Joplin Diary 1: Picking up the pieces of life

Claiming 151 victims, the deadliest tornado to hit the United States in 64 years changed the face of Joplin, Mo., on May 22. After this spring’s catastrophic weather fades from memory, media accounts of the seven days of storm damage across 18 states in late May will probably begin to look a lot alike for those spared by it. But those whose houses and property were torn apart have miles and years to go before they pick up the pieces of their lives. Their stories are full of sadness, for sure, but also much hope and thankfulness.

David Scott, a 1994 graduate of Abilene Christian University, lives in Carthage, Mo., with his wife, Whitney, and their two children. David and Whitney own Whitney Scott Photography, a boutique studio with a number of clients who were affected by the tornado. Carthage is a few miles northeast of Joplin.

With her permission, we begin a series of five posts this week to give you insight through Whitney’s photography and words about a few of their friends and the, well, the amazing grace by which they were spared further harm.

It is hard to know where to begin.

Our town carries the scars of a battlefield.

Our local college has become a shelter for those displaced, rows of cots covering the gym floor. Lines of fans at the ticket booth have been replaced with lines of people who wear everything they own on their back, waiting for a plate of food given with kindness. Churches have become distribution centers, stacks of bottled water, diapers and toothbrushes sorted into mounds for those in need. Prayers offered, hands held … nothing seems adequate to cover the pain.

We are all glued to the television, internet radio – as though having more information will somehow make us better prepared, but for what, I don’t know.

First, the good news. All our loved ones – church friends, family members and clients are safe and accounted for. There are many stories of “if we had gone to Walmart last instead of first” or “if we had taken shelter in the closet instead of the bathtub.” Many people are thankful to God for protecting them from harm. Many are angry at God for what they see as a lack of protection. It seems in tragedy there are always more questions than answers, and for every inspiring story there is another of incredible heartache.

It is easy for this event to seem far too big, to just call it a big swath of destruction … to depersonalize it so it doesn’t feel so painful. Perspective is easily lost. Here are some people who will help you keep it.

Joe and Michelle had been married just three weeks when the tornado destroyed their home. They lost the wedding gifts, wedding dress and custom guest book with the signatures of more than 300 friends and family. The last-minute decision to visit his family in a nearby town likely saved their lives.

In a good news update: The album company that made Joe and Michelle’s guest book is replacing it for free, as well as the lab that printed their engagement photos. They have moved into a new home and are currently being showered with everything they need. When they went back to their destroyed home, they were able to pull their beloved dog from the rubble. She was buried under a wall – still in her kennel … which likely saved her life. Another find in a neighbor’s yard? Michelle’s wedding dress. Very dirty with a few rips, but a precious reminder of what remains.

Thank you for the prayers you have said for our community. Thank you for the donations you’ve made or are considering making today. We will be needing both … for quite some time.

The Mount Hope Church of Christ in Webb City, Mo., is serving as a distribution center for those affected by the tornado and is accepting cash donations here.

According to our records, 27 ACU alumni live in or near Joplin: Crista Austin, Kenneth Boles, Francisco Bonilla (Webb City, Mo.), Treavis Broaddus (Webb City, Mo.), Denny Brummett (Sarcoxie, Mo.), Gerald Chrisman (Carthage, Mo.), Jeanie Cline (Carthage, Mo.), Paul Cline (Carthage, Mo.), Maureen Dunaway (Carthage, Mo.), Josh Edwards, Dr. Carolyn Hale (Saginaw, Mo.), Mike Kelly, Dr. Tom Lawson (Webb City, Mo.), Ralph and Sheri Madill (Carthage, Mo.), Nick Meyer (Carl Junction, Mo.), Valenda Moore (Carthage, Mo.), Jim and Donna Murray (Diamond, Mo.), Anna Radomsky, Paula Roberts, Mark Smith (Carthage, Mo.), Julie Williams, Jay Young (Webb City, Mo.), and Dr. Gary Zustiak. We’d like to know they are well, so if you have news from them, please share it here or by emailing


2 responses to “Joplin Diary 1: Picking up the pieces of life”

  1. Dr. Gary B. Zustiak Avatar
    Dr. Gary B. Zustiak

    I was reading in the ACU Today online piece on the Joplin, MO tornado and saw my name listed as an alum of ACU. Indeed, I am a proud 1994 D.Min graduate and I am currently serving as the Head of the Psychology and Counseling Department at Ozark Christian College. I have served as a Professor at OCC for over 20 years.

    Just to give you a quick update, my family was not injured in the tornado. We had about 10 people sheltered in our basement when the sirens went off and we all escaped without any personal injury or damage to the home. Immediately after the tornado passed through I was involved in searching for survivors related to our neighbors. You cannot imagine the scene we entered into in your wildest imagination. People were walking the streets in shock or sitting in front of their homes that had been reduced to rubble. St. John’s Hospital, the largest building in Joplin was on fire in the distance. Where there was once dense neighborhoods and tree-lined streets, there was now nothing–absolutely nothing. The very bark of the trees had been stripped off and blown away in the wind.

    But in the midst of such tragedy there have been many stories of kindness, sacrifice and reaching out. The churches in the community have really stepped up and are serving as shelters and distribution points. Church groups from around the nation have driven in to volunteer in the removal of debris and in the distribution of needed supplies.

    Please continue to uplift the community of Joplin in your prayers.


    Dr. Gary B. Zustiak
    Psychology and Counseling
    Ozark Christian College
    1111 North Main
    Joplin, MO 64801
    417-624-2518 ext 2715

    1. Ron Hadfield Avatar
      Ron Hadfield

      Thank you for responding; so glad you and yours are well!

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