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Joplin pastors deliver message of hope to tornado victims

Friday, June 3, 2011

St. Paul's United Methodist Church Pastor Rev. Aaron Brown delivers the message during the Joplin Community Memorial Service on Sunday, May 29. Brown's church lost its worship center and turned its children's area into a triage center following the EF-5 tornado on May 22.
By Michael Pommier

The Fort Scott Tribune

President Barack Obama was no doubt the keynote speaker during Sunday's Joplin Community Memorial Service, however, he was not the only one. The voices of three Joplin, Mo., pastors filled the air with prayer and a message of hope.

The First United Methodist Chancel Choir, under the direction of Larry Sanborn, sings "Hymn of Promise" during the Joplin Community Memorial Service. The choir also led the audience in singing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" as part of the ceremony.
Father Justin Monaghan, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Joplin, Mo., delivered the invocation for the service. The church he served in was destroyed during the EF-5 tornado on May 22. Monaghan sought shelter from the storm in his bathtub as the building collapsed around him, leaving little left of the church with the exception of the cross.

College Heights Christian Church Pastor Rev. Randy Gariss received applause and several "amens" from the crowd after his comment regarding Monaghan, "By the grace of God and a stout bathtub, he survived the destruction of the church of St. Mary's," he said. "And physically and metaphorically, the cross still stands."

Gariss read scripture from Romans Chapter 8. He addressed the audience in a reverent manner saying that the traditional greetings of "ladies and gentlemen" and "honored guests" simply did not fit the purpose of the service.

"When there is a deep shared pain ... a more tender language is birthed; words like friends, neighbors, family and brothers and sisters ... words like us," he said.

Delivering the message for the service was St. Paul's United Methodist Church Pastor Aaron Brown. Brown's church was also damaged in the tornado destroying about one-third of the building. He said that in the midst of the community sharing stories of struggle and triumph, he felt he should share his.

Following the storm, Brown, who lives just south of Joplin, Mo., drove as far into town as he could on his way to the home of one of his closest friends. After discovering his friends and family were okay, despite their home being a total loss, he made his way to the church on 26th Street and Monroe.

"I went out to the street and what I saw was that people were just running," he said. "I didn't know what else to do so I just ran alongside people and said, 'can I help you find somebody?'"

He said that for the rest of the night, he helped search for loved ones and pray for and with complete strangers during a tremendous time of tragedy.

"That night there was a lot of digging, hoping and praying, is what I remember," he said.

He went back to his church to find that the children's wing, which was still standing, had been converted into a triage center. He said that in the area where children worked on arts and crafts and learned about Jesus, just hours earlier, on tables converted into beds individuals were being treated, broken bones were being set and emergency surgeries were being performed.

Brown's message to the people of Joplin was that they are not alone. God is with them.

"We have all spent the last seven days looking for family and friends," he said. "We have all had those moments of unbelievable relief at hearing somebody's voice. We have had those moments of heart-sinking pain at hearing that somebody we know didn't make it."

Many people are left asking why God let devastation happen in Joplin, Mo., but Brown said that God is always there to be with the people through their time of struggle and pain. He said God has spoken to the families that have suffered the loss of loved ones saying that this is not the end.

"Death does not get the last word ... death doesn't win ... even when it looks like death wins, it doesn't. Death doesn't get the last word. Life wins," he said. "Jesus never promised to protect us from the storms of life. He never promised that life would be easy or convenient if we chose to follow Him. In fact, almost all of His disciples were tortured to death.

"God didn't do this to Joplin to punish us, read the book, Jesus took our punishment for us," Brown said. "God loves you, God loves Joplin ... and he will make a way where it seems there is no way."

The ceremony also included the singing of "Hymn of Promise" by the First United Methodist Chancel Choir. The choir also lead the audience in the singing of "Great is Thy Faithfulness" which was followed by a benediction by Monaghan to close out the service.

Missouri Gov. Jeremiah "Jay" Nixon also spoke at the service.

For more on Nixon's and Obama's remarks, see the June 1 issue of The Tribune.

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