When we started the trip Wednesday evening in a van with no air conditioning* and Anne Murray singing, “Make The World Go Away,” I knew I was in for a wild ride.
I fully expected to sweat off several pounds in my jeans and boots, cleaning up storm debris. Having worked on the flight line in North Carolina summers in BDU’s, I knew what to expect. I knew the work wouldn’t be fun, but it would be helping people who needed it. I didn’t see myself as a white knight, but that’s how God saw me, and He knew just what to do.
I spent all day Thursday sorting clothes in a tent. They dropped the walls, thankfully, so we had a breeze, but it was still over 100* in the shade. The crates we were sorting from held 600 lbs of clothing each, and we did three of them that day. Mostly it was baby and kids’ clothes, but we had some men’s and women’s, too. I was stunned at the amount of winter clothing. Some of it was torn and stained and never made it to the table. We boxed those up to be recycled. Sorting sweaters when it’s that hot is really a downer.
Clothes still waiting to be sorted.
The first of the three big crates, right after we started sorting it. Yes, I finally remembered to get a “before” shot!
At 5:00, when we might have gone back to the hotel to showers and dinner, we headed for the kitchen and boxed up 40 meals to deliver for the church’s Meals On Wheels. We were a driver short, so I volunteered to drive the church van. We split the route in half and each team took 20 meals, plus bags with water, plastic cutlery, and snacks for the next day. When we left the church, life got interesting. I know nothing about the city of Joplin. I’d never been there. I had directions on how to get where we were going and four people to help me navigate, but most of the street signs were gone. The street names were painted on the road. We thought we went to far (and found out later we hadn’t gone far enough), so we turned around, went back, got to where we had turned onto that road, and turned around again. We were almost back to where we turned around the first time when the van quit. We were out of gas.
I coasted into a parking lot, and we dug out the church’s phone number. Luckily, there was someone in the office, and the promised to send someone with gas. It took a good half hour for my new friend, Al, to find us, during which we sat on the bumper of the van in a piece of shade and tried to see the bright side of the situation. We agreed that although it was hot and the air conditioning in the van didn’t work, at least we weren’t listening to Anne Murray. She’s great, but a little goes a long way!
This is the parking lot where we waited for Al.
When we finally started our route at 6:30, it went pretty fast. The devastation was incredible. People were living in condemned houses without power, sometimes without doors or a roof, because they had nowhere else to go. Messages were spray painted on some houses. One said, “I lost my mommy at 2446 Dooley. Now she’s in heaven with Jesus and Johnny Cash.” It made me laugh and cry at the same time.
We finished our 8 blocks by 7:45. That hour and fifteen minutes I struggled with impatience. I knew it was important to talk with the people if they wanted to talk, and the couple working with us stopped to pray with everyone. But I was hot, tired, and had been in my boots for twelve hours. The only thing I wasn’t was hungry, mostly because the heat took my appetite. That was when God spoke most clearly to me. My time of misery was short, but the people in whose neighborhood we were had months of it to endure, likely with little relief.
I left work that day depressed, hot, tired, and stunned again by my arrogance. God did send me to Joplin to help, but He had an ulterior motive, and that was to remind me that it’s not about me. It’s not about what I can do for others, or what they can do for me. It’s about what I can do for God, and more importantly, what He can do through me.
*After the first hour on the road, we finally found the secret to turning on the air conditioning, so the rest of the trip was more pleasant.