When rain waters that seemed heavier than usual began to fall in eastern Kentucky roughly two weeks ago, Pastor Brad Stevens of the Church of God Worship Center in Clay County said he wasn't afraid.
As he laid down to rest that night, Stevens said he remembers thinking, "It is just water after all."
However, to his great surprise, the next day, on July 27, upon waking up, Stevens realized it was still raining just as hard as it had been the night before.
As the rain poured with record intensity, the waters ravaged neighboring communities and caused extensive flash flooding.
When the rain finally stopped, Stevens, a 44-year-resident of east Kentucky, found out that the livelihood of hundreds of people had been "turned completely upside down" and that many residents had been left "traumatized" as they encountered near life-and-death situations.
In an interview, Stevens told The Christian Post that many residents felt their "lives flash before their eyes" as the flooding tore through their communities, destroying homes, bridges, roads and infrastructure and killing residents.
"Growing up in Kentucky, I have seen so many floods ever since I was a kid. But this rain was oddly different," said Stevens. "This is something that you really can't prepare for."
Across the state, at least 38 people died due to the flooding that began on July 27 and lasted for about a week, damaging hundreds of homes and displacing thousands across several counties in the eastern portion of the state.
As the pastor became aware of how the rain had taken its toll on the masses, he immediately felt deep within his heart a call from God to take action — to be the "hands and feet of Jesus" — by devoting his time to helping his community.
Stevens took to social media, holding multiple live videos from his Facebook page to show his followers the devastation caused by the flooding. He informed viewers that he needed donated funds to further aid in disaster relief work.
Stevens said he then began receiving donations from "generous" donors across the nation, allowing him to provide aid to over 300 Kentucky residents directly impacted by the flooding.
He delivered food and water to those in need while helping rebuild infrastructure and bridges.
"I began seeing the devastation and finding people who were trapped and couldn't get out. … I saw needs changing from day to day. There were a lot more people that needed help than we anticipated. But, God has somehow made a way," Stevens said.
In the two weeks since the flooding hit, Stevens is still working to save those trapped.
Many impacted by the flooding are struggling with grief from losing their personal items, sense of normalcy and livelihood, and in some cases, their loved ones.
"Some of the most difficult things to see is the fact that there are so many of these folks that have lost everything. And they go to their homes, and they see everything is destroyed and out in a pile in their yard getting ready to be hauled away in a garbage truck," Stevens described.
"And once they get the parts of their home that were torn down, hauled away, the work has just begun. They have to start tearing out walls and insulation and floors and restore. It's hard to take in sometimes just how incredible the loss is."
Stevens said he has prayed with and counseled people who've experienced significant trauma from witnessing what, for many, has been the most traumatic experiences of their lives.
The pastor can't count the number of times he has heard from residents, "I thought we were going to die."
"There has been a lot of prayer and just being there for them. And I've seen that it has been beneficial for some people when I don't say anything and just let them talk and share their experiences. It's like it gives them a sense of relief to be able to just talk to somebody. And you can almost sense the anxiety leaving as they get out what they haven't been able to speak about. So, we've just been an ear to listen," Stevens detailed.
"And other times, you know, we're called to counsel and pray and try to do what we can to encourage and help them," he added.
A great emotional need and trauma has taken its toll on many mentally, according to Stevens, as residents navigate the reality of the losses.
"I believe a lot of folks are still in a state of shock. I've seen people standing, looking at their property that's destroyed and they're still in a sense of shock that it even happened and scrambling to try to figure out how to pick up pieces. And that's what we're doing. We're trying to just help them have some relief and pick up the pieces again; try to get them to see a little sense of normalcy," Stevens explained.
"I've had people tell me that when they lay down to go to sleep at night, they can still hear the water roaring outside. It's a sound they'll never forget. So, it was definitely a traumatic experience. I know a couple of families lost their loved ones in our community. And it really is a struggle. … Our families are really close-knit in this community. When something happens that affects one that's out of our control, it's such a tough situation for everyone in the neighborhood."
Even though the flooding did not damage his home and church building, Stevens said he, too, has faced a mental and emotional struggle during this time.
He said he relies on God to guide him and give him strength because helping in the aftermath of the flood has been "the most labor intensive and tough calling" that God has ever placed on his life.
In 2010, Stevens suffered a stroke involving his brain stem, which still affects him today, and he continues to struggle daily with finding the energy to do labor-intensive work.
"Without the strength of the Lord, there is no possible way that I could keep going with the mental, emotional and even physical work that I have been doing, and just seeing so many people facing so much hardship would be tough for anybody," Stevens shared.
"I can honestly say that through this, God has strengthened me and made me able to do above and beyond what I would have ever thought would be possible."
Amid the devastation, Stevens said communities in eastern Kentucky have not given up as community members have banded together to help one another. Most people have shown an overall attitude of perseverance, Stevens assured.
As long as his church sees a need, Stevens hopes to continue receiving donations that allow him to do the work of restoration in neighboring communities.
"They are really fighting hard to beat this fight," Stevens said. "And we won't give up helping, even if it takes a year or longer to recover. It's also so amazing to see how God is moving in such a mighty way by putting an unexplainable peace in these communities during this extremely difficult time."