Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Miracle Delayed

By Simon Gonzalez, Samaritan’s Purse web editor

I wanted to call the story “The Miracle of the Jar”, but a colleague thought it was a little cheesy and perhaps a tad presumptuous. We went with “Hope In the Ruins” instead.

It was a good headline, descriptive of the story that followed.

It was about Mark and Amy Lankford, a couple I met when I covered the horrible tornado that devastated Joplin, Missouri, on May 22 last year. Their home was destroyed. Somewhere buried in the ruins was a pickle jar with receipts they needed in order to file insurance claims, or perhaps to receive assistance from FEMA.

At least, they hoped it was buried in the ruins. It was very possible that the jar had been shattered and the receipts scattered miles away.

Day after day, Mark and Amy returned to the remains of what had been their home and searched in vain. Then a Samaritan’s Purse crew arrived. While most of the volunteers searched, others joined the Lankfords in prayer. Amazingly, the jar was found.

Hope? Absolutely. Without question. A miracle? I thought so at the time.

But then came the rest of the story.

Mark and Amy did use the receipts to prove ownership. They received some money from FEMA, which they used to buy a new house…or so they thought. Instead of getting a new home, they got ripped off.

“The guy we were buying the house from took the money from us,” Amy told SP web writer Michelle de Carion, who visited Joplin on the one-year anniversary of the storm. “The house had been condemned, and he sold it to us when he wasn’t allowed to and took the money.”

It was another setback, one that suggested that the pickle jar not only wasn’t a miracle, but didn’t even represent hope.

“We have moved four times since we lost our house,” Mark said. “We lived with my parents for a while, and then we had gotten another house, but the rent was way too high and they had a bad pest problem, and it was messing with our lungs and allergies and everything. Then we got that other house that he scammed us on.”

The Lankfords and their two children moved into another rental house, but were barely making ends meet. The law of supply and demand had almost doubled the price of rent in Joplin.

“It’s pretty much been one negative thing after another since the tornado hit,” Mark said.

But Samaritan’s Purse didn’t leave after the disaster, and was committed to help people like the Lankfords who continued to struggle a year after the storm. We launched a home rebuilding program for tornado victims, and the Lankfords were invited to apply. After so many disappointments, they had a hard time summoning even a spark of hope.

“We kind of just thought it was them just being nice,” Amy said. “We didn’t think we would be approved, so the application just sat on the kitchen table. We thought there was no point in applying.”

But they completed the application, and the next time a Samaritan’s Purse staff member called, hope began to emerge in their lives again.

“He said he had good news,” Mark said. “I was at work, and I was just in disbelief. It was the coolest thing. It completely blew me away.”

Just as they did when the volunteers found the pickle jar, the Lankfords once again saw God at work.

“It’s a huge blessing to get the house,” Amy said. “I think this experience has brought us closer to God because we’ve had so many great experiences, and have met so many people who are close to God, making us want more of that. It’s made us stronger.

“We’ve learned God’s grace.”

Step one was being accepted into the program. Step two came late last week, when they received the deed to the land where their new home will be built.

Our staff presented the deed to the Lankfords in a pickle jar.

A miracle? Perhaps not. Hope? Absolutely. Evidence of God’s provision? Without question.