Just outside the door of the community center where soldiers had been living and working, the Mississippi River was still swollen but had been contained.
During a hymn, the audience was invited to shout out what they were thankful for. Without missing a beat, people named the National Guard, receding waters, sunshine, each other and food.
Church members had provided lunch for a week to the guardsmen. About 350 meals were made daily for the soldiers as well as other volunteers and workers helping with the town's flood situation. People rotated into the church to eat, and those who could not leave their stations had meals delivered to them.
"We wanted to make sure these guys got fed," said Susan Pinkerton, mission coordinator for First Baptist Caruthersville. "I sent out over 200 to-go meals one day."
Typically, soldiers on missions such as this receive two hot meals a day and generally eat an MRE, or meal-ready-to-eat, for lunch. But Pinkerton and other church members wanted to show love and appreciation by giving back.
Pinkerton, who teaches school in Caruthersville and lives just outside of town, said the church tried to plan a mission trip to Haiti earlier in the year but their funds did not come together and the trip was put on hold.
"We felt like God would tell us what we needed to do," Pinkerton said.
Little did they know God would call them to serve in a mission field literally in their own backyard.
When asked what the evening meant to her, Pinkerton fought back tears.
"Thank you," she said. "I can't even tell you what it means."
Though the community is quick to give credit to the National Guard, they also give glory to God for His protection during a difficult time.
"I'm thankful for the hand of God that pulled back two feet of water," Doug Boyd, pastor of First Baptist Caruthersville, said. "We praise God for that."
The sentiment was echoed by the troops and Capt. Juan Valencia, commander of the 1140th Engineer Battalion, which is based in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
"Thank you, and thanks to the Lord," Valencia said.
The success of a mission, Valencia noted, can be attributed in part to high morale. The high spirits of his troops were a result, in large part, of the meals and affirming words from the townspeople.
"The morale has been through the roof," Valencia said. "I know my soldiers, that when they're hungry they get really grouchy, and that never happened. We're taking home a lot of good memories and a couple of extra pounds."
In a short time, these Missourians quickly forged a bond with each other. As a final thank you, the church presented a video reflecting not only on the destruction of the flood but showcasing the work the National Guard did in helping save their town.
As the Newsboys song "Build Us Back" played, images flashed on the screen showing more hope than devastation.
The lyrics, "We've been crumbled, we've been crushed, city walls have turned to dust," took on significant meaning. "Broken hands and blistered feet, we walk for miles to find relief.... You build us back, you build us back."
That night, 1st Lt. Jeffrey Plair, a Missouri National Guard chaplain, closed his sermon with another word of appreciation.
"We are overwhelmed with everything you all have done," Plair said. "I haven't ever seen anything or experienced anything like it. They talk about morale when you go on missions. This one has been through the roof. Out of 10 it has been an 11, and it's just been because of the people here."
Jennifer Archdekin writes for the Missouri National Guard.
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