CARUTHERSVILLE – A Sunday evening church service between members of First Baptist Church Caruthersville and Citizen-Soldiers with the Missouri National Guard turned into an intimate exchange of gratitude and indebtedness between the two groups, as well as a time of praise to God.
The mixed audience of civilians and Soldiers sang praises thanking God for His protection and for what each entity had done for the other in their time of need.
Just outside the door of the community center where Soldiers had been living and working out of, the Mississippi River was still swollen, but nonetheless contained.
During a hymn, the audience was invited to shout out what they were thankful for. Without missing a beat, people named the National Guard, receding waters, sunshine, each other and food.
For the past week, church members provided lunch every day to the Guardsmen. About 350 meals were made daily for the Soldiers, as well as other volunteers and workers helping with the town’s flood situation. People rotated into the church to eat, and those who could not leave their stations had meals brought to them.
“We wanted to make sure these guys got fed,” said Susan Pinkerton, mission coordinator for First Baptist Church Caruthersville. “I sent out over 200 to-go meals one day.”
Typically Soldiers on missions such as this receive two hot meals a day and generally eat an MRE, or meal-ready-to-eat, for lunch. But Pinkerton and other church members wanted to show their love and appreciation for what they were doing by giving back.
Pinkerton, who teaches school in Caruthersville and lives just outside of town, said earlier in the year the church tried to plan a mission trip to Haiti during the summer, but their funds did not come together and was put on hold.
“We felt like God would tell us what we needed to do,” said Pinkerton.
Little did they know God would call them to serve in a local mission field—literally their own backyard.
When asked what this evening meant to her, Pinkerton fought back tears.
“Thank you,” said Pinkerton – her voice quivering. “I can’t even tell you what it means.”
Though the community is quick to give credit to the National Guard, they also give glory to God for His protection during this difficult time.
“I’m thankful for the hand of God that pulled back two feet of water,” said Doug Boyd, pastor of First Baptist Caruthersville. “We praise God for that.”
The sentiment was echoed by the troops and Capt. Juan Valencia, commander of the 1140th Engineer Battalion, which is based in Cape Girardeau.
“Thank you and thanks to the Lord,” said Valencia.
Valencia pointed out that the success of a mission can be in part to high morale. He said the high spirits of his troops was in great part to the meals and affirming words from the townspeople.
“The morale has been through the roof,” said Valencia. “I know my Soldiers, that when they’re hungry they get really grouchy, and that never happened. We’re taking home a lot of good memories and a couple of extra pounds.”
In a short time, these Missourians quickly forged a bond with each other. As a final thank you, the church presented a video reflecting not only on the destruction of the flood, but also showcasing the work the National Guard did in helping save their town. As the Newsboys song played, “You build us back,” images flashed on the screen showing more hope than devastation.
The lyrics, “We’ve been crumbled, we’ve been crushed, city walls have turned to dust,” took on a significant meaning. “Broken hands and blistered feet, we walk for miles to find relief…You build us back, you build us back.”
This song was chosen to not only thank God for His protection, but also chronicle the work of the Missouri Guardsmen.
That night, Missouri National Guard chaplain, 1st Lt. Jeffrey Plair, closed his sermon with a word of appreciation, as well.
“We are overwhelmed with everything you all have done,” said Plair. “I haven’t ever seen anything or experienced anything like it. They talk about morale when you go on missions; this one has been through the roof. Out of 10 it has been an 11 and it’s just been because of the people here.”
JENNIFER ARCHDEKIN/Mo. National Guard