Jordan Aubey left the Chicago suburbs Sunday to resume his old life in Joplin, Mo., even though he knew that nothing about it would be the same.
"I have to start a new chapter," he said before leaving. "I know I can't go back to how things used to be."
Aubey, 27, was in his apartment in Joplin May 22 when a monstrous tornado ripped through the town. The twister destroyed houses, schools, churches and a hospital; it killed nearly 160 people.
He jumped into his bathtub when the storm hit, and at one point he was aware of being hurled around by the winds. When it was over he lay pinned under pieces of drywall, his hip broken, most of his apartment building destroyed.
He's spent the last six weeks or so with his family in Winfield, recovering from injuries.
Aubey -- moving deftly on a pair of crutches -- appeared at Winfield's Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church Sunday to say thanks and goodbye to those who helped him and his family during the recovery. Aubey's father, the Rev. Dennis Aubey, is pastor of the church.
The help the family received was considerable. Church members set up a bed for Jordan, who was nearly immobile after undergoing surgery that implanted metal rods in his leg. They enhanced the bathroom to make it easier for him to use. Addison-based Lutheran Church Charities provided Aubey with Tara, a trained "comfort dog."
And the church community raised enough money to cover the first six months rent for Aubey's new apartment in Missouri.
"That's what's so wonderful about this church -- everyone does what they can to help each other out," said Naresh Nair, president of the church council.
Aubey said leaving Winfield was bittersweet for him. He felt sad about saying goodbye to old friends and the new ones he made while recovering from his injuries.
"It's hard to express the gratitude I feel to all that the people here have done for me," he said. "I hate to leave them."
But Aubey said he looks forward to returning to Joplin. He plans to talk particularly to those who lost loved ones in the disaster, to make them aware of the thoughts and prayers that continue to head Joplin's way from all around the country.
Aubey also looks forward to getting back to work. He is a news reporter with KOAM-TV in Joplin, and he's eager to do what he can as a journalist to document the rebuilding of the community.
There will be challenges, he said. First, he's uncertain when he'll be able to walk again unaided. He must undergo a regimen of physical therapy to rebuild the strength in his right leg.
Second, he knows he'll face moments of doubt and even anger. But he plans to rely on his faith and the strength of the people of Joplin to get him through.
"There have been times when I've gotten down about this whole thing -- where I ask why this had to happen to in the first place," he said. "But someone said to me recently: 'This is part of you.' And that made me feel better. Joplin is a part of me now. Just thinking that helps with the healing. I'm honored to be able to rejoin that community."