By Coach Dave Daubenmire
I’ll never forget the hollow look in that woman’s eyes as she uttered those words to me.
There I stood on the back platform of our twenty-four foot box truck full of bread products that we had transported the nearly 800 miles from Columbus, Ohio to the disaster area that used to be Joplin, Missouri.
As is my custom, I was loudly encouraging the crowd that was standing in line in the Food 4 Less parking lot from which a group of volunteers was staging a free give-a-way of a variety of everyday needs necessary to live. From diapers to hand cleaner, feminine products to plastic gas cans, toilet paper to toothpaste, America had responded to their countrymen in need of living-supportive services.
Stop for a moment and try to imagine what it would be like if you lost EVERYTHING…I mean everything. You can’t, nor could I, until I saw it for myself. All day long they stood in line, quietly filling their yellow shopping carts with donated supplies, wondering where they would spend the night, and where to begin in putting their lives back together.
For thousands, life would never be the same.
“What did we do to deserve this?” The heartbroken woman asked this man wearing a hat with a cross on the front of it. “If there is really a God and He is good can you explain to me why He would allow this to happen?”
How do you answer that question to a hollow woman…one who lost her life’s possessions in sixty-seconds of swirling hell? It was the questions that this woman asked for the thousands who wondered the same thing.
What did we do to deserve this? My answer was weak, not because I am afraid to speak the truth, but because I didn’t want to drain what little strength she had. I offered to pray with her…and mentioned some cliché like “we just have to trust God.”
My response seemed hollow even to me.
I experienced the aftermath of Katrina. I ministered in Texas after Hurricane Rita. I have been to Ground Zero.
I have never seen anything like Joplin, Missouri.
It is especially disheartening because these folks are the backbone of America. They are the one’s who sent donations to those in New Orleans, and Haiti, and Japan. The heartland of America has a broken heart.
The images are forever burned on the hard drive of my soul. There is an old saying that “some things are better felt than telt.” It would be my prayer that these brief stories would somehow make the desperation real to you.
I saw a man standing alone by his car and he had that far away look in his eyes. I quietly asked him if he would like some free bread. He looked grievously through me and said:
“I am 58 years old and I have worked everyday of my life since I was 18 years. I have never had to ask anybody for anything. But right now, everything I own is in the trunk of my car.”
At least he has a car. A pastor friend of mine told me that there are over 10,000 families in Joplin who no longer have a car…that is families, not people.
Another pastor who we partnered with told us that while they all appreciated our efforts and our generosity he hoped that we would be available “down the road.”
“Everyone is here now. But the President is coming to town on Sunday, they will hold a big memorial, and then everyone will leave town having done their Christian duty. But this crisis is just beginning for us. We cannot even conceive of what lies in front of this town. When the shock wears off, reality sets in. We’ll need you more in three weeks than we need you today. Please don’t forget us.
I gave him my word that we would be back.
As I drove around I was struck by what it must have been like to have emerged from safety just minutes after the tornado had hit. To step out of your basement and look around…one would certainly think that he/she was the only one alive. Not a building standing, not a mailbox, not a tree that wasn’t broken in half, what stumps were left had the bark ripped right off of them, not a leaf on any tree, no neighbors…no neighborhood. Many had to use a GPS system to even locate where their homes used to be.
I could go on, but I won’t. The pictures and images on your TV do not do the disaster justice.
So let me bring it home.
I stood on a pile of debris that used to be someone’s yard, and I was deeply impacted by how much we invest in things that don’t matter. A family had spent their entire life collecting the pile of junk that I now stood on. The pile meant nothing to me. It had meant everything to them. How do you start over at 58?
Even worse, the pile in their yard wasn’t even their stuff. Their property disappeared somewhere up in the 18,000 foot debris field only to be deposited somewhere east of Joplin. The stuff in their yard was what someone west of them was looking for.
“What did we do to deserve this?” Here is the answer I wish I had given her.
“Ma’am, I am so sorry for what has happened to you. I can’t even pretend to understand what you are going through, but my heart goes out to you. I have no answer as to why God allowed this. But I do believe that God is sovereign and that nothing happens without His permission. As hard as this may be to understand, God is IN control of everything…but He does not micro-manage everything. Some things are just the natural consequences of life.
Jesus taught us that we must be ready, for at a moments notice we might find ourselves standing in eternity…because He sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust. At some point all of this stuff we have worked so hard to obtain will be taken from us. I never saw a moving-van following a hearse.
The message is clear, my friend. Tomorrow is promised to no man. You would be a fool to cling to what you cannot keep, to sacrifice what you dare not lose. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”
The only thing that ultimately matters is people.
“There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Luke 13
Because we live in a natural world it is easy to forget that we are a spiritual being. God is concerned about souls…the world cares about stuff.
James tells us “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
We are heading back to Joplin. It is a commitment we have made. Thanks to the 58 of you who donated last week. We raised enough to make three trips. I will be sending you a CD in the next few days as a token of our appreciation.
There is no need to go oversees for missions…the fields are white in Joplin, Missouri. Raise up a group and go. What a great time to be a Christian. ( Or, how about our friends in Tuscaloosa?)
Get right with Jesus. There is more coming. God has more disaster than FEMA has relief….
Coach Dave Daubenmire, founder and President of Pass The Salt Ministries www.ptsalt.com and Minutemen United www.minutemenunited.org, is host of the high octane Pass The Salt radio show heard in Columbus, Ohio.
In 1999 Coach Daubenmire was sued by the ACLU for praying with his teams while coaching high school in Ohio. He now spends his energy fighting for Christian principles in the public domain.