The idea for Labor of Love came from Red Bus A in Israel, but the reality of it was born out of tragedy in Joplin, Missouri.
An EF-5 tornado struck Joplin May, 22 2011. 158 people died, more than 1,100 were injured, and the recovery cost $2.8 Billion, making it the costliest tornado in United States history.
The idea was a ‘family reunion’ for the original Red Bus A group and their families…a way to extend and rekindle the feeling of community that was so special in that special place. We wanted to find a way to pay it forward, to give back a small part the love and joy of which we’d had a glimpse. Several people who had not been on board Red Bus A had connected with us on social media by that time, and were interested in joining in. Joplin was selected as our place to meet up.
Ten months after the tornado, the work still to be done was massive. Hundreds of families were still living in FEMA trailers. The path of destruction seemed desolate, but new signs of the hope and resilience of Joplin residents could be seen as we gathered there on Easter Sunday 2012 for a week of service.
Most of the volunteers stayed on make-shift cots in the basement of a Joplin church, and we went to work. Some of our projects included:
- Planting trees in the Joplin cemetery where tornado victims had been laid to rest
- Providing several days of a hot meal for 70 children in an after school program whose families were impacted by the tornado, and providing a break for the church volunteers who had been doing this every weekday for almost a year.
- Assisting with the rehabilitation of an older home including excavation, electrical work, and carpentry. This home would then be made available to displaced Joplin residents.
- Demolished the plaster and lathe interior walls of another home in the early stages of rehabilitation.
- Sorted mounds of donated clothing, toys, and household items for a small non-profit thrift shop, enabling residents to purchase needed items at a low cost while raising money for Homes of Hope Joplin – an effort by two Branson women raised in Joplin to build affordable homes for displaced Joplin residents.
- Labor of Love volunteers also purchased and assembled display shelves and created a ‘children’s room’ within the thrift shop, including painting a wall banner for the room with bright artwork and messages of hope from Labor of Love children to the children of Joplin.
- Using more than 300 5-gallon buckets purchased by Labor of Love’s online supporters and donated to the City of Joplin, we mulched trees all over the city that had been planted by previous volunteers.
Every day, we cooked meals for our volunteers, church staff, and children in the after school program in the small kitchen in the basement of the church. We ate well, and found that the social time together was an integral part of the Labor of Love experience.
The symbol on our Joplin event t-shirt was important to us. In Israel, a Red Bus A rider who is a stained glass artist created a beautiful art piece that she carried to Galilee & Jerusalem by hand, and prayerful searched for the individual to whom it should be given. For Joplin, she created a similar piece, substituting the cross in the background with the image of the steel beam cross of Joplin, the only remnant of St Mary’s Catholic Church left standing. This became an iconic reminder of where people of Joplin could look for hope in the wake of a catastrophic time. The Joplin stained glass was given to the pastor of the New Creation Church where we stayed, as a symbol of the hope their congregation had continued to give to Joplin, to volunteers who came to help, and also to honor their ongoing support for Israel.
Our last two days in Missouri, we were joined by a film crew sent by Glenn Beck. They prepared a video segment with the children of Joplin who had experienced the tornado first-hand, which aired on GBTV’s Liberty Treehouse on the first anniversary of the tornado, and documented a few of our service project efforts.
Just several weeks prior to Labor of Love Joplin, another tornado struck near Branson, Missouri two hours away. The film crew wanted to visit Branson on their last day, but no service projects had been pre-arranged there. Even as the event started on Easter Sunday, we had 30 volunteers coming, but no idea what we would do on our last day of the event. What transpired in the search for a suitable Friday service project is a story in and of itself. Susan, Labor of Love’s co-founder and a Red Bus A rider, prayed with her family to be led to someone who needed help that Easter Sunday afternoon and what they found became another essential element of how Labor of Love seeks the individuals and families we serve. We now call it ‘Gator hunting’.
Additional photos of Labor of Love Joplin are available here: