I started this blog writing about a pilgrimage to a monastery, but recently I made a pilgrimage of a different kind to the town where I was born--Joplin, Missouri. I had already bought my ticket to Joplin for a 4th of July family reunion before the May 22nd tornado. My parents, as well as numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins, live in or near Joplin. I flew in at dusk and I picked out with relative ease the bright, busy lights at the intersection of Range Line and I-44, and I could see the twinkling lights and tree-covered streets of Joplin as we flew over. It was also easy to spot a wide brown scar cutting through the heart of Joplin which had no lights, no trees, no greenery. The F-5 tornado had carved a six-mile-long path of destruction, at times almost a mile wide, which left more than 150 people dead, 7,000 homes destroyed, and 18,000 cars totaled. But if the aerial view was astonishing, the view on the ground was shocking. Standing at ground zero—say, at 20th and Connecticut, or near St. Mary’s Catholic Church, or across from Joplin High School—it looked like a bomb had exploded from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could see. There actually was a “ground zero” since many survivors described the eye of the storm passing over them, an eerie calm both preceded and followed by deadly 200 mph winds. When I reached my parents’ house, I sifted through issues of The Joplin Globe that my mom had saved, which included the photographs of all those who had died: The three men with Down Syndrome-- who lived in a group home and died there together--Mark Farmer, Rick Fox, and Tripp Miller. A friend of Mark’s wrote that he rejoiced “in 1 Corinthians 13:10 as they now have perfect bodies.” http://www.neoshodailynews.com/joplin-tornado/x1534029702/Neosho-family-survives-Joplin-tornado-in-car Will Norton, a teenager who had just left his high school graduation and was sucked out of his car. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVSeptS3kec His sister shared that it would only be a short time until Will saw them again because life is so short and “time goes fast in heaven.” Rusty Howard, who was found in Home Depot holding his five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son in his arms. The Pizza Hut manager, Christopher Lucas, who led everyone to safety in a walk-in freezer and struggled to hold the door shut before he died. Another father of two, Randy England, who had been laid off from the La-Z-Boy Factory in November which was, his wife said, a blessing in disguise because he had spent the remaining time with his family. He also was leading a mother and children to safety in Home Depot when he was killed. There are many stories of people who died while sacrificing themselves for others, and many more stories of those who came to the rescue of those who were trapped and injured. While volunteering at Forest Park Baptist Church, I met the grandmother of two children who died. She told me she had received a phone call soon after the tornado struck from her daughter and son-in-law informing her that one of her grandchildren was dead, and the other was “going fast.” She told me the family had good moments and bad moments, but prayer was getting her through. “I pray all the time,” she said. “It’s all God.” Two other children were in the car with their grandmother in the parking lot of Home Depot when the tornado struck. The grandmother told the children to start praying, and ten-year-old Mason Lillard was comforted by the angels she said she could see. Mason was pierced by an iron bar but survived.
Harmony Heights Baptist Church across from Joplin High School was holding its Sunday evening service when the tornado struck. Three members were killed, while the other fifty or so members were trapped in the debris. A group of young people arrived on the scene soon after and began pulling the members from the rubble. On a Harmony Heights Baptist Church newsletter is the following:
Devotion for the morning of May 22
Jeremiah 17:17 Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. “Thou art my HOPE in the day of evil.”
15 hours ago