In All Things
by Timothy A. & Kimberly B. Southall

On Sunday, June 28, and Monday, June 29, 1998, the states of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia received flash floods of historical proportion. The area in which we had grown up was flooded beyond belief. We had heard reports of the flood, but the magnitude of the flooding did not register until we saw the damage in person.

photo of Ripley Church of Christ buildingOn Tuesday morning, June 30, 1998, an e-mail from KYOWVA Evangelistic Association notified us and other brothers and sisters in Christ that the Ripley Church of Christ's building had been devastated by the flooding. They needed help. Because the church building where we had worshiped had been flooded the year before, we had gained experience in flood cleanup the hard way. Our hearts went out to these brothers and sisters in Christ. We packed as quickly as we could, and arrived in Ripley, West Virginia, four hours after receiving the e-mail from KYOWVA.

By the time we arrived, the water had receded, leaving over $30,000 in damage to the uninsured church building. The floor, floor coverings, walls, heating systems, and most everything on floor level had been damaged or destroyed.

The remainder of the day Tuesday was spent painstakingly tearing up the soggy particle board flooring--piece by small piece. Other volunteers who had received KYOWVA's message also arrived to help later that day. Wednesday, the tedious, "back-breaking" work continued as we worked beside church members and other volunteers-believers and non-believers alike. The West Virginia National Guard assisted not only by providing cleaning supplies, but also by hauling off loads and loads of destroyed carpeting, vinyl flooring, and the particle-board flooring. They were amazed at our ability to tear it up and haul it outside the building nearly as quickly as they could load it into the truck and haul it away! Of course, we were energized by the power of the Holy Spirit! Working in the service of the Lord was invigorating!

Upon returning to our home, it was also our privilege to create an Internet web page to further assist this beloved congregation. Within the next three weeks, brothers and sisters in Christ from near and far provided much-needed manpower, supplies, donations, and prayers. Even "denominational" lines were crossed as a youth group representing Baptist, Nazarene and Christian Assembly congregations from the St. Albans, West Virginia area traveled over an hour each way in order to assist in the cleanup. They did this not one but two days. A group from Grove City, Ohio, spent four days utilizing their carpentry skills in the service of Christ. They were welcomed into the homes of church members during their stay in Ripley. Christians came from near and far to lend assistance, including Beaver, Huntington, and St. Albans in West Virginia; Grove City, Hocking Hills, Logan, and Waverly in Ohio; and Ashland and Garrison in Kentucky. The women of the congregation kept all of the volunteers well-fed. In addition, the Red Cross assisted with snacks and meals for the volunteers.

Throughout the recovery period, many used their gifts and talents not only to restore the church building but also to renovate it. These improvements will benefit future growth of the congregation. The pews were sanded and varnished, and a seamstress within the congregation made beautiful, professional-quality cushions for them, improving the comfort during the worship services. The stage in the auditorium was enlarged, enabling both the organ and the piano to be at a higher level should another flood rear its ugly head. The restrooms were relocated to a better place in the building, and walls were removed to furnish the congregation with a spacious and lovely fellowship hall and a completely remodeled kitchen. Dark, paneled walls were replaced with drywall, lending a lighter, friendlier atmosphere. The heating and air conditioning duct work was relocated to the ceiling rather than remain in the floor so that future flooding could not be such a threat to it. The building was re-carpeted. Many of the broken, outdated crank-style windows were replaced.

One by one, God faithfully supplied the many, many needs throughout the cleanup, restoration, and renovation process. IDES (International Disaster Emergency Service) immediately gave financial assistance. Donations poured in from generous folks all across the nation. Just 10 months after the flood, we again visited this congregation to find the building beautifully restored and renovated . . . all without their going into debt. Only a few minor tasks remain and a few windows still need to be replaced, and the renovation of the church building will be complete. God rewarded these faithful believers for staying true to Him even in times of trouble. And the thankfulness and humility of this body of believers is truly impressive. To this day, the Ripley Church of Christ continues to express their sincere appreciation to us and others who helped them during their time of need.

Seeing all of the congregations from miles around lend aid to this body of believers was wonderful. And to witness the church members come together and work in harmony, not only initially but also as the days turned into weeks, was to watch the Spirit of God in action. We originally thought our purpose in going to help our brothers and sisters in Christ in Ripley was for their benefit. How wrong we were. Our work was of benefit to them, but we now know that we were the ones who received blessings beyond measure. For, since being baptized in early 1996, this was the first occasion we had to witness Christ's love put into action during time of extreme stress. It is always easy for people to display loving kindness during good times, but the true measure is to pass the test while in distress. The Ripley Church of Christ did all that and more. With this flood, Satan had surely planned the destruction of this congregation. But with Christ's help, this body of believers turned it around and used it to help further the cause of Christ. And those who came into contact with these Godly people were blessed many-fold.

As a result of the catastrophic flooding, God brought people together who had never met. Working with these people and seeing them be one in spirit and in truth renewed our faith in Christ's church. This was truly a win against Satan not only for the Ripley Church of Christ, but also for all who helped them to further the kingdom of God. From the beloved members of Ripley Church of Christ, we saw the meaning of Romans 8:28 (NIV) come to life before our very eyes: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Copyright © 1999 Timothy A. & Kimberly B. Southall. All rights reserved.