Do you ever have those moments when something clicks? When all of a sudden, out of the blue, everything makes sense? Some people call it an “ah-ha moment.” Shakespeare liked the word “epiphany.” But whatever you choose to call it, everyone has likely experienced it. And my most recent one happened while I was driving around Joplin, Missouri, two weeks ago.
But we’re not ready for that part of the story yet, so let’s back up a few steps. Don’t worry, though; we’ll come back to it.
First, we’ll rewind a few months to May 22nd around 5:30 p.m. While I was pulling in to the K-Seven parking lot to start my dream summer, the city of Joplin was slipping into its nightmare. With next-to-no warning, a massive tornado swept through the town, flattening most homes and businesses in its 6-mile path and leaving untold devastation and death in its wake. The EF-5 tornado was the 7th-deadliest in U.S. history and the 27th-deadliest in world history. 157 men, women, and kids lost their lives that day, while hundreds more lost everything except their lives. And for every single person in Joplin—and for many more beyond it—their lives will never be the same.
Now fast forward to the middle of July. My mom, sisters and I headed to Joplin for a day to help. After registering at with Americorps and arming ourselves with water bottles and work gloves, we boarded a school bus to take us to a project site. The Americorps headquarters was located on the campus of Missouri Southern State University on the northeast side of town, relatively removed from the tornado’s path, which made for an unforgettably sobering 15-minute bus ride to the worksite. As we drove through the town, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Piles of rubble. Trees stripped bare. Chimneys standing alone. Pain as far as the eye could see. The wreckage was beyond overwhelming. It would take months, no years to clear out all this debris, let alone rebuild again. How in the world would they ever finish? As I slipped on my gloves, my heart broke for this town and its people. Would Joplin ever be fixed? I wanted to have hope, but with so much devastation, hope seemed foolish, if not impossible.
Fast forward again to two weeks ago. My Institute class went to Joplin to help. The staff at the Americorps Recovery Center (now in a building instead of the MSSU parking lot) assigned us to different sites, and I ended up with a group doing “various tasks.” (We affectionately nicknamed ourselves “VT.” Like Virginia Tech, but way cooler.) Our project was to put the finishing touches on a house that would become a “transition home” for families getting back on their feet. Thanks to the generosity of Grace Baptist Church, these families would be able to live there for free as they searched for jobs and housing. By the time we arrived, the project was almost completed and, with our help, the first family would be able to move in the next week.
Somehow, though, I didn’t work end up working on the house, at least, not at first. No, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I was designated as the “errand runner.” (At first, my duty only included trips to Lowe’s for wire snips and other supplies. However, later when I came back with the coffee requested by Howard, the head guy, I became known as “the intern.”) Anyway, to make a short story even longer, this is how I found myself driving around Joplin by myself. And it was here that my latest epiphany happened.
But we still aren’t quite ready for that yet, so keep being patient. It’s coming; I promise. You see, before I went on my wire-snips/coffee mission, I stopped by the church office for cash. When I stepped inside, I was amazed by what I saw. Now, I don’t know if you have a history with church offices, so here I should point out that they aren’t usually “amazing.” Usually, they consist of a couple desks, a few computers, a phone, some cheesy posters with Bible verses and baby ducks, and maybe a potted plant or two. Nothing to write home about (or to blog about), that’s for sure. But this church office was completely different, and these differences left me speechless. Instead of the baby-duck posters, the walls contained four dry-erase boards filled—literally filled—with numbers, names, and phone numbers, color-coded and organized into tidy little boxes. The wall space between the white boards was covered in huge sheets of paper, and these papers were packed with lines and numbers and itty-bitty colored boxes. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this pixilated panorama, but then it hit me: Joplin was being rebuilt, and the church staff was organizing it.
Still pondering what I had seen, I climbed in my Volvo and headed to Lowe’s. How could such a tiny church undertake such a project? And did they realize how long it would take them to finish? The task was enormous; there’s no way they could do it themselves. Didn’t they understand what they were up against?
Waiting in the left-turn lane for Range Line Road, I let my eyes wander to my surroundings. So much brokenness around me, and yet people hadn’t given up. As the overflowing Lowe’s parking lot indicated, they were rebuilding with a vengeance. And not just a vengeance. With hope.
That’s when it hit me. I finally understood. My mental light bulb clicked on, filling my mind and soul with light:
We are all Joplin.
We are all broken and ruined. Sin has turned each of us to rubble. We have been flattened; we have been discarded; we have been devastated. In an instant and without warning, our enemy destroyed everything we held dear. We are stripped to nothing. All that remains is a sorry, pathetic, eerie shadow of what we were created to be. No one understands our loss; no one can grasp our grief. No one even seems to care. We are hopeless.
And then comes Jesus.
When all is lost, He finds us. He rides in, strong and mighty to save. He pulls us out of the wreckage that traps us. He binds us up and dresses our wounds. He gives us rest and helps us heal. And then, once we are finally able to move again, He does what seemed impossible: He begins to rebuild. Unswayed by the enormity of the task, He rolls up His sleeves and gets to work. Even though the progress seems slow if not imperceptible, even though the hours are long and backbreaking, He knows exactly what He is doing, and He is not giving up. Like the staff at Grace Baptist, He has a map with a grid. The Master is following His own Master Plan. And little by little, color-coded square by color-coded square, He puts us back together again. As Solomon so eloquently said, “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” including us. And one day, His work will be complete.
Then we’ll spend eternity’s worth of “ah-ha” moments praising Him for it.