Although Joplin, Mo., is still in the midst of recovering from a devastating tornado that hit May 22, Foursquare Pastor Gene Bebee is contemplating how his church can help residents work through the disaster over the long haul.
“Right now there’s a lot of help coming in from the outside, but we know a month from now there are not going to be as many visitors here,” says the senior pastor of Destiny Church (Joplin III Foursquare Church). “We’re trying to put together a long-term strategy that’s going to allow us to be effective for years to come, whether that be counseling, helping them rebuild or having things that they need.”
The five-year-old congregation is spearheading Foursquare’s disaster-relief efforts in this southwestern Missouri city struck by the single-deadliest U.S. tornado in 60 years. The death toll has surpassed 125 and is expected to climb.
In addition to a $10,000 allocation from Foursquare Relief and Compassion, Foursquare Chaplains International plans to send a team of 10 chaplains to Joplin around June 1. That group was originally scheduled to be part of a team of chaplains counseling people victimized by late April tornadoes in northern Alabama. The efforts in Alabama, which began in early May, marked the first major deployment since Foursquare Chaplains International initiated disaster-relief training last year.
Chaplain Jay Donnelly, endorser/coordinator for the disaster-relief ministry, says the recent experience will prove useful; some chaplains who worked in Alabama have expressed interest in helping in Joplin.
“They will be better able to relate to families who have lost everything,” Jay says. “They also have a better understanding of the type of immediate care that is needed.”
The chaplains will follow a five-member team led by Pastors Jim and C’Cie Birch of Cornerstone (Okmulgee Foursquare Church) in Okmulgee, Okla. After arriving May 24, their group spent the next three days in search-and-rescue operations and counseling.
Chad Isenhart, disaster relief assessor for Foursquare Relief and Compassion, says the inter-denominational characteristics of Foursquare are emerging through cooperation in Missouri with groups such as Convoy of Hope and Children of Hope.
“It’s been amazing to see this help come to fruition and get things to people in need,” Chad says.
In addition to Foursquare Relief and Compassion’s grant, The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, Calif., Citi Impact and Children of Hope have sent relief supplies to the area. Convoy of Hope was one of the first on the scene and is maintaining contact with Destiny Church.
Supplies are also being distributed at Destiny Church, and Pastor Gene Bebee says church leaders have encouraged members to load supplies into cars and trucks and take them to residents of hard-hit areas.
Although Destiny’s building didn’t sustain any damage, 10 church families—a total of 40 people—saw their homes wiped out by the tornado. Much of the $10,000 from Foursquare Relief and Compassion will go toward helping these victims with rental deposits or temporary shelter until they can obtain insurance proceeds.
Destiny Church named a seven-person disaster-relief taskforce to direct recovery efforts, which began with reaching out to members who lost everything. In addition to connecting them with family and friends for short-term housing, the church of 500 obtained clothing, removed trees from their property, and helped see if anything could be salvaged from the wreckage.
“Everyone has probably helped in one way or another,” Pastor Gene notes. “They have loaded or unloaded trucks, and helped neighbors, family and friends, or anybody they could.”
Destiny Church has also become a beacon in the community by distributing relief supplies to residents. And, thanks to the church offering its building, Oxford Health Care was the only one of three home-healthcare agencies in Joplin able to resume operations the week of the tornado. Using classrooms, the foyer and any other areas where they could set up tables and hook up wireless networks, about 50 Oxford employees were able to serve more than 1,000 clients the week of May 22.
Almost everyone in the church knows somebody who died in the storm. Pastor Gene is sympathetic toward those who lost homes, as well, and says they feel blessed that no fellow church members lost their lives.
“If anything, it’s brought us closer together,” the pastor says. “We feel God urging us in the long run to make a big impact in the city. We want to see that carry over spiritually, where people know that the church loves them and God loves them.”
How to Pray and Help
Among the spiritual advances that have already occurred are signs that people who once were too busy to pay any attention to God are now turning toward Him. Pastor Gene says videotaped and recorded messages of people in stores and other locations offered tangible proof of that fact.
“If nothing else, people are crying out to God at this time,” he says. “People are crying out to God who normally wouldn’t do that.”
Residents still need prayer, however, especially those mourning the loss of loved ones or those who are in shock over losing everything. The pastor also asks that the Foursquare family pray for a harvest of souls and that people would be receptive to the gospel message.
Another request is for churches to pull together and break down walls that have existed between denominations, as well as between nonprofit groups that have often squabbled over various issues.
“This is helping wipe away a lot of that and causing churches to work together,” Pastor Gene affirms. “So I do see a lot of positives coming from this.”
Groups desiring to take supplies to Joplin can drop them off at Destiny Church, 3411 S. Range Line Rd., Joplin, MO 64804 (phone: 417.673.8169). Because of interruptions to Joplin’s postal service, mail shipments should be sent to Springfield Grace Chapel Foursquare Church, 1120 E. Farm Rd. 182, Springfield, MO 65810. Information will be available soon for churches interested in sending teams. Groups of up to 15 should plan to stay for at least seven days. For more information on disaster-relief efforts in Joplin, visit Destiny Church’s new website.
If you would like to help those impacted by the recent tornadoes, give to Foursquare’s U.S. disaster relief fund. If you or your church would like to know how you can give your time, call Destiny Church’s new disaster-relief line at 417.825.1188. In addition, the Gateway District is adopting 12 families to help them get back on their feet over the next year. To help participate, text 213.375.4375, or e-mail email@example.com.
By: Ken Walker, an award-winning freelance journalist in Huntington, W.V.