By Julia Jones
On Sunday, July 22, some sleepy teenagers and brave adults from Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, St. Mary Parish in Grinnell and St. Ann Parish in Long Grove piled into minivans and headed south. Their mission was to help rebuild tornado-damaged Joplin, Mo.
Excited was the word in the vans as the sun rose high on the way to our destination. We were excited to serve the Lord, excited to see a different place and excited to get out of the minivans. But no one could prepare us for the feeling of being thankful, humbled and blessed.
Once we arrived at Abundant Life Church, our temporary home for the week, we were informed we would earn our keep by doing a chore every day. We would sleep on foam mats on homemade bunk beds, and shower in a semi-trailer or outdoor FEMA showers. Initially, things were not looking too pleasing, but throughout the week we would learn how lucky we were to have those accommodations.
We worked in 110-plus degree heat for three days and a “chilly” 90 degree day only after it rained. Then it just became colder and really humid on our final work day. Catholic Charities of Joplin instructed us to not work past 2 p.m. in the hot sun and stop for water every 15 minutes.
We handled a lot of odd jobs like shoveling gravel, cleaning floors, laying a brick walkway, laying carpeting and digging trenches. With what little energy we had left in the evening, we played mini golf and prayed.
But possibly more memorable than the work we did were the people we encountered and served. Ed and Kay sought shelter in the closet of their home, only to emerge after the tornado to find nothing standing but that closet. Their new home is nearly finished, and we had a small hand in it.
Don, a 90-year-old man who lived across the street from Ed and Kay, lost his entire sports memorabilia collection that he treasured almost as much as his home of 46 years. Don invited us back to his home next year for lasagna, and we have already responded yes!
We met Gabe, manager of Catholic Charities. Our group was almost afraid of him when we met him because he never smiled. Throughout the week, we realized he didn’t have much to smile about because of the job he still faced of rebuilding his hometown. Our Iowa charm brought a smile to his face by the last day. He even admitted he liked us.
We heard stories about people not knowing what to do after the tornado hit. For weeks, they just stayed on their property to protect what they had left from looters, with no running water or electricity, no vehicles or clear roadways, no shelter from the Missouri heat, no trees to seek shade and no beds suitable to sleep on.
Now, against the sky line are new power poles. Trees are still standing, but even the new life isn’t enough yet to offer relief from the sun. Because of this, you can see the entire path of the tornado in the emptiness on the horizon.
But the week was not sad. Christ was truly in the city of Joplin. You could feel that the Holy Spirit surrounded the families and workers. The whole community came together to grieve what had been lost, but stuck together to rebuild. We met groups from Florida; Texas; Pennsylvania; Michigan; Minnesota; Canada; Pella, Iowa; and some familiar faces from Newton, Iowa.
The beautiful thing about such a tragedy is that Christ keeps us together. We are many, yet one.
There is still plenty of work for Gabe and his fellow charity workers to do. They are constantly looking for help, especially in the winter.
To help, visit www.rebuildjoplin.org. To learn more about the summer mission trip, visit http://www.stannslong
(Julia Jones is youth minister for St. Ann Parish in Long Grove.)