Stephen Henady, twenty years old, was in the Stained Glass Theatre in Joplin, Mo at the time of the tornado. Stephen suffered from three broken ribs and a punctured lung. Despite his condition, he was thankful to be alive, knowing that God had a plan for him. His faith and close relationship with God helps him to find peace in losing loved ones in the disaster. He says, “Everyone suffers with life experiences in one way or another. No matter what you go through, we have a God to turn to for help.”
My name is Stephen William Henady, twenty years old, and I attend both Ozark Christian College and Crowder College. I would like to share my tornado testimony with you. My being here is just one example of God’s miraculous working with and through His people. Sunday, May 22, 2011, was just like any other Sunday. My mother and I left home at seven a.m. to go to church to make final preparation for the service. After church, I went to Stained Glass Theatre, which was located on St. John’s Hospital property off of 26th. This was a bittersweet day because it was our last performance, and I knew that it would be a hard day to say goodbye to these I had grown close to in such a short time. Our last performance went great.
After the play was over, our director told us that there were tornado watches, but it wasn’t serious at the present moment. So, we treated it like a usual last performance by striking the set. I got out of my costume, took my personal items to the car, and came back and took a tree, which we used as a prop, to the attic. I went through the auditorium, up the stairs to the tech booth, and then went to the walk-in attic door. A friend of mine was in the tech booth, and I just stepped into the attic as our director’s husband hollered at us both to get downstairs now! I sat the tree down and turned around, but it was too late. The door slammed shut and the power went out. This was very scary, and I hope that I will never experience such darkness again. I found the doorknob and tried to open the door but failed. Not thinking, I started hollering for my friend, but, of course, she could not hear me over the wind. I remember saying, Lord, it is up to you now. Then, I was able to open the door and ran down the tech room stairs in the dark without falling down. As I was coming down, my friend was exiting, and then I was able to open the next door and step into the lobby.
I remember turning to my left and seeing both front doors wide open, and as I walked into the auditorium the curtains were in the air. I made it down to the front by the stage. I was told later by the man, who hollered at us, that when he reached the floor from the stage stairs we passed in front of him. I saw the side window curtain and glass fly in and that is when I fell to the floor. Then, I got shoved forward to the floor. My friend, from the tech booth, had hold of my hand, and she told me that she lost my grip once which made her more scared. It was a horrible, scary sound hearing the wind hitting the metal theatre seats, but during this time I could hear the prayers going up along with mine. When it was all said and done, I could not move. My friend hollered out my name, and I told her I’m here. I started screaming in pain when the theatre seats were being pushed on me, but she was able to get me out and to my feet. This is when I looked out and saw the stage was gone and I could see straight out the basement doors.
She walked me over and we sat on the foundation of the building for a short time before descending down the debris filled stairwell. By this time, I had learned that I could not move my head and my back was stiff. We made it outside and eventually over to St. John’s Hospital, but we were only inside for a short time before they started evacuating the building. We were walking across the street when I started having shortness of breath and it was painful to walk. Another person came and helped us until we got to a place where we could stop and wait for help. I was loaded into the back of a pickup truck, with other theatre people, and they took us to Freeman. We went by way of 26th, Main, and 32nd streets. As far as the eye could see, there was nothing but total destruction. On the road, I tried to sing the song “God Will Make a Way,” but it became too difficult. When we made it to the hospital, I was carried in and sat in a wheelchair.
Sometime later, I was placed on oxygen and later was brought a second tank. I do not remember much from the hospital but I had three broken ribs and a punctured lung that required a chest tube. Early the next morning, I was placed on a helicopter to St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I stayed until my release on Wednesday evening. For the rest of the summer, I was limited on what I could do to allow my ribs to heal. My full release came on Wednesday, August 17, 2011, going back to school in the fall.
During my stay in the hospital, I kept thinking how thankful I was for being alive and knowing that God has a plan for my life. At the same time, I was worried about my theatre family. I found out later that there were a total of fifty-six members of the Stained Glass Theatre family in the building at the time of the tornado. Out of those, there were three members who lost their lives and six were seriously injured and required hospitalization. It was hard to lose such good friends who had a great impact on my life. One of the ladies, our play director, had become a special person and a great encourager to me, and the other one became a good friend. These three individuals will be greatly missed not only by their families, but also by their theatre family as well. It is hard to see them go, but God was ready for them to come home.
This experience has had, and will always have, an impact on my life. It helped me realize how important it is to live a Christian example every day. It has been a great reminder not to take faith, family, and friends for granted because you never know when someone you love will be taken from you. I believe that the crosses were left standing in Joplin as a reminder that we serve a mighty God and that He has not forgotten His people. God has a special purpose for each survivor even though it is hard and difficult at times to move forward. It was difficult to know where to begin and it is just as difficult to move on. I know that God will give me strength day by day to make it through. I am very blessed to be a part of my family and the theatre family. I am so thankful for all the people that God has brought into my life and the special impact each of them has made. I pray that through this hard time people will be able to refocus their lives and hearts to what truly matters and seek God’s plan for each of our lives.
Suffering is a trial that every person has to face in life. Sometimes it is good to realize and express your emotion to God, the Great Healer. As humans, we cannot go through life without wondering what this world would be like without suffering or how much suffering can a person truly can handle? The answer to the first question is that through Christ we can have the opportunity to go to Heaven, a world without suffering. This is one of the greatest promises of all times. The second question, “how much suffering can we handle,” is one that I am sure you are able to find the answer to. Each person has their own experience with suffering but it is great to find people who can truly understand what you have been through. Suffering in my life has been defined in different ways from the tornado, losing my older brother at age sixteen in a car accident when I was thirteen, being hurt by people inside and outside of the church, and daily trials that come our way. No, I cannot answer the question of how a person can handle suffering because it is different for me to handle and deal with suffering. I do know “with God all things are possible.”
Everyone suffers with life experiences in one way or another. No matter what you go through, we have a God to turn to for help. I want to remind and encourage you through the words of the song, “My Help Comes from the Lord” by The Museum. The song has brought great encouragement to me after the tornado.
“When sorrows come and hope seems gone,
you’re the rock I rest upon,
when water’s rise and I can’t breathe;
you’re the love that rescues me,
out of the darkness I lift up my eyes,
unto the hills I feel my faith rise;
maker of heaven, giver of life;
you are my strength, my song in the night,
my refuge, my shelter,
now and forevermore;
my help comes from the Lord.”1
1 The Museum. “My Help Comes From the Lord.” Let Love Win. BEC Recordings, 2010.
2 The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1985.
3 Jesus Culture. “One Thing Remains.” Come Away. Kingsway Music, 2010.
Sometimes in life, it can become very difficult to face the trials. When this happens, we have to have the “want to” to continue on. Remember, there is a God who can help you through and He has a plan for you and me. For all those who are suffering, I encourage you to take rest in Psalms 46:1-2 that states: “Our God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”2
I am very thankful for a God that each of us can turn to when we feel alone in this world. There is nothing that we can do to lose His love. One of the songs that we have sung in Ozark’s chapel many times is called “One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture.
It says: “Your love never fails,
it never gives up,
it never runs out on me.”3
These words could be hard to completely grasp, but they are so true in how God really loves us no matter what we have done or been through. His love still surrounds us. The tornado affected many lives, both directly and indirectly, but God still loves us. I have been asked the question:
“Where was God during the Joplin Tornado?” My answer is: “He was right here with me. Even though this was a traumatic experience, I believe that He showed His power in many ways that night.” I believe in a God who can use our sufferings in life, no matter how bad, to help mature us in our faith.
Every one of us has gone through tragic, horrifying experiences, but I know God can use our experiences to help others. No matter what sufferings we have gone through, “God can make a way where there seems to be no way.”4 I know that God saved my life and I am still alive for a reason. It is exciting to know that God still has a plan for my life. Even though this has been a hard, difficult time, it has helped me to refocus my life and heart on what truly matters in life, my faith in God and the people around me. After that night, I know that I am truly blessed by God to be alive. I definitely know that God has something for me, and I pray that He can use my experiences and testimony to be an encouragement to others. Thank you to all for your love, support, encouragement, and prayers for the people of Joplin, and for me.
4 Don Moen. “God Will Make A Way.” God Will Make a Way. Integrity Music, 2003.