Penny Smith didn’t care much for the low-income neighborhood that bordered on the back of her business property. As far as she and her husband were concerned the residents were a nuisance. There was always trash and beer bottles littering the back of her bookkeeping firm. So, a few years ago they put up a wooden fence to keep the ‘undesirable elements’ out.
On the night of 10 December 2021, just weeks before Christmas, a tornado with wind speeds of up to 190 mph tore through her town of Mayfield, Kentucky. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed and 22 people died.
Penny and Rob, who live in the next town over, were spared but the following morning went to check out their business. Amazingly, there was only minor damage to their building, but the neighbors were not so lucky. The storm had taken down the wooden fence and all Penny could see was the devastation that her neighbors had suffered. Rob thought it was like an atomic bomb went off.
Penny said that when the fence fell down, other barriers did as well. Her eyes were opened. A lifelong Christian and church goer she had been content to ignore the struggles of that community. Now she saw these people as her neighbors, and they needed help, immediately. It was difficult to get rescue crews into the vicinity, so Penny and Rob set up an area on their property to serve coffee and water. Then people started dropping off food and other necessities. They began to serve a hot breakfast each morning for the residents, many who were now homeless. Over the last few weeks, they have continued to provide hot food and clothing. It’s become a hub for other services into the devasted area.
“Literally, the walls came down, and we started talking to these neighbors,” Rob said. Penny’s business is on hold at the moment while she continues to serve the people around her. Soon she’ll need to return to work but her perspective on her calling and her neighbors has forever been changed.
Jesus asked them, ““Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers (or a tornado)?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)