Gatlinburg, Tenn.—Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers spent December 15-23 working with victims of the Gatlinburg/Sevier County fires.
Working at the request of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, Kentucky volunteers cleared the remains of 30 homes of ash and debris, while also removing damaged trees and assisting homeowners in sifting through ash for valuables.
“Most everything, if it could burn, was burnt,” Lew Cook, team leader for the project, said. Cook said that in the ash “you can’t tell a shingle from a pillow,” and that in the basements of what’s left of a house, the ash is a foot to two feet deep. Cook and his team worked on houses right behind the Gatlinburg Aquarium, as well as down the street from Roaring Fork Baptist Church, that were burnt in the wildfire.
Cook continued, “Typically, you won’t find very many things (while sifting). If you find anything, the homeowner is terribly grateful because there is something that they can remember from what they had before.”
The elevated location presented unique challenges for the team because not only were the cabins situated in the mountains challenging to travel to and the weather was cold, but the ash itself was damp, making sifting even more difficult, Cook explained.
Cook said that the locals they encountered were “very gracious and thankful we were there to give some assistance.”
Describing the damage as shocking, Cook said, “Everything that was burnt was burnt down to nothing; the only thing standing was maybe a couple walls and fireplaces. It was kind of devastating just to see it.”
However, the situation did make it possible for many homeowners to work alongside volunteers, making the formation of relationships possible.
“It gives you the opportunity to ask them about their spiritual life and their church life and those kinds of things. Those are all special times because you don’t always get that in different situations,” Cook said.
“We got to know them, talk to them and see about their needs and how we may be able to help them, and to learn about their family problems or accomplishments or whatever,” he said. “Those are special times when it comes to disaster relief, getting to talk to the homeowners.”
During their work in Gatlinburg, in addition to clearing 30 homes and removing many trees, disaster relief teams were able to present the gospel five times, distribute 27 Bibles and 18 gospel tracts, and see one profession of faith.
“I think what we always seek to do is to bring practical help to people, but as we bring that help, we certainly want to bring the beginning of healing as they try to recover from disaster,” Coy Webb, Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief director, said. “I think part of that healing is also bringing the hope of Jesus Christ and sharing about that grace and peace that He alone can bring. I think the teams were able to do that with just countless people who have been devastated in the Gatlinburg and Sevier county area.”
Webb added, “I think again and again we’ve been hearing what it means to an individual and a community to see those yellow shirts.” (WR)