Helping friends in need
A First Free Rockford mission trip this fall will serve flood-ravaged communities in eastern Kentucky.
Jim Killam
June 20, 2023

For more than 50 years, First Free Rockford sent students to eastern Kentucky every June. Generations of seventh and eighth-graders remember trekking to “the hills and hollers” to serve churches with service and maintenance work, plus hosting a Vacation Bible School.

Those annual trips ceased during the pandemic. Then, last July, the area got nearly a foot of rain in 48 hours. Rivers and streams overflowed. Flash floods swept away homes and entire portions of communities. Thirty-nine people died. Property damage was catastrophic.

Five EFCA churches are located in the impacted area—including several where our students served over the years. This fall, our church has the opportunity to send a team of people to help. From Oct. 29 to Nov. 3, we will work with ReachGlobal Crisis Response and help these churches help their communities recover.

Early recovery work last fall at Lost Creek Evangelical Free Church . Photos from the church’s Facebook page.

“As the body of Christ, if we can go help our brothers and sisters in Kentucky, how awesome would that be to show them love?” says Diane Geddes. “It would be especially great if some people who have been there before could be on this trip.”

Diane and her husband, Paul, spent the past two Januarys serving with ReachGlobal, helping communities in Louisiana recover from hurricane-related flooding. This year when they returned, they began serving on First Free’s Global Outreach Committee. And the idea of recruiting a team to serve in Kentucky began to take shape.

The Geddeses are members of a Life Group with Bob and Kathy Opperman, and together the two couples contacted ReachGlobal and planned the trip. Student and adult teams from other Free churches are serving all summer, but the October-November week was open.

The trip is open to any adults, plus students under 18 provided they come with a parent. As part of the application process, participants fill out a skills assessment: Have you ever hung drywall? Taped and mudded drywall? Plumbing? Those abilities come in handy, but no special skills are required to participate.

“Even if you don’t know how to do anything besides talk to people, sit and pray with people and listen to their stories, come on the trip,” Bob says. “We can find a place for you to do that, too. It’s not about construction, it’s about ministry. It’s about caring for people. If we get there and we don’t accomplish anything besides talking and praying with people, we’ve won.”

An informational meeting is set for 9:45 a.m. this Sunday, June 25, in Fellowship Hall. No commitment is required yet. The trip has room for 15 people—but if there is enough interest, an additional trip could also be planned later. The trip will cost about $450 per person, which includes transportation by church van or car, lodging, breakfast and dinner each day. And as will be mentioned Sunday, there are a variety of ways to raise those funds.

Another way our church family can get involved is to buy Lowe’s gift cards for the team to use for materials while in Kentucky, Bob says. You also can give directly to ReachGlobal Crisis Response and designate your gift for the Kentucky effort.

Note: A previous version of this story understated how far back First Free’s history with churches in eastern Kentucky extends. Nancy Carlson writes: “(Pastor) Jim Forstrom and students went down in the early 1970s. Bev Ralph and other student nurses were among those that went! That was probably 1970 or 1971.”

Jim Killam
Jim Killam is a journalist, author, teacher and terminal Cubs fan. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Rockford and work internationally with Wycliffe Bible Translators.


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