Neighborhoods and side streets tell a heartbreaking story. Clothes, mattresses and household furniture lay strewn across wet lawns in hopes that the sun will shine long enough to dry them. Everything that was not salvageable is piled high along the roadways, transforming shady lanes to narrow pathways, children’s toys providing the occasional jolt of color.
“For those on the outside looking in, they’re seeing that the churches can’t even come together,” says Urban Hope member Dion Watts. “That’s something that has been a Goliath – a huge stumbling block. If we can come together on this, the message it will send to the rest of the world will be profound.”
The post office is gone. The school is gone. City Hall is gone. Most of the churches are gone. Nearly every building in Smithville, Mississippi is gone — or so heavily damaged they will have to be demolished. The devastation from last week’s F5 tornado is so widespread, so absolute, that it’s easier to tally what remains: The telephone company. Coker’s Han-D-Mart. And an unshakeable sense of faith.
The nation spent Wednesday riveted by a live video feed of BP’s latest attempt to stop the geyser of oil infiltrating the Gulf of Mexico, but in Louisiana, sights were set on the heavens as residents gathered at First Baptist Church of Chalmette to pray. One by one, they stood and asked God for protection, guidance, comfort, and mercy. At times, they clung together so closely that they evoked images of the delicate reeds that are now in danger – frail, but not weak; bent, but not broken. Never, ever broken.
Keep hope. Keep faith. Keep strong. Keep going. It is that strength of spirit to which this 18-family community, nestled within the hills of south-central Kentucky, is clinging as the church struggles to accept the loss of nearly a tenth of its members. The crash, which cost 11 lives, was believed to be the deadliest motor vehicle accident in Kentucky since 1988.
There are jobs, but there aren’t enough. There is housing, but there is not enough. Yet there is growing optimism as well. There is progress, albeit slow, and there is a brighter future on the horizon, albeit distant. And there are volunteers here — people of all faiths, people from all walks of life — bonded by a common determination to bring this battered city, along with the entire Gulf Coast, back to life.