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Finding God in Joplin

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What do you see in this line of letters?


Did you see “God is nowhere?” Or did you pick up on the words “God is now here?”
It’s really a matter of perspective isn’t it? Perspective is especially important when it comes to times of tragedy.


Joplin Tornado

On Sunday, May 22nd at 5:41 p.m., a monstrous EF5 tornado churned its ugly way through the town of Joplin, Missouri. With 200 mph winds and ¾ of a mile in width, it tore a path of destruction 14 miles long. It was so large, victims recall being hit by one wall followed by calm in the “eye”. Soon the back wall exploded upon them slamming them once again with ferocious wind, rain, hail, and debris.

Some in Joplin lost not only their homes, cars, and material possessions; they also lost family members, friends, and employment. 160 people lost their lives.



Where Was God?

So where was God on May 22nd? Was He nowhere? Or was He “now here?”

When hard times come, we often look for someone to blame, and God often catches the brunt of it.

I have read the Bible from front to back and have committed myself to studying its pages. I can tell you with great certainty that nothing in the Bible instructs us to attempt to figure out who to blame when disaster strikes.

What the Bible does tell us over and over again, is to trust God. We can trust him because He is good, and He promises to be with us in every situation.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

The English word “compassion” comes from two Latin words pati and cum. Together; they mean “to suffer with.”

God is compassionate. When He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth He made a conscious decision to be with us. In coming to earth, He chose to enter into your brokenness, your weaknesses, your uncertainty, and your pain.

He is a God who goes to the hard places, and His desire is to experience life with you in all of its extremes. In the book Compassion by Nouwen, McNeill, and Morrison, this is explained as solidarity –or God’s unity with us.



Helping in Joplin

My husband, son, a friend from Iowa, and a friend from our hometown felt compelled to go to the victims in Joplin. Sometimes well-intentioned help can be a hindrance, so my husband, Mike, contacted a fireman friend who was on-site assisting with search and rescue. He assured Mike there were plenty of places where they could be a help, so they drove to Joplin and spent two days volunteering there.


(Our son clearing trees)


The first day they cut and cleared large trees around a home that had been damaged with two guys who had driven up from southern Texas. They never saw the homeowner that day so our group had no idea whether or not they had survived the storm.

The second day they passed by the house where they had worked the day before. Mike noticed the owner digging through the rubble looking for valuables. He and our friend, Bill, from Iowa went to her, asked how she was doing, and explained they had been there the day before cutting trees.

Although she had just commented that she was okay, Linda now broke down crying and told them how much she appreciated what they had done.

My husband learned that she was not married and had no children. There were basically no family members to help her. She was about sixty years old and she was alone.


Mike and Bill stayed at Linda’s house to work while our friend, Jack, and our son, Tanner, worked at the home next door.

After a while they all joined forces at Linda’s home to shovel insulation that had fallen when the ceiling collapsed. The extent of the damage was overwhelming and they wondered how they would ever get it all shoveled out.

About that time, a family of four from Thayer, Missouri and two women from Fayetteville walked up and pitched in. There was a strong sense of community as all of them worked together.

At the end of the day they prayed together for Linda and the survivors in Joplin.



Have We Really Made a Difference?

As my husband looked across Linda’s yard and scanned the Joplin horizon, he had the disheartening feeling that they hadn’t really made much difference. Their work had barely scratched the surface.

I told my husband there were much more important things that had been accomplished. His presence didn’t have to “fix things” in order to have value. He couldn’t ultimately change Linda’s situation, but he had made her suffering his own.

He had willingly entered into her despair, her powerlessness, her darkness, her grief, and her loss. He had made himself vulnerable.

He had been present with her, and it had encouraged and comforted her. That’s what she had needed at that moment in her life more than anything else.

God Helps People Through Us

Scripture tells us God’s presence (His Holy Spirit) lives within those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. He indwells them. His heart, His concerns, His plans, His purposes, His desires, and His presence live in and through them.

The love and concern those people share with others, and the help they give, is God reaching out and caring through them. It is God demonstrating Himself to the world.

Jesus commands us to be compassionate as our Father is compassionate – to show solidarity by going where it hurts, by entering into places of pain, by sharing in fear, confusion, and anguish, by mourning with those who mourn and weeping with those who weep – by being present with one another just as God chose to be present with us.


Our exhausted group of men (Tanner, Mike, Bill, and Jack)

So where was God in the tragedy that day – and where is He today? Is He nowhere or is He now here?

God is most definitely right there in Joplin through the lives of His followers who are present in that situation loving, serving, and persevering through hardship.

How might God be calling you to “suffer with” someone in Joplin or elsewhere today?

You can help Joplin tornado victims by praying, showing up, or sharing your resources. If you’d like to make a donation, here are some options:


  • American Red Cross (Enter zip code for Joplin – 64801)
  • Salvation Army (Call 1-800-SAL-ARMY or text the word JOPLIN to 80888 for a $10 donation. You can also mail a donation to Joplin Tornado Relief; The Salvation Army; 3637 Broadway; Kansas City, MO 64111.)
  • World Vision (Text TORNADO to 20222 for a $10 donation or call 888-56-CHILD.) 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10


One Comment

  1. Rachel says:

    I'm going to light a candle right now. Or maybe just take a big whiff of my saddle. Thanks for the reminder mom!

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