Today marks the one year anniversary of the deadliest tornado in the last 60 years that tore through Joplin, Missouri. 160 people were killed, many more were left injured and homeless. Main stays of the community were destroyed, like the local high school and Peace Lutheran Church (ELCA).

In the year since there have been many stories of Lutherans from Joplin and across the country coming together to respond. Lutheran Disaster Response, the domestic arm of ELCA Disaster Response, has been working through Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri to coordinate our on the ground response. Part of this work has been to work wit the Long Term Recovery Committee to help address the unmet needs and case management of those affected by the tornado. Lutheran Disaster Response was also able to bring in trainers to help the committee lay the groundwork for how to move forward.

Immanuel Lutheran Church and Martin Luther Lutheran School, both Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, have given of their resources and time to house and feed volunteers. The school also served as the location for a Camp Noah, a program created by Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, which helps children affected by natural disasters to deal with the trauma. The camp was so successful that four more camps are schedule for this summer as well as a God’s Can Do Kids program for the fall.

Amidst all of this work within the local community there have also been volunteers from around the country showing up to help, lending a day, a week, a professional skill, whatever they had. To give a sense of what these groups experience and as a reminder that Joplin is not forgotten I would like to share a reflection from Kelli Joseph who travelled with a group to volunteer in Joplin:

St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church in Omaha, NE sent a group of 13 individuals to assist in Joplin from April 23 – April 29. The group had a variety of opportunities to serve while in Joplin. Some of these opportunities were bigger and some seemed smaller. The construction manager (Trent) was organized, informed and wonderful to work with. There are no unimportant jobs, no unimportant people, no unimportant acts of kindness. The group experienced loving the people they served when 1) they met the owner of the first Habitat home we worked on, 2) they served the victims of the tornado when we dispensed clothing, cleaning supplies and food, 3) the mothers came to pick up the children they cared for during Stepping Out, 4) as well as meeting a man from NE whose wife was in a nursing home and had worked for Habitat in his past. The group saw God each day they worked – in everything from the fun food snacks that were provided for lunch, to the care that the people at Abundant Life gave to us and the tornado survivors at Stepping Out, to having a different type of work each day so none of our muscles were overtired, to the weather that was without rain until the morning they left.

The experience for this group has created an awareness of our needs versus wants and an appreciation for all God has given us. The faith and determination of the people in Joplin is amazing and has been such an inspiration to our group. They have learned that with God’s help they can do things they never thought possible. The group returned to Omaha humbled, thankful, tired, inspired – but most of all they were blessed by the people in Joplin, the people they went to serve.

So today we stand in remembrance with the people of Joplin to both remember the tragic affect nature can have in our lives and give thanks for the role the church can play in mending lives and livelihoods.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities in Joplin and Missouri check out the LDR volunteer page.

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