By Jim Lowans, Director of Teen Challenge of the Four States in Neosho, MO
The western skies looked as dark as I had ever seen, our weather radio was blaring with tornado warnings for Newton and Jasper County, MO. From my home I made a quick call to our center, Teen Challenge of the Four States, Neosho, to be sure they had prepared to move the students to the storm shelter.
It soon became apparent that the tornado was going to go just north of Neosho, but hit Joplin from west to east. What began as a small F-3 tornado to the west of Joplin quickly turned into a giant F-5 tornado that sliced right through the middle of Joplin and the small neighboring town of Duquesne. The tornado’s path on the ground was approximately 1 mile wide by 14 miles long. The devastation was beyond belief. Over 8,000 structures destroyed, hundreds of others damaged, and over 150 dead.
As I arrived at the center Monday morning, the staff and students were eager to do what they could to help. By mid-morning we had a crew of 10 staff and students on the way to Joplin. The guys joined together with police and rescue dogs to begin search and rescue. The Home Depot had been completely destroyed and Wal-Mart had most of its roof collapse. Many people were trapped in houses and other businesses. Throughout both Monday and Tuesday, storms and heavy rain and lightning continued to pour through Joplin. Our staff and students continued to work tirelessly despite the weather. Todd, our Work Experience supervisor who grew up in Kansas and had seen his share of tornados, slumped in my chair at the end of the day on Monday and said, “Pastor Jim, I have never seen such destruction”.
Following those initial days, we began to focus our attention to working with Faith Assembly of God — whose building had been severely damaged, Northview Assembly of God — who had set up a crisis center and Convoy of Hope — who had mobilized into the area.
The staff and students continue to help where needed.
and from other centers
The juvenile boys center in Branson, directed by Jake Lynch, responded to the call for help in the Joplin area. One of their graduates lives in the Joplin area and asked for help in the aftermath of the F5 tornado. The staff and students arrived ready to work, and work they did. They unloaded truck loads of supplies from Samaritan’s Purse and Convoy of Hope, helped Light for the Lost workers cook for volunteers, and passed out food and water to hundreds of people.
These young men experienced a plethora of emotions. They were amazed at the spirit of unity and commaradrie of people from across the country as they worked together. They were overwhelmed seeing the people so grateful to get water. They were saddened to see random families standing, where their homes had been, not knowing what to do next. They saw the outpouring of compassion from people across the country as the semi-trucks began arriving with hygenine items, baby supplies, food, water and clothing. They saw the practical application of many of the character qualities they have been studying — compassion, integrity, and strength — even in the midst of the storm.
David Woodcock, director of the Teen Challenge in Azle, Texas, heard about a local church that was taking supplies to Joplin and said, “When I heard Heartland was gathering donations I felt we could help, too. We left June 16 to deliver a truckload of supplies to Operation blessings and money cards to Convoy of Hope. Our plan is to return to Joplin periodically to volunteer.”
The students and staff were also blessed being able to help others. Erik, a student, said, “Who would have thought a missions trip would be the best vacation I ever had. Serving the Lord was more enjoyable than any spring break I ever had.”
Aaron, another student, discovered what so many who have taken missions trips discover, “We thought we were going to bless others, and through all the work we end up being blessed. It showed me how I can give of myself and receive so much more for doing so.”
Zach, a Teen Challenge staff member, summed it up, “It made me realize how much of my life is dependent upon the mercy of God. All the goodness in my life is because He wills it, and it can all be taken away at a moment’s notice.”
We salute the Teen Challenge centers who reach out to their communities and across the nation in times of distress. Thank you for being Christ’s hands to the hurting world.