, we were all happy campers after dinner - not to mention we got a trip to Shake's for frozen custard after devotion!

Scotty and Joseph take a previously undocumented "normal picture."


After work, both mission teams from FCCBRLA and FCC Springfield were able to go on a tour of the tornado destruction. Our tour guide, Kenton, is a member of South Joplin Church who lost his home in the tornado. He took us through the path of the tornado and explained what the town looked like before. His personal stories and recollections were a powerful reminder of the tornado's destruction during and since May last year. Some people have rebuilt their homes, but many have not.

Kenton standing where his home once stood.

During the tour, we were able to see the rubble of the old Joplin High School and the remnants of St. John's hospital, as well as, the seven houses and commemorative park built by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

Team members overlooking the dedication to volunteers at the commemorative park.

 Park statue with what remains of St. John's hospital in the background.

 This volunteer tribute included found items from the storm.

Many private lots remain empty and barren. 

The new sign of "hope" in front of what was Joplin High School.

We were all truly blessed to have been given the opportunity to hear Kenton's story and try to glimpse Joplin as he once saw it. This tour was a unique experience and served as a testament to what this town has come through, and the reason we as a mission team are here. We will strive to keep this experience in our hearts as we continue our work, and when we return home.

Tonight, we ask you to keep our mission team in your continued prayers, but also to say a special prayer for the people of Joplin - for their strength, hope, loss and remembrance.

Amy L.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Day One in the Books

Today, we started our work in Joplin, and it turned out a million times better than our trip yesterday! There was no time to recuperate from our late night - we started bright and early at 6:30 a.m. After breakfast and orientation meeting, our group and the group from Springfield, IL made a short trip to the Rebuild Joplin headquarters where we got our job assignments for the day. Everyone from the two groups were sent to three different job sites....except for Rev. Laura. She had the most important job of the day! New tires for Powder Blue Holy Wagon! Yay!

Rebuild Joplin sent us to individuals' homes that had been damaged or somehow affected by last year's tornado. Tom Cody headed up a group with Scotty Griswold, Joseph Rabb and Kenny Barron. Their main objective for the day was "finish work." They vacuumed and installed light fixtures and smoke detectors like professionals!

Tom, Kenny and Joseph work on a smoke detector

Joseph vacuums while Scotty "supervises"

Tom, the finish man himself

The second group was made up of Beverly Weselak, Brandon Miguez and Amy Lester from FCCBRLA and seven others from FCC Springfield. They spent the day removing flooring. The flooring put up quite a fight! Everyone had to wear protective masks to keep from breathing in all the dust! The day ended with the future of the house up in the air. After removing the flooring, the team discovered that the stability of the house was in question. So now, we will have to wait for the bosses to decide whether we will continue work on the house or if they will have to demolish it.

Brandon and Beverly removing nails

Beverly, Amy and Brandon

The last group was Michael Maher, Darby Jarratt, Judy Lester and Pam Miller, plus 5 other volunteers from Springfield. They spent the day in the hot sun removing siding and dragging it to the dumpster. The homeowner, Rebecca, was at their site and was truly thankful for their presence.

Pam doing some heavy-lifting

"Saws-all solves all" also, "Rawr!"

Judy is a siding pro now!

We had a DELICIOUS dinner prepared by Lucy Cody and Carol Madere, topped it all off with a celebration for Lucy's birthday and a wonderful devotion with FCC Springfield!

All in all, our first day was an enormous success. We appreciate all of the kind words people have sent to us, and ask you to continue to keep us in your prayers! We will be updating the blog every night after work. Keep reading!

Amy L.

Who needs a tire... or two?

In what was probably the most eventful start to a trip since I've been here, we are finally here at the mission station and happier than ever to be out of Arkansas.  Nothing against you Arkansas... well wait....

Let me first say that EVERYONE IS FINE!  We can't begin to say thank you enough for all the prayers that started out our trip - because they were certainly here today!

The first 6 or 7 hours of our trip were relatively uneventful and quite peaceful, until we hit just north of Ashdown, Arkansas - which in case you didn't know is right before Lockesburg, AR on Highway 71.  After coming back to his first mission trip in a few years, and getting behind the wheel of the church van, Kenny did a tremendous job keeping everyone in the van safe while one of our tires shredded.  Turns out the tire was SO HOT and shredded SO INTENSELY that we actually started a small grass fire when the van was pulling over onto the shoulder because of the tires.  So now on top of having to worry about a shredded tire and changing it, we were also wondering just when the fire department would show up to put out this grass fire that was moving toward us.

Then, while we were waiting on AAA to come help us, just in case something happened with our jack and spare tire, the parable of the Good Samaritan came to life before our very eyes.

A lovely, lovely man came to help us with the tire - because while we all knew how to use the jack, and how to change a spare tire, we were also all a little frazzled by the burning fire behind us, unsure of how that would all work out.  Thankfully the fire department came and put out the fire, and so did this amazing man and before we knew it, we were on our way! Kind of...

About 150 miles down the road, this time with Amy behind the wheel, Amy noticed the steering wheel pulling a little, and shaking a little, so she pulled over only to discover #2.

But by now we are all old pros - and can all change a spare tire on a 15 passenger van (important life skill to know!)  Luckily we had made the decision to stop about an hour north of the FIRST tire blow out and purchase a spare so that we weren't traveling without a spare - and its a good thing we did - we needed it!  (We'll also be heading to Sam's Club first thing in the morning for some others.)  You'll notice we're on a better stretch of highway with a bigger shoulder, and now even the kids are helping.  Turns out this day doesn't seem so "lost" after all as now EVERYONE on the trip knows how to change a spare tire.

In the end, we are all safe.  We are a little frazzled and extremely thankful to be out of Arkansas.  We are at the mission station and showered and in bed.  Now we just need to pray the rest of our group here as Tom, Lucy and Carol will be arriving late tonight.  Keep those prayers coming - we know they worked today... twice... and we'll need them throughout the rest of the trip!

So as we prepare for this week, join us in this prayer..... that we might all be the body of Christ in this world - whether that is for helping to change a spare tire, remove debris or listen to someone's story, we are ready.  After a day like today... we have to be. :D

Join us in prayer... Holy and Loving God, we know that Christ has no body but ours, no hands, no feet on earth but ours, ours are the eyes with which He looks compassion on this world, ours are the feet with which he walks to do good, ours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.  Ours are the hands, ours are the feet, ours are the eyes, we are his body.  Help us to use our bodies, our minds, and our hearts to be the body of Christ in this world.  Helps us to be carriers of your light to all those we meet.  Grant us the courage to accept change in the ways we can.  Grant us the serenity to accept those things we cannot change.  Grant us the wisdom to see the difference.  Grant us the compassion to live one day at a time, as your body here on earth.  Amen.

Rev. Laura & Crew

Friday, February 17, 2012

Meet me in St. Louis!

We're on our way, bright and early on Saturday morning to head to St. Louis! We have 7 youth and 5 adults and I think we are ALL very excited!

Check out some of our itinerary!

Our gracious hosts are Union Avenue Christian Church (DOC), and their Urban Mission Inn. Union Avenue is a Disciples church that at one point had many members and the need for a large building. As their congregation has moved into the suburbs over the years, they have not had as much of a need for a large building. So UACC took their third floor and transformed it into the Urban Mission Inn.

The staff at UACC have been tremendous and have helped arrange much of our work. Throughout our week there we will be working at The Bridge, Covenant House and Isaiah 58 Ministries. Some of the fun things we will do include a visit to the St. Louis Arch, Hidden Valley Snow-Tubing and a visit to the City Museum.

We are so excited for this trip, as most of it will be a new experience for all of us. It is always a joy to spend time with others in the church, and to interact with each other in ways that go beyond just Sunday morning worship. We will do our best to keep you informed throughout the trip - we may even try a video blog! - but in the mean time, let's first meet the mission team!

This is Darby's second mission trip with FCCBRLA. After joining us in Nashville in the Summer of 2011 she is excited and looking forward to new opportunities and experiences in STL!

This is Rev. Laura's 4th mission trip with FCC. She is looking forward to showing everyone some of her Midwest roots while also learning from these new experiences with UACC and the Urban Mission Inn!

This is Evan's 3rd mission trip with FCCBRLA. He also went on the mission trip to NOLA in 2010, to Nashville in 2011 and is excited to teach our group about all that is "dub-step"!

Craig is Amy Z's brother and is joining our group from Tulsa, OK. We are excited to have him join our group and thankful he can help steer us toward REAL coffee that we may need later in the week! :D

This is Amy's third mission trip with FCC. She is happy that her parents are in town to keep the kids so that she can go on this trip with the CYF!

Amy has been a member of FCCBRLA since she was ten. She has enjoyed the variety of mission trips she has attended, and is looking forward to some new experiences afforded by an Urban mission trip.

This is Meghan's second mission trip with FCCBRLA.

This is Evan's 4th mission trip with FCCBRLA, but his first as a sponsor. Evan is excited to be sponsoring the trip and to do mission work outside of the south!

This is Corey's first mission trip with FCCBRLA!

Brandon has attended FCCBRLA his entire life, but this is his first mission trip. He is enthusiastic to help out on the trip and can't wait for St. Louis!

This is Michael's first mission trip with FCCBRLA!

This is Rebecca's first mission trip with FCCBRLA!

Thank you to all who have supported us and helped us get here. Your donations, your prayers, your support, your EVERYTHING has been instrumental in getting us to St. Louis. We are thankful that we can be the church, we can represent FCCBRLA here in St. Louis, doing God's work and showing God's love in all the ways we are able.

We can't wait to post more pictures and share our trip with you!

Rev. Laura