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

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