‘I Feel Broken:’ Their Buildings Wrecked, Mayfield Churches Become Hubs for Recovery, Help

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MAYFIELD, Ky. — The power was still out at His House Ministries in Mayfield when Pastor Stephen Boykin addressed the nearly 100 people who’d gathered on Sunday morning.

It was barely two full days after a tornado ripped through this town of 10,000, flattening much of the historic downtown. In its destructive wake, 20 people were left dead in Graves County and even more displaced, parted from their belongings, heat and running water, unsure of where to start in the long, arduous path toward recovery.

Despite those losses, hundreds of people flocked to evangelical churches across Mayfield on Sunday for solace. His House Ministries, one of the biggest churches in town, was serving as a hub for food and resource distribution. Emergency responders had designated a separate building on campus to meet with families whose loved ones were still unaccounted for, collecting personal information that would help them identify bodies pulled from the rubble.

Boykin’s church service this Sunday morning would be brief — he and others were poised to dispatch groups of volunteers across the community to help families sort through their wreckage.

The pastor stood facing his congregation and at least two others, whose normal meeting spaces were left in shambles by the storm. Behind him, a generator-powered spotlight hummed.

“I’ve been asked many times, ‘How are you feeling?’” he shouted, so people in the back could hear his voice without the assistance of a microphone. “I feel broken. I know a lot of y’all feel broken. But I also feel confident that God is going to see us through. I feel confident that he has a purpose for each of us, and that in the midst of this, he will get the glory.”

“Yes,” and “Amen” people responded, some raising their hands. Others openly cried. A mother near the front held her daughter to her chest.

“Let’s just ask him to have his way, to draw all people to him. This is a drawing moment, y’all. Let’s pray right now.”

People would leave the church in groups and, with permission from their neighbors whose homes were in shambles, they would make their way across the community, pitching in wherever they were needed.

“If their house is gone, but there’s rubble, maybe they just need help picking up the rubble looking for that one photograph, looking for that family Bible, looking for that blanket or something they can hold on to,” he advised.

After people were dismissed, as volunteers in the church lobby hastily readied food for takeaway meals and arranged supplies, including shampoo and soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, Boykin said, “there’s different stages of recovery.”

“The first is rescue. You’re just trying to get to people,” he said. Boykin was among the first 50 to arrive at the candle factory, Mayfield Consumer Products, on foot late Friday night after word got around that the warehouse-like building had collapsed on workers.

“There were men in our church that pulled people out that did not make it at the candle factory.” Boykin and others scrambled across the pile of debris, reaching past twisted metal and broken concrete to pull people out.

Others who had survived asked Boykin to pray with them. One lady, who fell in and out of consciousness, just asked him to hold her hand.

“The next stage is relief,” which His House was helping to mobilize. On Saturday, the church had distributed 1,000 meals across the community. Another 2,500 were prepped to give away Sunday.

“We’re going to give until it hurts,” Boykin said.

Twenty miles away from His House in Boaz, a smaller church body assembled at Hardmoney Baptist. Pastor Faris Sahawneh was preaching out of 2 Corinthians about how the Apostle Paul survived his own life’s storms.

“As we look at how did Paul survive the storms of life, what keys can he share with us? If he survived, we can also survive,” Pastor Sahawneh said. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God that is eternal.”

In one of the pews was Brother Bob Waldridge, who’s own church, Yahweh Baptist in downtown Mayfield, was decimated. Barely anything was recoverable.

In the basement fellowship hall after the Hardmoney’s service, people, including members of Yahweh, fixed plates of food. Despite the loss of his church, Waldridge, who calls himself a practical preacher, was optimistic.

“Everything has a purpose. This is just a season,” he said as people fixed plates of food behind him.

“If this brings the people of God together, if this one event would bring one soul to God, it would be worth it,” he said. “Life is brief. You got to have a kingdom mindset.”