Following a day of disastrously heavy rains and deadly flooding in middle Tennessee that left at least 22 dead and homes, roads, vehicles, schools, and businesses damaged or destroyed on Saturday, Convoy of Hope immediately responded with a truckload of relief supplies and is partnering with churches and other organizations to bring aid to victims in hard-hit Humphreys County.
According to reports, up to 17 inches of rain fell Saturday morning in the area, with powerful flood waters flowing down into the rural community of Waverly — located about 60 miles west of Nashville — and causing heavy damage.
“Our church has been overwhelmed with phone calls from all around the USA,” stated Bobby Willeby, pastor of First Assembly of God in Waverly in a Facebook post. “People asking us how they can help our community. Now more than ever we need to be showing people the love of God and letting our lights shine. The devastation is so unbelievable, but God can and will provide during this time.”
However, for Willeby and his congregation at First Assembly, the devastating flooding, which damaged or destroyed some congregants’ homes, marks yet another tragedy the church has endured over the last year. After selling their original church building and purchasing property to build a new building on the highway, tragedies struck the church family, including Willeby and his wife of 47 years, Denise.
“We had some elderly members of our church die not long after we sold the original church building,” says Willeby, who is 66. “Then five members of our family, including my wife and me, got COVID.”
The couple ended up at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. After five days, Bobby was sent home on May 7 to recuperate. Within hours of his arrival, he received a phone call that Denise had died. It took Bobby three months to fully recover from COVID, though emotion still quickly overwhelms him when he speaks of Denise.
As unexpected permits slowed the construction of the new building, the church moved its services completely online to conserve money that was being spent on a temporary location. Willeby has also begun working an additional full-time job. The flooding did not strike where the new building is being erected, but did destroy the storage area where the church’s furniture was stored.
“In the process of all this, I got a call from my sister,” Willeby says, struggling to hold back his emotions. “Her twin great-grandbabies were victims of the flood . . . I’ll be preaching their funeral tomorrow.”
Willeby says that he has gone out to survey the damage in the community, expressing appreciation for Convoy of Hope and for the ongoing friendship and support of Terry Bailey, Tennessee Ministry Network superintendent.
“Our little town looks like a tornado hit it,” Willeby says of the 18,000-member community. “There’s such tragedy here, it’s overwhelming . . . What we need most of all is prayer.”