The Church Rises to Challenge Following Kentucky Disaster
A 200-plus-mile trail of tornadic destruction was estimated to be at times over a mile wide and left several cities in western Kentucky in shambles on Dec. 10. Ministries such as Christ in Action, Convoy of Hope, Samaritan’s Purse, and Kentucky Ministry Network have been joined by local churches, churches from across the country, as well as teams and individual volunteers to continue to serve those who survived the EF4 tornado.
CHRIST IN ACTION
Christ in Action, an AG ministry led by Denny Nissley, is heading up the organizing and assigning of individuals and teams for the Kentucky Ministry Network. Nissley, whose ministry focuses on clearing trees, gutting homes with damaged interiors, and demolishing homes that have been declared unsalvageable began its work in earnest over the last week. So far, teams have already worked on 12 houses in the communities of Princeton, Mayfield, and Dawson Springs with Nissley expecting to be working on properties and homes until the end of February.
“We have teams on the ground right now, about 30 volunteers,” explains Nissley. “We’re using a lot of heavy equipment and chainsaws at this point.”
In addition to the heavy lifting, Christ in Action is partnering with other agencies to hold what Nissley calls “Survivors School” at Dawson Springs First Baptist Church on Thursday.
“Survivors School is for anyone who has had damage to their home,” Nissley says. “We have all kind of information for them — the state insurance commissioner will be there to tell them what to expect from insurance companies, contractors will explain the differences between legitimate contractors and scams, FEMA officials will share what FEMA can and can’t do, city officials will be talking about a variety of topics to aid in recovery, and all the faith-based groups will have a table to share what product and services they provide.”
During this event, chaplains will also be engaging people in conversation to help care for emotional and spiritual needs.
“We’re putting boots on the ground,” Nissely says, then adds, “and we mean boots — volunteers, please don’t come in tennis shoes (glass, nails, and other sharp debris can easily penetrate a tennis shoe).”
Brad Morris is the pastor of First Assembly in Mayfield while Mario Mamani pastors Iglesia Pentecostal Juan 3:16, a Spanish Eastern district church in Mayfield. Both churches were spared any damage and have become beacons of hope for their community.
Morris and Mamani say that Convoy of Hope was quick to arrive with aid — water, food, winter clothing, generators, and cleaning supplies — for the churches to distribute to survivors.
Mamani says that no one in his church perished in the tornado, but several of the roughly 140 who attend, lost their homes.
The Spanish Eastern district (SED), upon hearing of the disaster, organized relatively quickly to prepare a response. The district raised $21,000 to purchase 30 generators, Segunda Iglesia Pentecostal Juan 3:16 (located in Port Chester, New York) led by pastor Eliezer Quintana raised $10,000, with other SED churches and individuals donating money and pallets of clothing, diapers, 40 mattresses, other needed items, and the truck and fuel to haul the relief supplies. Then, on Dec. 20, a team of 12 made the 17-hour drive in one day.
“We were only there a few days, getting in late the Monday before Christmas,” says Jacqueline Toro, Missions director for the district, who remarked how the extent of the devastation surprised her. “But we were able to bless families, buy some toys for Christmas for children, help people with their homes, help the church pay its rent for two months, and install an emergency shower in the church for those needing to live there.”
Mamani expressed his deep appreciation for the churches’ and district’s (and other ministries’) response, but remains concerned for his congregation and others in the community who have lost so much.
“Half the city is gone,” he says, “and we’re going to need help building or fixing houses. I thank God that the church building is good and most of the church members are good — we don’t have a lot, but we’re trying to help . . . God is helping us with everything, you know, and I think it’s important that we help all the people we can.”
At First Assembly, Morris who grew up in Mayfield and has been in pastoral ministry at the church for the past 30 years, has been astounded by the level of destruction that took place in Mayfield and other nearby communities. “It looks like World War II just happened,” he says.
However, following the disaster, the church immediately sprang into action, originally having a Convoy of Hope distribution site and a Samaritan’s Purse headquarters located at the facility; the combination proved too much for one church, so Convoy eased the strain by relocating the distribution site.
“We’re now housing about 100 volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse every day in our facility,” Morris says. “We have as many as 300 volunteers, organized and assigned by Samaritan’s Purse, going out daily and doing a tremendous work in the community.”
Morris says being the hub for Samaritan’s Purse is giving the church exposure to the community it never had before.
“We are connecting with people who we were not connected to — they were not coming to our church or any church,” Morris says. “But they see the church showing up, while their houses are literally rubble, and offering to help put their lives together again. We’re absolutely making a difference in people’s lives.”
However, beyond the work of Samaritan’s Purse, Morris also points to gift cards provided by Convoy of Hope that they’ve been able to distribute to survivors as well as God’s provision that took place decades ago.
“When we built our Family Life Center 30 years ago, we decided to put in a commercial kitchen because we thought at some point the community might need it,” he says. “It has been an absolute blessing.”
Leaders with Samaritan’s Purse have informed Morris that the organization plans on maintaining its presence in the community for at least two years, soon bringing in teams of workers to help rebuild homes. Morris says the church plans to do its best to accommodate this kind of long-term commitment as it’s something the community desperately needs and he believes God will use to draw people to Him.
According to Ethan Forhetz, Convoy of Hope’s national spokesperson, Convoy is also committed to an extended presence in the area.
“To this point, Convoy of Hope has delivered more than 300,000 pounds of relief supplies -- food, water, cleaning supplies, hygiene kits, baby kits, tarps, etc.” Forhetz states. “Convoy of Hope is (now) focusing on long-term recovery, that includes helping people who were uninsured or underinsured with necessary items to recover — things like building materials, appliances, and household items they need. Convoy has committed to being there for the long term, helping the people who need it most.”
Dawson Springs, a community of 2,600 that had more than 75% of its homes wiped out by the tornado, is located about 70 miles northeast of Mayfield — with the tornado-ravaged communities of Benton and Princeton in between the two.
Pastor Kathy Redden of Dayspring AG in Dawson Springs has pastored the church for the past 18 years with her husband of 52 years, Joe, assisting. She has lived in the small community all her life — and now there are sections of town so decimated, she’s unsure of where she is when she drives through it.
Redden says that six families in the church of about 100 members lost their homes, and a lifelong friend and church member, Jennifer Bruce, was killed in the storm.
“We believe she was killed instantly as we couldn’t even find her house — there were no remnants whatsoever,” Redden says.
The church, Redden says, did its best that first week, helping people salvage what they could from the wreckage of their homes before they were bulldozed. However, God was preparing Redden for this time over the past several months in a unique way.
“There’s a bank building in the center of town that’s been for sale, and every time I’d go past it, I was drawn to it, the thought Dayspring needs that building would just go through my mind . . . I even called a realtor to get a price,” Redden says. “A day after the tornado hit, I drove by that building again and I knew why we needed that building — we needed a presence in that part of community to be a distribution center; the side of town where our church is was not hit by the tornado.”
Redden made some phone calls and it quickly became evident that the Lord was in this.
“The owners of the bank, U.S. Bancorp, ‘leased’ us the bank for free for the next 90 days, with the option to extend it longer if needed, and they are paying the utilities!” Redden says.
Since that time, the old bank has been transformed into the Dayspring Outreach Center.
Redden explains that their church had been inundated with donations of all kinds of goods, but the bank provided them with the place and the space to do things right.
“We decided early on to organize it like a store,” she says. “We have a household room, food pantry, hygiene room, paper good, clothes on racks and shelves, and even an over-the-counter-medicine area.” She says national organization leaders and even FEMA officials have been highly complimentary when they’ve toured the center.
But pointing to her church staff, friends, family, and other volunteers, Redden says she’s been blessed by those so willing to work and for the good health God has granted her, considering she turned 70 last year.
“The beautiful thing about this is the people who come in, it’s such a wonderful opportunity to minister to them,” Redden says. “Each one has a story to tell and they really want to tell their story . . . a lot of tears are shed and most just need a hug and to be loved on.”
TIPS FOR HELPING
If a church, ministry, individual or organization is tempted to send any kind of relief supplies, the answer is make contact first to see what, if anything, is specifically needed.
According to Nissley and Morris, there have been so many items — food, clothing, water, bedding, etc. — sent to the ravaged communities that they’re bursting at the seams and there’s no longer a place to put the donated items. They fear many of items may end up in a landfill as either the items are not needed, they’re exposed to the elements, or food expiration dates pass.
What is desperately needed by organizations are gift cards for people to buy specific items they need and funds to help pay survivors’ bills, keep volunteers fed, machinery working, and the volunteer organizations operational. Also, keep in mind that individual churches rely on tithes and donations to survive and many times those monies are redirected during a disaster, sometimes resulting in unintended hardship for the church (meeting bills) and its staff (salary).
For those individuals and teams desiring to volunteer, the Kentucky Ministry Network is directing them to Christ in Action and registering with the organization. Nissley explains, however, that due to available housing for volunteers at their Princeton headquarters, they’re limited to just over 40 volunteers per day, so it’s vital that individuals and teams register (and don’t just “show up”) so they can be sure to have adequate housing, food, and equipment for volunteers.
“We don’t accept money from the people we help,” says Nissley of Christ in Action. “That’s not why we’re here. Our services are free to them, but we do need the continued support of our churches to minister to the survivors.”
Rodney Goodlett, an executive with the Kentucky Ministry Network, and Anthony Mullins, the network’s Disaster Relief director, have been actively monitoring the incredible works being accomplished through the churches and ministries.
“The generosity that has been shown from across our nation has been overwhelming,” Goodlett states. “. . . it’s also proven for us here in Kentucky the value of belonging to the AG family — it’s more than a covering, when things happen or disaster strikes, a family comes and has your back.”