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Alums write of Joplin’s challenges, blessings

Among the approximately 7,000 families displaced by the May 22 tornado in Joplin, Mo., are two Abilene Christian University graduates who are taking time to write of their experiences on personal blogs.
Anna (Radomsky ’07) Edwards, a social worker by profession, is seeing first-hand the challenges and blessings of a community still under siege by a natural disaster. The May 22 tornado in Joplin destroyed an estimated one-third of the southwestern Missouri city, including her house (see before and after photos above). News reports estimate half of the 7,000 newly homeless people did not have adequate insurance to replace their house and belongings. Aid is beginning to flow in, but homeowners still have to pay for the excavation of their homes, and many now unemployed do not have the funds to pay for formal demolition costs.
She and her husband, Josh (’06 M.A.C.M.), are finding love and support in their home congregation, even though the houses of 90 member families were destroyed. They have recently found a furnished apartment, and although Anna lost her job as a contract social worker because of the storm, Josh’s employer has made generous accommodations for him in the interim.
Anna has started a blog, Tornado Blessings, with heartrending accounts of her and Josh’s news and personal reflections on their circumstances.
On the moment when Anna returned from vacation to search for her house:

“I drove to Joplin for the first time since Saturday, May 21, 2011.  … I knew that I would need some moral support and called a friend to come and be with me as I went to where my house was. As I drove into town, the debris was on both sides of the highway at mile marker 18 on Interstate 44, headed east. Joplin is at mile marker 8. The damage started at mile marker 13. Once I got to Joplin, it was pretty unscathed. When I got into town, I crested the hill at 32nd Street and it was completely different than I left it. It was damaged until 28th Street and then there was nothing, only debris and tree limbs. I started praying for God to just get me through that moment and reminding myself to breathe. I met my friend and drove to within two blocks from my address. We walked the next two blocks. There were 100-year-old trees that were pulled out of the ground at the roots. The roots were taller than I am tall; I stand 5 feet 2 inches tall.  Everything is gone  … EVERYTHING. I walked holding hands with my friend, tears rolling down my checks in utter shock. The devastation is immense. There are not enough words to describe the decimation. It is gone for more than three miles in a one-mile strip wide. What else is there to say? Nothing. Nothing at all.”

About recently hearing from a former ACU student:

“I was truly honored today by a former student … I was a student advisor for freshmen at Abilene Christian University one year and provided counseling to the students I worked with. One of these students contacted me today and it humbled me to tears. She wrote, ‘I am so humbled by your strength, bravery, and courageousness … I pray that you continue to inspire people with bravery and blessings through your blog …’ I am truly touched. I do not feel strong. I feel ‘lost’ which is not the right word but I do not know what else to say. I did not start this blog for recognition, but wanted it to be a way for people to see hope in this awful time. Why else would any crazy person title their blog about a tornado experiences with ‘blessing’? This is not the only person that has contacted me. I want to say a huge yet not quite large enough ‘Thank you’ to all that have contacted me from Facebook, phone, text, email, and here on my blog. I am so appreciative of everyone, from the person who hands out water and food on the street when I am hungry to the person who gives us money to the person who is praying for us throughout this entire ordeal. Every one one of you is important to my mental health and stability right now and I would be a puddle on the ground without you.”

Anna’s husband, Josh, wonders aloud on his blog about how to clear their lot, which includes a basement:

“… there are a lot of things that happen in natural disasters that you would never think of. Here’s one of the things I’m trying to figure out – how do I get my lot cleared? I will probably choose not to rebuild, and so I will be the owner of a very cluttered small plot of land in Joplin. It has a basement. How do I get that filled so that I’m not liable for someone falling into it and getting hurt? I don’t honestly know that, but since there are lots of other people in the same predicament, I’m hoping someone else can help with that.”

Jay Young (’88) of nearby Webb City, Mo., reports that he is safe, but the needs of displaced families change frequently, also in ways few ever imagined:

“The wolves have gathered as well – looting, looting, looting. The wolves in sheep clothing have also arrived – storm-chasing contractors and car salesmen. It’s a crazy world out there. FEMA is finally fully engaged and helping people who didn’t have insurance. Money is flowing like a waterfall from insurance companies into the hands of ill-prepared consumers who have entire lives to rebuild. Counseling, education and good advice are in short supply, but people who will listen are in shorter supply.”

According to Young, collection centers are overrun with goods. Jobs are in high demand because many businesses were damaged or destroyed, causing many employees to be unemployed as well as homeless:

“Anybody who was renting and didn’t have renter’s insurance or auto insurance is going to feel it first or already has. Most people I have contact with just need emotional support and friendship and the occasional cash influx, based on very specific needs. I would encourage people to give money to groups that have feet on the street and are talking to people affected, rather than stockpiling. Our folks are working outward from families in the church in the disaster area, to their neighbors, and so on.”

Among area congregations with robust outreach ministries are the College Heights Christian Church, where the Edwards family worships, and the Mount Hope Church of Christ in Webb City, Mo.
Read the series of related posts on the ACU Today blog by David (’94) and Whitney Scott.