With one simple word—“Katrina”-- we can picture the flooding and suffering of the people of New Orleans in August of 2005. Recorded as the largest natural disaster to hit the United States, this terrible event brought about world-wide response. News media reported constantly on the casualties and numerous rescues and heroic sacrifices on the scene. Remember John Travolta flying in his personal jet loaded with supplies?
But in September of 2009, when areas outside of Atlanta flooded, there were fewer news reporters and celebrities. Why? Perhaps it was just the numbers, there were fewer than a dozen deaths resulting. Or the fact that the flood waters receded more quickly and many families could return home. The affected areas were soon declared eligible for disaster funds, but many victims working on their damaged homes needed more than what the government supplied. Flash floods, where there had been drought in the past few years, caught families unaware. It happened so quickly, that no preparation could be made. Clarkdale Elementary School was dismissed early due to local flooding creeks in Austell, Georgia. Many roads were impassable and parents were unable to pick up their children. Garrett Middle School served as an evacuation shelter for 350 students.
About 200 miles from the flooded counties of Georgia, McKendree Church is a small congregation in rural Massey community in Alabama. Services usually have less than 50 attendees and many are farmers or on fixed income. But McKendree is not small in outreach or small in charity. It was a teacher at Garrett who notified our church. Mrs. Amanda Jenkins wrote to her parents, members of McKendree. She was concerned about her students—some did not return when school re-opened, and some came back to school disturbed by the frightening experience.
“I tried to go by the houses of students that hadn't returned to school to make sure they were ok. One of my students has several siblings. Her mom knew she couldn't replace all their clothes so she was washing what she could and hanging it out to dry before the rain started again (they are still living in the damaged house without power). It was so sad to see the little baby clothes hanging in the front yard that were stained brown from the flood water. I asked the mother what she needed. Liquid laundry detergent was at the top of her list. I think she was washing the clothes in the bathtub. She was really worried about getting in trouble for her children missing school and the textbooks that were destroyed. Many of the kids and faculty from Garrett (my school) are living without power but can't afford a hotel and don't want to go to the shelter. Imagine having sewage back up into your home and still sleeping and eating there.”
Once McKendree heard the stories, their response was immediate, sending a total of $1060 within the week. Mrs. Jenkins happily reported to us, “We bought microwaves and toaster ovens today. We started with what we could carry. There is still a good bit of money left. I never have that problem with my own money, but this seems to be the fishes and loaves. We keep hitting sales and it is like they just hand money back to us. God has blessed us, indeed.” She also purchased cleaning supplies and several mattresses.
Then McKendree members began to collect articles to send to Garrett Middle School. Searching in closets, thrift stores, and department sales, they collected coats of all sizes--mending and cleaning second-hand ones. Blankets and cozy comforters were sent as well, many of them lovingly hand-crafted.
Another note from Mrs. Jenkins informed us, “We furnished 7 families with appliances so far, and many more with coats and blankets. I piled up coat after coat and blanket after blanket. It avalanched off my sofa several times. I don't know if you can tell from the pictures, but it more than doubled the size of my sofa. I counted almost 70 coats and jackets, and 30 blankets... I wish that you could all see the looks on their faces when they get these things.”
McKendree is the kind of church where each member feels a special sense of belonging and a personal mission in the family of God. That is why this action through a personal contact with Mrs. Jenkins worked so well, with each donation quickly and personally placed where it was deeply needed.
Mrs. Jenkins words warmed our hearts as she wrote to her parents, “I don't know how to show the members of McKendree Church how much it means to me that someone loves our kids as much as we do. Times are so hard already and that hasn't seemed to stop anyone from giving what they can. Thank you so much for bringing these wonderful people into our lives. The kids, our school, and I will be forever grateful and I know God has great blessings for them as well.”
Small church, yes, McKendree United Methodist is small. But this close-knit gathering of Christ’s Body moves in a way that blesses the members and the ones they reach out to. This should be encouraging to other small churches that serve communities that lie outside city and suburban areas served by larger congregations. Mrs. Jenkins expressed the sentiment nicely when she wrote, “ I am truly amazed how your small church was able to come together and accomplish so much so quickly... and for my kids whom they have never met. It speaks volumes about your church--how big their hearts are and how much they care for others.”