Samaritan’s Purse volunteers show God’s love to a West Virginia community still reeling from a deadly flood
When more than a foot of rain pummeled White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in a span of only a few hours—triggering deadly flash floods and catastrophic mudslides—Pastor Randy Gilliam once again clung to a powerful passage of Scripture that has brought him comfort since he committed his life to Jesus Christ 45 years ago.
While sitting in a pew at the Baptist church he’s pastored for the past five years, recounting how his niece had been swept away in the flood and her body never recovered, Randy recited from memory Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (KJV).
“There are times when this passage becomes a reality in the most amazing way, and this flood was one of them,” he said. “After things like this, you struggle with what you do now, what’s the next step, or even ask ‘Why?’ We can’t lean on what we think or how we perceive things to be, but instead we have to trust in the Lord, that He will direct our paths and that there’s victory in Jesus.”
Mykala Cheyanne Phillips was one of 23 people killed in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, when floods ravaged the area six weeks ago. She was the 14-year-old daughter of James and Becky Phillips and niece of Randy and his wife, Della.
When the flood struck, a wall of water crashed into the Phillips’ home, ripping it from its foundation. James grabbed an extension cord and wrapped Mykala and her two brothers, Jayson, 15, and Carter, 7, around him. They crawled through a window and jumped into the raging waters that were well over their heads. The four tumbled through the swift current.
Suddenly, the water surged, snapping the cord, causing James, Jayson, and Carter to go one way, and Mykala another. As she floated downstream, a family struggling to stay atop their roof tried throwing her a rope and a life preserver, but she couldn’t reach them. Then they watched Mykala go under, never to resurface.
A memorial service for Mykala was held last weekend at the nearby Bethseda Church. Randy helped officiate.
“What brings us great peace is knowing that Mykala is with Jesus,” Randy said five days before the service. “About seven months ago in junior church, through the Awana program, she received Jesus Christ as her Savior. And about eight weeks ago, I had the privilege of baptizing her here at the White Sulphur Springs Baptist Church. We’re grateful that she’s with Him and that His presence and grace gives us strength and comfort during these trying days.”
Randy then said that Mykala’s death—and her new life in Christ—has caused people to consider spiritual matters.
“It’s made people really rethink eternity, and because of that, there’s been many people saved here,” he said.
Proclaiming the Gospel While Cleaning Homes
Immediately after the flood in late June, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers and Billy Rapid Response Team chaplains deployed to the area, coming alongside hurting homeowners in Jesus’ Name. Nearly 720 volunteers invested 14,520 hours in helping homeowners take waterlogged belongings to the curb, as well as removing damaged flooring and walls, preparing the homes for future repair.
And throughout the deployment, which ended July 29, 53 people made decisions to follow Jesus Christ.
Pastor Randy was one of the 138 homeowners who was helped by our team. We went to his home and removed a fence that had been crushed by the fast-moving waters. We also cleaned his mud-soaked back patio, where his young grandchildren love to splash in their baby pool.
At the same time, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers assisted Pastor Randy with the mud-out of the White Sulphur Springs Baptist Church. Its basement was flooded with 9 feet of water. Our team, joined by students from Liberty University, tore out drywall and insulation and then sprayed for mold.
“Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham chaplains showed and shared the love of God,” he said. “Their service was genuine and in a real way they showed that God’s people are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. They proclaimed the Gospel, and that’s what it’s all about—people knowing Jesus.”
Samaritan’s Purse is continuing to work near in Kanawha County, West Virginia. So far, 976 volunteers have served, helping 121 homeowners. Five people have given their hearts to Christ during this deployment, which is scheduled to last another two weeks.