i had a friend note that i've made a strange transition in my life- one where i want to visit a place only after it's been devastated by some disaster, and not while it's still pretty and pristine. i am not sure if that's completely true or not, but it is true of joplin. when the F5 tornado hit joplin, i had just had spine surgery. i was still 6 months away from being off restriction and there was no way i could go help. it must have been a lesson in patience, because the waiting nearly drove me crazy. once the 6 month mark came i got on the computer and found a trip with the church of the resurrection in leawood, kansas. this is the 4th trip i've done with COR, and one of the things i love about them is that they continue to go help in places long after most other groups have moved on to a new location, or the latest and worst disaster. COR maintains a presence and lets people know that they're not forgotten. i feel like more than anything, they bring hope and the true "love thy neighbor" spirit.
though most of the rubble cleanup has been done, and many of the demolished buildings have been torn down and cleared, driving into joplin was still a shock. the first couple of miles looked like any medium sized town on the map- it could have been my town... and then we turned the corner and a huge swath of town was missing. not just the buildings, but everything. the trees were broken off sticks and stumps, devoid of leaves. even a lot of the grass was gone. it was a barren, brown, mile wide path cutting through the center of everything and stretched as far as the eye could see (my pictures truly don't do it justice).
we got there on a thursday before lunch, and were set to leave on saturday evening, so we jumped right in, heading straight to the job site and getting to work. our project was a lone house on an empty block in the middle of this swath of nothingness. it was the site of a parsonage for the baptist church that used to stand next to it. the pastor, associate pastor, and several congregation members, were all down in the basement of the church when the tornado hit. the associate said that he remembers the sound of all the windows blowing out, and metal wrenching, and deafening noise. when it was over, he took a few steps up from the basement area and was standing outside with nothing but an empty field in front of him. where he was standing used to be the inside the sanctuary of the church. the parsonage (pastor's house) was completely gone. we got the honor of meeting him and working along side some amazing volunteers as well as faithful congregation members to help give him a home again.
how do i always end up doing drywall? my last trip to mississippi, i was the head of a drywall finishing crew. this trip, thank goodness, we were hanging sheetrock instead. i much prefer that to finishing- and it is definitely less of a mess (until i started with the dremel, cutting out doors and windows. stand back- i was on a roll!)
i have to say that we made some serious progress. we all found our niche, and most of us paired up with some of the more experienced volunteers so that we didn't cause more harm than good. my teammate was joe. joe was a good ole' boy with a dry wit and a heart to serve. he was patient beyond measure (he'd have to be, with me as a partner) and worked all day, every day, to help restore this house. before this house, it was another. he is just one of many that we met with the same unwavering character and humility, helping others and asking nothing in return. it was awesome. he lucked out with us- he got a chik-fil-a sandwich AND fries our last day there, my treat. that was the biggest paycheck he'd gotten so far!.
when we arrived, the house was bare studs and a little insulation, which we helped finish before starting with the drywall. by the time we left, it looked not only like a house, but a little like a home.
GO girls, GO!
i will admit that i never fully appreciated how sheetrock got on the ceiling until i had to put it there. that is not easy, and my neck wasn't very happy with me by the end of the day, but it was satisfying to do. i played around with it for about and hour and then left that to the younger and stronger guys on the team (thank you, jason and chris!). maddie and i dominated the walls, instead. michelle, the team leader, roamed and helped wherever she was needed. we made a pretty good team!
we didn't get every single piece of sheetrock hung before we left, like we'd planned, but there couldn't have been more than a handful left to do. all in all, i am really proud of what we were able to get done in such a short time. i was cursed by a 20ish year old brain in a 43 year old body (haha) and blessed by teammates who were all under the age of 30, so it all worked out. i tried not to limp when they were looking, and i never did admit that the reason my pillow was on the floor in the morning was because it fell off the bed and i was too sore to reach down and get it. i don't have to tell ALL my secrets! the important thing was that we all brought something different to the mix and it came together to bless someone infinitely more than any of us could have done alone.
on my way out of town, i made sure to stop at what some call the "joplin house" and others call the "reflection house". it is a house that was left partially standing in the middle of the destruction. the owner put a couch and some chairs on the front porch, and wrote a note on the wall- a reflection- of what the volunteers that had come had meant to him, and to the community. then others came and added their thoughts. then the volunteers came to write their prayers, and their messages to the people of joplin. it is a place to reflect- on what, is left up to the reflector. i left my thoughts and prayers along with hundreds of others, and as always, a little piece of my heart in the place that i served.
the joplin house
i hope i blessed joplin even a fraction of how it blessed me.