Yesterday, I had the opportunity to travel to West Virginia. I grew up in the Mountain State, a native of Shady Spring, and a graduate of West Virginia University. So, when the state experienced some of the worst flooding in its history there was only one thing to do: Act.
The church where I serve as the pastor, Claylick United Methodist Church in Salvisa, Ky., rallied to be a blessing to the people who I call my people. I cannot thank them enough for their love and connection to people beyond our own neighborhood. We took an entire carload of supplies to the state and will likely take more in the days to come. It is the least we can do to give back to people who are hurting.
Many of the communities that have been affected by this unthinkable natural disaster are among the poorest in the nation. While the nation’s focus on the West Virginia flooding has been on the cancellation of a PGA Tour event and the damage to the luxurious Greenbrier hotel, the reality is that the pain of the West Virginia flood will be felt for years and raises questions about whether or not the region will rebuild.
I’m not concerned that the people of West Virginia will rally to help clean up and support one another. That is West Virginia care and connection that is at the heart of the people. When one hurts, no matter where you may be living at the time, we all hurt. The nation saw this on display following the 2006 Sago Mine Disaster in Upshur County and in 2010 after the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster in Raleigh County. It doesn’t take long for West Virginians to rally with food and resources to help and recover.
The deeper question remains as to whether there will be the resources to rebuild in the years to come. The places affected by the West Virginia flooding are among the poorest in the nation. There are few Greenbriers in West Virginia and many more places and communities where the people can barely make ends meet due to few economic opportunities and resources. Many people, like myself, have left the state because of this reality. Though our heart remains in West Virginia, the economic challenges of a place we love make it difficult to be with the people who cared and nurtured us.
So let’s be honest and ask: Will those who lost everything look around at the damage, consider the economic struggles, and decide to move to reconnect with their family members in North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and other states where many West Virginians have resettled? It is a question that will only be answered in time.
The flooding cries out for national attention, yet there has be scant attention upon the crisis in the Mountain State. The lack of national attention on the West Virginia flooding, outside of the The Greenbrier Classic cancellation, is a telling contribution to our ongoing narrative to make second-class citizens out of people from Appalachia.
Our nation makes caricatures out of Appalachian people. We describe as Appalachians as hillbillies who are uneducated, who wear no shoes, and who are behind the rest of the “civilized” people. I’ve seen this first hand. I cannot count the number of times people assume I am uneducated because I graduated from West Virginia University and also assume that my cousin is not just my cousin. It is unfortunate and should never happen.
We have to be willing to see the people of Appalachia as people who are of worth, of value, and who can teach us something about life, caring for one another, and living with the hope of Christ in all things.
My heart is always with the people I love and share a common heritage with. They are hurting and need your help. I hope you will help them with the help they desperately need of resources to clean up and to rebuild in the years to come.