JOPLIN—About a dozen Missouri lawmakers and the state’s lieutenant governor came here to work July 6-9 in a city hit hard by a May 22 tornado that left 158 people dead and inflicted nearly $3 billion in property damages.
Paul Meinsen of Capital Commission Missouri organized the work project around the idea that God would be glorified through His people serving. The representatives served anonymously, with Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder contributing labor right away at all four sites. Meinsen, who said he soon will be joining Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City, liked what he saw.
“I think that’s what we’re called to do—to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” said Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan and a member there of Temple Baptist Church, who swung a steady hammer on a crew building storage sheds. “This is the church in action right here.”
Kinder blended right into the 30-person unit that met at the Sam’s Club parking lot. He went to Forest Park Baptist Church and three other churches before ending July 6 at a warehouse as a member of a diaper sorting crew.
“It’s just very touching and very humbling to be a part of this,” Kinder said. “It’s an outpouring of God’s love through His people, very vividly.”
Rep. Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, House Speaker Pro Tem, and a member of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, was on his knees separating the four sizes of diapers. He talked about how churches and civic organizations in Joplin are outperforming government right now in terms of providing basic household goods, and they need to keep it up. Schoeller chairs a House Interim Committee on Disaster Recovery that is looking at long-term solutions.
“You want government to be there before and immediately after the disaster to help create some uniformity, but at the same time you want the community to be able to do as much as possible by itself,” he said.
“I’ve never had an issue where there have been so many unknowns in the known. You don’t know how much it’s going to cost. You don’t know how long it’s going to take to recover. You don’t know right now how much of the response is adequate and how much has been overreaction.”
Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, chairs the Senate counterpart of Schoeller’s committee. Richard, who was there with the lawmakers July 6 for an evening picnic at a local park, estimated in his June 30 newsletter that Joplin schools have damages totaling more than $150 million, with 7,500 homes destroyed and 5,000 jobs affected.
While Schoeller said there is no textbook on how to go forward, the church can do great things. Brock Cummins, minister of missions and evangelism at Forest Park, talked about how the leading churches have developed distribution center systems that are generous to the needy while also holding them accountable. It is not easy, but it is answered prayer; they just learn as they go.
Cummins, who along with key volunteer and church member Misty Frost is managing the time and energy of 40 volunteers every day through a community-focused entity known as Mission Joplin, said that a church like Forest Park can often help people bounce back better than federal and state government officials can.
One lady cried when they gave her a broom.
“I can finally get my house cleaned up,” she said.
That led to her revealing that they had lost everything in the tornado. The Forest Park volunteers proceeded to fill up a shopping cart with several nice, new items like a coffee pot, a dish set, a toaster, and a crock pot.
“Which item can we have?” the husband of the woman said.
“You can have all of it. You’re trying to set up a whole new house.”
“We can’t take all of this,” the man protested. “You need to help other people.”
“No,” the Forest Park response came. “You’re the people it’s donated for. You need to take this.”
When the wife came out and noticed what was happening “it was just like watching a kid at Christmas,” Cummins said. “She was giddy. She was excited. She hugged my wife probably 40 times.”
Stories like that are what state government leaders want to uplift. They came under the banner of Capitol Commission, which flew no colors at the Joplin work sites. They wore no identification. Here they were citizens—friends of the weary.
“Too often we tend to turn to government to solve the problems, but that’s not what we need,” Schatz said. “It’s people. I believe as Christians, and just humans in general, we need to get out and try to turn to each other and help solve the problems. Being part of the government, I know that we have some role, but it’s limited in its nature.”
ALLEN PALMERI/associate editor