The last month and a half has really shown just how small our world really is. Volunteers have flocked to Joplin from all over the world and they have come motivated by a real and intense desire to help in some way. To them I say amen and God bless you.
With this many volunteers there is sometimes an eclectic feel to a town that before the tragedy was very much typical Midwestern in almost every way. One group that has volunteered their money, time and energy has brought a definite Cajun flair to Joplin. The folks from Gonzales, La., have been serving up jambalaya, red beans and rice, and other great Cajun dishes to the hungry volunteers stationed out of Missouri Southern.
A few weeks ago I received an email from Charlotte Guedry, editor of The Gonzales Weekly Citizen, asking me some questions about the area. I wondered how the heck she got my email and why is she asking me. The answer just illustrates my earlier statement of it being a small world. The week before I had talked with my good friend Doug Crews with the Missouri Press Association about another volunteer association, and apparently Charlotte had contacted him with some questions and he referred them to me.
I answered Charlotte’s inquiries as best I could and put her in contact with people in Joplin who could assist her. The next thing I knew, there were a bunch of Cajun cooks serving up some of the best jambalaya in the world. You see, these folks are serious about their jambalaya. I guess you have to be when you host the annual Jambalaya Festival and World Champion Jambalaya Cooking contest.
Every Memorial Day weekend since 1967, thousands of people have flocked to this small town located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. And they are not disappointed. The three-day festival offers up the best jambalaya you will ever taste.
My wife, Melody, and I volunteered a couple of Saturdays ago with the group and we were fascinated by the way they could mass cook 1,200 servings of jambalaya and yet be of world champion quality. That, my folks, comes from a lot of practice and a whole lot of dedication to the craft.
And, let me make it clear that the money to support their efforts came from the residents in and around the Gonzales area, and the people that came to cook took time off from their work and personal schedules to spend several weeks helping people they didn’t even know. What a great testimony. I don’t know if I will ever be able to make it to the actual festival itself, but I know that we sure appreciate them bringing a little bit of Louisiana to Joplin.
This is just one small story of the thousands that can and will be told over the next several years about how this tragedy has brought people together. The most amazing thing to me is how present God has been through this devastation. He uses people in ways that they cannot even fathom and brings hope out of despair.
Yes, it will be years before Joplin returns to some semblance of normalcy, and it will be forever changed by the tragic events of May 22, 2011. But, because of the outpouring of support from the world community, and the way the residents have handled this tragedy, the Joplin that rises out of the debris will be even stronger than before. That is the lesson that we need to remember and the legacy that will be left.
Kevin Wilson lives in Neosho. He is a former state representative.