JOPLIN, Mo. (BP)--Pastor John Swadley was still huddled in the crawl space under his house when he began forming the plan for Forest Park Baptist Church's response to the tornado.
Swadley and his family carried a radio with them as they took cover the night of May 22. The local station soon began feeding live reports of the tornado's destruction. They were spared. Joplin was not.
"I knew at that time we were dealing with a disaster of major proportions," he said.
Forest Park is now at the heart of the national relief effort for Joplin. The church is coordinating food, volunteer assignments and donations in the aftermath of an EF-5 tornado (winds of more than 200 miles per hour) that killed at least 125 and injured 750, with 9 rescued and an unknown number of people still missing.
The National Weather Service reported it was the eighth deadliest tornado in U.S. history. President Barack Obama is planning on visiting Joplin Sunday.
"We are just helping people like Jesus would," Swadley said. "We are being the church and offering help, hope and healing."
Forest Park's main campus, which runs about 1,000 in Sunday worship, is just a few blocks north of the storm-damaged area in Joplin. The unharmed church building is perfectly situated to serve as a base of operations for relief efforts.
Response began just minutes after the storm as Swadley used his Facebook page to help family and church members find each other. Church leaders determined Monday morning the most urgent need was for food. Hot meals are being prepared in the church kitchen. Forest Park members are also loading sandwiches in the church van and delivering them to people in the city. Read More