Tornado Relief West Liberty, Kentucky May 2012
A devastating tornado cluster hit West Liberty, Kentucky, March 2, 2012. The Wesley Foundation went on a mission trip May 7-12 to help with the tornado disaster relief. This is their story.
Mission Trip Experience (Day 1, May 7, 2012)
Well, I’ve never been on a mission trip before, and considering the informality of this one and my never having been to Kentucky, the little I knew to expect was simply to expect surprises and be flexible with them. But the shower situation_ the uncleanliness of it_ for a little while, made me wish I hadn’t agreed to come. I even decided that I’d rather not shower for the week than do so in the conditions of the showers. However, later today, I thought about the way I reacted to this situation and the purpose of this trip and realized I was rather being selfish and ignorant, just exactly opposite of what this trip is about_ bringing an open and humble mind to fill with new experiences. By agreeing to come on this mission, I agreed to fulfill its purpose of being a help to a community that’s lost so much and allowing myself to learn from the experience; yet already on the first day, I let something so little almost ruin the way I would see things in the next couple of days. But as we walked through the town today, the damages are what really made me rethink the way I reacted and reset my mind. Overall, I had a great first day. I’m glad I came on the trip and get to see a new place, and get out of my comfort zone.
May 8th 2012
Trash EVERYWHERE! That’s the first thing I saw when I looked around today. This place was once so beautiful; at least I assumed it was once beautiful. But after this event, this horrid event, everything was defaced and just so sad and depressing to look at. Today we saw the sadness in a house that was barely there. We found out that we would be tearing down what was once a poor guy’s home. I felt really sad and just terrible, I didn’t want to even touch this house, but it had to be done. So we started to assess the house and pulled out the things that would be salvage. Then, in the back of this garage, there was this beautiful old upright piano. I immediately was just struck by the beauty of this piano. I was so sad I really wanted to cry, I started to actually. This old piano was just pitiful sitting there with mold starting to grow on the sides and the intense water damage. I thought to myself, why does this happen? After that moment I was pretty focused in to doing as much as I could on this day. I thought that maybe if I just kept thinking of those who I will help, it will make the process more enjoyable and not so sad. I got to talk to some of the towns people today and just the light hearted smiles and strength they had about them just eased my soul. Talking to them and to some of the other volunteers that were there, I really felt God’s hand on my heart as well as theirs. I knew at that moment that God really was telling us to be here and be focused and help those who need it. I know that the rest of this trip is going to be tiring and hard, but I also know that I am doing God’s will and that I am completely meant to be here in this place at this moment.
1 Peter 3:15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect
Ecclesiastes 3 begins with “For everything there is a season,” and then when you read on in Ecclesiastes 3:3 it says “a time to tear down and a time to build up.”
Today was that time, our time. Our group split up and we both accepted what we had to do, and what the tornado had done. I accepted that I was going to be tearing down. When we first got to our site I had to process, this is someone’s house, someone grew up here; then I came to find out two people had grown up there, this was a generational house. This house that I was going to help tear down had character, it had personality. What we were doing was for the best and the owner was either going to rebuild or relocate. Then we met owner. All my emotions for this man were inside as I smiled and introduced myself politely. I don’t think I personally would ever have the strength to come back to something that I love was completely destroyed, but this man did and more than once, and he knew that this was the time to rebuild, and that what we were, are, and will be doing. We were sent here because this is where we need to be or as Ecclesiastes 3:5 puts it “a time to embrace and a time to turn away.” Something in me knew that we needed to embrace coming to West Liberty and turn away from our original trip to Athens we went by faith, and going by faith has lead us here and I’m glad that we’re together and experiencing it as a group.
Our wonderful hostess said something today that made me think about what we’re doing she said “some people wait their whole lives to get a house just to watch it crumble.” When she said that I realized that we were the people who see all the crumbling bits, and meet the individuals that have lost it all and help them because God has lead us to this amazing place to do amazing things, and we are ready to tear down and build up.
Today I helped put down the flooring to start a house. Fred, Paul, and Kera were all there and extremely helpful. They never quit or sat down and this really motivated me to keep going no matter how tired I got during the day. I loved using the pneumatic nail gun! We had a great time working together and I’ll never forget these people and how they inspired me to do God’s work. It was great to sit down and have lunch with everyone working in the area and really get to know them and their stories. All of the girls in our group have really taken to Kera and she has become like a little sister to us. Overall, today was very productive and I learned a lot about this community. So much love is in this place, it’s hard to breathe.
From Colby’s House
May 9, 2012
We have made incredible progress on tearing down Colby’s home today. This morning, the walls were all still standing; the carpet covered in debris was still on the floor, and most of the drywall was still up. At the end of the day, the front of the house is now lives all over the yard and in the dumpsters along with a good amount of carpet and hardwood floor. The drywall was also savagely beaten by us silly college kids. Although the end results of today were impressive, it was still the process and the journey we made that had impact on us.
One series of moments that everyone working on the house today experienced was this feeling of enjoying our work and then suddenly remembering that a man and generations before him used to live in this house. These emotions seemed to be a cycle, going from elation to humbling contemplation. Molly today was having a great time knocking down drywall and smashing out cabinets, but one time she sees this Superman action figure and suddenly she took a moment remembering Colby living there. Ashley and Sam were scratching silly pictures of us into a wall with their pry bars joking, laughing, and talking in silly accents until the laughter stopped and the importance of us being here came to the front of their minds again.
The most significant moment of this high and low I had today was when David tore down the front exterior walls. As I watched him, I at first felt like I was on an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition crew and watching someone with excitement as they tore down a house instantly. Then, it was time to start cleaning up the huge mess he made, and then it wasn’t fun anymore. I saw a pile of clothing as I was picking up debris, and I could not even look at them. There was also a bed we all put into the dumpster, and it felt very wrong to do so even though it was unusable. The house itself was easy to look past and continue to tear at, but Colby’s possessions were what kept this job personal and focused.
God reminds us that there are people who are less fortunate than us and that we should care for them. Through Colby’s destroyed house and ruined possessions are providing us with that reminder. Through Colby himself, we find that faith, hope, and love can get us through anything. That so far is the greatest gift we have given and received on this trip so far, and I am thankful for it. I pray that the rest of the week adds more to this then we can ever imagine.
Thursday May 10, 2012 here in Beattyville, Kentucky was a cool foggy morning. Started the day off with a hot breakfast and headed to West Liberty, Kentucky, where we have been working to revive the struck town from the damage of a tornado that hit town about two months ago. Meeting the resident of the house that was destroyed in the damage that we are tearing down has been one of the best things that could have happened. Tearing down this house and then seeing him come by on his lunch break, makes this all seem so much more surreal. Gaining closer relationships with the residents of the town and surrounding areas and with the other students and adults from the Wesley Foundation and Cullowhee Methodist Church has been something that makes me enjoy these kinds of Mission Trips. I have learned a lot and gained new experiences. Continuing to grow in my faith and help those around me grow in their faith will still be the number one goal to work towards while exploring the boundaries of the Mission Field.
It’s something as simple as a conversation. Sit, Inquire, Listen – it’s the easiest job and it’s the hardest job one can take on.
Today I sat with three David’s and a Kevin at a lunch prepared by the community for the community. All four work in West Liberty and were present at the time of the storm. One story they shared stuck with me:
The storm had hit right around 6PM leaving the town in absolute disarray. The National Guard responded quickly and had blocked every entrance/exit to the small town. In a short time, it was nearly impossible to get in and out of West Liberty without an incredibly good excuse. One of the David’s was just in his way back into town when he was flagged down by three nurses just outside the limits. Evening had hardly set in and volunteers were already making their way to the disaster. They described to him how they had not been able to get into town but they were desperate to get to the hospital to care for an overwhelming number of victims and injuries. After little more than an hour, they decided their best chances were to travel with a resident, but before David could even make his way down the road, he was met by motionless traffic. Even more “crazy” – he says—“when we finally did get into town, it was like we were in a whole different town.” People from towns, counties, even states all over had responded in an incredibly short time.
It became clear to the David’s then and me today that though a tornado has the incredible capability to destroy a town – it can never destroy a community. Love overcomes all other powers.
A wise man once said:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(That was Jesus, by the way — John 13:34-35)
This is the community Jesus calls us too—one bound and powered by love. So today, I encourage you all. Go listen to a stranger. We all have struggles; we all have stories. And when we share those stories, we fulfill this commandment: we love as Jesus first loved us. We create what is most precious to His kingdom. We create community.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we rolled into town, I have never seen the aftermath of a tornado before. The amount of destruction that occurred in West Liberty is truly difficult to describe in words, not because there are no words, damaged, devastated, destroyed, all work to describe what I saw, however, hope, strength, and perseverance also are accurate. Buildings that stood for decades had been reduced to ruble and buildings that were newly under construction will now have to be torn down. It is interesting to see the contrast of what survived the storm and what did not. The street running through down town West Liberty was littered with images that will stick with me for years like the WWII memorial that stood strong in front of a building that was now merely a shell of what it once was, or the American flag leaning in the corner of a United Methodist thrift store that was left without a roof. It was powerful to see and while words will have to do in this message, emotions are what really describe my experience.
The work we did took our group to several different job sites sprinkled throughout the town. I was on the site of a home that had been damaged beyond repair in the storm. The details of the deconstruction of this home are trivial when compared to the story of the house before the storm. This shamble of a structure had once been a very nice and well built house that was home to three generations before the tornado struck. Decades of Thanksgivings and Christmas mornings created thousands of memories that no storm can take away, and when we met the owner that is what I saw. Colby was happy to be alive and although his house was gone, he was excited about the opportunity to rebuild in the same spot and continuing on with his life. All the people that we met along the way were either here from some faraway place to help with the clean up or residents of the town who were happy to have survived the storm and were also happy to have us here to help.
I could go on and write a novel about my experience here, but I will keep it short and end by saying that although the evidence of the tornados and the destruction caused will fade with time, this town and its residents have impacted me in a way that will last a lifetime. This trip has been a blessing to me and I have enjoyed every moment.
Go (here) to listen to David’s Reeves sermon on May 13, 2012 about the mission trip.
Go to these two youtube sites to see the aftermath of the tornado