Hope in the Ruins

May 28, 2011 • United States

Prayers are answered when a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer crew helps a couple find one of their important possessions after losing their home in the Missouri tornado

The house at 2416 Virginia is gone, wiped out by the massive twister that hit Joplin on May 22. All that remains is half a wall, surrounded by a pile of barely recognizable debris that used to be possessions, furniture, a roof, walls, flooring—the things that just a few days ago helped make up a happy home.

Mark and Amy Lankford lived here, along with their 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.

Mark and Amy have returned to the place every day since the storm, picking through the rubble to look for the one thing that for them represents hope for the future.

The Lankfords had a rent-to-own agreement. Mark put thousands of dollars of repair work into the house. But their claim is being disputed. Without his receipts and documents he has no proof. The papers were in a fragile glass jar, which might be buried somewhere under the jumbled ruins.

“We have to find that receipt jar to prove we’ve done the work on this house,” Mark said.

Every day, they’ve come to search. Every day they’ve returned to Mark’s parents’ home, empty-handed and a little more discouraged. The jar might never be found. It might not even be there. It might have shattered, the papers scattered miles away. The Lankfords are almost ready to give up hope.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” Amy said dully with tears in her eyes. “We have no plan.”

Samaritan’s Purse responded to the deadly tornado by sending a Disaster Relief Unit to Joplin. We set up a command center at Forest Park Baptist Church, a base for scheduling and equipping hundreds of volunteers. Our teams are working in devastated neighborhoods, making emergency repairs to damaged houses, removing fallen trees and debris, and helping homeowners salvage valuable possessions.

Joplin, Missourri tornado relief.A Samaritan’s Purse crew arrived Friday afternoon to help Mark and Amy, who attend Forest Park Baptist. With more storm clouds gathering on the horizon, they began to work, moving pieces of wood, picking through the debris. They found a frame with high school graduation and wedding photos, and pictures of the children. They uncovered other possessions with both real and sentimental value, but no receipt jar.

Fred Smith, the leader of the volunteer team, joined Forest Park lead pastor John Swadley and chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in praying with Amy while Mark joined the searchers. “Please God, guide them, direct their paths, show them where to look.”

The group’s amens were still audible when Mark reached down and moved a board. At his feet was the receipt jar, miraculously unbroken, still containing every precious paper needed to prove their claim.

Joplin, Missourri tornado relief.Amy hugged the jar to her chest. Here was tangible evidence of God’s goodness, of hope, of a future.

“Amazing,” she said. “Amazing. We had just finished praying about it, and they said here it is. It’s a miracle.”

Mark just shook his head, dumbfounded by what had just happened.

“I looked right there yesterday,” he said, “digging out stuff.”

With God, all things are possible.

“Within three seconds of our prayer, they found it,” Fred said. “That can only be God.”

The same God already had brought the Lankfords through so much.

Mark was home with the children when the tornado struck. They huddled in an alcove as the storm raged.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever heard,” he said. “They say it sounds like a freight train. Multiply that by 10 and you might come close.”

Joplin, Missourri tornado relief.

Mark prayed as the mighty winds tore apart the house. Debris rained down, but somehow he and the kids survived. He pushed fragments of wood away, and emerged to find the alcove was about all that was left of the house.

“I don’t know how we made it,” he said. “It was just faith in God.”

A man drove slowly through the neighborhood, looking for survivors. He offered to take Mark to his house. Mark needed to get the children somewhere dry and safe, and accepted the offer.

Amy had been at work at a mall a couple of miles away. She knew the storm had hit their neighborhood and was frantic with worry. She feared her family was dead.

She drove toward the house, detouring around downed trees and power lines. When she could go no further, she got out.

“I ran the rest of the way on high heels,” she said.

She arrived to find the home, Mark, and the children all gone. Did they get out? Were they buried somewhere under the rubble? Cell towers were down, and phones were useless. There was no way to find out if they were OK.

“I was scared,” she said.

Joplin, Missourri tornado relief.Three shelters were set up quickly for survivors. Amy anxiously went to them all to look for her family. She had to look at three dead children to see if they were hers.

Finally, over six hours later, phone service began to be restored. A text came through. Everyone was OK.

“I think God brought us through it,” Amy said.

They were alive, but without much hope. Then God intervened.

“I think it’s a blessing,” Amy said as the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers searched. “It’s amazing how many people have come to help.”

The blessing was multiplied a few seconds later when prayers were answered and the jar was found.

As Amy clutched the precious object to her chest, another miracle took place. For the first time in days, Amy smiled.