Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Double the blessings

As I wrap up my stories from Joplin, I've got one final one I need to tell.

While I was working at Mystery, an older (70's or so) couple walked in. They explained a volunteer team had come to their home, yet they needed more help. I talked with them for a bit asking exactly what needed to be done; if anything was salvageable, did they want to be there, etc. As they talked the wife would quickly go from anger to tears and back. We worked it out so that the super debris removal team of Journey and Life Connection folks would meet the Watson's at their home the next afternoon, after they finished at Mr. MacDonald's.

Sure enough, the next day our team met the Watson's at their home. Soon I got a call from one of The Journey team members saying they locked the keys in the car and asked if I could call AAA for them.

*Not to self: if you tell AAA that you are working in the middle of a disaster area, you get moved to the top of the list.

After calling, I grabbed some supplies (their's were locked in the car) and headed to the Watson's. I was surprised what I saw. While their home was completely destroyed, they had a walk out basement that wasn't damaged or flooded. The team was slowly getting the large appliances (furnace, a/c, deep freezer) out of the house when I walked in. I smiled at Mr. Watson and exclaimed "there is so much here you can save!" He quickly replied "NO, IT'S ALL RUINED!" I did a quick scan and pointed to a sealed barrel and said "I bet whatever's in here is still good! Do you want to open it?" He came over and said "sure, I don't even know what's in there." We opened it to find his sons old, ratty golf bag; he didn't want it and asked if I did. Of course I didn't, nor was I going to take anything of his. This became a common theme throughout the day. They both were convinced we were just there to go through their stuff and pick what we wanted.

As I looked around I knew there was no way we could just leave this couple to do all this work themselves. Even after Mr. Watson told us numerous times we could go and they could do the rest. We'd leave and talk amongst ourselves in the yard. Pretty soon Mr. Watson would come back out and say "you're still here! I could use some help getting _____ out." One of the guys would quickly go in and help him.

Before I left I pulled the three Journey team members to the side and said I thought they needed to stay. I explained that this was going to be completely different day then yesterday. The day before was all about getting dirty and getting a lot done. Today was going to be about loving the Watson's. Giving them space. Letting them process at their speed, but being there throughout the day. I told them that it was going to be long and probably frustrating, but I felt like God wanted them to be there for the Watson's. They completely agreed and hung around.

They stayed the entire rest of the day. They were able to win the trust of Mr and Mrs. Watson. As they stood in the slightly cleaner basement at the end of the day Mr. Watson looked at the volunteers and told them "Why are you are acting like I'm the only person in Joplin right now?" One of the volunteers replied "because to us, you are." He smiled and replied "Whatever blessings God has for you I pray that he doubles them."

Before leaving the Watson's everyone gathered in the basement. One of the volunteers asked Mrs. Watson one final time "What's one thing that you've not been able to find?" Through tears she said "my momma's opal necklace. I've searched and searched for it and it's not here." With that the team prayed over and for them both. Mrs. Watson opened her eyes and between her feet was her momma's opal necklace.

It's been a privilege to be apart of the work God is doing in Joplin. Every single day I had a front row seat to what God was doing through the people of Joplin and the teams that came to serve. No life was left unchanged. It's been estimated that Joplin will need 900 volunteers a day for the next 5 years! That's 1.64 million people! You can be one of those; someone that God uses to not only rebuild a city, but bring God's restoration into the lives of those in Joplin.

To volunteer with Mission Joplin check out the website here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Team Orientation

I've sat through and even giving the orientation to volunteer teams numerous times. It's always shocking to hear and say. Here's a little piece of what each team is told before heading out to provide relief in Joplin.


Thank you for being here with us today! We greatly appreciate you all being here. Has everyone signed a waiver?

Let's talk about why you have to sign those waivers. You are getting ready to head into a very dangerous area where the possibility of you getting injured is high. You'll notices as you get into the disaster area the air gets thicker and there is a distinguished smell in the air. There is still a lot of stuff in the air; insulation, drywall, etc. You'll notice when you get out of the area your skin might itch from being exposed to it. We have a few masks if you didn't bring your own; always wear a mask when in the area.

Be very mindful of where you are stepping. We've had numerous people step on nails and get cut. One guy fell through a roof and another into a basement because they thought the structure could hold them. If you do get a cut or injured, it is imperative you get it taken care of. There has been fungi and other infectious diseases that have sent people to the hospital. If you get cut, wash and bandage it well. Make sure your tetanus shot is up to date; if you need one, there are multiple places around the city offering free shots. Please let us know if anything happens and seek medical attention if necessary.

Another huge danger is the weather. We've seen record high temps the past several days. Today, temperatures are expected to reach 100 with heat indexes of 104-106. There is no shade. You can take a tarp and construct a shelter if you'll be at job site all day. Staying hydrated is imperative! Make sure your cooler is stocked full of Gatorade and water!

Today will be a busy and hard day for you; the job is big; however, what we are most concerned about is the Gospel going forth. Be mindful the people you encounter. If you see someone alone working or standing in front of a home; approach them and ask if you might help them. A lot of people for the first time are realizing everything they've built their lives on and for is gone. We have a great opportunity to point them to the only true thing they can build their lives on... Jesus. Offer to pray with them and serve them whenever possible. When you do meet someone, get their information so a Mystery Church leader can follow up with them.

Let's pray before you head out...

If this message hasn't scared you, consider coming and joining the hundreds who accepted the challenge and volunteered with Mission Joplin! The work is hard, exhausting and draining; yet in the midst, Jesus strengthens, encourages and uplifts you. Is he calling you to be a part of what is going on in Joplin?!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mr. MacDonald

Soon after one Journey team left Joplin, another arrived. This time a small, but mighty crew of three.

The first day of their trip they were alone, cleaning out a home of an elderly man. His insurance covered his home, but like many people would have to pay to have it demoed/cleaned. And, like we've seen many times, that expense would take a huge chunk of the money intended to get them a new home.

A tornado takes everything... everything! You take for granted without even thinking about it, modern conveniences such as street signs. They are gone. Imagine trying to navigate a new city that has no street signs, no landmarks, and often no house numbers (well... where there is even a house). That's what every single team that comes does and somehow has navigated. 

Going through someone's personal belongings (or what remains of them) is a weird and emotional thing. The team called Mr. MacDonald who was about 90 years old and very hard of hearing. But, they got to talk to him which meant he survived and was being taken care of. They told him they were working at his house today and if he needed anything to give them a call. And so it began...

The entire house was covered like this. Poetically the newspaper's headline reads "I know there is help." Everything was bagged (which we later learned shouldn't be) and taken to the curb. As they worked, they began imagining who this Mr. MacDonald was and is. Did he serve in the war? Are these his grandkids? I bet he was a professor! Did he hoard all this stuff? What did it look like before?

After the first day, the three of them had made a huge dent in the work. Clearing two whole rooms of debris. I've told team after team "you'll be amazed at how much work you can get done." It's true. The power of a team working together for one goal is truly powerful!

The evening of the first night a team from Life Connection in Independence, MO arrived. We decided more people is always a good thing so the next morning the two smaller teams joined forces to create one super debris removing team!

They went back to Mr. MacDonald's home to finish up and get absolutely everything out. Soon this...

Became this... 

Before leaving, they gathered up all the pictures and other items they were able to salvage and called Mr. MacDonald to tell him they'd be at the church whenever he wanted to come and get them. 

Later that night I got the previdge to meet him as I handed what was left of his home to him. He looked at me and just smiled in amazement. He probably told me 4-5 times "I can't believe how good of a job they did! Please tell them how great of a job they did and how much I appreciate it!"

I went back inside the church with tears in my eyes and waited for the super debris removing team to get back so I could tell them of Mr. MacDonald's joy!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Unknown servants

On my second trip to Joplin, I got the privileged of working with some of my fellow Journeyers. Most of my work here is done deep behind the scenes so to get out and get dirty with these guys even if it was only for a couple of hours was awesome. Here is the first team's story...

The team of 18 Journeyers were given the huge task of demoing an entire home... by hand.

Heavy machinery is in short supply, but we've learned that with enough manpower, we can do just about as much work as a bobcat; it just takes us a little longer. There's no question the job was overwhelming. Where do you even start? How do you do this? Can we do this?

They just started working. Digging. Pushing. Hammering. Sawing. Head down. Shovels in.

Soon one wall was down and then another.

Everything had to be moved to the curb... EVERYTHING. All the debris on the floor of the house, the walls, everything. We'd shovel it all into garbage cans and drag it to the curb. Over and over again.

Once everything has been moved to the curb, Fema and Americorp would bring in huge cranes and haul off the debris. Demolition of a home can cost a homeowner a lot of money and we quickly learned that even those people who had insurance, the demolition is often not covered. 

With heat indexes well into 100 degrees, resting, finding/making shade and being hydrated was extremely important. Since all the trees are gone, our team first found a broken umbrella across the street and throughout the day found broken chairs to take breaks on. By the second day, the shelter got a little more sophisticated, with a tarp and even more chairs. 

As the team was breaking for lunch, one of the guys noticed a woman outside the house across the street. A couple of them walked over to talk with her and see if they could do anything for her. She wasn't able to even speak she was so emotional and overwhelmed. Her and her husband had survived the tornado and she wanted to get some cherished items out of their partially demolished home, but wasn't physically able to get into the house. 

While the guys jumped into the window, the rest of the team stood by the homeowner and just talked to her, calmed her down, and continued to ask what else they could do for her. As we've seen often, she was unsure why someone they've never met would care and want to help them so much. By the time they were done,  they had won the trust of the homeowner as she cried holding a framed quilt block her mother and quilted over 25 years ago and who recently passed away. The Journey team left for lunch reassuring her that they were coming right back after lunch if she needed anything at all.

By the end of the second day, the last wall was pushed down and the last load carried to the curb.

This amazing team of volunteers did hard labor, in rough conditions for a family they didn't know. They received no recognition or awards for their work. These volunteers are one of hundreds who have come and will come and selflessly give of themselves with nothing in return. Because of their work, Joplin will soon be restored and rebuilt!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Environment and Where It Went Wrong


I love control.
I crave it.
Almost as much as power.

Over the last month, I've spent quite a bit of time in Joplin working some recovery mojo. It's been a great, but hard time. God's amazing and miraculous grace, mercy and love has been more evident to me during this time than any I can remember in the recent past. I can't escape hearing, seeing and feeling God's presence around me daily. Yet, it's been incredibly difficult. Difficult to see and share in people's burdens as they have no place to live, lost all their belongings, and lost all sense of security and normalcy.

But, what's probably been the most difficult for me is the lack of a controlled environment. I like order. I like making order out of chaos. I like knowing (read: having control) over when I go to bed, what and when I eat, where I'll work, who I'll talk to, what I'll watch/read, etc, etc, etc. Consequently this has happened...

OH yes! Every single team that has walked through these doors has brought boxes and boxes of cookies. I can't stop myself. I love me some double stuffed oreos and chewy chips ahoy! LOVE them! Add to that the fact that I'm eating out basically twice a day means way too much fried food and too much food in general.

I long to be back home where I can control my environment better. But then I think... That's not the solution. I need to be controlled by the Holy Spirit so that when I can't (and when can I ever) control my environment, I do not sin in my eating.

Oh God, bring me to repentance!

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Earlier this week I drove up to Chicago with one of the best people I know... Lauren Mizel. It was a great trip filled with laughter, conversations, and surprisingly no crying (still unsure how that failed to happen). The purpose of the trip was to see U2 live at Soldier Field... mission accomplished.

We arrived during the end of the opening act, Interpool? I think they were called Interpool... I kept calling them Interlude which is just funnier.

Lauren convinced me that this concert would change my life and we needed to capture the moment I changed forever. 

This is leading up to my favorite part of the show.

And... favorite part of the show. During Miss Sarajevo the ginormous screen stretched to the floor and the production level literally went through the roof. I absolutely LOVE when performers break from "their" style and sing completely different. I think it truly shows their talent and that's exactly what Bono did as he belted his way through the opera portion.

Okay... that was a lie. My favorite part was the very last song. Bono talked for quite a long time and started to tell a story how they lost someone about 25 years ago and wrote a song for him. They hadn't planned on singing the song, but after a quick conference with the band leader, they pieced it together. Another one of my most favorite things in concerts is when they break from production to be real and authentic. High production is great, but what's even greater is pure, unrehearsed talent on show for 70,000 people!

A month of recaps

The past month has been absolutely crazy with a capital NUTS!!

Each paragraph here is will be a separate blog post.

I've completely stopped worrying about and even thinking about working out and eating right. Which as you can imagine has had dire consequences to my weight lose journey. Thankfully I've hovered around the same 5 pounds this month (although I haven't weighed myself in three weeks). That will all change starting tomorrow as training begins for the Mo' Cowbell Half Marathon. I'm excited for this one and WILL get under three hours!!

Currently I am back in Joplin, MO for another 10 days. I half way love being here. I love the people, love the church, and love having a front row to see God's grace, mercy and goodness in such a hard time. Yet, it's not home; I love St. Louis more! I've tried to convince people here to move to St. Louis, but they just won't :( God's grace, mercy and goodness is displayed greatly in St. Louis as well.

Speaking of St. Louis... I moved back to the city on Sunday!! I am sooo excited! I can't wait to get back to my apartment and get settled in. It doesn't feel like home yet. Nothing every really does until I've got pictures on the walls (and am there for more than a day at a time).

The day after moving in I left with one of the greatest people I know, Lauren Mizel, for the U2 concert at Soldier Field. Yet it included much talking, laughing, and surprisingly, no crying!

The day after getting back from Chicago, I'm here... back in Joplin.