Preparation of All Kinds Blesses Saints in Joplin, Missouri
Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events
Candles. Granola bars. A lantern. These emergency supplies from the stores of several Latter-day Saint families played a role in facilitating the Joplin Missouri Stake’s organization and action in the initial hours after the May 22 tornado.
The stake center had been destroyed, as had other major buildings in the area, and electricity was out in many other parts of the city. But a small group of area, stake, and ward leaders was able to meet together in council, by candlelight and later by lantern light, in the home of Joplin Second Ward bishop Dave Richins to determine what to do in recovery, relief, and rebuilding.
As that council and so many other members in the Joplin Missouri Stake discovered, physical and spiritual preparation both played crucial roles in those efforts.
Fortunately, the Joplin stake had an emergency plan in place, and members were prepared to account, assess, and report promptly in the wake of disaster. In fact, stake president Creed Jones had helped start to put the plan in place years earlier when he was a member of the high council.
“Our emergency plan, while there is a lot of detail to it, is quite simple: account, assess, report promptly,” said President Jones. “You need to account for your people. Everybody goes out to find out how the missionaries are, how the members are, and if everyone is accounted for. Then they assess. Who is missing? Who has injuries? Who is without a home? Who is without power? What are their physical situations, family needs, and so forth? And then you report promptly, communicating that information back through the priesthood line.”
Members of the Joplin Missouri Stake talk about the value of preparation.
The process worked well, President Jones reported, and he said that he received several accounts of people running or walking for miles (roads and other infrastructure were impassable at first because of debris) to check on family, friends, co-workers, and ward members.
“What you really learn is that the Church is not just what takes place in a chapel or classroom on Sunday,” President Jones said. “The real test comes when there are needs and we have to look out for each other.
“We don’t have a building right now, but we know that eventually a new one will be built,“ he added. “But in the meantime there is still a lot of ‘Church activity’ taking place as far as seeing to each other’s needs, people taking others into their homes, people sharing food and clothes. It’s been wonderful and heartfelt.”
As members of the stake followed the emergency plan, they saw miracles happen every day. Bishop Chris Hoffman of the Joplin First Ward, one of two wards where members were deeply affected by the damage, reported that people in the ward told him about times they needed some particular kind of help, only to have a fellow ward member arrive with exactly what they needed when they needed it.
“Everyone in the ward understood that we needed to take care of each other,” Bishop Hoffman said. “It was extremely gratifying to me as a bishop to hear not ‘What do you want me to do?’ but ‘This is what I’ve done.’”
These kinds of responses were because of preparation not only at the stake and ward level but also at the family and individual level. Because of the nature of the destruction, many people lost their homes, and others’ homes sustained significant damage. Food storage and other emergency supplies weren’t always preserved. But those whose homes were spared were prepared to share what they had with others.
Marcy Peterson, second counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency, said that preparation is important to her because of the peace it brings.
“For me, being prepared means … I don’t need to worry,” she said. “I know that if I’ve done my part by preparing myself spiritually, having food storage, and being willing to share with neighbors and others, I have a sense that I’m going to be okay—that the Lord will bless me whatever happens.”
Other ward and stake leaders say that even if members didn’t end up using their home storage or emergency supplies themselves, having those things put them in a position to help others who needed it.
Mike and Becky Higginson have faithfully built their home storage over time, and while the tornado destroyed their home, their food storage shed survived the destruction.
The Higginsons are grateful for this blessing, but they are quick to point out that physical preparation alone is not enough to get them through this kind of event. They know that obedience to the counsel of prophets and apostles builds another kind of store that natural disasters and other calamities cannot destroy.
“We’ve had hard experiences before, and the gospel is what sustains you through everything,” Sister Higginson said. “So although this is a shock and a trauma … it didn’t change anything. You revert to your gospel roots, your spiritual roots, immediately.”
Bishop Richins said he has seen this kind of faith over and over again since the disaster. “My testimony has been strengthened by watching members of our ward persevere through all this adversity and think of their family first, and then others, before themselves. They dropped everything to come to the aid of others. When we had service projects, the members with destroyed homes showed up wanting to serve. I had to send some of them home with some other brethren to take care of themselves, and they always went reluctantly.
“That’s just a wonderful example of living Christlike lives,” he added. “These testimonies and this faith give us the hope that allows us to press on.”
The morning after the tornado, Bishop Chris Hoffman of the Joplin First Ward met with several other brothers from the ward at a central spot in town to begin accounting and assessing. With communication lines down, “it was hard to determine where to start,” said Bishop Hoffman.
“With technology the way it is today, we [tend] to be overconfident or over-reliant on the things that make our lives so much easier,” Bishop Hoffman said. “In this instance [e-mail, texts, and phones were] gone. So we went back to what we’ve been taught since we were little, and that’s the simple fact of having prayer and listening for the answer.
“You recognize very quickly—if you didn’t already—how reliant you are on Heavenly Father for answers, because you need them, and you need them quick. But the answers came. They always did. They always will.”
That kind of faith and reliance on the Lord has continued to buoy up members in the Joplin stake. On the Sunday following the tornado Elder Jonathan C. Roberts, Area Seventy, attended a joint meeting of the Joplin First and Second Wards, where he saw expressions of affection among the Saints and heard their expressions of testimony.
“People who had lost everything—their homes, their workshops, everything—stood up and said, ‘We’re some of the most blessed people.’ How does that happen?” Elder Roberts asked. “How could anybody in those circumstances have the courage and the backbone to square their shoulders, lift their chins, and say, ‘We’re fine’? Well, it only happens one way. They have a perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“In this case, the 72-hour packs, as important as they were, the food storage, as important as it was, went away because of the calamity,” he continued. “And yet the things that were deep-rooted, the foundational things of priesthood keys, of testimony, stood strong. And as the Saints gathered together, it was spectacular to watch the preparation that came from spiritual roots that had been set deep; that windstorm, tornado, or hurricane weren’t going to take away; and that extend beyond mortality and to eternity.”
Such perspective has manifested itself in the way the members have responded, Bishop Hoffman said, “without panic and without chaos, even amidst the chaos of their lives.”
He continued, “That’s not to say there haven’t been lots of emotional ups and downs and tears shed, but you see that members really understand the plan of why we’re here. ‘This is just a moment.’ ‘It’s just stuff.’ ‘We’ll rebuild.’ I’ve heard that many times. It’s a testimony and a testament to their preparation and their understanding of the gospel and how they live their lives.”