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Retired U.S. Army General Joe Orr can run just about any operation with precision. This includes his role of co-coordinator at Homes and Hope for Kentucky, a nonprofit assisting with long-term tornado recovery in Mayfield and the surrounding Graves County.

With volunteer labor from Acknowledging Christ Through Service (ACTS), an Indiana-based Amish community that works through MDS, Orr has been involved in the repair or rebuild of well over 100 homes in the Mayfield area. ACTS volunteers have built 47 new homes in the two years since a tornado devastated the town on Dec. 10, 2021.

As Orr walked into a home under construction, ACTS volunteers greeted him with handshakes, pats on the back—and specific questions about the build that Orr answered immediately.

“These are my people,” Orr said, gesturing around at the Amish crew of volunteers.

A retired army general and Amish volunteers may not be the usual cohorts. But, in coordinating what might well be known as “operation goodness,” Orr has earned utmost respect from the volunteers—a respect that he warmly returns.

“When I met [MDS Executive Director] Kevin King, and [ACTS coordinator] Paul D. Hochstetler, I felt like I was sitting with my president and my secretary of defense,” said Orr.

“These houses built by the Amish will last a hundred years,” said Orr. “I’ve had Amish groups come for one week—and stay for six.”

Early on during Mayfield’s recovery, Orr promised ACTS volunteers they’d never travel to Mayfield and not have work. He kept that promise.

“We’ve had weeks when we had 75 or 80 volunteers on the ground,” said Orr. “Sometimes they’d frame five houses in a week.”

As for the trust, friendship, and love that has grown between Orr and the ACTS volunteers, “only God could have made that happen,” said Orr.

Sewn into the community

The sight of ACTS volunteers—who wear traditional Amish clothing and eschew public acknowledgment—has become a welcome sight in Mayfield over the past two years.

Clarissa Yarber, public safety administrator for the City of Mayfield, said she’d come across a few Amish people when she worked in a healthcare setting—or she’d see them in the local Walmart. But when her own home was badly damaged by the tornado, and ACTS volunteers came to help repair it, she got to know them on a deeper level.

“They’re all beautiful souls,” said Yarber. “They lay their lives to the side and come help. It gives home a new meaning when you’re in a position where you don’t know if you’ll even have a home.”


Bittersweet goodbye

By the end of this year, ACTS volunteers will say goodbye to Mayfield, and move on to help with another community’s disaster recovery. The town will always remember them.

As Mayor Kathy Stewart O’Nan, attending the dedication of one of the last new homes, said: “You brought a gift we never thought we’d need. We will never forget you.”

The home belongs to Carl Graham, who stood with his caregiver Anne Fiessinger during the dedication ceremony.

“How do we say thank you?” Fiessinger said. “So many people came, week after week, one right after the other—and all I could do was bring them ice cream!”

Graham told Fiessinger he was sure he’d never own another home. “He said, ‘I don’t have time.’ It’s no secret—Carl has dementia. He doesn’t have another 30 years,” said Fiessinger.

As the second anniversary of the tornado passes in Mayfield, and Christmas approaches, volunteers and townspeople alike often speak of the many times they believe God intervened in the tornado recovery.

At the home dedication, MDS Region 2 Board Chair Ronn Frantz reflected on how people quickly moved to work and walk together.

“I just want to acknowledge the miracle of what happened in Mayfield,” he said. “I’ve never seen a community come together as quickly as you have.”

Between ACTS volunteers, determined townspeople, and expressions of faith, Mayfield has become, as a popular local song says, “bigger than the storm.” As ACTS moves on, and Mayfield residents reach out to help others as well, the miracles keep growing.

“All of that,” Frantz said, “is part of God’s economy.”


Susan Kim, MDS Writer 

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