Still Much Unresolved
by Trish Duggan, OPC Disaster Response Communications Coordinator
It’s hard to imagine continuing to live in a soggy, mold-filled home, but that’s what many in the community of Neon have had to do without much promise of change. This desperate need is what has led OPC Disaster Response to begin Phase 2 in Neon, Kentucky.
Praise the Lord; Neon Reformed OPC held regular worship services in their building on Sunday, October 23, 2022, for the first time since the end of July when a catastrophic flood destroyed their building. Furniture and other necessities continue to arrive, as do estimates on reconstructing the exterior of the building, but thankfully worship can again be conducted. Although that is an amazing milestone to be celebrated (especially since many in town—including businesses and churches—continue to struggle), there is another facet to the ministry of mercy in Neon.
This second phase isn’t the first time the focus of the Neon disaster response effort shone on the community. Early on many in this town, along with members of Neon Reformed OPC, worked around the clock removing water and mud from homes and businesses. This was really the initial phase of the effort. But the early work was just a band-aid. Many residents, without any means to repair their homes, are forced to continue to live within the destruction.
This has led OPC DR to search for a deacon-like individual who could make contact with residents, compassionately assess their needs, and start the process of helping, when possible. Jeff Davis, deacon at Cedar OPC in Jenison, Michigan, is no stranger to OPC Disaster Response. He led the effort in Houston back in 2017, and generously agreed to lead the community Mercy Coordination work in Neon on and off for about two months. Kenley Leslie, member of Staunton OPC in Virginia eagerly jumped in to help as well, for a time. He served in disaster response on the Gulf coast for more than a year, following Hurricane Katrina. The two together make an amazing team. Their days in Neon, both separately and together, consist of visiting residents, assessing the needs, making quick fixes, acquiring materials, working with and guiding volunteers, as well as reporting weekly (or more) to the Neon Disaster Oversight Committee. It’s no small task, but they do it joyfully as unto the Lord.
After first reading of how some of the houses in Neon had washed away, Kenley says, “My first thought was, this is a mini-[hurricane] Katrina! This is what happened to the first four blocks of Waveland, Mississippi when the houses ended up inland or out at sea 17 years ago. Those blocks are still empty. The same could be said for some of the places in Neon that flooded and washed away. They will never be lived in again. I thought, ‘well, I responded to Katrina; I can't not do something’.”
Upon arriving in Neon, Jeff and Kenley were quickly introduced to a woman named Alberta Slone-Perry who works with a non-profit called ICAN Services, a local aid organization operating in Letcher County. ICAN connects residents in need with aid providers. The assistance she provided to Jeff and Kenley helped in supplying names of those in need from this private, humble town. Kenley acknowledges the advantage of knowing someone like her, “Alberta is a one-stop shop to find those in need. She’s organized, knows the people, and has connections.” Kenley and Jeff get the referrals from Alberta on folded up, lined notebook pages, ripped out of a spiral notebook, where Alberta keeps all her pertinent information.
Jeff and Kenley have developed a spreadsheet containing the names of those they’ve visited, how often they’ve visited, what’s been accomplished, what still needs to be done and by what means. The spreadsheet contains a list of the 23 contacts made to date—just a fraction of the total reported 534 Neon residents. Kenley says that so far, those receiving help have been exceedingly grateful. There are some very sad situations still unresolved in Neon. He recently heard from Alberta about a woman who was ripped off by a contractor, something of which homeowners in these types of situations are extremely vulnerable. Kenley makes it clear why he’s there to help and who he is representing, “When I introduce myself, I say, ‘I'm with Neon Reformed Orthodox Presbyterian Church’ and tell them it's right on the corner where the blinking light is.” This connection to the local church is vital to their introduction to Christ, and something that OPC Disaster Response sees as foundational. Volunteers go home and the local church becomes the connection to Jesus.
During their time in Neon, Jeff and Kenley have led OPC Disaster Response volunteer mother and son duo, Noah and Gillian Blair, along with Kyle Grassmid, Jim Silvashy, and Matthew Wood in helping clean out crawl spaces, moving ruined personal items, rebuilding, hooking up a sewer line, and assembling sheds to store household items and an occasional family heirloom.
After somewhat of a recent lull in volunteer involvement, Steve Jessen, MNA Disaster Response Specialist (PCA) for the Carolinas contacted us offering the aid of 25 young people and leaders from Carolina Christian School. This was the cup of cold water we needed to refresh the effort! Lord willing, the group plans to arrive and begin serving November 17. The plan is to split them up into smaller groups to work on building Sheds of Hope and other needed work and finish their visit by worshipping at Neon Reformed. The Lord provides!
With winter quickly approaching, the effort will take a pause. OPC Disaster Response, along with the Presbytery of the Southeast is prayerfully considering whether to restart this effort in February. There continues to be needs. The decision to restart will largely be determined by whether a new Mercy Coordinator (or Coordinators!) can be identified; one or more of whom are compassionate and know construction. Jeff and Kenley are creating wonderful inroads to this community, pointing those they help to the Lord and introducing them to Neon Reformed OPC. We would like to see this effort continue.
Please pray for the safety of those who are on the ground doing the heavy lifting, for those traveling to the area and for those who are in need. It is very difficult to invite strangers into your humble, broken-down home. Pray that all our communication with those who are suffering is seasoned with the love of Christ and the joy of the Lord.