Franklin Graham and his son, Will, visited the tornado-stricken city of Joplin, Mo., over Memorial Day to encourage volunteers helping with Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, and to pray with survivors of the massive storm.
The May 22 monster tornado killed at least 139 people and left miles of destruction in its path. It is reported to be the deadliest tornado in the U.S. in 60 years.
"The community is literally ripped apart," said Will Graham, the grandson of Billy Graham and the third generation of Grahams to preach under the BGEA banner. "Nothing is left. The streets are wiped clean."
Franklin Graham said he was there to show the love of Christ to the people of Joplin in their greatest hour of need.
"They feel like they've been through World War III, just like an atomic bomb has exploded around us," said Graham, who is president and CEO of both BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse.
"So on Memorial Day, not only do recognize the veterans and those that have served our country and are serving our country presently but we want to remember the people of Joplin who have lost absolutely everything."
BGEA's Rapid Response Team chaplains and the Samaritan’s Purse's Disaster Relief Unit were among the first to respond to the Joplin tornado. Relief teams first arrived in Joplin Wednesday and set their base at Forest Park Baptist Church. In partnership with the local church, Samaritan's Purse has helped to mobilize volunteers in responding to the tornado recovery.
Over 830 volunteers spent their day off Monday trudging through storm-damaged areas, cleaning up debris, removing broken trees, and helping homeowners with house repairs.
During their visit to Joplin, the Grahams heard stories of triumph and faith.
"We met one 83-year-old lady who survived the tornado by hiding in a little closet with her pet and a picture of Jesus," said Will. "She was literally trapped in there until her son chain-sawed through the sheet metal to dig her out. But she was smiling and talking about her love for Jesus today."
One young man told the Grahams that his values were "upside down" before the tornado struck. He survived the tornado by hiding in a crawl space under his house. His close call with death helped him realize God spared his life.
"After his world was turned upside down," said Will, "this man’s values are now right side up."
Franklin Graham stressed that prayers are needed for the victims and volunteers in Joplin.
"The greatest thing we can do is pray," he said. "This community has been hit hard. This tornado will go down in the record books."
Since the past month, both organizations under Graham's leadership have responded to two other major storms – the tornado in North Carolina and the twister in Alabama.