USA (MNN) — Trees stripped of their bark. Communities leveled. Streets unrecognizable. The scene of last week's devastating tornado in Joplin, Missouri has had a chilling effect.
Mark Lewis is the director for Crisis Response with TouchGlobal, the humanitarian arm of the Evangelical Free Church of America. He and a team just returned from Joplin after assessing the damage.
"As we walked through a neighborhood that was just totally devastated," says Lewis, "there was a sense of heaviness, really. There were many, many properties that hadn't been touched yet."
Lewis says there were volunteers everywhere working on removing debris, but the process is slow going. Fortunately, TouchGlobal plans to be there for the long haul.
TouchGlobal is still developing plans for their long-term response, but their immediate work will all be coordinated through a local church called Mystery Church. Lewis says TouchGlobal is helping Mystery with renovations to better support volunteers for outreach.
Longer-term work will include debris removal and rebuilding. Lewis says the reconstruction aid is confusing–for instance, one church was supposed to be helping with cleanup for multiple homes, but soon discovered that the houses were actually being worked on by another group. Communication has been difficult.
Nevertheless, it does seem that churches are leading the relief efforts. "It's a great testimony for the city to see that, in large measure, the recovery efforts are being initiated and led through the local church," says Lewis.
The area is in desperate need of the assistance, too–not just physically for homes and buildings destroyed, but spiritually. People who have lost everything in a night are searching for hope that believers can give them.
"When the normalcy of life is disrupted, it really creates a mission field opportunity. People need hope, they're open to receiving; and when that comes in the name of Jesus, that's a real healthy thing."
Lewis says people have been grateful as teams have stopped to pray with them,
TouchGlobal will be sending out many short-term teams to help with clean up. Volunteers, a large amount of funding, and even new staff members will be needed. Find the best way for your family or church to help at www.touchglobal.org/tornado.
In the meantime, pray for Joplin tornado victims, as well as for victims of last month's Alabama and Mississippi disasters.
"We find that as new crises happen, whatever occurred just last month (one of the most deadly evening of tornado damage in the country's history in North Alabama and Mississippi) is kind of a forgotten issue. But there's going to be years worth of work there as well."