More Than Can Be Told

By Hannah Kessler, Partnership Coordinator

“You have multiplied, O Lord my God, Your wondrous deeds and Your thoughts toward us; none can compare with You! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.” Psalm 40:5

One of my least favorite things about myself is my memory. If you have spent any amount of time with me, you probably notice a notebook close by, where I write down my to-do lists and reminders of the day. If I lose my notebook, or forget to write something down, one of two things happen: either it’s lost completely in my mind until I’ve missed the deadline, or I lay awake at night knowing I’m forgetting something… I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

This is especially annoying when trying to remember all the wonderful things God has done. I want to remember how I felt, what I saw, and the way God worked in my heart as if it was happening all over again, even years later. I’ve learned to keep journals, but even then it never really does the moment justice.

What happened this summer in West Virginia, and in particular the towns of Rosedale and Clendenin, are “more than can be told”. Looking back and trying to process all the ways God showed His graciousness to me, makes me wish I could stop time and rewind. Getting right back to every speechless, overwhelming part.

Our summer in West Virginia started off calm. We had our projects and partnerships in place. Families in Rosedale were excited to meet the new staff team. Our first two weeks were complete and I was taking a deep breath, thanking God for how smoothly things were going.

On Thursday, June 23rd, a flood hit areas of West Virginia and nearby parts of Virginia, resulting in 23 deaths. The flood was the result of 8 to 10 inches of rain falling over a period of just 12 hours, resulting in the deadliest U.S. flash flood event since 2010. The Elk River crested at 33 feet Friday morning rising more than 27 feet from Thursday afternoon; the highest crest since record keeping began more than 125 years ago. A 47 year old woman drowned near Clendenin, when rising water from a creek overcame her car. Despite numerous attempts, emergency responders were unable to reach her before her vehicle was swept away. At least 5 others were killed in the Kanawha County area. In the wake of the floods, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency for 44 of the state’s 55 counties. On June 25th, President Barack Obama declared West Virginia a major disaster area, ordering aid to assist victims of the floods in Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties.

We were stunned.

Our location in Braxton County was relatively unscathed. Yet there were people within an hour of us being rescued off their roofs and being delivered to safety, 12 hours after the storm had hit.

Knowing little to nothing about flood relief, but knowing we had hands ready to be of assistance, we took a leap of faith into the relief efforts. On Monday, June 27th, we were able to begin work in Clendenin. This started with helping at distribution centers, and led to helping clean out homes.

Two days after we began, I took the time to write to my mom, who then sent a letter to all of the friends and family asking about our involvement with the flood. Looking back, I’m so glad that God laid it on my heart to stop and write it down.

Here are some excerpts from that letter:

Let me begin by saying how encouraging it has been to be apart of this process. The people of this great state never cease to amaze me. Monday morning I was briefing volunteers on what this week would be like (me, who has never done relief work before… I was giggling too). I said things like ” These people have lost everything they owned. Some of them have lost family and friends. They will be hungry and thirsty and grumpy, and I don’t blame them. We have to be gentle, and don’t get offended if people take their heartache out on you personally. “

Since then I have been humbled to see the opposite take place. Both locations we have been volunteering at have been hubs for donation drop off and pick up. Flood victims can drive through a parking lot, and not even leave their cars. They just say what they need, and as they make their way around a loop, volunteers assist them. My main job has been directing traffic into the lot, and being the first face people see to get assistance. Many people start crying when I ask them what they need, and they reply: everything.

When people speak with me, they are at their worst. This is the first day they have been able to get out of their homes. Some of them are in little clothing, and what they have is caked in mud. Many have gone days without food and water when they arrive. They are on day 5 or 6 without medications they need. But what I have noticed is, even their worst is thankful. It is patient. Their worst is generous to their neighbors, not taking more than they need. Their worst is loving towards a 22 year old girl trying to help them, even with little experience or knowledge. Their worst wants to know about me, and why I’m in Clendenin, West Virginia. Their worst tells me they lost everything, but at least their dog is still alive, and for that they are thankful. Their worst says that they will make it through, because that’s the West Virginia way. Their worst says “God Bless YOU. Thank YOU for what you’re doing.” Their worst makes me look at myself, and wonder if I could be that brave, that loving, that generous at my worst.

I look back and am thankful that God set us to West Virginia this summer. Thankful that our neighbors in Rosedale were generous and loving enough to not second guess us taking time away from Rosedale to serve the town of Clendenin. And thankful, that even if I can’t remember them all, God still continues to amaze me with His wondrous deeds.

They are much more than can be told.

Next Step Ministries