The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

Everybody Has a Story

July 11, 2011

From devastation arises hope

Ridgecrest brings relief to town decimated by tornado

GREENVILLE — Some 40 multi-generational volunteers, ranging in ages from 70 to 13, from Ridgecrest Baptist Church arrived in Joplin, Mo., the evening of June 19 to help assist in relief efforts.

“Every year we go on a mission trip and with the devastation that happened in Joplin, we just felt like that’s where the need was the greatest,” said Caroline Scott, assistant to the youth and music ministers at Ridgecrest.

After a seven-hour road trip and the unloading of luggage, cots, air mattresses and food for the upcoming week, volunteers found the rest of their needs taken care of courtesy of the Missouri Baptist Association, which provided shower facilities and the group’s host, Fellowship Baptist Church, provided sleeping quarters.

“All our basic needs were more than adequately provided, so all we had to do now was survive our roommate’s snoring,” said Bryce Baker. Baker’s sister, who is a member of the church, invited him to go along with the members to help document their mission.

Each day the volunteers would travel to Forest Park Baptist Church where Samaritan’s Purse relief activities were housed. The first day’s drive really showcased to the volunteers the evidence of destruction.

“Some places were completely destroyed, some partially with refurbishing already underway,” said Baker. “What we witnessed here was a mere drop of what was to come.”

Each day began by signing in as a volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse and then meeting team leaders to go over the day’s assignment, cover safety issues and points of importance, finally ending the meeting with a prayer for guidance and for the homeowner.

It was then a game of follow-the-leader as volunteers hopped into vans and wound their way to the day’s work site or sites. Due to the destruction, street signs were missing and often the group had to rely upon someone’s GPS to guide them to the correct location. Most homes had no address identifiers, so it was quite a challenge to ensure volunteers were on the correct property, an important step as permission from the homeowner was required to be on each site.

“What we witnessed was unlike anything most had ever experienced before, or will again, as destruction was nearly complete,” said Baker. “It appeared as if God had turned on a giant blender and held the pulse button down for a couple of minutes.”

According to Baker’s description, everything inside the houses, and often the house itself, was mixed and jumbled together. Housing insulation was splattered and as it dried, blew everyone to cover just about everything.

“The first night we were there, one of our teens talked about how he came to realize these things (homes, items, etc.) were just temporal,” recalled Scott. “He never thought about these things being taken away suddenly, in an instant. I thought that was pretty amazing for an 18-year-old to perceive and express.”

More than 8,000 homes were destroyed along with hundreds of businesses.

“Trees were toppled, or if still standing, their limbs, leaves and bark were frequently stripped away,” recalls Baker. “Utility lines were gone and all utility services stopped. Stop signs and traffic signals were gone. There were no birds to be seen, no butterflies or wandering pets. Life was at a standstill. Even the colors seemed muted with primary browns under a blue sky.”

The only spots of color in the seemingly endless drab landscape were the bright orange volunteer T-shirts of the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers, along with other groups, doing their best to repair the damage done to Joplin.

“Everyone we spoke with, property owner or not, expressed their appreciation for our efforts and were simply in awe at the outpouring of assistance that poured in from around the country,” said Baker.

Often, the volunteer’s job didn’t directly involve strenuous, physical labor, but entailed more listening than anything else.

“When we were working in the distribution center, I met a man who told me it was both the worst and best day of his life. When I asked him what he meant, he told me, ‘Well, I lost my home and everything in it, but my family is safe, and that makes it the best day.’ Priorities get rearranged real quickly when something like this occurs, and I think it was good for our younger church members to see that.”

Baker believes the destruction witnessed by himself and the other Ridgecrest volunteers, who spent a week in Joplin offering their assistance, will be visible for years to come.

“Thinking back on it, I am reminded of the sights and smells from that week,” he said. “The lack of color, the hot weather, itchy insulation, the awful smell of rancid meat, upturned and imploded vehicles, the absence of small animals. I’m also reminded of the firm handshakes, bright smiles, positive can-do attitudes and hope for another day with new beginnings.”


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