Only July 28th, our staff meeting in Appalachia was interrupted by some startling news: a town a few miles away had started flooding, and the water was heading our way. The meeting quickly changed from planning projects for the group serving that week to flood prep and the safety of our volunteers, staff, and community. After moving tools and supplies to higher ground, our volunteers and staff evacuated.
Tim Weirs, a longtime volunteer who was leading projects for our weeklong group, stayed a couple hours longer to check on community members before evacuating himself. “Before I left I went back to check on the Maytown Center,” Tim shared on a recent episode of our radio show. He goes on to explain that the road to the center was already flooded, so he stopped where other community members had gathered. “I was standing on the railroad tracks with the neighbors and people I had met watching the floodwaters rise.” Before getting trapped himself, Tim started the long drive home. He stopped halfway home to rest. “The next morning as I woke I felt the Lord telling me to go back.” Tim was on the ground serving in Appalachia for weeks after the initial flood.
“It floods frequently in Appalachia, but it doesn’t happen in July, and it doesn’t happen in that way. It caught a lot of people off guard… They just don’t know what to do and are having a hard time breathing because of the burden of it all.” Explains CJ Noe, Field Coordinator for Appalachia. She goes on to describe the people she has known and served for years in Maytown that were affected by the flood. One child that has come to many community events over the years came to ask for help on his family’s home. “I have been telling this kid for two years ‘You are loved, you matter. You are loved, you matter.’ But if we don’t get into his house and do the work than none of those words matter.”
“One of my friends just sat on a bucket in front of his house in a posture of hopelessness… This man is not a hopeless man. This is a strong, fighting, works hard for what he has man….” In a video update, CJ shares this man’s story of fighting covid while also going through a flood. Our volunteers got him and his family to rest safely while they cleaned their house. Now that they are healthy again, they are helping other families clean their homes.
“It’s not about the project. These moments, the people that have been affected by tornados and floods, there is a lot of hopelessness,” Rich describes on the Made to Serve radio show. “So when we bring groups of volunteers into these communities we’re not just there to help people through their pain, we’re there to show them that there is someone that loves them even more than we do.” Sometimes that is as simple as helping an overwhelmed woman clean the dirt off her dishes, which is exactly what CJ did for one woman she encountered while serving: “We just sat and washed dishes together and talked. It was something that she could have done on her own, but she was so paralyzed by all that was happening that she couldn’t do it.”
“She could have hired a cleaning crew to come do all that work, but she would have still been stuck in that paralysis,” Rob replied during CJ’s story. “But when she had somebody to sit there and love on her and encourage her and walk that road with her, it truly does make a huge difference.” He continued, “The families that engage with groups get more out of it than just stuff. They get relationships, they get friendships, they get purpose, they get connectivity to not only people in other places but to people in their own backyard. And that connection has more meaning to them than the stuff they get back.”
This mentality is not restricted to disaster relief, it has been the main focus of the Appalachia field since the beginning. CJ illustrates this further, “We aren’t about construction, we are about relationships. Broken buildings are just our excuse to form those relationships… When you knock on somebody’s door and ask to tell them about Jesus you might earn 5 minutes, but if you offer to fix their porch you earn at least two weeks.” Rob explains this mentality further, “One of the jobs that CJ created in Appalachia was porch sitting… and that is just sitting and spending time with the homeowners, loving on them, encouraging them, help them to know that they don’t have to walk things like this alone.”
Often, we have to first build the porch in order to do the “porch-sitting” part of the ministry. While discussing the volunteers’ common fear of being unhelpful on a construction site, Tim shares his personal feelings: “I’m not anybody special. It’s just taking the gifts that God has given you. Wherever you are at, whatever field you are in, whatever ability you have, and we can apply it. We’ve got people who come down and just hold the other end of the board while we attach it and that is a huge help. You don’t have to be a construction person.”
“The cool thing about being the body of Christ is that we all have different gifts that we can use,” continues CJ. “And some of our gifts can be transferred to new things that we didn’t even know we could do.” A recent volunteer was telling the staff that she wouldn’t be much help because all she does is quilt. They soon discovered that her quilting skill set was the exact same skill set needed to cut linoleum flooring! “It is the best kitchen linoleum floor you will ever see because of this lady’s quilting skills,” laughed CJ.
Rich continues the discussion, “It doesn’t require someone coming down to be ready to build a house, it requires someone coming down to be willing to give whatever these people need.” It is also requires working as a team with your fellow volunteers and staff. CJ illustrates, “Your skills are going to compliment my skills, are going to compliment someone else’s skills. So it doesn’t matter what you do, you just need to be willing.”
Are you willing? We need volunteers and staff in Appalachia!
The flood happened, and God’s people began to respond in amazing ways. (God often uses tragedies to do amazing things.) Key volunteers, retirees, youth groups, church groups, skilled and non-skilled workers and even some who heard about the need from a podcast kept showing up to serve and to love in a difficult time to the people of Eastern Kentucky. And God’s people responded with untold cleaning supplies, food, clothes, tools, and equipment to be used to serve others. Great people like you gave over $70,000 that we have used and will use directly in flood relief projects.
This response sparked a renewed vision beyond the flood to enact change in the lives of Eastern Kentucky. We have launched “REVIVE HOPE”. It is a desire to hire someone full-time to live (or who already lives) in Floyd County and reach out to youth, the elderly, and families with the love of Christ.
Here is a link to read more about the REVIVE HOPE plan.
Find out more on our website or contact CJ at email@example.com