JOPLIN -- Humor can help ease tension, wipe away some stress and make a person feel better, even in the middle of tragedy. Greene County Baptist Association churches found a way to open that release to Spring River Baptist Association pastors still helping Joplin residents recover from the impact of a May tornado.
Christian comedian Dennis Swanberg, often called the "minister of encouragement," headlined a Christmas dinner event Greene County churches hosted for Spring River pastors and wives in Joplin on Dec. 12.
"We thought humor would be a good approach...after all Joplin had been through," explained Bob Perry, chairman of the Greene County association's pastor development team.
An EF-5 tornado cut a six-mile swath through the heart of Joplin on May 22, destroying the hospital, the high school, several businesses and churches, including Harmony Heights Baptist Church.
"I just want to say a big thank you to Greene County association.... They did a good job," Spring River Director of Missions Steve Patterson said. "Our pastors have gone through a lot of compassion fatigue... To have someone just come and love on them was a great thing....
"Their churches have been coming quite regularly to minister in our city, so this seemed a natural outgrowth."
The Greene County association traditionally has provided a Christmas banquet for its pastors and their wives, Perry explained. "But...the idea emerged that instead of just doing it for ourselves, we could do it for them [Spring River]," he said.
The team and association staff rallied Greene County churches. Then they sought donations from the Springfield and Branson business communities to provide gifts for each Spring River pastor and wife.
Several Greene County laypeople gave funds to help defray costs of food and other items. Springfield area pastors covered the cost of their own meals, with many of them serving as table hosts.
"The evening was about...the Joplin folks," Perry said. Every table was hosted, either by a Greene County church or by a Baptist institution, and each had a blend of people from both associations.
"The Joplin folks had opportunities to talk," he added. "Everyone there had been impacted by the tornado in pretty significant ways."
Listening ears helped the pastors. "All they need is someone to ask the questions.... It was a good outlet," Patterson said.
Joplin pastors weren't the only ones who benefited. An older couple, whose daughter attends a church of a different denomination in Joplin, had heard Swanberg was to entertain and asked if they could attend the event. Years ago, their son in Texas had given his father a Swanberg CD. The father enjoyed it so much that he catches the comedian's shows whenever possible.
Patterson watched as Swanberg prayed with the couple that night. "He led the couple to the Lord and really went up in my estimation."