Finding the resilience to overcome disaster

In the darkness of night on December 10, 2021, an F4 tornado and its 190 mph winds battered First United Methodist Church in Mayfield, Kentucky. Huddled in the basement seeking secure shelter, the Rev. Joey Reed and his wife held onto each other while the 100-year-old building collapsed above them.

“I was thinking to myself, this may be my last few minutes on earth,” said Reed.

The Reeds were able to walk away unharmed from the ruins of the building. In the days following, Reed provided guidance, encouragement, leadership and comfort to his congregation, the Mayfield community and a much larger audience, as national news outlets, including CBS News and CNN, asked him to share his account of the storm.

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“UMCOR gets my vote every time because when you send $100 for disaster relief, $100 goes to disaster relief,” says the Rev. Joey Reed.

Reed continues to inspire us all. In a recent interview, he spoke about finding a way forward.

Encountering God in resilience

“If you want to look for God in the tornado, go ahead, but you’re going to find God in the days after, in the resilience of a town like Mayfield, and the resilience of a congregation like Mayfield First United Methodist Church,” Reed shares. “It’s in these stories of recovery and reaching out to our neighbors that we’re going to be able to show people what it looks like to walk alongside Jesus Christ.

“Resilience doesn’t mean that you’re impervious to the bad things. Resilience means that you can absorb a lot of that negative energy, sometimes to the breaking point and sometimes past it. But even if you break you heal. You mend. You make your way back. If you are bent you try to find ways to either turn that bend into something positive or to bend yourself back into that original position so that what happens after, again, is much more important than what happened in that tragic moment when so many people lost their lives, when so many people lost everything.”

Relying on The UMC connection

Reed is leaning on the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), ministry colleagues, Bishop Bill McAlilly and many others for support as he navigates caring for a grieving community and helping with long-term disaster recovery in the areas impacted by the storm, which carried dozens of tornados through eight states.

“UMCOR likes to talk about 10/10/10. It took about 10 minutes for the tornado to blow through and destroy most of downtown Mayfield. It took about 10 days for the water to come back on. It’ll take about a thousand days for us to figure this out and get to a place where we feel like we’re well underway in recovery,” Reed says. “Maybe 6 years, maybe 8 years, maybe 10 years, but the good news is, no matter how many years it’s going to be, UMCOR is not going to be abandoning us in the middle of this process.

“[UMCOR] may not be the first ones in … But we’re going to be the last ones there. We’re going to be the ones who are waiting to leave until the last person has keys to the new house, has that last tab of shingle put up on top of that porch that they needed to have repaired. Whatever it is, we’re going to be there until the very last need is met.”

Laura Buchanan works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email.

This video and story were published on February 14, 2022.