Two years later Joplin tornado survivor ministers in Moore

Oklahoma Tornado 7477

By Tobin Perry

MOORE, Okla. – Gary Hunley had seen it all before. As he looked around at the carnage left behind from last Monday’s EF5 tornado in Moore, Okla., he saw an all-too-familiar scene—overturned cars, metal sign posts bent to the ground and houses reduced to rubble.

Almost two years to the day before the historic Moore tornado, Hunley’s home was destroyed by an equally historic tornado in Joplin, Mo., which killed 158 people. Since that tornado, Hunley—the leader on his Spring River Baptist Association Disaster Relief team—has participated on numerous Southern Baptist Disaster Relief responses. Yet because of the amount of damage caused by this tornado, the Moore assignment has brought back a variety of memories.

“I understand it,” Hunley said. “I saw it yesterday for the first time. It was like Joplin. The scene, the smell, the look on people’s faces. Some are trying to be uplifting and act like everything is okay. They’re hiding it though. I can see it on their face. I feel so sorry for them.”

Hunley and his team of three Missouri Baptists were among hundreds of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers in Oklahoma serving in Moore and Shawnee, Okla., following recent tornadoes. A tornado hit Shawnee on May 19, killing two. Southern Baptist volunteers have ministered to the practical and spiritual needs of Oklahoma residents by removing fallen trees and other debris, searching for personal items, putting tarp on roofs and counseling survivors—among other tasks. Southern Baptists from nine state conventions have participated in the effort— Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas-Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, the Southern Baptists of Texas and Texas Baptist Men.

As of the end of the day on Saturday, Southern Baptists have logged a total of 972 volunteer days, prepared more than 30,000 meals, presented the gospel 47 times and distributed 278 Bibles.

“I believe the Lord blesses some people to preach,” said Shad Schlueter, a member of First Baptist Church of Lockney, Texas, whose northern Texas disaster relief chapter participated in a variety of cleanup activities in Moore since arriving last Thursday. “I’m not blessed that way, but He did give me two hands to work. I believe the Lord sent me here to do this. It’s my witness to people.”

On Saturday Hunley and his team helped a Moore couple find irreplaceable memorabilia they’d given up for lost. Besides items being buried in rubble, much of it has also been strewn hundreds of feet—if not miles—away from their owners’ houses. The young couple thought they’d found everything possible amongst the rubble.

But thanks to the Missouri team homeowner Jill Thompkins found a tub of photos of her with her dad. Since the tub had a lid on top, all of the photos were saved.

“I’m so grateful,” Thompkins said. “It’s so amazing how people have come from all over to help us. I’m so thankful because no one can do this kind of stuff by themselves.”

The Missouri team—who all lived near Joplin—leaned on their personal experiences to minister in Moore. Floyd Morris, of First Baptist Diamond, Mo., got an opportunity to share his faith in Christ with a renter who lived across the street from Thompkins. The renter had no insurance, wanted no help and expressed bitterness to God as he cleaned up the property.

“I told him that the anger was a part of the grieving process,” Morris said.  ”It’s going to get better, so much better.”

Though Morris had been trained for disaster relief work for some time, he hadn’t been able to go on other trips because of work. He says recently his pastor challenged him: “You don’t just train; you go out [and serve]!”

“I told [my boss] that I don’t want to quit you, but this is a God-thing,” Morris said. “I don’t question my Lord, and He is telling me to go. This hurts. You come in here and see this and it’s Joplin all over again.”

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers—including chaplains—and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published May 28, 2013