GILBERT, W.Va. (BP)–In the wake of flash floods that washed away rural roads and even mountainsides over six southern West Virginia counties on Mother’s Day weekend, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief feeding units and mud-out crews remain on the scene.
Five inches of rain over two days triggered flash floods that destroyed 200 homes and caused major damage to another 120, reported Delton Beall, state director of missions and state disaster relief director for the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists.
Mingo County was hardest hit, Beall said. Ninety-year-old local residents told Beall they had never witnessed such torrential rains and flooding during their long lifetimes.
Since the floods hit, two feeding units — one in Gilbert staffed by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and a second in Matewan manned by Tennessee Baptists — have served some 4,000 hot meals a day. The two units are located on opposite ends of West Virginia’s Horsepen Mountain.
The feeding unit at Gilbert will operate through Friday, May 22, while the unit at Matewan is scheduled to operate until Tuesday, May 26, Beall said.
“We’ve had numbers of people come into one of the feeding locations and say, ‘Thank God for Southern Baptists being here to help,'” Beall said.
Some 100-140 disaster relief volunteers have responded to the West Virginia floods — including the two feeding units and mud-out teams from West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio and New England. A mud-out team from Missouri also is en route.
“It’s been incredible how God has provided for us,” Beall said. “The county and city officials have been very gracious and grateful. I’ve been able to minister to the entire city council and leadership of Matewan, praying with them and encouraging them.”
In addition to the disaster relief crews, Beall cited other Southern Baptist “heroes” on the scene, such as pastor Brian Warden and members of Horsepen Southern Baptist Church near Gilbert, the small valley town flooded by rivers of rain rushing down local mountains and hills.
“Horsepen opened up its fellowship hall right after the flood and started cooking hot dogs and hamburgers,” Beall recounted. “I bet they’ve cooked 9,000 or 10,000 hot dogs and hamburgers — over and beyond what our disaster relief feeding units are doing.”
Horsepen Baptist’s quick-response feeding operation couldn’t have come too soon for hundreds of people unable to leave their homes until the rains stopped and the floodwaters subsided. Only then could they get out by four-wheelers — not cars — since local highways and roads had been washed away.
“Folks would come down to Horsepen Baptist on their four-wheelers and load up sacks of hamburgers and hot dogs to take back home where the people had no food and couldn’t get out,” Beall said.
Horsepen pastor Brian Warden said his church is now approaching the 12,000 mark in the number of meals prepared since the flooding began on May 9.
“We’re averaging more than 1,000 meals a day,” Warden said. “We’re still delivering some but not as many. We’ve also helped feed the state police and National Guard.”
Warden, who has led the church of 50 adults and 30 children only five months, said 35 to 40 members had worked around the clock to cook the simple meals of hot dogs and hamburgers.
The fact that the church just happened to have so much food on hand was a miracle in itself, the pastor said. When the rains came, Horsepen Baptist was gearing up for a mother-daughter banquet on Mother’s Day weekend.
“Our church has changed from being just a church where people would come Sunday morning and Sunday night and maybe on Wednesday to people being there 24 hours a day,” Warden said. “We’ve raised some dead Christians [spiritually] during this time, including me.
“It took a disaster to make it happen,” he said. “A lot of times we look at disasters and say they’re horrible and maybe they are. But God has something good to come out of every one of them. My advice is for churches not to let it come down to a flood before members start waking up and serving. Our entire church came together and that’s the only way churches can reach out to people. We have one amazing lady, Lake Hopson, 94 years old, who’s worked in the church kitchen every day since the floods came.
“I’ve told my people this is nothing but a God thing,” Warden said. “There was no way this church could have put this much food out without the Holy Spirit’s help. There’s no way we could have prepared this many meals and come up with the necessary supplies without the Lord’s help. My people have gone from being moderately happy Baptists to being ecstatically happy Christians because of [serving others through] this disaster.”
Horsepen Baptist itself suffered a major loss when floodwaters poured down the mountainside and washed its church van downstream. Full of water inside and under the hood, the van was unsalvageable.
No problem. Frank Carl, pastor of Genoa Baptist Church in Westerville, Ohio, heard of Horsepen’s plight, had one of his own church vans re-lettered and drove it to West Virginia, presenting fellow pastor Warden with the keys and title — no questions asked.
“You don’t have enough paper and space to tell all the miracles that have happened here since the flood,” Warden told one reporter.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.