Uprooted trees, downed power lines, crushed cars, and shattered homes made up the scene that greeted volunteers in Bowling Green, Ky., in late December. A few weeks prior, western Kentucky was devastated by an EF 4 tornado that ripped across the region with winds up to 190 mph.
Immediately following the tornados, the Encompass Crisis Response team leapt into action. Director Barb Wooler put out the call, asking for “anyone crazy enough to travel to Kentucky the weekend before Christmas.” She wrote, “The only thing worse than having to go help folks the weekend before Christmas is actually being the folks who are in desperate need of help the weekend before Christmas.”
Encompass organized their clean-up efforts into four, week-long opportunities, and men and women from all over the Charis Fellowship volunteered. The groups tarped roofs, removed trees and limbs, and canvased neighborhoods to assess needs.
Mitch Bischoff, a contractor by trade and attender of Grace Church of Greater Akron – Norton Campus (Dan Gregory, campus pastor), spent 11 days in Kentucky serving with two different teams. He admitted the devastation was shocking. One particular sight that struck him was a house with a message spray painted on the front door: “Douglas I am OK,” followed by a phone number. Mitch said, “There was no power, no way to get in touch with anyone. This was their best option for communicating with a loved one.”
At the start of Mitch’s time in Bowling Green, he went out with a team to knock on doors to see how they could help the community. “Many people turned down help,” he said. “We came across one man in a damaged house. He was really cold. He only had one shoe. He asked for a tent to get out of the weather.” Mitch recalled it was well below freezing that night. The team was able to provide a tent, sleeping bag, dry clothes, and food. “The least we could do was help him survive the night.”
The two teams Mitch served with worked from sun-up to sun-down. In one community, they cleared enough debris that by the end of the week a new foundation for a house was being laid.
During the four weeks that Encompass served in Bowling Green, they utilized their new Disaster Response RV. Volunteers stayed in the RV and meals were provided by their partner church, Woodburn Baptist. Churches from the Charis Fellowship that sent groups were Grace Church of Ashland, Ohio, led by Kevin Smith; Community Grace Brethren Church of Warsaw, Ind., led by Mike Fisher; Marantha Brethren Church of Hagerstown, Md., led by Dan Thornton; and East Side Grace Brethren Church of Blacklick, Ohio, led by Bob Sidwell.
For those interested in joining future disaster response efforts or contributing to ongoing efforts, more information can be found on Encompass’ website here.