Joplin devastation leaves them ‘stunned’
Joe Conway, Baptist Press
May 27, 2011

Joplin devastation leaves them ‘stunned’

Joplin devastation leaves them ‘stunned’
Joe Conway, Baptist Press
May 27, 2011

JOPLIN, Mo. — The sky over Joplin, Mo., continued to spit

light rain and clouds threatened on the horizon four days after one of the

nation’s deadliest tornadoes plowed through the heart of the city. Search and

rescue teams continued their hopeful trek through miles of debris.

And through it all, a spirit of resolute hope spurred on this city of 50,000.

In the middle of the work clearing rubble were Southern Baptist disaster relief

volunteers by the score.

Chainsaw crews from Missouri and Oklahoma

clocked hundreds of hours helping churches and residents clear tons of fallen


“I’m just stunned today, speechless. Please keep the people of Joplin

in your prayers,” said Missouri Baptist Convention interim executive director

Jay Hughes, who was touring the site of the devastation along with North

American Mission Board president Kevin Ezell.

One of the first disaster relief (DR) volunteers Hughes and Ezell visited was

also a storm victim, Gary Hunley. Hunley, a

Missouri DR volunteer who has already been helping with the response, was

taking time to search the remains of his home May 25.

Photo by Joe Conway

NAMB president Kevin Ezell, left, listens as Gary and Twyla Hunley of Joplin, Mo., recount their survival of an EF-5 tornado that destroyed their home and leveled a section of the city. Hunley is a disaster relief “Blue Hat” with the Missouri Baptist Convention. He’s been helping with the response in Joplin.

“I believe the Lord allowed this to help me learn how to relate to people,”

said Hunley as he and his wife, Twyla, combed through their belongings. They

are members of First

Baptist Church

in Oronogo, Mo,

which is 10 miles from Joplin.

“We had downsized,” said Twyla. “We had just gotten the house the way we wanted

it. Now it is gone.”

Twyla credited God’s protection and her husband’s devotion for their survival. “The

wind was blowing so hard. We were praying. I did not think we were going to

make it. Gary never let go of me. We never

stopped praying, and God never let go of us, either.”


agreed. “It was very scary — all the noise and the air pressure,” he said. “The

wind was so strong it felt like 10 men trying to push the door in. Then

everything started breaking apart. We asked God to help us. When it was over,

everything else was gone but He held our hand.”

Said Ezell, “If we could see people’s spiritual needs in the same way we see

physical needs, we would be much quicker to attempt to help them. You look at

the incredible destruction — everything is gone — and a few blocks away

everything is fine. Spiritually, it is the same way: you look at one family and

they are fine. Just down the block another family is falling apart.”

Southern Baptists, Ezell said, have the opportunity to meet both spiritual and

physical needs through disaster relief. He echoed Hughes’ call for prayer for

the people of Joplin, and those

affected by storms across the country.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon addressed members of the faith-based DR response teams

in the city and told them that they had the opportunity to minister in critical

ways, thanking them for their efforts. He said search and rescue efforts would

continue through the end of the week. The death toll in Joplin

stands at 125 and is expected to climb.

President Obama will visit the city on Sunday and take part in a citywide memorial

service for the victims of the storm, the governor said.

Following the governor’s dialog, Ezell and Hughes met with Federal Emergency

Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate, who thanked the men for the work

of Southern Baptist DR. Also at the meeting was David Myers, director of the

White House Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships with the

Department of Homeland Security.

Missouri Baptist DR director Rick Seaton said assessment teams were still at

work Wednesday.

“We have seven Missouri

chainsaw units out, and two from Oklahoma,”

Seaton said. “We also have a shower unit operating and we have 11 chaplains

working today. We expect to have a feeding unit up and operating when the city

is ready for that.”

The current Southern Baptist DR incident command center located at the Baptist

Student Union of Missouri Southern State University might move in the next few

days, Seaton said. Housing is being provided at College

View Baptist Church,

he said.

Few places suffered more destruction than Harmony

Heights Baptist Church.

What little is left of the church, located across the street from the heavily

damaged Joplin High School, makes it even more remarkable that only three

people were killed when the storm hit during Sunday night services.

“Pastor Charlie Burnett was preaching when the sirens went off. There were 53

people there and they moved into the interior hallways,” said Steve

Patterson, Spring River Baptist Association director of missions.

One of the survivors was Greg Hailey, who had been attending Harmony

Heights for about five months.

“One of our members is a weather spotter, and he was telling us that conditions

were right for tornadoes,” Hailey said. Then we heard the siren. But when you

live here, how many times do you hear a siren and think nothing of it? Then the

siren went off a second time and they told us a tornado was on the ground.

Pastor Burnett told us to move to the center of the hallways.”

The next thing Hailey knew, he was covered in debris. When he was able to pull himself

out of the rubble, nothing was left of the church. One car was thrown into the

sanctuary and the parking lot was a mangle of twisted vehicles.

“I started helping pull other people out,” Hailey said. Pastor Burnett, who is

blind, had no way of knowing that a steel I-beam missed his head by inches.

And near the devastated Saint John’s

medical complex Empire Baptist

Church was also erased. While no

members were injured at the church, many of their homes were also obliterated.

But in the midst of the tragedy, jubilant reunions brought hope. Gary

Hunley was embraced by friend and fellow disaster relief volunteer Ron Crow in

front of what little was left of the Hunley home. Crow has been helping

organize the efforts in Joplin and

is pastor of First

Baptist Church

in Diamond, Mo., about 17 miles

from Joplin. The two men have

worked together on DR projects.

“When I saw the destruction and knew it was in his area I

screamed out, ‘Where’s Gary?’”

Crow said. With all the other DR activity the men were not reunited until



is a chainsaw guy. The first time we took Gary

on a DR response it was about eight months after he had become a Christian,”

Crow said. “We arrived on site in Florida

and we were ready to unload the trailer. I was looking for Gary

and asking people where he’d slipped off to. Then I saw him. He was on the

front porch with the homeowner sharing the gospel.”

Said Hunley, “I do believe God allowed this to happen so I can do a better job

of helping people. You just don’t know where to start. You don’t want to let

people help you because you think other people need it more. Then you realize

you need the help. Where do you start? You pick up one thing and then you think

you need to contact the insurance company. Your mind is just racing.

“Southern Baptists have been a true blessing to me. They have helped me grow in

my faith. When you face something like this, you need to have your life in

order. You never know how long you have.”

Some chaplains serving in the Joplin

response were accompanying chainsaw crews Wednesday while others walked the

miles of shattered homes. One pair was a father and son team, Steve

and Matt Tanner. Both men also happen to be directors of mission, Steve

in Mexico, Mo.,

and his son in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

“We walked the neighborhoods and ministered to people,” Steve

said. “One lady had nothing left but a slab. She was knocked out in the storm.

When she came to, everything was gone. She was concerned about the mental

health facility next door where three people were killed.”

Said Matt Miller, “Another woman was still dealing with the trauma of finding a

young child dead in the street in front of her home after the storm. We did a

lot of praying today.”

People can help by praying and donating financially, said Hughes of the

Missouri Baptist Convention.

“We are saddened by the destruction, but we are committed to assisting the

community of Joplin in any way we

can for as long as they need the help,” Hughes said. “We would ask people to

consider how they can be involved in the long-term support for the community.”

While it is still too early to plan long-term rebuild, one thing that will keep

Joplin on people’s minds is a World

Changers student mission week set for July 25-30 in the city this summer.

“We are committed to the project in Joplin,”

said John Bailey, team leader for World Changers and PowerPlant at NAMB. “We

have had it on the schedule for the last year. We are committed to be there. It

may not look like a traditional World Changers project where we work on roofs,

but we will be ministering to the people of Joplin.

If a church wants their youth to be involved, they can still register for Joplin.”

For information about the Joplin World Changers project visit www.world-changers.net.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Conway is a writer

for the North American Mission Board. To donate to NAMB’s disaster relief fund,

visit www.namb.net and hit the “donate now”

button. Other ways to donate are by calling 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mailing

checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta,

GA 30368-6543.

Checks should be designated for “Storms 2011.” Donations can also be sent via

texting “NAMBDR” to the number “40579.” A one-time donation of $10 will be

added to the caller’s mobile phone bill or deducted from any prepaid balance.)