July 2- We left Marshfield at 5:45 am and had an uneventful trip to Joplin arriving around 7:30 pm. We’re staying at New Creation Church and they are providing lodging and 3 meals a day. The guys and gals have separate dorms this time so that’s a plus. We unloaded the remainder of the items that we collected at the Joplin Relief Project May 31 at New Creation. They are very organized and methodically put everything in it’s place in the basement of the church.
After unloading we met Roger at his mom, Evelyn’s house. Eleanor is blind and uses a walker and wheelchair to ambulate. Her granddaughter, Heather lives with her along with her two children, 9 year old Dwight, who is autistic and 3 year old Jade. Roger is very emotional and told us that during the storm he was at his mom’s house in the closet with her, his niece and her 9 year old and 3 year old. He went to his house and did search and rescue for 4 hours after the storm hit. They found many bodies and he struggles telling the story without crying. His two-story home was completely destroyed and will be bulldozed. As we chatted with the other volunteers in the dorm we learned that in a particular hardware store a dumpster had fallen through the ceiling and was bounced around the store like a ping pong ball killing 19 people. When it landed, 4 people were killed beneath it.
July 3-Breakfast was served at 7am and then we headed to the job site. Wow, it was tough. We gutted the ceiling in two rooms, packed up most of the contents of the house and moved it outside on sheets of plywood. It was very dirty, grueling work. Sheetrock and black dusty insulation was falling everywhere. Even with masks on we were coughing. The house is infested with mice and cockroaches. Over 30 mice scampered when we moved some furniture. There are literally hundreds of cockroaches everywhere in the house! I was taking papers out of a desk drawer and packing them in boxes. A mouse ran out of the desk drawer and I screamed like a girl and got up on a folding chair in the middle of the lawn screaming! I HATE mice! When we packed the kitchen I pulled the cans out of the cabinets with a plunger because the cupboards were loaded with mice droppings. The kitchen table had a towel on it and it was covered with the same. So gross, so gross! Jason grabbed a jar with a candle in it off of a high shelf and it was loaded with cockroaches that began to crawl out! Nasty! Many of the guys were covered with what looked like black soot! It was well over 90 degrees and we had to take breaks often to withstand the heat. Roger is letting us use one of his cars for the week so we don’t have to use the motor home to run errands. He took me to the house where he is living with his mom, niece and her two little kids. Eleanor kept crying when I was talking to her and asked two times when her house would be done. She said, “now how much do I owe you?” I told her it was free and the tears rolled even more. As I wiped the tears from her eyes, I couldn’t help but understand why the Lord had led us to help her. Her great-grandson is autistic and her great-granddaughter has several medical issues also. The Salvation Army has a tent on 26th St so we were able to get Gatorade and ice from them. They are continuing to offer sandwiches for volunteers and we saw their trucks still going out into the community offering food and water. A few blocks away Cindy and I found hundreds of moving boxes with the bottoms taped, just dumped in a parking lot for people to use to pack their things in. It’s amazing to see how so many people use their gifts and talents to serve in time of crisis. The shower trailer is still at the Baptist Church. The big distribution center at Hope High School is dwindling down. They are offering snacks and drinks now. It’s understandable that they can’t keep going forever. We had some interesting people work with us today from Indiana. There were 3 ladies and they are staying at the same church as us. I believe at breakfast someone from our team told them what we were doing and they said they wanted to do that. They had no idea where we were working in the city so they asked God to direct them to us. Pretty soon, one of the girls hollered, there they are, I see their green shirts. They worked very hard and are wanting to join us on future disaster relief trips. Roger told us that the winds from the tornado were clocked at over 400 mph. After dinner and showers, I took several of the team through the city to see the widespread damage. We pulled into an area where there were apartment complexes and saw a teenage boy. We went to talk to him and he told us to go through the apartment to find his parents in the backyard. Four from their family were in the bathroom when the tornado hit. It’s the only room in the house that wasn’t destroyed. They had just gotten home from church and the mom put her Bible and purse on the coffee table. The coffee table was gone, but her purse and Bible were sitting neatly in the living room where the coffee table was. The same thing happened with her husbands Bible. May 22 was their 14 year old daughter’s birthday. She really wanted to just enjoy being a teenager and not really follow after God. When the storm hit and they were safe, this teenager said, “Mom now I believe there is a God and He’s real.” The storm changed her heart towards God. We prayed with this family and asked the Lord to bless them. They said they’ve already been blessed in so many ways. A sister of one of them gave them her house and their daughter turned her heart to the Lord. Even though I have seen the devastation before, I still get sick to my stomach as we drive though it again. I have to fight back just weeping and weeping. God is doing a deep work in many people’s lives through this tragedy. We have an amazing team and are so thankful for every one of them! They ROCK! It’s 10 pm. Exhausted, we’re all heading for bed!
July 4-We got an early start today and left shortly after 7 for the job site. We are so blessed to be staying at this Presbyterian Church and have met some really awesome people from upstate New York, Indiana, and Ohio. Several of them wanted to come and work with us today so around 10 of them came and we got an amazing amount of work done. More demolition was the first order of the day. We finished gutting the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, cleaned up the yard by the deck and front door, put new rafters in the bedroom and began repairs on the roof. We are hoping that the contractor that Roger paid to put a metal roof on the house will show up tomorrow so we can sheetrock while we’re still here. The ladies saw lots of snakes in the backyard and I’m so thankful I didn’t get the honor of seeing them! Donny and Diana came to visit us today at the job site. They are the couple whose house we shingled on our previous trip. She is doing so much better and the progress on their house is coming along very well. I had to go to the grocery store today and I asked the clerk how she did through the storm. She began to cry and said she lost her house and car, but her family was safe. Then immediately she had to pull herself together to check the next person out and do her job. It made me realize that all these people that lost so much have to still go to work, pull themselves together and keep on keeping on. One of the gals on our team told us a story of a young man in his 30’s that they talked to by his destroyed apartment. As we walked with his walker he explained that his spine was injured and he had some nerve damage, but he is in therapy and they are expecting a full recovery.
July 5-We left for the job site shortly after 7 am. We repaired rafters, put sheeting on the roof, did a bit more demolition of moldy sheetrock, cleaned debris and then began the grueling task of cutting 21 huge trees on the lot. It’s been in the upper 90’s, but we just keep telling ourselves it’s 72 degrees! Roger took us to what used to be his home. It’s about six blocks from his mom’s house. After the storm he made his way through the rubble to get to his house. The streets were so covered with debris you couldn’t even find them. When he walked around the corner, he saw Taco Bell mostly in tact so he had hope that his house was ok. To his despair it was a pile of garbage and debris. All that is left is his front steps. There is a huge tree in his backyard and a long piece of pipe was driven completely through the tree. Roger came to the job site and handed us an envelope with money in it. He is a locksmith and told us that this is the first check that he’s gotten since the storm hit 6 weeks ago. The first two weeks after the storm he just did all of his work free and wouldn’t charge anyone. With a trembling lip, fighting back tears, he said, “I’m not sure when I’ll get another check, but I want you all to have this money.” Tom and I both reassured him that we weren’t doing this for money, but he absolutely insisted. He also took our team of 10 out for lunch at a Chinese buffet. The humbling part of this whole story is that Roger lives with his mom, niece, and her two children in a one-bedroom apartment that they rented after the tornado. When the insurance from his house was settled and he paid off his mortgage he has $11,000 left to rebuild. So he has no home, not enough money to get another one and yet he is giving us a donation of $1500. I just couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face. It’s so humbling to see this kind of generosity from someone who has no home, no household items and I’m sure very few clothes! In late afternoon AmeriCorps showed up and asked if we would like them to come in and cut down all of the trees and haul them out with a skidsteer/clam and a semi! The guys gladly laid down their saws. The trees were huge and a twisted mess with the temps in the high 90’s, so it’s not surprising they conceded. We ended the work day with sorting through the intense mess of wires hanging down from the ceilings and pulling the kitchen ceiling down. Oh yes, when we were at the Chinese Buffet for lunch we had 3 ladies come up to us and thank us for coming to help everyone in Joplin. They told this story. “We were in a burger joint called Freddies when the storm hit. The building was destroyed and it’s the most awful thing we’ve ever experienced in our lives. There was pregnant woman underneath all of the rubble and she went into labor. People were working very hard to get her out so that she didn’t deliver her baby buried under the debris.” One of these ladies worked at St John’s Hospital. She told us that there were two new babies born on May 22. The fathers held their babies in their arms, took cover and the new babies and their parents survived the tornado despite all the hospital being destroyed. We got back to the church around 7:30 pm, ate dinner, showered and went to bed exhausted.
July 6-The crazy men on our team decided they wanted to get to work before the heat hit so they got up before 5 am, had breakfast and got to the job site before 5:30 am. The agenda for the day was new wiring for the entire house and insulated ceilings. Insulating in the mid 90’s is a challenging job, but wow these guys are amazing, not one complaint!
There is an interesting thing happening with the trees in Joplin. If you compare the pictures from our first trip to the ones now, you’ll see what I mean. The bark was stripped off of most of the trees and they were all cut off at about the same height. To our shock, these barren trees are sprouting new leaves. We’ve had several people comment on how it’s symbolic of the people in Joplin. Tragedy struck, but life is emerging again.
On our initial trip to Joplin 8 days after the tornado hit, the street names were spray painted on the pavement because all of the signs were blown away. This time they have actually graduated to some of the street names being on a white piece of cardboard stuck in the dirt.
We went to Home Depot for supplies and talk to one of the clerks. This young man told us that a 63 yr old employee was killed at Home Depot when the building collapsed. He said he arrived at Home Depot 30 minutes after the storm hit and he never wants to see what he saw again in his life. He saw people in cars that lost their lives.
We learned that Lowes donated 1 million dollars to The Red Cross for Joplin Relief and froze prices for at least 90 days after the storm. Often times after a disaster local lumber companies raise their prices 2 to 3 times the normal amount. What an honorable thing for Lowes to do.
Cindy and I were on the deck cleaning debris, water soaked clothes, baby items and broken glass when Roger called me. He said, “when I was on the road today I was thinking and I realized that I have been very shut down since the tornado and I wasn’t talking. Somehow by all of you coming, I have been able to open back up again.” I began to cry, he cried! It amazes me how the Lord uses something as simple as hard work to help a traumatized person begin the process of emotional healing.
The men to cut trees and haul them away were continuing with their work today at Evelyn’s house. Jim, one of our team members, talked with one of the men in his late twenties. He relays the following story: When the tornados hit, he was with his family having a picnic. About 5:15 the weather got bad so they went in the house, 10 of them. They went into the bathroom and put the children on the bottom, moms crouched over kids, then a mattress over them and the men were on top of mattresses. It got dark and they couldn’t see anything. All of a sudden the sides of the house expanded and the roof came down. One of the 10 year old children were missing. They found him in the rubble upside down with his feet sticking upwards. They all survived. This young man, fighting tears, told Jim that before the tornado he was critical about everything. He never went to church on a regular basis. He said, there is a God and he is going to go to church more and re-evaluate his life and the way he does things. He’s going to be more conscious of other people. He said the people in Joplin are so grateful that all the volunteers have helped them. They don’t even know how to attempt to say thank you. He also said that the media blows in and blows out, but the volunteers keep coming for help and support. He’s been so impressed at how all of the churches have coordinated with one another to help so many people.
On our first trip to Joplin we worked with a family for several days, Donny and Diane. They invited us for a barb-b-que tonight and made so much food we felt like we were going to explode. Diane’s parents joined us, what sweethearts. We asked where all of the displaced people in Joplin were living. They said with family, friends, in hotels and tents. According to what they’ve been told the FEMA trailers will be arriving in 3 weeks, so that will be 9 weeks after the storm.
Before we left for the evening we walked down the street and visited Sonja and William. Sonja told us that when we prayed for them the first time we were there, it was a turning point for her in the middle of all of the tragedy. She said that she is always the one helping others and God was telling her it was her turn to receive from others. She was deeply touched by our work at her house and simply praying for her.
Somehow in the middle of this intense heat, sweat, indescribable stenches, dirty insulation, broken glass, debris, garbage, wet soggy clothes, mice/roach/snake infestation we find the heart of God.
July 7-With 6:30 breakfast and 7 am hitting it hard we were thrilled that the weather cooled off for awhile this morning. Insulating and drywalling was the order of business for the day. Cindy and I had lots of errands to run for supplies and some fun also. Diane needed help choosing paint colors and flooring for their house. We chose some pretty funky colors and they were all excited about their new look. It is so encouraging to see the hope in people’s eyes after experiencing such a tragedy.
Roger insisted on taking us out for lunch again today so we went to another buffet called Ryan’s. He invited his friend Dave who is replacing the roof on Evelyn’s house. During our lunch hour Dave sat across from me and I started asking him some questions. Him and his family suffered a great loss in the storm. What I am about to share is very heartbreaking, but I tell it so that you can get an accurate picture of real life in Joplin after the storm. His brother’s 29 year old son Rusty, a marine, was killed in Home Depot with his 5 year old and 19 month old children in his arms. I told this story from our last trip, but I didn’t expect to be sitting across from a family member that had experienced this great loss. Dave went to Home Depot the morning after the storm because he knew that Rusty and the children were in that store when the storm hit. As they began to lift the walls and rubble he hoped for a miracle that Rusty and the children would survive. They didn’t get the miracle they were hoping for. Dave was the one that had to identify the bodies after they were taken to the morgue. Rusty’s father is unable to sleep and was going to the Dr today to get some meds to help him cope. Rusty’s wife was at the hospital working when the tornado struck. Between loosing her entire family and suffering the tragedy of being at St. John’s when the storm came she is unable to work. Dave tells that they got an oversized casket in which they placed Rusty with his two children in his arms. I walked away from the dining room table after hearing this story unable to control the tears pouring down my face. These are things that we will never understand, but there is one thing I do know without a shadow of a doubt. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world. It’s dirty, it’s heartbreaking, it’s hot, it’s God’s heart!
After a busy day we took a break for dinner and Roger came into the motor home. He began telling stories of the storm of which I will do my best to relay. Roger and his niece Heather were at Walmart 30 minutes before the storm hit. On their way home they could see that the weather was getting bad. They turned the TV on and the reporter said, “it looks like we have bad weather coming,” and they were showing a specific satellite view. Then all of a sudden the reporter showed a different screen and said, “take cover immediately and if we loose………” Roger knew it was serious so Heather and the children ran for the closet. He began throwing things out of the closet so they could fit into it. His mom was slowly coming to the closet when the windows began blowing out of the house. He grabbed his mom, threw her in the closet, got in and slammed the door and held on desperately to the handle. He said it felt like someone was throwing large items frantically through all of the windows. There were very odd sounds that obviously were the roof being blown off right above them. The children, 3 and 9 were screaming frantically. Evelyn who is 90 % blind told Roger that she saw a white hand on the door knob. Roger said I believe it was the hand of an angel, my hands aren’t white and my mom is blind. Roger did his best to keep everyone calm and about 20 minutes after the storm he started walking through the rubble to his house 6 blocks away. There were cars that had gone through the windshield of other cars. He was checking on people in cars and under the rubble, many injured, blood all over. Every few minutes as he is reliving the story he cries. There were no ambulances to pick up the injured because they went to the commercial buildings were there were large amounts of people in one place first. After about an hour and a half trucks began pulling and pushing debris off of the streets so people could get through. As they found injured people they would throw mattresses in the back of pickups and haul them to a triage center. One man was hauling injured people on a mattress in the back of his pickup and his tires were all flat because of all the nails. He kept driving his truck right on the rims because they were injured and needed help. The depth of sacrificial giving is like nothing I’ve even heard before. Roger cries often when he talks to us, but 90 % of it is when he tells stories about people helping them. One day as he was digging through the debris at his house a man brought him a bologne and cheese sandwich. Hardly being able to speak, Roger says that this sandwich meant so much because he knew this man and he knew that it was a great sacrifice for him to do this. It’s not JUST a bologne/cheese sandwich, it’s intense sacrificial giving that touches Roger to the very core of his being. I wish all of you could meet Roger, touch his heart, and listen to his stories. It is virtually impossible to come on a trip like this, see what we see, hear what we hear and not have your heart broken and changed.
July 9-Off to work at 7 am to finish wiring and drywalling. I’m thrilled to report that we didn’t leave the site until every piece of drywall was hung. Thank you Lord for the strength to keep on keeping on.
A guy showed up at the church from Connecticut. He said that he saw all the devastation on the news and google earth before and after. Greg said he had a roof over his head, a bed and all these people don’t have that so he just had to come. He is a firefighter and very skilled in carpentry as well. He has been a great asset to the team. He came by himself and wanted to be a part of a hands on project in Joplin.
While running errands I was canvassing some neighborhoods looking for some people to encourage and pray with. I came across an 81 year old lady and her daughter that lived close to the high school. She had a brick home and all that was left standing was one wall and a closet. Darlene and her husband were in the house when the storm hit. She got under the kitchen table and her husband was in the hallway. She said that she saw the tail of the tornado come in her house, whip around and then leave. The kitchen cabinets fell on the table and broke the table, which fell on her head. The kitchen cabinets fell on her legs and she couldn’t get up. After the storm she could hear people walking down the streets. She kept calling for help, would pray for a while and then continued to call for help and pray. The guys said they could hear her, but not see her. She was under the rubble and it took 8 men to lift the debris off of her and move her. She was hospitalized for some time with a concussion and injured legs. She was hauled to a hospital in the back of a pickup truck. Her husband has Alzheimer’s and she needed to put him in the VA hospital permanently now. Someone’s sofa had been thrown through the front windshield of their vehicle. The next door neighbor in his 50’s lost his life in the storm also. This was only the second time that she had seen what was left of her home and she just cried and cried. She has a strong faith in the Lord and that is what keeps her going. She said that she kept asking the nurses in the hospital to call her family, but they didn’t have any phone numbers so they couldn’t call. Finally two days after the storm, her children found them in the hospital.
Early evening Cindy and I visited Evelyn, Heather and the children. Evelyn wiped the tears from rolling down her face several times during our conversation. She said she just couldn’t understand why we would do what we’re doing for her. I assured her that it was because God loved her and her family so much. They spoke openly of the storm. Heather said that Evelyn was literally thrown in the closet on top of Jade who is 3. Because there was no where to go the night of the storm, they all slept in the living room in the middle of the broken glass and debris. That’s hard for all of us to wrap our heads around when we saw the condition of the house when we got here. Heather tells of a friend who lost two of her children in the storm. After the storm they found their 9 year old child in the front lawn passed away. Their 6 year old was hospitalized and passed away 2 days after the storm. The mom had to sign papers for her two children to be cremated before she was even released from the hospital. Now 6 weeks after the storm, their 3 year old child was being released from the hospital. This child has suffered cerebral fractures and has a long road to recovery. Heather told another story of one of her friends that lived behind the Walmart that was demolished from the tornado. She happened to be at Walmart when the store went down. People were screaming and crying as the debris was hitting them. She managed to dig her way out and went to her apartment building and helped with search and rescue efforts. Her friend found 142 body parts during that search and rescue attempt. With tears rolling down their faces, they told many stories of the storm that are unfathomable. You can’t help but cry with them, encourage them and pray for them. Evelyn and Heather gave their lives to the Lord today and they we’re so grateful that we came to rebuild their home. I wish all of you could see their faces, hear their stories and feel their heartache. It compels you to go above and beyond what you could ever imagine yourself doing to help them.
Our day ended around 9:30 pm after dinner and showers. We have an exhausted crew!
July 9-We got to sleep in today. We ate breakfast at 7:30 and headed for work slightly after 8 am. Three of our crew had to leave for Marshfield today because of responsibilities at home. It’s so hard to leave because we know that when we leave the work on the house will come to an abrupt halt. We are trusting the Lord to send more volunteers in to continue our work so Evelyn and her family can move back home.
Today our get up and go, got up and went. We’re fried, but we’re pressing in to get as much taping and mudding in as we can before we leave. We’re so thankful for the prayers of all of those who prayed during our trip. Without that there is no way we would have been able to do what we’ve done.
Greg from Connecticut joined us again for our final day. He is going to continue mudding after we leave. We have found it very interesting how the Lord has brought people alongside us to help with this project.
Another story that Heather told us was that she has a friend who is an RN that worked at the hospital that was destroyed. Evidently the top two floors twisted 4 inches. She also told us that one baby was sucked out of the hospital and found 3 miles away, unharmed. This is an amazing miracle.
Roger took us out to Fazoli’s for lunch again. During lunch he said that he was brought up to work hard and take care of himself. With a trembling lip and teary eyes he said, “I just can’t wrap my head around what you are all doing.”
We ended up working a full day and quit around 6. I went shopping and got everyone in their family a little gift. Most of the team had not met Evelyn, Heather and the children yet so we went to their house so everyone could meet them. As I handed out the gift bags Roger was fighting back the tears. Jade’s little face lit up when she opened her doll and said, “It’s my birthday!” I know that this entire family felt loved in a way they had never experienced before.
When we go on these trips there are so many things that happen inside our hearts. We see devastation beyond what the human eye can imagine. We work ourselves beyond human capacity in extreme heat. We literally give until it hurts. In that process our eyes are opened and we see all the love that is being shown to one another right smack dab in the middle of it all. That sacrificial love that is displayed to one another deeply impacts all of our hearts. If my house and all of my personal possessions were destroyed, would I give my first check away after not receiving one for 6 weeks? I hope so! We went to Joplin to help hurting people that were devastated by a deadly tornado. But because it’s God’s heart to help those in need, our hearts are more alive than ever. Somehow in the middle of the filth, stench, heartache and devastation, we saw God at work in their lives and ours. We come home changed, renewed and encouraged to press on! I want to live my life with an open hand and an open heart like we saw exemplified all over the city of Joplin!
July 10-On the road shortly after 5 am. Our team is totally spent. We had an uneventful trip home. Several of the team slept most of the way home. We arrived in Marshfield about 7 pm. We’re thankful for a beautiful trip and safety.
We are planning a return trip in the fall. In the meantime we are looking for businesses, civic groups and churches that would be interested in us presenting Compassion In Action to them. We can only continue this work with the help of others.
Thank you for taking the time to read all of the crazy stories from our adventures!