Friday, June 17, 2011

There are No Words...

I finally got our pictures onto the computer so this is my 3rd post of the evening.  Hey, I have to make up for lost time!! Be sure to click on the other 2 since they have great updates on our sweet kiddos.

June 3-5 I had the absolute privilege of going on a Service Trip with our church to Joplin, Missouri.  I'm sure you have seen pictures and heard stories of the tragic tornado that hit Joplin a month ago.  I had too.  However, no words can describe what I saw and experienced while we visited with the victims of the deadly tornado.  I was overcome with tears several times during our weekend but more often than not, I was speechless, dry-eyed, and in awe of the power that God created in nature.  To see the utter devastation of a tornado that was 1 mile wide and 14 miles long is something I will never forget.

After praying with my family and a few friends, I decided that I would join our church's team and head to Joplin.  Our kids were so supportive even though it meant having to change plans or give up some activities.  Donny encouraged me to go even though it meant he had to miss his Friday Bible study and parent "alone" for a few days.  So on a Thursday afternoon, I met the rest of our team, 28 in all, and we drove to Joplin.  I knew only a handful of people going on the trip.  God planned it that way.  He has given me so many opportunities in the past year to have no one but Him to lean on and to have to "step out".

The trip took about 7 hours and gave our team time to get to know each other and share some of our lives.  When we arrived in Joplin, Joe (who has family there), drove us through the center of town, explaining what used to be where.  It was dark and after the newly set curfew. The National Guard was everywhere.  I thought that the damage we saw looked bad and was overcome with what the families had gone through.  I hadn't experienced anything yet.

We stayed the night at Ozark Bible College and were up and ready to begin our day at 7.  We dressed in jeans, boots, and new work gloves, got our tetanus shots, and signed the FEMA paperwork...our attitudes were positive and I think most of us felt as though we were going to make a big difference in someone's life that day.  Little did we know that our lives would forever be changed.

We started off with the direction of helping at a home on Arizona Street.  The drive there was quieting as we saw the damage in daylight.  Second stories were missing, cars were crushed, mattresses were in trees.  I think the image that stands out most in my mind are the spray painted X on each house and car.  You all, teams had to search EVERY home and vehicle for bodies.  Can you imagine that job?  139 people were killed that week.  Others are still dying due to injury.  The quadrants of the X were for different things - name of the team that checked, # of bodies found, etc.  It was just humbling and horrifying to see that.  Also spray painted somewhere on the house, car, tree, or ground - whatever was standing - was a house number.  That is how destroyed things were...

Anyhow, we began on Arizona Street moving debris from the back of a home to the sidewalk.  It was tough to see a dollhouse and toddler bed in the front yard.  70% of the children in Joplin were affected by the tornado.  Almost 7,000 places of dwelling were destroyed.  Do you get how many people that is???  About half of those people didn't have homeowners insurance.

As we worked, we were told that there were people a few streets over that needed help.  We worked a bit more and headed to the next street.  That street was just an utter loss.  I can't even describe it.  We broke up into teams - cutting trees up, picking up insulation, cleaning rotten food from open refrigerators, carrying debris, etc. The smell was rotten and the temperature hit about 100 degrees.

 At one home, outside of a window, I found an empty jewelry box.  I spent a while picking up earrings, bracelets, and necklaces and then set them in a broken window.  Who knows if that family will ever return to find their jewelry but I'll tell you, scratching through the dirt to find someone's personal jewelry sure made me move from seeing devastation to praying for the people.

Joplin's Home Depot.  Every person  in here was killed.  There was a dad, newly home from Afghanistan shopping with his 2 young children.  He called his wife to tell her a storm was coming and they were going to wait it out in Home Depot.  His wife never heard from him again.  He was found, with his body covering his children.  All 3 died. 

Reminds me of pictures of wildfires.  Nothing standing but a few trees.  You all, this was a neighborhood.  Homes are supposed to be standing here.

I was amazed at how few "recognizable" items there were.  Everything was just splintered to pieces, covered in glass, dirt, and mold.  Very little was salvageable.  But you know what, most people didn't want their things.  They learned what most of us don't fully live out.  Material things don't matter.  At all.  Period.  I hope that I live my life that way but I'm not sure I can really say I 100% do.

This is what is left of Pastor Robert's home.  He was a Navy chaplain for 20 years.  He and his wife have adopted their 3 grandchildren and have another daughter and her 2 year old living with them as well.  Pastor Robert put his 6 family members in this tub, placed a mattress on top of them, and laid his body on the mattress.  This tub and wall were all that were left of his home.  All 7 of them survived.  I had to privilege of meeting Robert and his daughter.  You know what they spoke most of as I worked alongside them for several hours?  Helping others.  They needed to leave by 6 so they could go help others a few streets down.  What an example.

Riley and his wife, laid in the hallway with pillows on them.  The entire roof was peeled off except for the small bit above them.  Their neighbors losr everything as well and will be living in a fire station - all 4 sharing a twin mattress - indefinitely.

I spent some time sitting with Kelly's family as they watched some Amish volunteers bulldoze their home.  That house was her husband's parents home.  The memories there were inumerable.  The memories stayed, the house was flattened.  The family was together, they had nothing left but each other.

Ruthann, Me, and Jenny. 

I don't have the words to describe what we saw or what I still feel.  However, I ask you to pray for those we met - Robert and his family, Kelly and her family, Riley and his wife, and Vicki.  Vicki was in the Pizza Hut during the storm.  22 people, including her husband, went with her into the restaurant's cooler.  Only Vicki (with 2 broken wrists, 2 broken ankles, a severed ear, a 7 inch head wound, and a 5 inch x 8 inch leg wound that will probably lead to amputation) and 2 others survived.  The other 19, including her husband, were sucked out by the 250 mile/hr winds.  The last words her husband said to her were, "I'm not going to make it.  I love you.  Remember Psalm 91."  So, I ask you, and I ask myself, what words would you have to say in the last minute?  Would you, would I, leave a lasting impact?  A few men on our team built a ramp for Vicki.  She was thankful but do you know what the only thing she asked for was?  A Bible.

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