Joplin, Missouri: Seeing the Face of Jesus

Looking through the 10 worst tornado outbreaks in the US, I see Joplin, Missouri’s EF 5 tornado in May 2011 at number 6. Joplin, Mo. was the deadliest U.S. tornado since 1947 (161 deaths), and the estimated damage was $2.8 billion (Costliest single tornado in U.S.)

Seeing these facts reminds me of the mission trip I had the privilege to work on in July of that summer. I wish that this tornado wasn’t remembered by its facts- but by its community.

The people of Joplin were incredible… They were so grateful for all that our group was doing to help. They wanted to do whatever they could to help us out too… Even in the nearby cities, people would see our National Relief Network shirts and thank us profusely for our help.

I remember I was working at a house digging out a fence in 103 degree heat, when a colorful woman named Margie drove up to see us working. She offered us homemade lemonade (straight from the trunk of her car), and told us jokes while we took a break. Margie was just one of the many faces of Joplin. Joyful, grateful, and loving.

A couple days later, I was working at a Salvation Army nearby, where they offered supplies, clothing, therapy and financial counseling. One of my church adult leaders on the group came to me and told me that she had a job for me. I followed her to the main room. Here, she pointed to the corner of kid’s toys where a young girl was playing by herself. “I want you to go play with her.”

Now, you have to understand that I was not comfortable with this. At the time, I was so baffled when it came to entertaining children. I was, quite frankly, terrified… but I walked over to the girl. I asked her about her toys, and she was extremely shy.

This girl, named Hailey, barely said a word to me at first… but you know how kids are- ten minutes with you and suddenly you’re their best friend. She was taking all of the toys out of the box and putting each one on my lap. I found quickly that I was running out of lap-and-arm space, and then she picked up a purple carebear.

Hailey was enamored by it. She mentioned that she had previously owned a carebear, and that this was supposed to dance around. We replaced the batteries, but the bear was broken. Hailey’s eyes lowered again, and I just knew. This girl had been through so much. It was then that I realized, that this girl was just like me… except she just went through arguably the most traumatic experience of her life.

I promised her that I would find her a purple dancing carebear as soon as I got home, and I kept that promise. About a month after the trip, I sent Hailey her new purple dancing carebear.

We all really saw Christ through every person we met in Joplin, and we will always remember them. Not for the tragedies they suffered, but for the grace in which they coped.

Margie took a picture with us...

And someone got a picture of Hailey and me too...

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