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The Art of Being a Good Neighbor: The National Disaster Photo Rescue Organization

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 2, 2022 3:00 am

The Art of Being a Good Neighbor: The National Disaster Photo Rescue Organization

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 2, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, where would our photos go if our house were to be hit by a tornado? The answer is everywhere. But for Thad Beeler's neighbors, that question wasn't a was grounded in harsh reality after the deadly May 2011 Joplin Tornado...and Thad decided to do something about it.

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Visit This is Lee Habib and this is our American Stories. The May 22, 2011 Joplin tornado remains one of the costliest tornadoes in American history.

Despite this, the disaster brought out the best in many people wanting to help in any way they could. One of those people was Thad Bieler, who found a unique way to lend a hand to his fellow neighbor by founding the National Disaster Photo Rescue Organization, a group which seeks to reunite people with their lost photographs after disasters like Joplin. Take it away, Thad. Well, I am Thad Bieler. I live in Carthage, Missouri and am from Joplin, Missouri. I grew up there.

I have multiple generations of family that have grown up in Joplin. I spent a great deal of time in the church. I grew up in the church, loved the church. I have spent time as a pastor and ministered to people there of all generations.

It's been a wonderful part of my life, and it's what brought us here today to talk about the photo work we've done. It was a Sunday night. It was six o'clock, and we had Bible study at the church in Carthage, and my parents live in Joplin. I knew the weather was getting bad, and I was on the phone with my dad, and he was describing how the clouds and the atmosphere looked, and I looked outside and began to see some of it in Carthage, which was a kind of a green look to the clouds and to the sky, and come to find out that was ground being churned up. While I was talking to my dad, I lost connection with him on his cell phone, and I tried several times to get a hold of him, and I was concerned but not terribly concerned because tornado sirens are something that we're very used to here.

We don't necessarily react in a frantic manner, but we are always elevated during that time. When I turned on the weather channel, I see Mike Bettis standing in front of what was left of the St. John's Hospital in Joplin, and we began to see insulation, things dropping out of the sky all over Carthage. For most people, they would be concerned because of what they were seeing, what maybe we were seeing. What maybe most wouldn't know is that my parents were directly west of the hospital, about a mile, which means that the tornado had passed over their house before it got to the hospital.

So as I talked to my wife, I said, you know, I'm going to come home here shortly, and I said we're going to have to go to Joplin because I really didn't know. Finally, I got down there, and it was dark by then, and it was like driving into a tunnel without lights. I got to the end of the lights, of the street lights, and the lights of my truck just didn't seem to penetrate the darkness. I could see trees everywhere, cars turned upside down, power lines down everywhere. There was a smell of gas, and there were fires, and every single landmark from road sign to mailbox was gone.

People are crawling out of their homes. There were people up and down the roads, wandering around as if they just didn't know where they were. People were lost. They were in their neighborhood, but they were lost.

But I got to them, and they were fine. What was God's great miracle in their life was they didn't have a basement in their home. They're on a single-story house, and the neighborhood is loaded with trees. Well, it just so happened that the big, huge oak trees that surrounded their home all fell on the roof of their house, and if you've ever seen how a tornado works, it finds its weakest point of these structures, and that's how it blows the roof off. And the reason why I kept the roof off?

Well, it kept the roof from blowing off, except for a couple of areas of home. So when I see them, of course, they're ecstatic to see me. I'm glad that they're okay. I'm thankful that everything's fine, and I'm going, by the grace of God, you're still here, because the neighbor's house, all that was left was the center stairwell.

So I spent time trying to assess their needs. They weren't hurt. They were unharmed. We settled them down, got them a place to be, and then I come back the next day. And wow, when you come back the next day, you thought you didn't know it in the dark.

You really don't know it in the day. There's a toaster in the kitchen with half a tube before driven through it. But what was amazing, and that hit me, not knowing what I know today, was I walked down the hallway of my parents' house, and the same things that were on the wall, and had always been on the wall when we grew up, were still there. And that was the pictures, our photographs, our family photos. Our family photos were there and sitting there untouched, had not been moved, weren't turned cockeyed, not even touched. And down the hallway, I went into a bedroom, which was at the far end, and I looked out the window, and it hit me right then.

My folks have their pictures, and the neighbor doesn't even have a house. So the question comes is, where did it all go? And you're listening to the voice of Thad Beeler, Joplin, torn to shreds on May 22nd by a monstrous tornado. 167 people lost their lives, more property damage than anyone would care to witness. When we come back, more of Thad Beeler's story, Joplin's story, here on Our American Story. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like this, or asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family, if you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to now, and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.

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Visit to find out more. And we return to our American stories and the story of the National Disaster Photo Rescue Organization as told by its founder, Thad Buehler. Let's continue with the story. It is hard to know what is important in life until you no longer have it. Our memories are caught in snapshots all over our home, and we realize that without those snapshots, we are losing part of our memory. And I am sitting there walking through that from 100 feet with the neighbors of my parents, going, oh my gosh, all of those memories, all of those snapshots, they no longer have them.

And we still do. You feel blessed, but all at the same time, you weep for them. Because even though you have the joy of knowing you still have it, and you still have your family, there are people who lost their lives. And then to think on top of that, maybe they were safe and maybe they were okay, but now they can build their house, but they no longer have that great wedding picture that's sitting over the mantle, or their children's pictures of when they were born, you know, and mama cradling them, or memories at church, baptisms, none of that.

We grieve that, because there's nothing that takes the place of that picture. The people may be standing beside you, but the moment in time that those folks were together in that moment is gone. Well, as communities come together, and some communities come together better or quicker than others, in the Joplin disaster, people came from everywhere, and they came quickly, and they wanted to help. Local communities wanted to help, and just do something to make a difference. The people at the church wanted to do something. They were, most of them, older, and they wanted to do something to make a difference. The people at the church wanted to do something. Most of them older weren't able to get out and pick up pieces of wood and debris, but they could do something to try to help their neighbors. And that's when we had a gentleman come by the church and said, I found a photograph in my yard.

And he said, what am I supposed to do with it? And that's when, truly, when the idea of the National Disaster Photo Rescue was born. We started asking questions, and we saw on Facebook good, intending people from everywhere trying to connect these pictures that they were finding in their neighborhoods, in their backyards, in their farm fields, out in the street. They were picking them up as they were trying to help people. They were posting them on Facebook, hoping that someone would see them so they could get them back. I sent a email, a blanket email, off to the American Red Cross.

I had no idea what I was doing. I basically said a prayer before I sent it, and I said, God, if this is supposed to go somewhere, or this means something, then bear fruit from it. And so, three days later, I got a call from a gentleman. His name was Michael. And Michael said, I heard that you were interested in trying to return photographs. And he says, I've been looking for people that want to do the same thing.

And he says, I will help you if you want to do this. So, with his help, with learning to do press releases, and the right equipment, and how we were supposed to scan, I don't know how he knew all these things. And I will tell you, if you're a faith believer at all, Michael walked with me from about June of 2011 through Christmas Day of 2013. That was the last correspondence I heard from him. And several times after that, I wanted to go back and tell him thank you, and that I appreciated all the work and everything he had done, but he had disappeared. I went back to the American Red Cross, and I said, I'm trying to find Michael. And they looked and searched through everything. And long story short, Michael doesn't exist with the American Red Cross.

I've done everything I can to find him. So, all of this has been put together with the help of so many people and faith-believing people, people in the community that just want to help. Our first picture, a photograph that we gave back, was the first of September of 2011. And it was such a big homecoming for these folks to get the picture back because they lost their mother.

Well, our local TV station, bless their hearts, were so helpful, and they would put three or five images that we selected every day on an afternoon and evening broadcast. One photograph in particular was actually a, it was a picture of pictures. And if you have one of those long mirrors that goes on the back of your bedroom door, someone had taken this green frame, removed the mirror, and put the picture back on the frame, removed the mirror, and placed photographs, there had to be a hundred pictures on that frame. The next day I received a phone call from a lady who says, I think you may have my pictures. She said, I saw it on the evening broadcast and I have to come and pick them up.

Will you be there where I could pick them up tomorrow? And I said, yes. I didn't know specifically what she was looking to because she was so anxious to just come and pick it up. The next day she walks in and introduces herself. And she says, the photograph I'm looking for actually is many photographs and it's in a green frame.

I said, ma'am, we have your pictures. And she broke down. She could not hold it.

And what I didn't understand more than just about the photographs and the fact that we had it was it was the only picture of her grandfather that was remaining was a little picture in the center of that frame with him and a hat and a vest. Her life was on and in that frame. And she says, I got my life back. I don't know how else to describe a situation where you give somebody something back and they say, I got my life back because she did. And it was a blessing to me to know that I can make such a difference over one frame in somebody's life. It changes you. When you hear stories like this, it changes you as a person. First of all, you're so grateful and thankful to be there for them.

You're thankful for your own life. And you realize just how important these little seemingly unimportant pieces of paper put people's lives together. By the way, we are still giving away pictures to this day. Ten years later, we're still giving them back.

In total, in Joplin, we've reunited right at 18,400 photographs with over 1,000 families. But for us, it's never been asking for something in return, only being willing to give to others. So many times as a pastor, we tell our congregations that we need to be neighborly to those around us. Sometimes we find it easier to give money to someone who's going to a foreign land to spread the Word of God than it is to be across the street from someone who's our neighbor to ask them if you need God.

This is a ministry that completely takes away that veil. We're not there trying to get money because we don't ask for anything. We're not asking for their time. We're not asking for anything except for them to have something that is so special back. What Jesus did on the cross was to give his life and ask for nothing in return. When we give something and ask for nothing in return, I don't know a more Christ-like thing. It is exactly what we're supposed to be in the shadow of the cross. And a great job by Monty on the production and a special thanks to Thad Bieler.

And to find out more about the National Disaster Photo Rescue, go to, Thad Bieler's story, here on Our American Story. skin care benefits in just one bottle. You'll find something for every beauty lover on your list at Estee Lauder, plus free gift wrapping and free shipping.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-02 04:10:00 / 2022-12-02 04:18:12 / 8

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