I spent two weeks in Joplin, Missouri immediately following the EF-5 tornado that destroyed much of that small town. I was there as a member of the disaster relief team of the American Red Cross.
In Joplin I talked with many survivors of the storm. I toured the indescribable destruction inside the tornado’s footprint. I even became acquainted with several of the people who lost their homes and were staying in the Red Cross shelter.
The more I got to know the people of Joplin, the more I was inspired by them. Although they seemingly had lost so much, they were grateful for what they still had. Although they greatly appreciated the support coming from every part of the nation, they felt no sense of entitlement. Although they faced an uncertain future, they were hopeful and believed that better days would come.
When I left Joplin, I knew I would never see most of the people again. Yet I knew that they would forever remain a part of me. Though we were together for only a brief, intense time, they left an indelible mark on me. The people of Joplin are optimistic, though very aware of their new reality. They are resourceful, resolute and strong.
In particular, three individuals shaped my memories of the disaster relief efforts in Joplin. Years from now, when I reflect on the time I spent there, I will always remember Marie, Nancy and Alana.
- Marie was a Red Cross volunteer who lived in Joplin before the tornado struck. Even though she lost her apartment and possessions in the tornado, she returned as a Red Cross volunteer so she could help her friends and neighbors.
- Nancy was a widow who lost her house in the storm. The strongest winds of the deadly tornado, however, could never extinguish the flickering flame of faith deep within her.
- Alana had just graduated from college. Before she began her career as a high school English teacher she used some of her graduation money to travel half way across the country to help strangers in their time of need.
In the next three blog posts (click on the name of each person above) I will share more of the reasons why Marie, Nancy and Alana made such a lasting impression upon me and upon others who came into contact with these inspiring women.