Here is a letter sent out to those who have inquired about helping with fire relief in the Sevier County, TN area from Pastor Wes White, of Evergreen Church (Sevierville, TN). In it, he sets forth a number of ways you can help with recovery efforts.
Yesterday, I was driving into Sevier County from Knoxville after attending my first UT basketball game with my eight-year-old daughter Leah. I saw our beautiful lights and the large light display that said “Winterfest: Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg.” Ever since I came here two years ago, these lights have been a sign to me of the joy and wonder of our area that is rooted in our Christian heritage, artistic creativity, and natural beauty.
However, on this night, it made my heart heavy, thinking of all the loss that the word “Gatlinburg” now represents to me and so many. That word now makes me think of all the stories that I have heard over the past week. Stories of people wrapping themselves in wet cold blankets and hiding in crawl spaces as the flames came near. People submerging themselves in rivers to avoid being burned. A family with three houses on the top of a hill could not get out because a log covered the road. They did not know how they would get out. Then, they saw a light down below. It was a young family staying in a cabin. They got a ride with them off the mountain to safety. Others did not escape. Our community hoped and prayed for the Reed family whose wife and two daughters were missing. They did not make it out. The stories just keep multiplying, layer upon layer. How can we enjoy the lights of Christmas in the midst of all these things?
But then I thought of other stories. People have come together in this community in a way that I have never seen any community come together. People are volunteering and offering to help those in need. People are coming alongside one another to love them where they are and help them where they can. Immigrants who have been ignored are getting attention and concern in ways they never have before. Our community is being a community, people connecting with people.
And there it is, the wonder of Christmas. The love of God in human form coming to a world of brokenness. The wonder is still there. The lights continue to shine.
Thank you for being a part of showing what Jesus did in coming to this world. Thank you for your offer to help. I wanted to respond to your questions and offers to help with five ideas for how you can help Sevier County:
1. Pray for Sevier County.
2. If you would like to donate items, we can help you know what you should gather and where to send it.
3. Volunteer. If you would like to come and help, there is now a centralized location for all volunteers. You can go to the web site www.mountaintough.org. You can also go directly the volunteer processing site at the theater on the corner of the Parkway & Cate/Park Rd.
4. Donate to our church benevolence fund. We have developed our church’s benevolence fund to meet niche needs such as getting money for a deposit for an apartment, paying electric bills when someone got behind, purchasing food or gas to help people make it to the next paycheck, helping with funeral expenses, and so on. We expect that we will have a lot more of these types of opportunities. So, a gift of $100, $250, or $500 or any other amount would be helpful. You can send a check to P.O. Box 5830 Sevierville, TN 37862, or you can go to www.evergreentn.com and contribute via Paypal. Just write “Gatlinburg Fire Benevolence” on your check or Paypal contribution.
5. Come visit Sevier County (Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville). Our recovery will be based in large part on tourism. It is the economic backbone of our region. You can help us by encouraging people in your church to come visit, have fun, and shop here. I know this is not how we ordinarily think of benevolence, but let me emphasize, encourage your friends, family, and church to come visit. Really. This will be one of the best things you can do for us.
We have also established a task force that will look at further opportunities to help the people in our area, possibly in coordination with Mission to North America’s Disaster Relief.
If you have further questions, please feel free to call me at 865-567-6763 or the chairman of our task force working on how to coordinate Evergreen Church’s resources with the needs of our community. His name is Steve Bain, and his number is 865-221-5372.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Wes White