The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Columns

July 10, 2011

Rich Brown: Ozark Christian extending helping hand long after tornado’s impact

JOPLIN, Mo. — Many members of the Ozark Christian College family have counted their blessings in surviving the terribly destructive May 22 tornado in Joplin, but they haven’t stopped there.

From day one, since the tornado touched down, OCC has epitomized the essence of Christian love by turning its campus into a giant relief station, welcoming victims and volunteers alike.

The college lost no time after the storm in throwing open its doors to house at least 11 displaced families and dozens of current and former students from OCC. But that marked a beginning to what was to come.

The OCC multipurpose building has been turned into the American Red Cross Command Center. Hundreds of volunteers continue to fill the gym each day.

Dormitories and the cafeteria have been opened to volunteer work groups, structural engineers and Missouri Gas Energy personnel, with showers, beds and breakfasts provided free.

As the Joplin Family Y’s daytime childcare facility became flooded with displaced children, the college opened its Missions Building as an overflow site for them. OCC even provided a temporary office for a Christian doctor, whose work site was wiped out.

With the tornado destroying two churches, St. Paul’s United Methodist and Blendville Christian, OCC has provided a place of worship each week and will continue to do so until their sanctuaries are rebuilt.

All provisions have been made out of Christian love with no costs whatsoever to the recipients.

“We are convinced it is a good and right thing for us to do as members of a community in crisis,” said Greg Hafer, executive vice president at Ozark. “It is something we are able to do because of the goodness and faithfulness of our great God and the goodness and faithfulness of the extended Ozark Christian College family.

“In addition to providing facilities, we want our personnel to make every effort to serve those who are using the campus. We hope that this second-mile service can be a blessing to the community at large and that it will bear witness to the grace and goodness of our Lord Jesus.”

Faculty and staff members were permitted to leave their posts the first two weeks following the storm to help victims.

One of the biggest ways to help was to provide a place of refuge for those who lost their homes in the devastation. None set a better example than OCC President Matt Proctor. Even though the Proctor family is composed of eight members, they didn’t hesitate in taking in 14 more, including one family of 11.

Proctor and his wife, Katie, had a somewhat harrowing experience of their own on the night the tornado touched down. The Proctors were on a church outing with the children’s choir at a park in southwest Joplin when the sirens sounded. With 25 children loaded into vehicles, they left to find shelter, not knowing they were driving right into the tornado’s path.

Their caravan was forced to turn around when a large tree crashed within inches of their lead vehicle. They turned into the next driveway they could find. Racing to the house, they banged on the front door and were quickly greeted by an elderly couple, who ushered all to safety in their basement.

The Proctors found out later that if they had continued on that path, it could have been fatal. The twister’s first fatalities were a few hundred yards beyond where the tree had forced them to turn around.

The Proctors are not the only ones from OCC to have a close brush with disaster. Librarian John Hunter, his wife and granddaughter were about to have dinner on the night of May 22 when they heard the sirens. Taking cover in the bathtub, they held on for dear life.

“It was as if a giant were pounding the house with his fist,” Hunter would later write. “The swirling wind caused the entire house to shake and start to fall apart. The roof soon disappeared, throwing ceiling sheet rock and two-by-fours on top of my head.”

After the storm subsided, Hunter said he cleared enough debris to open the bathroom door. What greeted him was one remaining wall with a single painting still miraculously untouched. The painting, by Webb City artist Jack Dawson, bore the title “Peace in the Midst of the Storm.”

In addition to the current OCC family going the extra mile to aid tornado victims and volunteers, former employees, such as Ken Idleman, have stepped in, too.

Idleman, longtime OCC president before Proctor, took part in raising $50,000 for tornado relief at Crossroads Christian Church in Newburgh, Ind., where he is senior minister. About 135 workers from that church have been in Joplin this week repairing homes.

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Tornado: Columns