POSTED ON JUNE 8, 2011:
A City of Compassion
Joplin tornado response testament to need for everyday empathy
On May 22, 2011 a massive F5 tornado devastated the city of Joplin, Mo. By now you've seen the pictures, watched the videos and heard the stories of the aftermath.
As I write this article there are 134 people confirmed dead with numerous others still on the unaccounted for list. The total is expected to rise.
I was living in Moore on May 3, 1999 when a massive F5 tornado cut a path a half-mile wide through the middle of the city. In fact, I was sitting on my roof watching it go by from about 4 miles away and was driving down the streets just minutes after the tornado hit.
I vividly remember the gruesome scene moments after the tornado and I will never forget watching people franticly searching for their loved ones. I can't imagine that feeling.
In the days, weeks and months that came, I watched a city, a state, and an entire country rally behind the people of Oklahoma.
I've witnessed a similar response to the Joplin tornado.
Drive down the street, open the paper or turn on the TV and my bet is that someone will be coordinating some sort of effort for the people of Joplin.
In fact, I've heard several reports that there are literally truckloads of food, supplies and clothing that are lined up ready to be distributed as needed. Restaurants, churches, bands, schools, baseball teams and others are rallying support to be a part of the healing and restoration process.
There were so many volunteers headed to Joplin in the first few days after the destruction that the traffic was congested and there was no way to properly organize the mass of volunteers.
The level of compassion has been incredible to witness. It truly is a testament to the goodness deep inside so many individuals and the desire to make a difference in the world.
Witnessing this amazing effort has caused me to contemplate our level of compassion we have for people between the natural disasters. There is no doubt that we can rise to the occasion in the face of a devastating tornado, or an attack like 9/11 or a Hurricane Katrina that ravages an entire city. What about the moments when the need is less obvious?
Over the last several weeks, people have clearly seen the need, "The people of Joplin are hurting, numerous people have been killed and they need our help."
Maybe the response is so incredible because the need is so obvious. Maybe it's because we can watch the videos of houses being destroyed, empathize with the innocent people losing everything and our hearts our broken.
I can't help but think: What if more people were willing to respond with this level of compassion to the needs they face everyday? The ones that never make the headlines. The ones that nobody may ever see but you. The ones that you and I run across almost every single day of our lives.
There's a passage in Luke 10 where a pharisee or teacher of the law tries to trap Jesus with a tough question. The pharisee asks, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responds by asking the man, "Well, how do you read it?"
The man responds by summarizing the law in a few simple statements: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27).
Pretty simple, right? Then Jesus goes into a story that we have come to know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here's where the rubber meets the road.
It's a story about a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who is attacked by robbers and left for dead. It's one of the moments that never made the headlines of the local paper, the lights were not shining bright, and there was nobody there to pat you on the back for your selfless act of service.
In fact, the Priest and the Levite, the equivalent of your local pastor, walks right by the man because they've got some pretty important religious duties that day. Maybe the lights weren't shining quite bright enough to stop and help that day.
The irony of this story that would have royally ticked off the pharisees and Jews of that day was that a Samaritan, a half-breed who was spit upon by the Jews, was the one who stopped. He not only stopped but he cared for the man and went the extra mile to provide for his future needs.
His faith moved him beyond mere compassion or empathy and turned into action.
I commend every person who has taken the time to do something for the people of Joplin. It truly is remarkable. I can't help but think about what our impact could be if we had this same compassion for our neighbor. What if we saw a need and out of our compassion it moved us into action? How would that change your little part of the world?
My prayer for you and for me is that God opens our eyes to see the needs that are all around us everyday. I also pray that you and I have a heart of genuine compassion that moves us into action. Last of all, I pray for the people of Joplin who have lost loved ones, homes and possessions. I pray that God would overwhelm them with peace, comfort, and love during these moments.
-(Matt Nelson is lead pastor at City Church)
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