With the death toll from the May 22 tornado rising to 141, grief and heartache are everyday companions for some Joplin residents. As the city continues to deal with the aftermath of a storm that has devastated lives in countless ways, Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains are serving with compassion and Christ’s love.
Here are just a couple of stories that chaplains have shared from their experience ministering to the people of Joplin.
GRIEVING FOR A HERO
When chaplains attended the Joplin Memorial Service, they ended up seated near a woman named Pamela, the mother of a young hero who had saved over a dozen lives by getting them into the cooler at the local Pizza Hut.
Pamela shared how her son, Christopher, had closed the door of the cooler but when the tornado came through, it began to pull the door open. She said Christopher exited the cooler, found some bungee cords and tied the cords to the door and around his hand.
He held on but the tornado pulled the door loose, pulling Christopher out with it.
Rescuers found what they thought was Christopher’s body close to the Pizza Hut, but his parents could not yet bury him, because authorities had not gotten a positive ID on the body.
Pamela seemed to need to pour out her troubles, so the chaplain sat and listened intently as she shared family struggles. She said she was holding up well most of the time, but that she just needed to let go of some of her sorrow so she had gone to church this morning to get some release. She told the chaplain she knew she was going to need counseling.
The chaplain asked Pamela if she could pray for her and they both bowed their heads while waiting for the Memorial to start. The chaplain prayed that Christopher’s body would be able to be identified, that the family could come together in peace in agreement of his funeral service, and that God would bring healing to the family.
After Pamela said all she felt she needed to say, she began to sob on her husband’s shoulder. The Memorial Service began and Pamela said “Amen” to the speakers as they spoke.
Then when President Obama started to share about the lives that had been lost, he spoke out Christopher’s name and told his story. Pamela gasped and broke down, sobbing uncontrollably.
The chaplain was so touched by the story, the time she had spent with Pamela, and her grief that all she could do was cry with her and pray quietly. The chaplain hugged her, gave her a contact number and told her when she is ready to talk more, to let her know.
A HEAVENLY REUNION
Chaplains were on their way to deliver a Bible to a homeowner on behalf of Samaritan Purse volunteers who repaired some damage to the house when they noticed an older lady standing in a driveway next door. Her home was completely obliterated.
The chaplains stopped to talk with the woman, named Mary, who did not live in the home—her son and daughter-in-law did. But they both died in the tornado.
Mary began to share that the couple, who had been married 15 years, had recently gone on a wonderful vacation and had spent their last days together doing things they loved to do.
She was glad their bodies had been recovered and now the funeral could be planned.
Another woman standing nearby shared with the chaplains that she worked with Laura, the woman who had died. She told the chaplains she had witnessed to Laura who had gone home and prayed the Sinner’s Prayer, later telling her friend that she had done so.
Laura’s friend shared with the chaplains that she had been able to attend Laura’s baptismal service. She said that Laura then began to witness to her husband who had served in the military before they had married. Her husband had later received Jesus into his life and then they both began to serve Jesus together.
The two ladies said that in spite of their grief over losing Laura and her husband, they rejoiced at knowing they were together in Heaven with Jesus.
Another small thing that brought the mother comfort: the dress that Laura had been married in was at the dry cleaners, and she had found her son’s uniform. Now they could bury the couple in those clothes.
The RRT chaplains were at the airport in Joplin when they overheard a conversation that Lea, who is a resident of Joplin, was having with friends. Lea said that when the tornado hit the hospital she lost a sister and a newborn niece in the fires that broke out.
Lea also stated she was missing a sister whom she hasn’t heard from and another sister and their family were in the hospital in Springfield due to injuries sustained during the storm.
A chaplain sat down with Lea allowing her to share her story again. When Lea had finished sharing the chaplain prayed with her. Lea, who is a Christian, said she is leaning on God to get her through.