One year ago, the little village of Richwood,WV was brutalized by the floodwaters of nature’s storms. This already struggling community, beset with the decades-long decline of coal-mining, lumber-mill slowdowns, economic drift, population loss and systemic depression, found itself suddenly torn apart by the raging torrents of the normally quiet Cherry River when more than 6” of rainfall burst the river from its banks.
Floods take a toll upon a town. The property loss, interruption in utility services, transportation problems, mud, stench, destruction, and disarray are nearly more than a human heart can handle. Moving forward is hard when you can’t see the horizon through the immensity of debris. If one were to try to describe the most manageable aspect of a flood, it would be the water itself in all its ferocious power. The hardest part of a flood is what’s left behind when the water subsides.
Hopelessness is the worst of human ailments because when a person loses hope, it’s hard to see positive potential in a sunrise. When a town loses hope, it’s hard to see tomorrow.
A year ago, we flew into the area on an investigative mission and landed at the closest runway at the Greenbrier Valley Airport, about an hour’s drive from Richwood. Geoff Smathers graciously piloted the Piper Lance aircraft that had been gifted to Hosanna Industries by Norm Carroll just a few years earlier. Mission workers Brian Hetzer, Julie Wettach and Amanda Becker accompanied me as we drove to Richwood to meet with local leaders for the very first time.
As we walked into the makeshift community-center in the heart of town, introductions were given and received, strangers shook hands, and we sat together in a little circle of folding chairs. We prayed. The first words uttered by Hosanna afterward were simply these,“We believe God has led us to your town. We are sorry for all that you have lost. We are here to find out if we can be of help, and if so, how we can best deliver that help to you.”
Much has happened since then. I just returned from Richwood after experiencing with many other people a new kind of flooding that is leaving its mark upon the town. It’s a flood of healing and helpfulness, a flood of hard work being done well by many hands that are coming to the area. It’s a flood of rebuilding, repairing, restoring, rejuvenating. It’s a flood of God’s grace happening in thousands of different ways one day at a time. It’s a flood of green trucks and green shirts communicating a message of hope and joy and love.
At this mid-way point in the year, and after numerous journeys to Richwood by our mission workers and volunteers, nearly 20 rehabilitation projects have already been completed. By the end of July, I am confident that we will meet the needs of 30 suffering households. By the end of September, I believe we will reach the goal of bringing assistance to at least 40 households in that community. In the course of doing all this work, the mission expects to spend some $650,000 in providing building materials, furnaces, washers and dryers, and the skilled labor required to get the work done. We have already hosted hundreds of volunteers in the local abandoned armory, which has been thoroughly refitted as an emergency volunteer base and charitable construction center, and we expect to work with hundreds more before year’s end.
Two evenings ago, while preparing to return home the next day to meet local commitments, I found myself privileged to address the nearly 90 volunteers from the Avon Lake United Church of Christ, and upon their invitation, to proclaim God’s eternal Word and to serve Holy Communion in the context of an armory-hall evening worship service. I preached from one of the great post-resurrection passages in the Gospel of John, Chapter 20, verses 19-23, emphasizing the words of the Risen Lord to the shocked and bewildered disciples of 2000 years ago. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said. “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” I reminded those gathered of the call of Christ, and how this calling is always personal and powerfully transforming, and perpetual in its eternal results. Then, humbly and quietly, I invited them to the Table of the Lord Jesus Christ, this one made of a piece of plywood with 2×4 legs and braces. We broke His Bread and outpoured His Cup, and as those dear young people already exhausted from the hard day’s work eagerly came forward with their adult leaders and our wonderful mission workers to receive communion, a tear welled up in my eye and I wondered about the fragile nature of life, how each and all of us are incomplete and broken, riddled with the damage of sin and pride and the floods of service to self.
Then I thought of another flood, the one of God’s gracious love, the one that provides healing to our hurts, forgiveness for our sins, redemption and meaning to our lives. I thought of how that flood provides fuel and trucks and workers and tools and machines and materials and even airplanes and pilots to answer the Hosanna cries in our world and the words from an old hymn came into my mind.
“There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; And sinners, plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains…”
There are all kinds of floods in this world, dear friend. Most of them can lay a place or a person to waste. One of them can lift a person up to a new start, a season of reconstruction and building, a time of joy instead of sorrow.
Thank you, dear Hosanna friend, for helping in all the ways you do, to provide for the flood of God’s grace and love to this world of deep need.