The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Columns

July 29, 2011

Rich Brown: Mission continues

Aid to tornado victims, volunteers still going strong at Forest Park

JOPLIN, Mo. — When it comes to helping tornado victims, Forest Park Baptist has been on a mission. What’s more, the Joplin church shows little signs of slowing down nearly two months after the vicious tornado touched down.

Mission Joplin, as Forest Park has so aptly named its program, continues to serve more than 100 families a day after kicking off the project in the wake of the May 22 storm.

With the growth that the mission demanded because of the overwhelming destruction, the church converted a former bus barn into a supply warehouse, along with its Woman’s Missionary Union and children’s buildings.

“They are all part of Mission Joplin now,” said Greg Atkinson, who is in charge of media relations as well as campus pastor at Forest Park in Carthage.

Forest Park, a multi-site church, has three locations. In addition to the main campus at Seventh and Range Line and at 430 W. Elk St. in Carthage, there is the North Campus at 5898 N. Main St. (Stone’s Corner).

“The night of the tornado we had people coming to the church seeking shelter and asking for help, so it was all hands on deck for us,” said Atkinson, who took over the Carthage pastor’s job about a month before the tornado struck. “All pastors and staff worked straight through without a day off during that first two weeks.”

Atkinson, a native of Greer, S.C., sat down with other senior leaders of Forest Park two days after the tornado to iron out a plan of action.

“We divided up all the work that was going on and planned what needed to happen as far as disaster relief,” he said. “We assigned two pastors to each area. Not only did we need to provide meals to the Samaritan’s Purse group but, also, we were giving out thousands of meals to victims and volunteers in the community.”

Forest Park has established a partnership with Samaritan’s Purse, a Franklin Graham international Christian relief and evangelism organization, which has set up its headquarters on the Joplin campus.

To say Forest Park has had a lot of outside help would be an understatement.

“We have had people from all 50 states come here to volunteer,” Atkinson said. “We have a map of the United States in our church and people would color in their state when they came here to work. Eventually the whole map filled up.

“Missions teams have come from churches around the country, stayed here at our church and then gone out to help with Samaritan’s Purse.”

Graham, son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, has committed Samaritan’s Purse to helping Joplin for a full year, according to Atkinson.

“It is an amazing ministry,” Atkinson said. “What they will do next is start rebuilding homes. They rebuild homes for people who have no insurance and will be doing that for the long haul.”

Mission Joplin, referred to as a place of healing, hopes and help, operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

A pastor’s role cannot be overstated in such a catastrophe as Joplin’s.

Atkinson, 35, may have faced his biggest challenge of his ministerial career when he was passing out food in the community just two days after the tornado struck.

“I happened to come across a home that was demolished and missing a 12-year-old son,” he said. “Right when I came walking up a man who had found the boy came to deliver the bad news. He told the mom, ‘I was just at the hospital with your son and he didn’t make it.’”

Then, the mother called all those who had been digging for the boy’s body over to tell them the news. A neighbor then turned to Atkinson and asked him for prayer.

“That was one of those moments when I didn’t even know what to say,” he said. “People think that pastors are always prepared. I have three kids. My oldest is 10 and I cannot imagine losing a child at 12 years old. I was almost speechless. I just prayed that God would give them peace, comfort and strength and that He would be near them in this time of trouble. I hugged the mom and gave her the number of our church in case she needed to call us.”

Anyone needing information on how to donate to Mission Joplin should visit the website at www.fpbc.net or call the church at 623-4606.

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