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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Joplin Disaster

By John W. Kennedy
July 31, 2011

The deadliest single tornado in more than six decades didn’t spare members of the Assemblies of God when it struck Joplin, Mo., on May 22.

With winds exceeding 200 miles per hour, the twister left 151 people dead and some 900 people injured. The tornado cut a six-mile-long, three-quarter-mile-wide swath through the southwest Missouri city of 50,000, damaging 8,000 structures along the way.

The storm reduced house after house to slabs, crushed vehicles like soda cans and unnerved survivors who roamed streets in search of missing family members. Massive damage occurred at St. John’s Regional Center, where six people died. The hospital had to be abandoned because of extensive damage. The twister destroyed a Walmart Supercenter and a Home Depot store, plus rendered Joplin High School unusable.

Kurt and JoLynn Coleman, who pastor Galena (Kan.) Assembly of God, four miles from the Missouri state line, said a 9-year-old boy who attended the church died at his Joplin home. JoLynn Coleman said Crystal Treadwell took shelter in the bathroom with her two children, shielding them with her body. A utility pole crashed through the house, bounced off the mother, and struck Zachary Treadwell, killing him instantly. Crystal and her 4-year-old son, David, sustained injuries but recovered.

The evening service at Faith Assembly of God in Joplin was minutes from starting when the tornado struck at 5:41 p.m., but staff and ushers directed attendees to a hallway behind the sanctuary to stay safe during the danger.

“When the tornado was hitting the church we had the most amazing prayer covering,” Associate Pastor Ron Cannon told AG News. “If you look at the church, it looks like a bomb hit us. God’s hand had to be sovereignly upon us as not one person in the church was injured.”

The cyclone tore the roof off the church and blew out windows and doors.

“Faith will not be able to use that structure again,” Southern Missouri District Superintendent Bill R. Baker told World View. “That building is gone.”

Until he toured Joplin, Baker said the worst devastation he saw was as a boy in Kansas. He fled with just the clothes on his back when a flood rose 32 feet in the family home in 1951.

“But this is the worst situation I’ve seen in my life,” Baker said. “It’s like a war zone. Businesses and homes leveled. Automobiles turned upside down and demolished. It was all I could do to keep the tears back.”

Iva Griffin, wife of Faith AG Pastor Larry Griffin, said 15 families in the congregation of 300 people lost their homes.

Cathedral Assembly in Joplin sustained roof, siding and window damage, Baker said. Second Assembly reported minor window damage.

Convoy of Hope, headquartered 70 miles east of Joplin in Springfield, Mo., immediately dispatched trucks with relief supplies. Within five days of the twister hitting, Convoy had established three distribution sites in the city, and given away half a million pounds of food, water and emergency aid.

“Many people in Joplin have supported Convoy of Hope over the years as we have responded to disasters,” said Hal Donaldson, president of the AG compassion ministry. “We will do everything in our power to help the people of Joplin recover from this tragedy.”

“It’s important for the church to extend its arms of compassion to those whose loves have been turned upside down by this incredible natural disaster,” AG General Superintendent George O. Wood said after touring the devastation.

Central Bible College in Springfield joined with the Southern Missouri District Offices in sending teams of relief workers to Joplin to help with food distribution, cleanup and assisting on-site shelters.

The Joplin tornado was the deadliest single tornado since the National Weather Service began keeping records 61 years ago. It proved deadlier than a 1953 twister in Flint, Mich., that killed 116 people.

Also on May 22, a tornado in Minneapolis caused extensive damage to Morning Star Assembly of God. Adherents of Victory in Christ AG, a Hmong church, were meeting in the Morning Star AG building when the tornado struck, with children in the upstairs nursery. Even though a portion of the roof was torn off the building, no one in the Hmong congregation was injured.

Louis and Gloria Walton, pastors of Trinity Tabernacle in Minneapolis, suffered severe damage to their home.

Later in the week, other tornadoes in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas left a total of 15 people dead. That batch of storms ripped the roof off Grand Assembly of God in Chickasha, Okla., and damaged the parsonage at Strawberry AG in Lamar, Ark.

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