Clearing a Path for Recovery,
Adventist Shares Gospel in Action
ASI member teams with disaster unit to help Joplin tornado victims
By Mark A. Kellner
, news editor
he devastating tornado that swept through Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011, left a trail of death, injury, and destruction in its wake. For one Seventh-day Adventist the cataclysmic disaster led to a new ministry.
“I enjoy getting my hands dirty and being able to impact people’s lives not just for the here and now but for the kingdom,” said Josiah Peterson, age 24, from D’Hanis, Texas. “It’s not in any way about me or the guys; it’s truly about advancing the kingdom of God.”
Peterson’s firm, Summit Landscape and Design, does construction projects in and around San Antonio, Texas, and he’s been active in Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries for several years, as well as in Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC), another lay ministry.
Volunteer Team: ASI member and contractor Josiah Peterson, second from right, with colleagues on the scene at the May 22 tornado's wake in Joplin, Missouri.
“It’s been neat to find a great portion of my identity within the church as a whole by what I’ve been able to do within ASI and GYC,” he said. “I’ve noticed that a lot of Adventist young people feel ‘disenfranchised.’ One thing ASI and GYC do is really encouraging growth in leaders.”
When the tornado struck, Peterson knew he had to get involved.
“We were there a week after the tornado hit. . . . There was just a massive amount of work to be done. To be able to respond directly and effectively, there’s a need to be [met],” Peterson said. Even though he and his team had “moved 1,500 cubic yards” of debris, the devastation was so great that “you couldn’t tell we were there,” he said, reflecting that an entire city was in ruins.
From this an idea grew: contact other Seventh-day Adventist contractors and form a network to assist whenever and wherever disaster strikes. Peterson is working with Joe Watts, Adventist Community Services’ (ACS) disaster director for North America, to help make that happen.
“While disasters are very dramatic and soak up a lot of time, from a contractor’s perspective they have [the means to help]; the church doesn’t have to buy heavy equipment that’s sitting and waiting,” Peterson said.
Watts, who joined Peterson in speaking with Adventist Review about the project, said the contractor’s effort dovetails with earlier ACS projects that trained volunteers in using chainsaws to help break down logs, trees, and other debris for removal after a disaster. That program is effective, Watts said, but can be aided by those with more sophisticated gear.
“What these contractors are bringing is the heavy equipment part of this puzzle, which can multiply the effectiveness of the chainsaw crew. They could pick up a much bigger log,” Watts said.
Heavy LIfting: Equipment such as the Bobcat bulldozer can help speed cleanup, Peterson, says.
Both Peterson and Watts emphasized that it’s important for volunteers to get specific training in disaster relief work and in how to assist during or after an event. Just piling in unannounced and uncoordinated can create problems for other relief teams in the area, they noted.
Once trained and integrated into a relief effort, Peterson said, the results can be tremendous. The people in Joplin whom he helped were very grateful for the help. He said that there were “people wondering how they were going to get a massive tree out of their yard, [while living] on a fixed income, [and we were able] to impact their lives in a way they didn’t have to pay for.”
The greater goal, he said, is to impact lives for Christ. “I now realize there’s really no limit to a vision and to what God can accomplish. Being able to go where God’s vision is, we’re at a point where we can respond. Being able to respond when the need exists gives my business a reason for being; it’s enabled me to say this is why we strive for excellence, so we can give back in a fashion worthy of the kingdom.”