A black stove and then a black refrigerator. Janice Hooper knew it was her refrigerator because she saw her grandson’s smiling photo stuck to it.
The two appliances were coursing swiftly through floodwaters in rural Cruso, North Carolina, last August. Then, standing helplessly near the local fire station as she escaped the devastation, Janice saw her “little white car” surging through the rising waters, quickly followed by her home.
“It looked like our car was pulling our trailer,” she recalled. “I was having a panic attack because my two dogs and my birds [were still in the home], and I couldn’t get to them.”
In addition to losing every earthly possession to the raging floodwaters, she said, “I lost one of my little puppies and my cat and all my chickens. They were all gone.”
Janice’s husband, Sam, a truck driver, was in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the time and raced to his wife’s side. As her husband of 44 years pulled up to where their home once stood, slogging through mud rising on his big rig, Janice told him, “We ain’t got nothing.”
He saw the crushing truth before him.
“We lost everything. It took us 45 years almost to build everything we had, and it was gone in less than 15 to 20 minutes,” Janice said.
Since that heart-wrenching scene five months ago, the Hoopers, in their 70s, have struggled to get back on their feet. Without insurance, the couple is renting a home and squeezing every paycheck to buy essentials. “We can’t afford $75,000 for an empty trailer,” Sam said. It’s been a “hectic” and “horrible” road, he added.
‘People who are good’
Still, Sam said, “We’re surviving; God’s letting us survive. He’s bringing us through it. I’ve learned there’s a lot of people who are good.”
Among the good people who have come alongside the Hoopers are folks at Biltmore Church, a Southern Baptist church with seven locations in western North Carolina.
Within two days of the flooding, Biltmore members were in Cruso, where they “started loving on families,” said Curt McClure, Biltmore’s minister of missions.
The church, led by Pastor Bruce Frank, launched the Big Give initiative in December. An annual giving opportunity, this year’s primary focus is on helping those left homeless by the Cruso flood, which occurred about 25 minutes from Biltmore’s central campus in Arden, North Carolina. (Follow these links to see video of interviews with the Hoopers that the church recently released on Facebook.)
The church’s challenging goal was to help one family get back into a home.
As the Big Give got underway, McClure said, “This is the most contagious generosity I’ve ever been a part of — ever seen, ever — within a circle of believers.”
With Biltmore’s worship services livestreamed, people from throughout the nation began to be a part of the Big Give.
“The generosity was overwhelming,” McClure said.
Through Big Give and also partnering with local officials, residents and nonprofits, the church has provided food and other essentials to flood victims. The church has helped with cleanup, including flood recovery (mudouts) and debris removal, and also sends out teams to pray with those impacted by the raging flood. Small groups were trained to share the gospel.
People of all ages, from babies to senior citizens, have joined in ministering and giving, he said.
Seeing Christian faith lived out so generously, some Cruso residents have made professions of faith.
Still, needs persist. As one need is met, other needs often pop up.
“Our phone is still ringing, and the needs are still at a high level,” McClure said.
Just before Christmas, Biltmore leaders sat down outside with the Hoopers to chat. As the Hoopers shared about their hardship, Biltmore shared three Big Give surprises.
One, on the property where the Hoopers’ home once stood, the church planted a tree in honor of Elvira, the pet dog lost in the floodwaters.
Tears filled Janice’s eyes.
Two, the church pledged to purchase everything needed for the Hoopers’ rental home, from furniture to pots and pans.
The tears welled up. Church leaders saved their biggest surprise for last.
Three, the church gave the Hoopers a “brand-new home,” completely paid for and furnished so that Janice and Sam “don’t have to worry about a thing.”
Tears streaked down Janice’s face as she reached for Sam’s hand.
“Awesome,” she cried.
‘Going to Jesus first’
The papers have been signed. The Hoopers are in their new home.
Yet, the story doesn’t end there. There’s even more surprising generosity from Biltmore Church.
Because of the generous response to the Big Give initiative, the church is providing two more homes to families who lost everything in the August floods.
“This has taught me the importance of going to Jesus first and letting Him direct your path,” McClure said.
“Even if you do something small to help a person in need in today’s world, something big happens.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Quotes from Janice and Sam Hooper were taken from the video released by Biltmore Church.