When he saw the destruction in his hometown, he knew he had to go there to help.
John Smith* was scrolling through his Facebook feed on Friday morning, July 29, 2022, when he noticed a series of posts made by some of his old high school classmates. The posts detailed the damage in eastern Kentucky, United States, caused by flash flooding July 27–28. Smith, who currently does cross-cultural work with Adventist Frontier Missions, was heartbroken at the images of his old hometown—flooded homes, damaged roads, totaled cars, and displaced families filled his Facebook newsfeed.
Smith was scheduled to fly abroad for work the following week but he decided to travel to Hazard, Kentucky instead. He felt called to help the eastern Kentucky community as they began the recovery process.
“[Hazard] is a small-town community,” Smith said. “They are used to getting two to three floods a year, and people know how to deal with that. But this flood was very different. It hit them off guard, and the amount of destruction caused was just unimaginable. No one has ever seen anything like this.”
The National Weather Service reported that the flooding was “historically unheard of,” with an estimated 14 inches of rainfall. At least 38 people were killed, and others are still missing.
The Church Steps Up
In the weeks following the flash floods, waves of Adventist volunteers from across the country arrived in eastern Kentucky to lend a helping hand. With financial support from the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference, these individuals were able to work on repairing homes, schools, and churches in the area.
BreeAn Adams is a member of the Adventist church in Ooltewah, Tennessee. She took six days off work to help in Kentucky. “I’ve always been very driven to help people whenever I see a need,” she said. “For me, I may not be able to give them money or a new house, but I can at least go and show them that I care.”
Some Adventist schools, including Madison Academy in Tennessee, also joined the disaster relief efforts. More than 100 Adventist volunteers contributed to the relief effort and almost half of them were students. The volunteers completed a variety of tasks, including mucking houses; removing drywall, ceilings, and paneling; repairing driveways; handing out medicine; and organizing points of distribution.
Johnny Rodman, disaster relief field coordinator and a member of the Oasis church in Tennessee, said work in the area has been especially difficult because of the way the houses are spread out. Rodman has been an active volunteer with the conference and aided in much of the relief efforts in Mayfield, Kentucky, following last year’s tornado. In Hazard, he has helped coordinate accommodations for the volunteers, developed relationships with the local officials, and found leads for families who need help.
“Once word got out that we were trustworthy, people just started calling in,” Rodman said. “They are so humbled by the little work we do. Some houses had 12 inches of mud in them … when we came in and pulled out their possessions and cleaned out the mud, it gave them a new hope.”
Ed Lynn, a member of the Highland church in Tennessee, said he was also touched by the response from people living in the affected communities. According to him, the victims themselves are stepping up to help their neighbors. Through a series of connections, volunteers partnered with a community member who lent his horses to distribute medicine in areas where the roads were washed out.
“Experiences like this strengthen a person’s awareness to how God is working with people today,” Lynn said. “He works things out so we can meet the right people at the right time, and then help others that we didn’t even know about.”
The Work Ahead
Smith has postponed his work trip until sometime in October. He continues to monitor his Facebook feed for updates on the situation in eastern Kentucky and for information about individuals who may need help. One day he came across the following post from a friend:
“If you haven’t been in [the affected communities] firsthand, you can’t really appreciate what has happened here. Everyone stay the course because it is up to us local people to fix it back. We are not going to get much help when the news wears off.”
It is estimated that it will take years for the affected communities to recover. Smith urges the church to continue helping eastern Kentucky beyond the flood’s immediate aftermath.
“We have an opportunity to show not only that we care enough to be out here for a couple of weeks but [also that] we care enough to keep on supporting this community [for] the long-term,” Smith said. “When we look at Jesus and His example, He was always going out of His way to help people. … Sometimes the best way to share the Gospel is just showing up and meeting people’s immediate needs.”
Continuing to Help
The Kentucky-Tennessee Conference is currently working to provide Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) classes. Rodman said he wants to see more people involved in this ministry.
“This disaster has been very different, and I am afraid that in the next couple of years, the number of volunteers is going to die out,” Rodman said. “It is going to be a big struggle. We are going to need more hands and more prayers. But my hope is that, as a church, we can continue to be a blessing.”
*The source’s name has been changed due to safety concerns regarding his work location.
The original version of this story was posted on Southern Tidings.