Monday, July 18, 2011

Letter of Gratefulness concerning the Railroad House

Letter of Gratefulness

Dear friends, July 18, 2011

Bob and I want to thank all of you who have been working so diligently for the past three months on our home in Alabama. Our hearts are overflowing with gratitude for all of the great outpouring of love, kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity and care that you have given us since the day of the tornado.

I will never forget the terrible feeling that I had when Darby Travers called us around 11:00 p.m. on the evening of April 27 with the report that a terrible tornado had hit the valley. “The Lees are all trapped and we fear Tom is dead,” was the dreadful news.

The pain was so great that I thought I would have a heart attack. An hour later Jordan called and described the ordeal in a supernaturally strong voice. “Mr. Welch,” he said, “My dad is in heaven.”

With broken hearts, Bob and I began packing to make the trip back east. We wanted to be there to pray, to help, and to do whatever we could to support our dear precious friends. Tom, Sherry and their family have been on staff with our ministry for 12 years and we love them very much.

On Saturday morning, April 30, as we arrived at Shoal Creek Valley, I was asking God to give me strength to face the shock of seeing our beautiful valley destroyed and sharing in all the heartache of what had happened to our friends and neighbors. Driving down the valley, I saw home after home totally destroyed. There was tremendous devastation everywhere. The once beautiful, lush valley looked as if a bomb had been dropped upon it. Even the trees were stripped off the mountain leaving a desolate mountainside. It took almost an hour to drive from Highway 26 the 3 miles to our home. I was claiming many Scripture verses, asking God to help me to be strong so that I could encourage Sherry, her family and other dear friends, the Crawfords, the Boyds and the Liveretts, all our neighbors in the valley. Many rode out the storm taking shelter in the Crawford’s basement.

As we drove up our driveway I will never forget what I saw. Our little office and guest house was totally destroyed. The home where the Lees lived was a pile of rubble. On either end of our house, the huge oak trees that had provided shade for many a picnic were down, one having smashed with a direct hit the little office that Jim and Cindy Belyeu helped us to build; and the other, that for years had provided hundreds of exciting rides for young and old alike on the old cable slide, crashed into one end of the railroad house with some limbs poking through into Lucy’s bedroom. The site of so many happy memories with family and friends now reminded us of a battlefield scene out of an old black-and-white war movie.

But I saw something else. Scores of people were in our front yard. Dozens of friends of all ages were already busy trying to remove the debris and make some sense out of all the destruction. Friends were there and former students that we had not seen in 25 years. People we did not even know had come from Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia. It was as if God were saying, “This is what is truly important; relationships with people, new friends and precious old ones.”

God brought the words of a song to my mind as I walked up the steps of the old Railroad House. This world is not my home, I’m just passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. Seeing all those friends who had come to help us in our time of need, and sensing the love they have for us, it was as if Jesus was right there with me. Of course, He was. I had a strong sense of His supernatural peace, the peace that passes all understanding.

In the midst of our heartache over Tom Lee’s death, God, through the outpouring of love from so many people, was strengthening our hearts. It was a miracle. I have never known such comfort, care and strength supplied by the body of Christ as I did that day.

For the next week, a local church and others friends brought meals every day. We later learned that they continued to bring meals to feed the work crews that have been there ever since the storm. People came to help sort through the rubble, cut and remove tress, clean up the house and grounds, and begin patching up the old Railroad House, the lone survivor for miles on our side of the road, so that it would be weatherproof until further, more permanent repairs could be made. We looked for structural damage. The chimney was in tact without a crack. The windows were blown out. The doors were gone. Sheet rock and insulation had been sucked off the walls by the tornado. The picnic table from the deck was in the living room and everything had a coating of mud, grass and debris. Surprisingly, when you stood in some places, you couldn’t see any damage at all. It was as if the storm had never happened, but, it was dangerous to walk around inside or out. Praise the Lord, the Railroad House was still standing. We know that it was only the miracle of God’s grace that allowed the old home place to remain as a silent sentinel testifying to the significance of a strong foundation when the devastating storms of life begin to blow.

How our hearts ached that day as we wished Tom’s life could have been saved. In the midst of our heartache we were reminded of the tremendous blessing that God had miraculously spared the rest of his family.

Mike Bailey, an old friend and former student who now is in the construction business, was on the scene with his wife Allison, spreading out a home cooked chicken dinner to fortify us for this wild ride on an emotional roller coaster. Mike had helped to build our home originally including all the interior doors. As we talked over the chicken, we were reminded of many adventures, and times of strengthening and encouragement from the Lord in the old days when our children were the ages of Mike and Allison’s children now.

Sunday afternoon we paid tribute with hundreds of others to our good friend and co-laborer in the Kingdom, Tom Lee, a man of courage, integrity, kindness, and friendliness. Tom and Sherry and their family have made it possible for the many other families and individuals to visit the valley, be refreshed by the Lord and the beauty of His creation, and be accommodated so well during their stay at the Railroad House. It is our hope that the Lees will be back in action in Shoal Creek Valley in the coming days. They are already in action. They just don’t live there yet, but we believe that day will become a reality soon, we hope.

Another miracle was taking shape the following Monday as we listened to the vision God had given to the Schor Family, Mike and Susie, Summer, Michael, Matthew and Susannah Joy. They had a dream of restoring the Bible Teaching Ministries Family Retreat with the resurrection of the Railroad House (so named because it was built out of timber from the Moundville Railroad Station which we took down in 1976). The Schor’s daughter, Summer, said that she felt like the Railroad House should be restored as a “pillar of remembrance” for all of the ministry activities that God allowed to take place there.

From that first morning arriving on the scene of such unbelievable wreckage, Bob and I have been humbled, blessed and encouraged as we have watched the restoration of the Railroad House. We want to thank each one of you for all of your prayers, your hard work, for your time, energy, effort and support with resources, materials, supplies and food. When we see the pictures, we are deeply grateful. For those of you who have helped in some way, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Even those of you we do not know, we thank you.

Hebrews 6:10 - For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

We pray that God will abundantly pour out his blessing upon you.

With grateful hearts,

We love you,

Bob and Yvonne Welch

Bible Teaching Ministries

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sanders Sisters 5K Run/Walk

Al and Angie Sanders

Just a few doors down from where the Lees lived on Shoal Creek Road was the Sanders family farm; a place where many of us locals enjoyed cool, early mornings picking blueberries from their lush, fruit laden bushes.

On the night of April 27th, the Sanders family suffered unimaginable loss.  Al and Angie Sanders died tragically in the tornado's wrath, their home and belongings were completely destroyed.   Their three precious daughters, though gravely injured, miraculously survived.

Having lost their parents, their home, and all their belongings in the storm, the Sanders sisters' needs are great. Some of their friends are hosting a benefit for Cecily (20), Cassie (18), and Ciera Sanders (14), a 5K Run and Fun Walk, here in Ashville, on Saturday, August 27th.  

You can read more about the Sanders family and the benefit being held in their honor here.  The website gives all the race details, registration forms, and ways you can be involved to support and encourage another sweet family in Shoal Creek Valley.  

The Encouragement of Beginning...

The Crawford family has been blessed with teams of skilled carpenters that have helped them begin the framing of their home.  It is so encouraging for all of us to see and smell new wood going up after so much tearing down and hauling off.  Though there is oh so much more work to be done, there is encouragement in beginning...  Thank you, Lord.

Image From Happy Healthy Home

"Today I went back home. The crisscrossing boards and beams now take shape of a house." - B. Crawford   You can read more of their eldest daughter's impressions here. 

Image From Happy Healthy Home

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Still Waiting....

Framing Begins on the Crawford's Home in Shoal Creek Valley
Waiting is always difficult, more so for myself than for others, perhaps.  I watch my friends in the Valley wait, and they wait so patiently and with such contentment.  Their hope is in the Lord and they are continuing to take refuge in Him as they wait.

Some are waiting on the Lord for direction on what He would have them do, where and how He would have them build their lives again.  Others are waiting on plans, materials, finances, and help with labor.  There are so many important decisions to be made when trying to be a good steward of limited resources. Still others are waiting on insurance companies to come to agreement on payment even as they continue to discover more damage to their homes.  What seemed like just a few trees on a roof now reveals devastating structural damage that will require more tearing out, more money needed, more time to wait before beginning.

The Crawfords are so excited. They were able to begin the framing;  to finally start the process of rebuilding their home this past week.  Their joy over the initial progress was unexpectedly met with the agonizing discovery that at least one of their original foundation walls is cracked and bowing.  That foundation wall that so miraculously protected them as they took refuge within their basement the night of the tornado, apparently took more of a beating than they had originally realized.   The forces of the EF 5 winds that tore through the valley coupled with the dynamic pressure changes that exploded structures in its wake, not only ripped away the entire ground level floor of the Crawford home leaving behind a barren slab, but also moved or stressed at least one of the foundation walls to the point that it is structurally compromised and must be repaired.  So for now, the framing is on hold until the foundation can be secured.  More money, more time, more waiting.

Our friends in the Valley are amazing while they wait.  They willingly and without hesitation stop work on their own projects to go and help their neighbors.  Word spreads that someone needs help putting on a roof, and neighbors arrive forfeiting their own plans to give time and energy to someone else.  There are smiles on their faces and the joy of the Lord in their hearts.  They are truly grateful for all that the Lord has done and all that He has provided and they willingly sacrifice to honor Him.

The Valley families are enduring trials beyond the obvious losses about which you and I are aware.  You rarely hear them mention their struggles because they are more focused on the goodness of the Lord and how they can best serve others rather than thinking too much about their own difficulties.

Certainly they are grieving the tremendous losses they have experienced; the loss of one greatly loved and respected, the loss of home and belongings, the loss of beauty and familiar lush landscapes.

Many live in "camp-like" situations.  They are displaced, their belongings are in a myriad of places, and their family routines are lost to the tyranny of the urgent.  Each day brings new challenges and requires taking a deep breath and making adjustments to their "new normal".  In fact, simply coordinating 11 people to share one bathroom is something which is rather stressful.

Of course there are other things they won't tell you: (because they don't complain), loss of income, emergencies and ER visits, twice flooded basements, horrendously busy schedules, lack of privacy and quiet, eye infections and new glasses, responsibilities to care for ailing, out-of-town parents, automobiles breaking down in route, hospitalizations, doctor and therapy visits, finding places to store gifts given graciously, children nervous during frequent summer storms, paper work required in triple with deadlines of tomorrow, lack of shade in the summer's heat, life altering decisions to be made, headaches from mildew stench, unexpected company, caring for farm animals, traveling to and from the work site to check on things, sharing the stomach virus, and many other struggles.

Some Husbands (and eldest sons) have been able to go back to their jobs.  These breadwinners leave early in the morning and return home just before dark, tired after a long, hard day's work. They are greeted by families who are enduring stressful, often cramped, unfamiliar situations who have need of their attention, their leadership, and their encouragment. These men daily face the exhausting pressures of juggling both full time employment and being the full time decisions makers and construction managers of their homes.

Other husbands have lost their source of income due to the tornado's devastation. Tools of the trade are gone, hay fields are full of debris, and the work that once was the source of provision for their family is no more. These men still labor daily, from sun up to sun down, often not even on their own property, but without financial remuneration.  They, too, are greeted at the door after a long day's work by families under stress, with needs for encouragement, who hope to see progress, and for them the pressures mount. They are living by faith, helping others, and waiting on the Lord.

I share these challenges our friends so quietly are facing so you can pray more specifically and with better understanding.  I can testify that their hopes are in the Lord and they daily take refuge in Him.  The grace of the Lord is evident in their lives and in their reactions to their circumstances.  But this does not lessen the reality that many of these families face difficulties that neither you nor I know nor can imagine.

  • Because things always cost twice as much, and take three times as long as originally planned; and because these families are still realizing costly damage they didn't even know existed, let's remind the Lord, through prayer, of their needs for His physical provisions.  
  • Let's continue to pray for their endurance under hardship, for their spirits to be renewed daily with the Word of God and in their experience of God's goodness and faithfulness toward them.  
  • Ask the Lord to multiply the emotional fortitude needed to consider it all joy when encountering trials of various kinds, and where there are losses and disappointments along the way, beseech the Lord to replenish their hearts with the riches of His marvelous grace.

Thank you for your giving spirit and thank you for being willing to pray.  Our dear friends in the Valley are still waiting, grateful that the Lord is faithful to meet their needs.  Let's encourage them this week that we stand with them and that we are praying for them.  We will not forget.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Waiting on the Lord

Sherry has posted several updates including a sweet post honoring Tom on his birthday in June.  The Lees were without Internet for quite a while and are now able to share some of their thoughts on their blog.  Be sure to read the three most recent posts on a : Birthday Remembrances, Sunday Hymn: It is Well With My Soul, and Happy 4th of July!

Please continue to pray for them as they patiently wait on the Lord for His direction for their next steps.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Railroad House Update

While there is still a lot to be done on the Railroad House, the demolition and re-framing are done and new things are being installed! There are several pieces of furniture that were scrambled in the house during the tornado and are going to need some TLC before they can be put in the newly restored house. If anyone is interested in polishing/refinishing any of them it would be greatly appreciated! Contact if you would like to help. Thank you!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day to Our Dear Friend, Tom Lee

This will be the first of many Father's Days for the Lee family without their beloved father, Tom.  For them, Father's Day will forever be a day of remembrance and an opportunity to honor their father's memory.

The Lee children's lives and their love for the Lord is a lasting testament to their father. We can testify that their hearts are grateful to the Lord as they trust fully in Him, their faces are radiant as they look to Him, and their steps are confident as they walk in obedience to Him.  These are lessons they learned from their father and daily observed in his life. He set before them a godly example of a life lived in absolute devotion to the Lord.  It has been said that if you know the Lee children and observe their character, you will have seen and known Tom Lee.  His legacy of Christ-likeness is lived out in the lives of his thirteen precious children.

Tom Lee was not only a self-sacrificing husband to his wife, Sherry, and an exemplary father to his children, but his life was a demonstration of the Gospel of Christ to many of us who had the privilege of calling him friend.  Happy Father's Day, Tom.  We miss you but we are grateful to the Lord for your life and for the privilege we had of knowing you and learning from your quiet, humble example.  We are blessed and our lives are richer because of time spent with you and your family.