A pastor from Joplin says the support that as followed the devastating May 22 tornado is one of the state’s “finest hours.”

Pastor Randy Gariss of College Heights Christian Church keynotes the 2012 Governor's Prayer Breakfast.

Some will remember College Heights Christian Church pastor Randy Gariss for presiding over an internationally televised memorial service a week after that tornado, attended by President Barack Obama and Governor Jay Nixon. Gariss was the keynote speaker at the annual Governor’s Prayer Breakfast, Thursday morning.

He used the opportunity to express gratitude to all those who have come to his community’s aid in the last seven months.

“I don’t know where you say ‘thank you.’ I don’t know what crowd…this is the most appropriate place I know of. By the thousands you came. You came in ones and twos and you came as families in pickups and SUVs and you came as busload after busload. We looked up and there you were. I don’t know how you got there so quick. You were right beside us and you stayed. A great movie with a director and music in the background could not do justice for what it was like to see you.”

Life now in Joplin is a mixed bag, says Gariss. People who have relationships and connections in the town are faring the best. “The individuals that are struggling the most are the individuals that were renters, didn’t own or perhaps didn’t have extended family in town, perhaps a little more the broken families. If they didn’t already have pretty strong relationship ties it’s still a hard winter for them.”

Gariss says what people who have not been to Joplin since the tornado need to understand is difficult to relate. “I would say that it would be that sense of deep, abiding loss and fear. That you think life has sort of a normal pace to it, normal elements you can handle, and the rug entirely comes (out from under you). Even individuals that are building back, they’re afraid of that next rug. They find a great terror about when’s it going to happen again…not necessarily that thing but the next thing.” Gariss says Joplin’s counseling centers are full of people trying to figure out how to handle fear.

He says there is a flip side, however. “There are individuals who will tell you they’ve never had deeper friendships than they have now. We can live isolated until you have a crisis. The one experience now is that you watch, people hug each other…I watched two men stand there to be the John Waynes holding and hugging and talking to each other that have never ever before. Friendships are deeper.”

AUDIO:  Listen to Pastor Randy Gariss’ keynote address from the 2012 Governor’s Prayer Breakfast – 27 minutes