Wednesday, May 25, 2011

photo: Aaron Fuhrman

I have two friends in Joplin, MO, the town where a mile-wide EF 5 tornado killed over 100 people on Sunday.  They and their families survived the tornado, and their homes were unharmed.

Both of my friends in Joplin are Christians.  I write this only because it provides an important backdrop for the rest of this post, not because I typically divide my friends by religion.  I occasionally do make this distinction but only when relevant, i.e. if the sentence ends with "at church the other day" or "was sacrificing a goat."

My friend Mark is the director of operations at the Tri-State Business Journal, and he is an active real estate investor and developer.  Recently, he has focused on renovating older properties in Joplin and encouraging artistic and entrepreneurial efforts to fill those spaces.  Mark has invested the last several years of his life into reviving and restoring a distinct and vibrant culture in Joplin.

My friend Brad is a pastor and church planter.  He has lived in Joplin for a total of one month, having moved from San Diego because he felt God was calling him to minister there.  His church was open, coordinating rescue efforts, and receiving volunteers before the sun had even set in the aftermath of Sunday's storm.

Both men have already taken active roles in rescuing, restoring, and rebuilding Joplin.

Their courage reminds me of a story of fourth century Christians who attended to the dying and impoverished when the plague ravaged an already war-torn and famished Caesarea.  City bishop and church historian Eusebius wrote:
All day long some of them would diligently persevere in performing the last offices for the dying and burying them (for there were countless numbers, and no one to look after them). While others [ie. Christians] gathered together in a single assemblage all who were afflicted by famine throughout the whole city, and would distribute bread to them all. When this became known, people glorified the God of the Christians, and, convinced by the deeds themselves, confessed the Christians alone were truly pious and God-fearing.  
-  Eusebius, The Church History, trans. Paul L. Meier (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 293 (quote accessed via Chris Castaldo)
Now, I know that the entire country, Christian and non-Christian, is pouring out tons of support for Joplin, so my intention is not to idolize Mark and Brad and claim they have done more to help than any others.  Instead, I simply admire their courage in staying a devastated town when they could easily flee to the open arms of friends and relatives in serene places not ravaged by destruction.

I picture the steadfastness of these two men against the prayers that most Christians pray.  We pray for safety, security, and wealth/blessing as if God were our push-over genie.  We bow down to idols of comfort and materialism and then ask God to bless our apostasy as though He approved of it.

I wonder if such character grew slowly out of lives being changed by Jesus or if they ever actually prayed that God would give them the strength to stand up even when it felt like the world was coming to an end.  I wonder why we spend so much time praying for the world not to end when it might serve us better to pray that God would make us the kind of people everyone could count on when the sky begins to fall.

Tonight, I am thankful for men I can look up to, hoping I am made from the same substance as them.

Godspeed, Joplin, MO.  God bless, Mark and Brad.
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If you want to donate to the relief efforts, you can send checks to:
Calvary Baptist Church
600 East 50th Street
Joplin, MO 64804

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