Missouri church mourns losses, counts blessings
JOPLIN, Mo. — Perspective.
The monster tornado that cut a six-mile swath through this southwestern Missouri community provided it.
Just around the corner from the 26th and Connecticut Church of Christ, a giant chunk of this city of 50,000 looks like a vast wasteland — plowed into ugly piles of bricks, tree limbs and shredded furniture as far as the eye can see.
But on a recent Wednesday night, as the church assembled inside its damaged building for the first time, elder Doug Douthitt offered Scriptural perspective.
He read from 2 Corinthians 6:10: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
“This sums up the Christian life,” Douthitt said in his devotional thoughts. “We can have nothing, absolutely nothing. But as children of God, we can have everything.”
That biblical message resonated with a church reeling from the nation’s deadliest single tornado in 60 years.
The May 22 storm destroyed 7,000 Joplin homes, damaged hundreds more and claimed 158 lives, including two of the 26th and Connecticut church’s members.
That Wednesday night, amid boxes of relief supplies and trash bags full of donated clothes, about 65 men, women and children squeezed into salvaged pews arranged in a V-shape in the church foyer.
Church members prayed for victims. They sang hymns such as “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” “The Church’s One Foundation” and “His Grace Reaches Me.” They shared hugs and tears.
As they focused on what was lost in the storm, they also reflected on what was gained.
“It’s unfortunate that sometimes it takes a catastrophic event for people to talk about God and Christ,” Douthitt said. “But I’m glad that people are now thinking about Jesus.”
Since the storm poked holes in the auditorium’s roof, the 150-member church has met at a nearby La Quinta Inn on Sundays. The first few Wednesdays, members gathered to sing and pray under a church awning that overlooks a railroad bridge. The raised earth supporting the tracks may have kept some flying debris from hitting the church building.
Already, repairs have been made to the church’s roof, but the carpet underneath has been stripped. Pews were removed and taken away for repairs, allowing the auditorium to be transformed into a disaster relief warehouse serving hundreds of Joplin families.
A sign that hangs over the baptistery — “Trust and Obey” — survived the mighty winds intact.
As bad as the tornado was, blessings have come, Douthitt said.
“They’ve got a renewed sense of being,” the elder said of the congregation. “You know, they’ve lost a lot of stuff, but we’ve had so much support from people, and I think the congregation’s kind of gotten a shot in the arm from what’s happening. … I think most everybody, their faith’s been strengthened through this.”
Seven 26th and Connecticut church families lost their homes, as did the families of six regular visitors, leaders said.
Worst of all, two church members were killed: deacon William Austin “Bill” Anderson, 53, who worked for Office Concepts in Joplin for 30 years, and his wife, Sarah Lee Anderson, 46, a secretary at South Middle School in Joplin for 10 years.
The Andersons died at their home. Their son, Quinton, 17, a senior at the high school destroyed by the twister, survived. He’s recovering from surgery on the bone under his eye and faces surgery on his leg. The couple’s daughter, Grace, 22, was not home when the storm hit and suffered no physical harm.
“These were humble people, the nicest people,” deacon Dale Hoggatt said of Bill and Sarah Anderson. “They would do anything they were asked.”
“At the last minute, too,” added church member Leon Johnson. “You could ask him to do anything at the last minute, and he’d take over.”
“Anything but sing, because he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket,” Hoggatt added with a chuckle. “But I’ll miss that behind me — that off-key singing.”
But someday, Hoggatt has no doubt, he’ll hear Bill Anderson sing again — this time in perfect harmony.