When Will Graham looked out over Joplin, Missouri, this morning, he saw mile after mile of devastation. The May 22 twister left a swath one mile wide and seven miles long. “The community is literally ripped apart,” he said, trying to put words to the horrific scene he witnessed. “Nothing is left. The streets are wiped clean.”
Joining his father, Franklin, on a Memorial Day visit to the tornado-ravaged community, Will met with Rapid Response Team chaplains and Samaritan’s Purse volunteers working on a holiday to show the love of Christ to storm victims, and with survivors who shared stories of tragedy and triumph.
“We met one 83-year-old lady who survived the tornado by hiding in a little closet with her pet and a picture of Jesus,” said Will. “She was literally trapped in there until her son chain-sawed through the sheet metal to dig her out. But she was smiling and talking about her love for Jesus today.”
Will and Franklin also met a young man who said he had his values “upside down” before the storm. He survived the tornado by diving from his shower into a crawl space under his house. He realizes God spared his life. “After his world was turned upside down,” said Will, “this man’s values are now right side up.”
Both Grahams stressed the importance of prayer. “We come in the name of Jesus Christ and the greatest thing we can do is pray,” said Franklin. “This community has been hit hard. This tornado will go down in the record books. We are focusing on helping people who have lost absolutely everything.”
“Pray for the Rapid Response Team chaplains and the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers who are ministering here,” said Will. “Also pray for the churches in this area. Here in the Midwest—in this beautiful, hard-working community—neighbors are helping neighbors. Christians are being the body. People from around the country have come here to help.”
Some 830 people showed up to volunteer on their day off work. “I want to thank the volunteers for all that they are doing,” Franklin said. “We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers.”
Preston Parrish, Executive Vice President of Ministry for BGEA, and Ken Isaacs, Vice President of Programs for Samaritan’s Purse, accompanied the Grahams on their visit today. An eyewitness to many disasters himself, Parrish found the scene in Joplin overwhelming: “This tornado has shaken both the community and the people volunteering in Joplin.
“Even the seasoned chaplains are saying this storm has affected them in a way that others haven’t,” Parrish said. “The magnitude of this tornado—you have to see it to even begin to understand it. There has been tremendous loss of life—everybody pretty much knows somebody who has either died, or been injured, or is still missing. You walk through these neighborhoods and smell death.”
Parrish said the tornado gutted several community landmarks, including the high school and hospital. Walmart and Home Depot are demolished.
“An everyday community in middle America has been forever changed,” he added. “People are in shock. Many people are grieving. I talked to a 10-year-old girl and asked if she was afraid as she looked to the future.”
The girl admitted that she was a little afraid, “but I know God is with us.”
People are looking at a future that not only includes rebuilding physically, said Parrish, “but toward a future of having to live, for the rest of their lives, with having been through an experience that has underscored for them that, in an instant, everything they know can change.”
Why We are Here
That, of course, is why we are here, Parrish added. “To help them experience the fact that God is with them, that He has not forsaken them, that He loves them, that while we cannot control the storms that come to us in life many times, we can choose to face them standing on the solid rock, the firm foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
And that is the message that RRT chaplains are communicating. “We are praying with people who are realizing that for the first time now, through the wake-up call of this storm, they need to receive Christ,” said Parrish.
Perhaps no more powerful depiction illustrates the current mood in Joplin than the sign for the local high school. The “J” and “lin” were blown off in the tornado, leaving only “op.”
Somebody took paint and painted “h” before the “op” and “e” after it: “Hope.”
“That is a great picture of the message that can come from this crisis,” Parrish added. “While it’s an awful thing, the thing to learn out of this, is that through faith in Christ, the winds blow, the storms come, the rain falls.
“But if we are founded on the Rock, our lives, our house can stand.”
Be the Hands and Feet of Christ
As the Rapid Response Team ministers in Missouri and other areas, we appreciate your financial support. Please give today to help hurting people at home and around the world.
- Praise God for the enormous outpouring of actual volunteer help, as well goods and supplies in the community. The spontaneous outpouring of assistance is a gift of God and something to celebrate and be thankful for.
- Rebuilding will be an ongoing process and will take a long time. Pray that the victims of the storm will get the immediate encouragement they need, as well as the long-term support required so they won’t lose heart.
- Also pray for area churches, which are doing a wonderful job of reaching out to the community. Pray that pastors have wisdom about how to effectively share the love of God and hope of Christ, in addition to providing tangible assistance in this hour.
- Pray that the hope of Christ will shine in the dark hour for those grieving.