After seeing a Facebook post from her former youth pastor at Towne Boulevard Church of God in Middletown, Ashley Myers started making arrangements to take a missions trip to Rainelle, W.Va., a city she didn’t know existed.
“I knew we needed to do something,” Myers said. “It was heartbreaking.”
In the days following the West Virginia floods on June 23 that claimed at least 23 lives and severely damaged or destroyed more than 1,200 homes across several counties, Myers organized a missions trip with 13 people, nine adults and four teens, from Franklin First Church of God to Rainelle.
Pastor Bob Daniels, former youth and executive pastor at Towne Boulevard Church of God, is pastor at Highland First Church of God in Rainelle.
The church group spent three days in Rainelle over the Fourth of July weekend and is planning to return over Labor Day weekend, Myers said.
Nothing could prepare her and the others on the trip for what they witnessed in Rainelle, she said. The powerful storms swept away homes, wrecked lives and adjusted peoples’ priorities, she said.
“Pictures only do it so much justice,” said Myers, 30, a 2004 Middletown High School graduate. “When we drove down the street, there were piles higher than our vehicles … couches, beds, dressers, everything. The power of the water was incredible. There was glass everywhere. It looked like a Third World country.”
Myers paused, then recalled a lasting moment.
“Bulldozers were picking up piles of peoples’ lives and dumping them in dump trucks,” she said. “In one day everything that we hold dear was gone. It was gone just like that. It wiped everything in its path.”
She said the Franklin Church of God volunteers assisted three Rainelle families, basically carrying their ruined family possessions into the street. They wore masks both because of the stench and the white mold. She said it was too early after the storms to rebuild homes.
Myers and Daniels said in the days and weeks since the tragedy, hundreds of volunteers have ascended on Rainelle, a city with a population of 1,000. People, churches and companies have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars of products to assist the residents in cleaning up, and eventually rebuilding, their homes. Most of the homes will have to be demolished, they said.
Myers was impressed that so many churches, despite their different religious backgrounds, worked together to assist those in need.
“It was just a spectacular example of service,” said Myers, an English teacher at Beavercreek High School. “Whenever you serve someone, you walk away with a bigger blessing. It was a rewarding experience.”
Daniels served at Towne Boulevard until 2011, took a one-year sabbatical, then joined Highland First Church of God. He described Rainelle as a city with one stop light, two funeral homes and one grocery store. The nearest Walmart is 40 miles away.
“It was quite a transition, even from Middletown,” said Daniels, 55.
At one time, Rainelle was home to the largest lumber company in the world.
“Its greatest days for the most part are in our past,” Daniels said. “But we have hope for greater days ahead.”
After the floods, the determination of the Rainelle residents shined through, he said.
“Tough, tough, proud, caring, loving people,” is how Daniels described the residents. “Remarkable people. So determined.”
That was evident in a 92-year-old woman who was rescued from the top step of the ladder leading to her attic where she had sat with her cat, Wildcat, for 30 hours with flood waters at her feet. When she was found, she was carrying her guitar and her cat, her two most prized possessions, he said.
“Those stories were repeated over and over again,” Daniels said.
Besides serving as pastor, Daniels is president of the area’s ministerial alliance and oversees the distribution of supplies at one of the vacant stores that’s been converted into a rescue center. He said residents are allowed to take whatever they want, no questions asked.
“God has blessed us with all these resources,” Daniels said. “People are in need and we’re helping them.”
Then Daniels thought about his long days, and the longer days ahead.
“No one needs to rock me to sleep at night,” he said with a laugh.
He believes some of the training he received at Towne Boulevard is guiding him in Rainelle, in the church and on the streets.
“God knew that I would be in this moment,” he said. “God equipped me.”
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