By Scott Meeker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Break time was approaching, but Keith Duncan wanted to make one last concentrated push in order to get the large Penske truck unloaded.
“Two minutes, people! Two minutes!” he yelled as the students and adults hauling large wooden sections out of the truck began picking up the pace.
The boards and frames had been spray-painted and numbered to identify where they needed to go. Some were set off to the side, others carried onto the foundation. Once the truck was emptied, the real work was set to begin: putting all of the pieces together to build a house.
Since February, members of the youth group at the First United Methodist Church in Elgin, Ill., have been working on a house for a Joplin resident who lost her home in the May 22, 2011, tornado. The sections of the house were put together in the church basement and were brought to Joplin over the weekend.
The group arrived Monday morning at the work site in the 1300 block of East 24th Street to begin the assembly.
“We have 49 people in the group, with about a 1-to-1 ratio between students and adults,” said Duncan, leader of the Elgin youth group. The age range of the group is 9 to 70.
“We’re anticipating that we should have the walls up by the end of (Monday), put the roof on tomorrow, work on the shingling and siding Wednesday and Thursday. And depending on how everything works out, do insulation and electric work on Friday.”
Duncan said a major emphasis of the trip is to remind the youth group members of the importance of service and mission.
“The three main goals I’ve talked about on this trip is building relationships, building our faith in God and building a house,” he said.
Once the group departs for Elgin on Saturday, electricians, plumbers and other staff members with Rebuild Joplin will see the project to completion. Duncan said he hopes to a have at least a few representatives from the church return to Joplin for the dedication ceremony, though a date for that has not been set.
Sarah Hansen, 15, has returned to Joplin for the first time in two years.
“The first time we were here, we had come from a previous mission trip and stopped here for two days in addition,” she said. “All the houses were rubble. We had to move (the debris) from where it was to the curb so that the Bobcats could take it somewhere else.”
Hansen said she didn’t have any previous construction experience, but as the two-by-fours and other materials began to arrive and work got under way, she learned a lot. She said she was happy to finally be back in Joplin to see it come together.
“The experience of helping someone get their house back,” she said, is the best part of the trip, “and bonding with my youth group.”
The trip marks the fourth time that youth group member Cole Krameer has come to Joplin.
“We did a lot of siding and rewiring, and built stairs (on previous trips),” the 15-year-old said.
“The first time Keith told us about this, I thought he was insane. But after a while, it seemed to make sense. It seemed like a big step, but it also seemed like the next step. We’re taking several tons of wood and turning it into a house. ... I think it’s going to be awesome.”
Working side by side Monday with the members of the youth group was Emily Morrison, who will be the recipient of the church’s generosity.
Her home, which was just east of the construction site, was destroyed by the tornado. She learned about the project in February.
“When I found out that the church in Elgin would be building a home, I was put on a conference call with the organizers,” she said. “They told me, ‘Your house is already almost built. We’ve already got the exterior framework done.’
“To hear that they had already gone so far so fast was jaw-dropping.”
Looking around at the people unloading supplies and the work that was under way, Morrison said it was an “absolutely amazing” sight.
“I knew this would be happening in the abstract, but to see it is completely different,” she said.
After the unloading was completed, the youth group members gathered in the shade to cool off and hear some quick announcements.
Robert Sathuri, senior pastor at the Elgin church, introduced Morrison to everyone. Once a stranger, he said, she is now considered part of the church family.
Sathuri said the project has been a large undertaking, with a lot of people “putting their shoulder to the wheel” for a worthy cause.
“We as a culture, once we see a tragedy, everyone rushes to the scene,” he said. “Down the pike, things slow down and help moves to other needed areas. We decided we were going to stay committed to Joplin.
“We felt the tug of God in our hearts. God births the vision, and it’s left to the people to run with that vision.”