A happier place

Megan Wilkinson


My phone alarm went off while I was in the middle of a morning shift at my part-time job. I was not busy at the time, so I snuck to the back room to see who wanted to talk to me at 8 a.m. I opened the text message and read this:

“Hey Megan! It’s Debbie. I haven’t talked to you in a while, but I wanted to let you know I want you to be a part of my mission team going to Joplin, Mo. to work on disaster relief. You in?”

I heard a little about the tornado that struck the town of Joplin through many tweets, blogs and news reports. More than 140 individuals were killed, and around 21 square miles of the town were wiped out on May 22, 2011. Some of the video clips I watched of it were pretty bad, but at the time, I did not worry too much about it.

I figured that tornados happened all the time in the Midwest, so what was so special about this one tornado? Shouldn’t most of the debris be picked up by now since the tornado was a couple months ago? Either way, I enjoy doing community service, and this trip sounded interesting. There was no doubt in my mind, really. My response to Debbie’s early-morning text:

“Heck yes. Count me in!”

When my mission team first arrived in Joplin, Mo., in mid-July, I was shocked as we drove through the main areas where the tornado hit. What I saw is very difficult to put into words–even the pictures and videos I took are nothing compared to seeing the actual destruction with my own eyes.

There was nothing but miles upon miles of debris piled up where there used to stand houses, restaurants, schools, stores and churches. The local Wal-Mart was hardly recognizable, aside from a blue sign in the parking lot.

Homes in this area of town were either barely standing up or were totally gone, aside from the basement or miscellaneous possessions. Some of the homes still standing were covered with graffiti messages and read things such as “God Bless You, Joplin!” or “Please, somebody tear me down!”

Locals informed my team members and me that there were still a good number of people living either in tents or straight out of their cars. A handful of Joplin citizens chose to remain in their homes, though parts of their houses were ruined from the storm.

Yet the thing that surprised me most on my visit was that no one appeared sad. No one appeared totally defeated from the disaster, though the town lost almost everything it had in the EF5 tornado.

On the contrary, locals coming into the relief center at the Joplin Family Worship Center (JFWC) usually assured me that the town was being fixed at an extraordinary pace; the town looked way better in July than it did in May.

I asked Dave, the youth minister at JFWC, why so many of the tornado survivors seemed happy, or at least not defeated by the disaster.

He answered something along these lines: Sometimes it takes a disaster to bring together a community. Trust me, before the tornado hit, we were probably just like your hometown in Ohio–going about our daily lives moaning and groaning about little things that don’t truly matter.

To be honest, I think Dave made a lot of sense. Remember 9/11? Life in America seemed to cease for a while as people reflected on what happened; people became more patriotic and appreciative of one another. This is exactly what I felt among the people of Joplin, Mo.

People in Joplin were extremely willing to help, to communicate and to fix the problems caused by the tornado. Survivors I spoke with were often just happy to be alive; they did not necessarily care that they had lost their homes. It was a friendlier atmosphere than what I see on a day-to-day basis in Kent, Ohio.

Disasters such as this are a wake-up call, and they make us realize what is really important in our lives. Through events such as this, we can recognize that our material possessions are not nearly as valuable as our friends, family and community.

As my team and I drove out of Joplin on our final day of work, I took photos of the American flags and crosses covering old, evacuated properties that showed signs of faith and hope that, someday, Joplin will get through this disaster. Somehow, I know in my heart that this little town will.

Megan Wilkinson is a sophomore news major. Contact her at [email protected]@kent.edu.