JOPLIN – The adrenaline rush from the days after the May 22 tornado is gone, but Fellowship Baptist Church is still moving forward toward recovery.
“People are very optimistic,” said Rex Wakefield, minister of worship at Fellowship. “There’s a lot of good happening right now. I know there’s a lot of destruction, but God is really showing Himself through the lives of people who are being His hands and His feet.”
No one from the church roll was among the 151 killed by the storm, but two suffered cracked ribs. Wakefield said approximately 30 families’ homes and cars are a total loss, and another 20 had serious damage.
He said the first Sunday worship service after the tornado was “very emotional.”
“We had all the workers and chaplains with us and it was just an awesome worship time,” he said. “It was a very dynamic service and one of our deacons, Brian Crouch, brought a very timely sermon.”
Missouri Baptist Convention Disaster Relief (DR) moved its operations to Fellowship after a week at the Baptist Student Union at Missouri Southern State University. The church housed two shower/laundry units, dozens of chainsaw crews, communication volunteers, and chaplains.
“We pretty much gave them the whole building, except for our offices,” Wakefield said.
Church members have been rising early, sometimes as early as 4 a.m., to prepare breakfast for up to 400 volunteers, cleanup workers, and victims.
“That was in the first days,” Wakefield said. “Now it’s about 100.”
The church building itself, though just five blocks from total devastation, lost only a few shingles. It’s a good thing, too, because the church was hosting a children’s choir pizza party when the tornado sirens began to sound.
“It came very, very close,” he said. “We weren’t anywhere near a TV or radio, and we hear the sirens so often, it’s easy to dismiss it. Someone looked online and saw that something was likely to come our way. It hadn’t developed yet, but when it did, it happened very quickly. We got everyone into a safe area and weathered the storm.”
He said prayer is their top request, followed by physical help in the days to come.
“Right now, we have so much bottled water and clothes we don’t have enough people to give it to,” Wakefield said. “But we’re going to need help over the long haul. Right now we’re overwhelmed with volunteers, but we’ll still need you weeks and months down the road.
“Pray for places people can find affordable housing,” he said. “Pray that people wouldn’t try to come in and take advantage of the situation.”
The church is no stranger to struggle and loss. Their pastor, Steve Grace, passed away after a hard, 18-month struggle with cancer.
“Even before the tornado, the church has been pulling together and relying on God to get us through,” Wakefield said.
BRIAN KOONCE/staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org