Joplin Relief Trip
Oct 1-9, 2011
We departed Marshfield at 5:30 am, picked up Julie in St. Paul and Pat in Albert Lea. We had an uneventful day of travel arriving in Joplin around 8pm.
Our team members are: Jack Smith, Stacy Wiesman, Jim Craft, Diane Lee, Kasondra Zieglmeier, Jennifer Kaminski, Carli Specht, Jason Jasurda, Pat Evans, Julie Dobesh, Josue Arriaga, Martin Wolf, Doug Zarnke, Tom and Cathie Shilts.
We had several people send food for us: Chad and Misty Fronk, Kathleen Hutchinson, Debbi Craft, and Louise Bores. McDonald’s, Arby’s, Pick N Save, and The Store donated gift certificates also. Jeff and Mike from WDLB have been so gracious to give us air- time to tell the story on several occasions.
Our accommodations are at Abundant Life Christian Center. They are graciously providing 3 meals a day, lodging, cots, mattresses and showers. One of the cooks has been preparing meals for volunteer teams since May 26. She still has a smile on her face and such an amazing attitude.
Our day starts with devotions and team prayer at 7 am, followed with breakfast at 7:30.
When we arrived at the Willard’s home, Diana was waiting on the front steps for us. She must have heard the bus coming around the corner. It is so beautiful to see how they greet us all with such love. They say we’re their family! Since we left in July, Diane has been knitting hats for the entire team and she was so proud to present our hats to us. Diane, Donny and David are living in their home and it’s completed. They continue to express their gratitude for all we’ve done to help them. Donny keeps saying I just don’t understand why God keeps blessing me so much by all the help you’re giving me.
The crew started hauling lumber to begin building a shed. You see there’s more to this project than a big shed for a guy. When the storm hit, Donny’s wife Diana had a series of seizures. She could not be left alone so Donny had to take time off of work to stay with his wife. Because of this, he lost his job. We go word of this situation and felt that the Lord was putting it on our heart to come back to Joplin and build a shed so that Donny could earn an income for his family. He is a machinist and his shop was destroyed in the storm. People were asking him to fabricate parts for him, but he had nowhere to do it.
With a full day of hard work, the team was able to build and raise three walls. These are 12-foot walls so it’s not an easy task to raise them.
The other half of the team began work at Evelyn’s house. She is an 80 year-old precious woman that is blind. On our previous trip in July we gutted part of her house and began the rebuilding process. In the past three months her son Roger has worked tirelessly alone to finish the house. So we brought reinforcement troops to finish the job. We scraped, primed, painted, and stained trim and windows for the day. We had the privilege of using squatty potties. That is the type of toilet where you find the most hidden tree that you can and make believe there are walls all around you! Then you squat fast!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh the mission field stories we could tell!
That evening Diane and David made dinner for us. I asked Diane to pray before we ate and while she prayed, Donny started crying very hard. He was just so overwhelmed that we were there to help them, he just cried. Diane keeps telling Donny you just have to accept the blessings that God is giving you.
Sunday evening two more of our team members, Marvin and Doug arrived safely. Marvin now takes the record for being the oldest to serve on disaster relief with Compassion In Action. He is 78 years old and was so excited to be here to serve the hurting people. What a heart! Never say you’re too old for God to use you!
We started the day with 3 team members out sick with a nasty virus.
We were told a story of a 6 year-old little girl that had a pipe pierced through her abdomen. When the EMT’s arrived she was unusually calm as she held onto the pipe. As they began inquiring of what happened, she told them that she wasn’t scared because she saw silver-blue butterfly people that kept coming to her and putting their wings over her. There have been about 30 children that have described those same “silver-blue butterfly people.”
At the Willard job site, we got the fourth wall up and the entire shed sheeted today. While the work was being done, some passers by stopped to take pictures. They were so amazed at what we were doing. They said to their daughter who was with them, “do you want to see the face of God? This is it right here.”
We had an interesting event happen today and I would like to convey it word for word from Jennifer. The encounter is as follows:
“I was strongly encouraged to use a nail gun for the first time. I gripped the gun tightly with both hands. I asked for the 3rd time how to use the gun so I had a full understanding on the operational machine in my hands. Jason was holding the boards that I was about to nail together. With encouragement from others and a lot of eyes watching, I pressed the nail gun to release the safety and shot. To my shock, it backfired and not only one, but TWO nails came out, one piercing the wood, the other, Jason’s leg. Tears began rolling down my checks. As I looked at Jason he said casually “Oh look, you shot me.” He seemed calm and cool about the situation. Tom pulled the nail out, which was about 2 inches in. I was still crying while we cleaned up the wound and blood. Jason is doing great, and has since assisted me in using power tools! From this day forward I have been affectionately been nicknamed, “Shooter!” We will forever be bonded by the mishap with the nail gun. ☺”
The order of business for the day at Evelyn’s house was more priming, painting, staining, varnishing and weeding outside.
Since the storm, Evelyn and Roger have been calling the power company asking for their electricity to be connected. Two days prior to today, Evelyn called them and they said, “Stop calling us we’ll get there when we can.” Julie decided to pray that her name would come to the top of the list. This morning the electrical company showed up, and they were working in the area. Tom asked them if there was any way that they could get Evelyn’s power hooked up today. They were non-committal. With a sweet voice Julie said, “We really need this hooked up now.” All of a sudden they were working on Evelyn’s house and the electrical was hooked up that morning! God answers prayer!
These same electricians said to Julie, “Do you work for someone in the area?” She said, I’m not getting paid, I’m volunteering.” They asked, who lives here? Julie replied, “I don’t know her name.” Their response was interesting. They said, “So you don’t know who lives here and you’re doing this hard work for free? Wow, you are a really a nice person.” They seemed quite puzzled. I guess God’s love is hard to comprehend sometimes!
All of the trusses were set today at Willard’s. It was a good days work and we’re so thankful that no one was hurt. This can be a dangerous job.
The schedule for the day at Evelyn’s house was painting the front porch area along with more trim priming/painting.
Paul, a Baptist pastor that is doing disaster relief full time, told us of a young man that he talked to. He saw his baby die before his eyes and then held his wife’s hand as she passed away. God is the only one that can carry us through!
Diane relayed to us the rally in Joplin before school started for the fall. They showed pictures of all of the children that lost their lives in the storm. All of the children from kindergarten through 12th grade were hanging onto each other. The MC then encouraged them to find their teachers and go hug them. It was a very emotional time for thousands. At this point the MC said, “We’re not supposed to pray here, but let’s pray.” And they did!!!!!!!
Today my heart was broken. I went to McDonald’s to try and upload pictures to everyone back home. An adorable little 4 year- old girl, Keana, began peeking between the booths talking to me. I started a conversation with her mom, Crystal and asked how they did in the storm. Cyrstal lost two of her children, 6-year old Trentan and 10 year-old Shante. She conveys the following story to me. Crystal and her 3 children were in the bathtub. At one point the bathtub was 10 feet in the air. She was conscious the entire time. Her and Keana landed close to each other on the ground. Crystal and Keana both had collapsed lungs and hospitalized for a week. Crystal had surgery on her leg to remove pieces of wood that were imbedded. She showed me a picture of her face and how bruised and swollen she was, beyond recognition. The house and all they owned was destroyed. Crystal says that the wind was so strong she couldn’t hang on to the children. Trentan was thrown about 30 feet and flown to Kansas City where he passed away the following day. Her parents, Aleta and Felix live about 15 miles away. They drove to Joplin when they heard that the storm hit. They had to travel by foot for over a mile through the debris to get to Crystal’s house. Aleta says it was the longest mile of her life. Through much heartache and tears Aleta tells me of their arrival at Crystal’s house. Her and her husband were unable to find any of their family members. They finally saw a rescue worker and he said to them, “I am so sorry to inform you that Shante is under the blanket over here in the lawn!” Shante was killed instantly. When you look into someone’s eyes and hear their words first hand, their pain pierces your heart. I told Crystal and Aleta that we would pray for their family. God is a big God and He is near to the broken hearted.
October 5 Wednesday
Sheeting the roof of the shed for Donny and Diana was the agenda for the day. We were able to completely sheet the roof, put the tarpaper on, wrapped the shed and installed the windows and entry door. Final touches in the Willard’s house included hanging some wallpaper border for Diane. Kasondra and Stacy helped Diane with some things on the computer. They needed to enter all of their personal items with a dollar value to submit to the insurance company.
Several of the team continued painting exterior windows and trim at Evelyn’s house. This was a very time intensive job, but our amazing team worked tirelessly.
Roger took us out for lunch at Ryan’s which is a delicious buffet. During our meal we learned of a young man that had just graduated from high school on May 22, the evening of the tornado. Shortly after his high school graduation he was sucked out of the vehicle that him and his father were in and they found him six days later in a pond. None of us know from one moment to the next what life will hold. That is why we should do our best to love well those who are around us each day.
After lunch Donny asked to talk to Tom and I. With a cracking voice, trembling lip and tears streaming down his face he presented us with a very generous gift of money. Although we stress over and over that we are not doing this for money, their goal was to give it so we could help more people. We affectionately call this “Paying It Forward.”
Jack hurt his back today carrying shingles up to the roof. We’re trusting God for a speedy recovery.
I honestly can’t remember what time we got back to the church every night, but it was somewhere between 8-10pm. I spent half of the trip very sick, so that is why these blogs are late.
Three team members were out today, Jack, Martin and myself. God faithfully provided 3 other volunteers. Hmm, I guess we’re all replaceable right?
Doug was nominated to lead the crew at Willard’s to put the ceiling on the shed. They did a great job and Doug showed us that he’s ready to lead with excellence and kindness. Way to go Doug!
Tom led the crew at Evelyn’s house today and they installed kitchen cabinets and reinstalled and leveled all the windows in the house. Landscaping, painting, staining and varnishing continued also.
Kasondra and Jennifer served in the distribution center at Abundant Life Christian Church where we stayed. They helped people load their carts with food and simply cared for them.
A crew from Abundant Life Christian Center came to the Willard’s home today and did an interview with Donny and team members. We’ll let you know when we get access to it.
Donny told us that his race car is in the shop and that he is having them paint Compassion In Action on both sides of the car. We feel very honored. He also offered to build a tool trailer for us.
Donny said that on Wednesday night he went out to the shed with a flashlight for 30 minutes planning how to set up his shop. Then he came in the house and cried for 30 minutes just overwhelmed that he could have his life back and make a living for his family.
Diane is determined to send us home fat and happy. Their family had a cookout for us that was incredible; brats, burgers, hot dogs and the trimmings. Doc and Betty, Diana’s parents, have been there each night for dinner. They ALWAYS make pumpkin pie and brownies for us on every trip. They are in their 80’s and just keep serving! They have become part of our family also.
One of the many highlights of the trip for me was the “Stories on the Porch.” We ended our evening by giving everyone an opportunity to talk about the trip and how it impacted our lives. You could feel God’s presence among us. It was a beautiful thing. I would have to say that in 20 years of doing missions and disaster relief, I have never seen so many grown men crying. It’s like our hearts collide with God’s heart when we help others. Those being helped collide with God and those who serve collide with God!
Imagine being a parent and seeing your children’s home and all they own destroyed. Everything within a parent wants to do whatever they can to rescue their kids. But Doc and Betty couldn’t physically help their children. In Betty’s words with a trembling lip she said, “You did what we couldn’t do for Donny and Diane.”
Tomorrow is Doug’s birthday so in our great big bus we tried to “loose” Doug on the way back to church so we could surprise him and buy a birthday cake for him. We were laughing pretty hard trying to figure out how we could “loose” someone with a big bus! We did it though and sang happy birthday to him when we returned!
So we work really hard, but we like to have lots of fun and laugh really hard to. I was getting ready for bed and all of a sudden three crazy young people from our team show up with dirt all over their faces and their shirts torn! They said they were attacked by wolves outside! They really did hear wolves, but then got a bit creative playing it out! They’re crazy and we LOVE it!
Each morning we have breakfast with the other teams that are staying at the church. We had the privilege to meet a gentleman by the name of Paul who does full time disaster relief. The following story was told to him.
There is a specific catholic church that was destroyed, but the gigantic cross was left standing. The rescue worker heard knocking on a door beneath the rubble. As they cleared debris children began streaming out from the area of refuge, 178 children to be exact. All of the children were unharmed.
This morning after breakfast Martin, Doug and Kasondra departed for Wisconsin after breakfast.
The agenda for the day is to continue working on Evelyn’s house with trim, cupboards, plumbing, etc.
Carli and Jennifer served at the Distribution Center at the church for half of the day.
Diane asked us several times to go to the Apple Butter Making Festival with her for a few hours so some of the ladies did that for the morning.
For the afternoon we returned to the neighborhood in Duquene where we worked on the first trip. We wanted to check on them and see how they were doing after 4 months. We just went door to door, reacquainted ourselves and offered to pray with them. Some have moved away, others are rebuilding their homes. We found Loretta in a house across the street from where she used to live. She is doing well, full of humor and very upbeat. Her husband Jim is in the hospital with congestive heart failure and kidney failure. Loretta and Jim’s grandchildren have bought houses next door so they have a little family community going on.
Mike from WDLB did an interview with Jennifer today and we’re so thankful for the publicity so we can get the word out of the enormous need that there still is in Joplin.
Donny went to Home Depot and talked directly to the manager about Compassion In Action and what we do. The store manager said he was very interested in what we do and wants to talk to us. We’ll see what happens.
Tonight we returned to the church for dinner after a long day of work.
It’s our last day in Joplin and so much to do. We are at Evelyn’s house doing our best to finish it so she can move back into her home. It’s like a beehive here. Everyone is just doing what it takes to get the job done in spite of being exhausted. The entire house is full of tools and materials in every room so it looks near impossible to finish. We’re putting up light fixtures, finishing the exterior trim painting, insulating in the cracks by the windows, installing window stops, counter tops, faucets, plumbing, cleaning and organizing.
While Josue was moving a sink with a garbage disposal attached, it fell on his hand. He ended up with a gash on his fingers and a very sore hand. We’re thankful it wasn’t broken.
Roger took us all out to eat for lunch at a Chinese buffet. It’s so humbling to receive from someone that has lost everything in the storm.
Evelyn has not been back to the house since the storm hit May 22. Around 5 pm today we had the privilege of showing her the house. As you know she is blind and in a wheelchair. Roger brought her in the house and explained each room to her. He took her frail little hand and placed it on the counter tops and sink to help her understand how the kitchen was laid out. That picture burns in my mind. How many times have I taken my sight for granted?
Heather, her friend and the children joined us also. Heather’s friend sang a song for us to express his gratitude. He is native American and he sang “Amazing Grace” in his native tongue. It was so beautiful!
We were given the sweetest gift from Evelyn. We call it “The Chocolate Lover’s Dream.” It was a basket loaded with every kind of chocolate you could imagine and huge amounts of it!
Roger was able to get Evelyn settled in on the sofa and while we finished little details several team members sat with Evelyn in the living room talking with her. With tears streaming down her face many times she just kept saying, “I don’t understand why you’re doing this for me?” I think God’s love is so big that often times our little human minds can’t wrap our heads around it. When can tell people that God loves them, but when we put actions to it, His love penetrates deeply into the hearts of those we serve.
Our final job at Evelyn’s house was to plant three trees. Roger had the holes dug and he asked each one of us to help plant them. He wanted them planted in honor of Compassion In Action!
During our last moments at Evelyn’s house, Roger expressed his gratitude to our team through trembling lips and tears of joy. He made a comment that he’s not a crier and doesn’t understand why he cries so much when he’s around our team. I think I may have the answer to that. When we take our simple little lives and reach out to hurting people through random acts of kindness, the God of the universe shows up on the scene. His love is poured out to those hurting people through ordinary people like you and I. It’s a love that this world does not know. It’s a love that cannot be reckoned with or explained in words. This love goes deep into the heart of a man and causes a shift if their hearts. This impact of love brings hope to the hurting. It shows a broken, troubled world that there is a God and that He passionately loves them.
This scripture from the Bible comes to my mind:
1 John 3:17 But if anyone has this world’s goods (resources for sustaining life) and sees his brother and fellow believer in need, yet closes his heart of compassion against him, how can the love of God live and remain in him?
1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love [merely] in theory or in speech but in deed and in truth (in practice and in sincerity).
The incredible team that we had lived out this scripture for 7 days straight. They loved in action from early morning until late at night without any complaining.
As we boarded the bus tears flowed freely by most of our team. What many people don’t understand is that when we lay down our lives for the sake of others, God shows up on the scene in our lives also. We are intensely impacted in the process of serving. Two of our team members said that they wanted to come on the trip because they felt that they didn’t have compassion and they wanted it reignited in their hearts. It appears that God heard that cry of their hearts and did exactly that.
Our evening was concluded with a huge meal of ribs, ham, chicken and the fixings at Donny and Diane’s house. As I came around the corner to the back of the house I saw Donny and Tom with their arms around each other looking at the shed. Donny told Tom that he is the Dad that he didn’t have since he was 12 years old when his father passed away.
After we were eating dinner, Donny squatted down by Tom and I and took both of our hands. Through tears he once again poured out his heart of gratitude to us. We have watched him go from being very reserved and quiet to freely pouring out his emotions to all of us. God has opened up his heart and it’s such a beautiful thing to see. He has been very hurt by Christians in the past. God knew that He needed to see some good from people that call themselves Christians.
Diane made a huge care package for us to eat on the way home! She’s always caring for others in all she does!
We finished putting the border up in the kitchen for Diane and then watched a documentary of the storm called “Storm Chasers.” A couple had a Doppler radio and knew what was coming. They narrate and film the storm before, during and after, including rescue efforts.
In conclusion I would like to share one story from that documentary. A man with an 11 year-old son was severely injured in the storm. His family couldn’t find him for days. As the medics worked to rescue him they report that his clavicle fell out! That statement alone is incomprehensible. This man’s future was touch and go for several days. He was in a coma for 7 weeks. Just now after 4 months he is beginning to say words. His little 11 year-old son visits him on a regular basis. When was the last time that you thanked God that you could speak? The storm is over, but it’s not over. Thousands of people in Joplin have had their lives altered. Many of these residents are still living in a storm of sorts. They live with friends or family, FEMA trailers crammed together with hundreds of others or in homeless shelters. For thousands, all they owned is gone. The biggest tragedy of all is the loss of life which so many are facing daily. They are doing their best to recover from the tragedy, clinging onto God and one another. Many residents relay to us that God is bringing so much good out of this tragedy. Countless numbers of children are talking about the angels that were in the bathtub with them.
Up at 4 am and on the bus headed for home by 5. Our trip home was smooth sailing. We arrived in Marshfield at 7:30 pm.
What can you do today to make someone’s life a little richer? How can you put your love in action? I would like to challenge you to “Pay It Forward,” and then watch what God will do with your simple little life.