CHATHAM, Va. – Sunday means church for many across Southwest Virginia and it was still church day for the congregation that had a semi-trailer truck crash into its building last week.
Open Bible Baptist Church in Chatham has had quite the last few days, but Sunday they gave thanks for that they still have. In the handful of days since the crash, they've really had time to put everything in perspective. There is still some serious damage to the church building, but that's fixable. Pastor Tim Kyser said Sunday it easily could have been funerals he was presiding over, instead of service, if things had gone differently.
On this day of giving thanks, there truly is a whole lot to be thankful for. Kyser led his flock through a tough one Sunday, figuring out where to go from here after the Sheetz truck drifted from US 29 through the parking lot and straight into the side of the building. It rocked not only the building's foundation, but personal ones as well.
"The building can be replaced, right, people can't," Kyser said. "The building is just a means to an end, it's not the end and our goal here is to love God and love people."
They said a gift from God left the sanctuary untouched, but the rest of the building wasn't as lucky. Church members cleaned up most of the mess from the wing that was impacted Sunday, filling an entire dumpster worth of debris. The truck slammed right into the area that housed a recently rennovated nursey and office space. From the outside, save for the tarp and a few scraps, it's hard to tell what happened.
"What was important is that there was no loss of life and so when we got here and we all got starting to work together, we were having a great time," church member Jeffrey Van Ness said.
But from the inside of the building, it's a totally different story, The area where the truck hit is condemned and still needs a lot of work. It can be tough to look at it and try to walk away feeling good, which is why they said Sunday's service was so important so that they could remind each other that they believe God will provide.
"There's a certain amount of thankfulness and that you see it in other people, it's not just you that believes it there's also a group of people that also believe it with you," Van Ness said.
Sheetz corproate has also stepped up, with Ryan Sheetz personally calling the church to offer whatever he could. Mutliple Sheetz managers have visited the site, they fed all the volunteer workers Saturday, gave them $500 in gift cards, and even offered to pay for a rental space if the church was unable to occupy its current building.
Kyser said the night of the crash he had a conversation with someone on scene that moved him. They told him to take note of the Sheetz logo on the side of the truck and rest easy knowing that they were a good company. From that moment on Kyser hoped he'd have an ally, and he said that Sheetz hasn't let him down.
"I think they've gone above and beyond what was called for in my opinion, and they've been great," Kyser said.
Despite the joy Sunday there's no hiding that there's still a lot to do, but the congregation is taking peace in knowing they are doing what they can do and taking it one Sunday at a time.
Kyser also visited the truck driver in the hospital last week to bring well-wishes from the church and check in on him. He said the driver admitted to losing consciousness behind the wheel, only coming back around after he had already crashed into the building. In his 40 years of driving a truck, this was the only time he had ever wrecked.
"At first I had told people last week that we had forgiven him, but then I realized, we hadn't forgiven him, because there was no reason to need to be forgiven," Kyser said. "He did notthing wrong and this could have happened to anybody. We're so thankful no one was seriously hurt."