Church's Generosity Extends Beyond Money
“God, somebody really does love me. They came. They came back to me! They didn’t leave me.”
That was the tearful reaction of a nearly hopeless Nancy Strong as she sat on the front porch of her “should-be-condemned” home and saw the Faith Assembly of God church van once again turn onto her Jackson, Kentucky, street.
Jackson, along with many other communities in eastern Kentucky, was inundated with what people refer to as a 1,000-year-rain event that spanned five days in July 2022 — 43 lives were lost and thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed by flood waters.
Strong’s home was one of those flooded — her basement filled with water and the water level on the main floor reached three feet . . . and her home was not in a flood zone.
As the water receded and officials and volunteers visited her heavily damaged home to see what could be salvaged, Strong heard the heartbreaking words over and over that she needed to leave her home.
“Everybody kept telling me, the basement flooded so bad, that I needed to leave,” Strong said, emotion evident in her voice, as she and others shared during a recent service at Faith Assembly. “Everybody would come and look and turn and walk away – telling me that it (her home) needed to be condemned. I was so broken.”
That was until Faith Assembly of God volunteers, who had been working on a parallel street to Strong’s, came through. Strong recalls one of the men coming in, inspecting the house, and giving her some hope for the first time in days — they could save her house!
A church congregation responding to a crisis is nothing new. In fact, in nearly every crisis, it’s the Church and ministries connected to the Church that are often the ones to respond first, frequently arriving even before government assistance makes an appearance. Churches and ministries are also frequently among the last to leave.
Danielle Smoot, worship pastor for Faith Assembly of God in London, Kentucky, a 90-minute drive southwest of Jackson, has friends and family located in Jackson. The Sunday after the flooding, a group of about 30 volunteers traveled to Jackson to assist whomever they could, including Smoot’s daughter-in-law’s mother, Susan Spencer.
“We weren’t sure what we could do to help in the immediate aftermath, but we knew we could feed people,” Smoot says. “So, we took barbeque sandwich meals down Highway 476 in Breathitt County, one of the roads where a significant number of people lost their lives. We went door-to-door providing food, wet-vacs, cleaning supplies, and water to families who had lost nearly everything they owned. Somehow, in the midst of their despair, a simple meal made them smile. We spent time with each family, praying for them, listening to them, and witnessing their incredible gratitude for surviving the storm.”
But what sets Faith AG’s effort apart perhaps from other churches’ efforts, is that not only did Faith AG not have an established disaster relief team or even a work team, the church had also been without a lead pastor since January 2022 and wouldn’t have one until October 2022 — their ongoing generosity toward flood victims truly a grassroots-generated effort.
Susan Spencer says that after her home flooded on that Thursday evening, she ended up sleeping in her car for three nights with her three dogs and a cat.
“On Sunday, when Danielle and the church group came, she brought clothes,” Spencer says. “She was the first person to put clothes on my back and shoes on my feet — I had slept in the same outfit for three days.”
Witnessing the devastation firsthand, Smoot says that the group of rotating volunteers decided that they needed to go back and help again and again, week after week to help the victims in Jackson.
“We coordinated with leaders in Breathitt County to connect with families who had no one to help them clean out their homes,” Smoot says.
When Smoot says “cleaning out,” it’s a sanitized way of saying something like: “Hauling out all of a families’ water damaged, water-logged, molding (remember, this was in August), and often irreplaceable personal possessions and dumping them into a huge trash pile by the street, dredging up countless buckets of putrid muck out of people’s homes and basements, slipping and sliding and sometimes falling down muck-slicked stairs, hauling out tons of ruined drywall, and more for many hurting, but appreciative flood victims — many who had literally lost everything but the clothes they were wearing.
Spencer says it wasn’t just the clothes, food, or work done to save her house — all which meant so much to her — it was the time people took just to talk with her and comfort her.
“(They) sat on the front porch with me,” she says. “We had good conversations that kinda gave me the strength and motivation to make the decision to go back, because I thought about giving up.”
Chelsey Dunn, Nancy Strong’s daughter, says the same took place for her mother.
“It wasn’t just them working on the home,” she says, “it was going to the home, holding her hand, and crying with her — (they) spent a lot of hours just talking to her, making her feel better.”
These selfless acts of generosity continued week after week, with roughly 30 volunteers traveling each Sunday to help homeowners get back on their feet. Four weeks, six, eight, 10-plus weeks a group of about 30, ranging from 10 to 81 years old, went out to work what only could be described as a labor of love, arriving around 2 p.m. on Sundays and sometimes working well into the night.
It's important to understand, that as the weeks went by, money was made available to victims — donations and government funds poured into the area. The problem was, no matter how high someone stacked money, dollar bills can’t do a lick of work — people, and especially skilled laborers, are a mandatory part of the equation. Hiring skilled labor was and still is nearly impossible as demand is understandably soaring, and the pool of skilled laborers is already overworked and overbooked. This made the skilled volunteer laborers of Faith AG a rare and vital gift.
“I’m amazed at what we were able to accomplish on Sunday afternoons for so many families,” Smoot says. “It wasn’t easy to drive an hour and a half each way, and for our skilled workers to commit their only day off to a difficult mission . . ., yet our volunteers did it week after week.”
Smoot says that as they worked, the Faith AG volunteers fell in love with Spencer and Strong — their appreciation and resilience blessing them even as they blessed the two households with their compassion and physical efforts.
The two homes were basically adopted by the church and the teams of workers. The houses were gutted down to the studs — drywall, insulation, flooring, heating, air all removed. They even sliced into the HVAC piping to drain and clean them out — and the rebuilding began.
Smoot says although volunteers were doing some of the dirtiest and most challenging of jobs, they never complained, often eager to volunteer again. And week by week, both households went from literal disaster sites to safe, refurbished homes. Although volunteers are still finishing the homes out, new appliances recently arrived and a ribbon-cutting date is closing in.
“Losing my parent’s house — my childhood home — was definitely worse than losing my own,” Dunn says, “and then seeing such defeat in my mom, because they would send so many groups out and no one even attempted to walk in there, told her it needs to be condemned . . . you’re (Faith AG) the only reason she’s in her home today.”
Spencer had difficulty expressing her gratitude. “I cannot express my thanks . . ., (because) of your generosity, Faith Assembly of God church, I made the decision to go back.”
“You all kept coming back,” Strong states. “I sat on the porch watching. Are they going, are they going to really come back to me? And when you came around the corner, I felt like I could jump right out of my skin.”
Although Rodney Goodlett, the new pastor of Faith AG, only began in October, part of what drew him to the church was the spirit of generosity — the giving of time, talent, and finances to bless others and live out Christ before people.
In addressing the trio of women when they visited the church recently, Goodlett stated, “The reason why we were generous, if we were generous at all, is only because what Jesus has done. The power of generosity, it is Him, and that’s why we’re able to be generous.”
Editor’s note: Thank you to Faith Assembly of God for providing the video testimonies of Susan Spencer, Nancy Strong, and Chelsey Dunn for this article.