JOPLIN – Just one year ago, on Easter Sunday 2011, Brad Graves, a former North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planter, delivered his first sermon here as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church.
One month later a deadly tornado ravaged the city, forever changing Joplin’s landscape both literally and spiritually.
“I broke down and cried out to God saying He could have picked any pastor in America, but He chose me,” Graves said. “I take that very seriously and I am grateful for the honor that God called me to the place where the most terrible tornado of our time hit. That’s the way we feel about it every day … it’s a calling.”
Before coming to Calvary, Graves helped plant 16 churches all over the United States.
“God started working inside my heart to move away from planting new and to look at revival and church re-birth to help a church come back,” he said. “And that’s what Calvary is. It’s a comeback church. It’s a comeback church in a city that is making its own comeback.”
After the tornado hit on May 22, Graves immediately led his new church into action. Calvary Baptist became a distribution hub for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and provided more than 10,000 meals in the weeks and months that followed.
“We stopped counting after 10,000,” he said. “Also, many of the Joplin churches weren’t able to organize their usual Vacation Bible Schools the summer after the tornado so we hosted a sports camp that Joplin’s kids seemed to really need. It was the largest sports camp the church had ever had with about 300 kids. We saw 86 of them pray to receive Christ.”
He said Calvary is one of the healthiest churches he’s ever pastored. For example, he said 67 percent of the congregation is involved in some sort of small group ministry.
“We are working together to make disciples and we are trusting the leadership we have put in place,” Graves said. “The tornado stripped away any preconceived ideas about what the church has to do or be. It equalized everybody, getting the church focused only on the business of sharing Christ and serving others. The tornado brought us lower and built us up stronger than we thought possible.”
On a personal level, Graves said this past year at Calvary has heightened his sensitivity toward God, causing him to become less dependent on ministry strategy and more dependent on Him.
“As intimacy with God grows, so does everything else,” he said. “Devotion, creativity, boldness and professional and spiritual sensitivity. I believe this is God’s way.”
Learning these spiritual truths while serving in Joplin also speaks of God’s perfect plan.
“The harvest is plentiful in Joplin and our church has come along in unity at just the right time,” Graves said. “I’d rather be in Joplin after the tornado than be in any other church in country.”