A Memo for Joplin, One Year Later

Florence Coppola, Josh Baird, and Jill Michel tour a Memorial Park commemorating those injured or lost in the 2011 Joplin tornado

When Anderson Cooper leaves, there is still work to do.

Over the two and a half years I’ve served the church through Week of Compassion, these have been the words I’ve said to myself after every major disaster we’ve faced.  In a way, it is my own internal memo: a reminder that media coverage may stop but that the lives of those affected by disasters continue with all of the complications, grief, and uncertainty of a long slog back to normalcy.

I go over this internal memo today, the anniversary of the 2011 Joplin tornado, as I think about the many partners we’ve worked with over the last year, including Church World Service, Rebuild Joplin, Joplin’s Long Term Recovery Committee, Mike Weinman and Jeni Brown in the Ozark Lakes Area office.

I remind myself of the nimble skill and entrepreneurial spirit of churches surrounding Joplin:  First Christian-Pittsburg, KS; First Christian-Neosho, MO; First Christian-Columbus, KS; First Christian Church-Bentonville, AR, and all of the volunteers they housed in the weeks that followed the tornado, as well as those who contributed to the building of the incredible Mission Center Facility at South Joplin Christian Church.

Disciples and UCC Volunteers Work Hard Repairing a House in Joplin

I count the names of my amazing colleagues in the United Church of Christ, Florence Coppola, the executive for National Disaster Ministries, and her corps of Long Term Volunteers like Biff Barner and Howard Self.  Over a year of planning, brainstorming, dreaming, and praying, praying, praying, they have been the perfect partners for supporting a long term recovery.

 I find myself giving thanks for my colleague at Disciples Volunteering, Josh Baird, whose pastoral presence bring comfort and hope that equals his technical expertise and experience.  He, too, has enlisted an amazing group of Long Term Volunteers who will help staff the mission station—folks who will provide welcome, guidance, and leadership for groups who come to be part of the rebuilding. 

I remember, above all, pulling into the parking lot of First Christian Church, Joplin, and meeting two incredible pastors, Jill Michel of South Joplin and Faye Blevins of First Christian.  Over the last year, they have shown leadership that is nothing short of inspiring, and the churches they pastor have shown grace, hospitality, and hope that is nothing short of Christ-like.

I go over all of this as I consider this memo to myself and I quickly draft another for all of those names I’ve counted and all of those whose names I’ll never know—the folks who hung Christmas wreaths on FEMA trailer doors, who stood in line at First Christian’s distribution center, those who are volunteering on weeks I won’t be able to visit, and those who still mourn the loss of a loved one.

We remember.

We are still with you.

You are part of us.

Amen.