July 24, 2016

Partly cloudy

Working together to restore lives

MEDINA TWP. — On a hot July afternoon, members of a mission team from Cornerstone Chapel walked through a 150-acre hay field ravaged by a tornado that swept through Joplin, Mo., on May 22.

With waves of heat shimmering around them and the sweet scent of broken corn stalks beneath their shoes, the members of the mission team carried black plastic garbage bags and scanned the ground, bending to pick up debris left in the storm’s path: crumpled roofing material, pieces of insulation deadly to the cattle that grazed in the surrounding pastures, canceled checks, an X-ray of a hip, a doll’s dress.

And photographs. A baby’s dimpled smile. School pictures. Family gatherings. Children’s birthday parties. The stuff of family photo albums. Pieces of everyday lives torn apart by a twister more than a mile-wide that cut a swath through Joplin and stayed on the ground for 40 minutes and 22 miles.

“We looked across the fields when we came and pictured people without homes and food and clothing, and now we picture the farmer whose every aspect of his livelihood has been affected,” said Rachel Schmidt, 25, a church member from Litchfield Township. “He can’t harvest the hay, can’t feed it to the cattle, can’t pay his mortgage.”

They took the photos back to the Joplin Family Worship Center, where they were scanned and posted online on Facebook for those who might be searching for beloved and irreplaceable moments in time.

Picking up treasures and trash was one of many tasks the mission team undertook.

Led by Tim Bracker, missions director at Cornerstone Chapel, the team of 12 adults and four youth ages 13 to 16, packed their bags and the prayers of the congregation into four vehicles on July 17 and set off for a week of relief work at Joplin Family Worship Center.

Chris Holowaty, assistant pastor of Cornerstone Chapel, coordinated arrangements for the group’s housing and meals with his friend Wes Davis, pastor of Riverton Friends Church just across the state line in Kansas.

“There were at least 100 people working at the church (in Joplin), but other jobs, like construction, were posted,” said Joe Sullivan, of Medina. “There were people from all over the United States there to help out: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, New Mexico, Idaho. Someone drove a truck from California and felt led to give the pickup (to one of the Joplin residents). It was incredible seeing how people reached out.”

In addition to clearing the field, the Medina delegation sorted and distributed clothes and shoes and handed out cleaning supplies, water and food, all of it donated.

“They (at the Worship Center) give them more than they need, load ’em up, bless ’em, and they go out knowing they’re taken care of,” Medina resident Cindy Augustine said. “There was no holding back supplies. They trusted that tomorrow there would be more.”

“We were human shopping carts,” said Sullivan’s son, Joey, 13, the youngest member of the team, explaining they helped carry items through the selection lines and to peoples’ cars.

“People were very humble,” said Angel Perron, who made the trip with her children, Jon Sedlak, 14, Tati Sedlak, 16, and Sarah Perron, 14, all of Strongsville. “They didn’t want to take too much. These were people who had lost everything, but they wanted to make sure there was enough for everyone.”

At first, Perron said, the kids weren’t sure that sorting clothes was really helping, but by the second day, “they did see that they were making a difference, that they were helpful to someone.”

“The families looked weary, tired,” said Amy Holowaty of Medina. “I’m thinking here they are, in an impossible situation, and I just wanted to hug them, to give them energy.” It pained them, she said, when they couldn’t find what they needed, like work boots for the men, as they climbed over boxes and bags to search for items.

Team members continued to pitch in by doing practical jobs throughout the week, like sorting and cleaning files and stuffing envelopes for two businesses in Joplin’s downtown area. But they also helped in ways measurable only by the heart, listening to the stories of survival and hope.

“We were in a place where all the street signs had been ripped away, the houses on the streets, gone,” Bracker said. “People looked around and said, ‘I think this is where I lived.’ They had to paint the names of streets on the pavement at the intersections.”

An older couple in their early 70s, Sarah and Winston, came to the church so “they could be in a place where people were loved and helped,” Amy Holowaty said. “His wife had a hard time asking for help. She was used to taking care of him,” but now she needed assistance. “It was an opportunity to share resources, to see the community rallying around people in need.”

“One woman appeared very stoic when she came to the center for supplies,” said Chris Holowaty. “She didn’t want to talk until we reached the car, then she broke down, thanking us. What I thought was anger was her trying to stay in control of emotion.”

Chris Holowaty said he gently told her, “I know you’d do the same thing for us. We’re not super-human. This is just the kind thing to do.”

“These people could be my neighbors going through this trauma,” Amy Holowaty said. “This was my first domestic mission trip, and it was just as powerful as going overseas. These are people just like you and me, but they’ve lost everything.”

It was a week of faith, of no denominational differences as volunteers worked side by side. Each day ended with dinner, debriefing and worship, with the Medina group leading a Wednesday evening service at Riverton Friends Church to thank them for their hospitality.

“We were one body of Christ working together,” Chris Holowaty said. And for a little while, those on mission become the hands and feet of Christ.

“Doing mission work, you don’t realize the impact that can have,” Bracker said. “Just small things can make a difference.”

Cornerstone Chapel continues to collect items that will be taken to Joplin. A date has not been set to transport the donations. A list of needs can be found online at Hope4Joplin.org. Cornerstone Chapel is located at 3939 Granger Road. For more information, visit www.impact-joplin.blogspot.com or call (330) 723-3334.

Contact Judy A. Totts at jatotts1701@gmail.com.