Joe Hurst’s first prayer luncheon as mayor of Van Buren was spent thanking the community for prayers on his behalf and reminding those in attendance how proud he is for the way the city’s government has worked together during his first seven months on the job.

Hurst, speaking to a gathering of just over 200 people at the 15th Annual Mayor’s Prayer Luncheon held Tuesday at Butterfield Church, said seeing the way the Van Buren city government worked together during the natural disasters that opened his term as mayor helped him see the best of the community and those appointed to protect the residents of the city.

“It’s been a little tough, but what I’ve been able to see is the heart of this community,” he said. “I got to see this community come together and help their neighbors. I got to see the different levels of government work together to try to figure things out for a common purpose, which is to help each other and to keep us safe. That’s what it’s about.”

Hurst said seeing the city in these situations — a tornado in November and a historic flood in May — from the inside made him appreciate a lot of things that aren’t seen from the outside.

“Seeing it from the inside, I can tell you that you should be proud of all our departments, proud of the way our government has responded, proud of the police and fire and all the different groups that work together to keep us safe,” he said. “It’s amazing what goes on, and to know you’re here to want to pray and support us … it is such an encouragement.”

Hurst said he has spoken to a lot of groups this year and, especially with young audiences, likes to ask them the first thing they think of when he mentions the word “government.”

“You wouldn’t believe all the things they say: ‘taxes,’ ‘fixing the potholes,’ ‘Trump’ or ‘governor.’ You’ll hear all sorts of answers. Then I get into the story of what I think when I hear the word government.”

Hurst then tells them of riding to the Sandstone Drive neighborhood with Chief of Police Jamie Hammond the night it got hit by a tornado and things he saw that pointed out what that word meant to him.

“I could not have prepared myself for that devastation,” he said. “I wasn’t prepared for it. But one thing I remember is that we drove up there and immediately I see police and I see fire, I see building department and I see street department, I see neighbors out helping each other and I’m thinking, ‘That’s government to me. It’s serving and protecting, it’s promoting health, safety and welfare.’ That’s really what we’re here to do. And I got to see that on Nov. 30.”

Then, he continued, “A few months later we have a 500-year flood and once again I got to see the community come together and I got to see how amazingly well our different departments and different levels of government worked together.”

Hurst finished his talk by saying, “I’ve had so many people tell me they are praying for me and that’s such an encouragement.”

The event is sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Van Buren as a fundraiser for its K-Kids Program. This year Candice Settle’s Settle/Jernigan Law Firm was the presenting sponsor.

Kiwanis Club member Brad Martin, who served as the emcee of the event, said, “We live in a very blessed place. Van Buren has a legacy of having mayors that believe in the power of prayer. I remember Mayor (John) Riggs and Mayor (Bob) Freeman. I wasn’t around for the ones before them, but I know those two believe in the power of prayer and did some amazing things in our community because I believe they were being led by God to do those things for our community.”

He added, “I can tell you Joe loves his family, Joe loves this community but, most importantly, Joe loves the Lord and he walks in His calling to lead our community from a place of faith.”