CHURCH HILL — If everything is part of God’s plan, including the tragedies, then he made quick work of explaining what good could come from a Christmas Eve fire that left a disabled Church Hill widow and her two small granddaughters homeless.
Etta Sensabaugh and the girls she’s raising, ages 2 and 4, may soon be living in a home much better than what was lost thanks to a church filled with caring strangers in the next county over.
During the annual Christmas Eve “Candlelight Service” at Christ Fellowship Church, 260 Victory Lane, Kingsport, Pastor Greg DePriest informed his congregation of the fire that had destroyed Sensabaugh’s old, run-down mobile home in Church Hill earlier that day.
Sensabaugh, 54, has been profiled in recent articles — first as a beneficiary of the Times-News Rescue Fund, and then as the recipient of gifts and donations from people in the community who were touched by her story and the hardships she endures as a disabled widow on a fixed income raising two little girls.
What was looking to be a miracle Christmas for Sensabaugh and her family turned to tragedy around 1 a.m. Monday, however, when an electrical fire destroyed her old mobile home on Silver Lake Road in Church Hill, along with nearly everything she and the girls owned. But their lives were spared thanks to a grandson who was spending the night and smelled the smoke in time to get everyone up and out of the trailer.
DePriest informed his congregation Monday night of Sensabaugh’s fire and asked if anybody wanted to make a contribution to help her.
DePriest told the Times-News Thursday that he was overwhelmed by the response of his parishioners.
“We usually don’t do offerings like this, but I said that if you would like to give to help this family, see an usher on your way out, and we’ll make sure they get help,” DePriest said. “People gave $4,500. That night people just had a heart to give, and I was blown away by the response of the people.”
In light of that response, DePriest said he plans on asking his congregation for one more offering during services this Sunday to benefit Sensabaugh. The goal is to raise $7,000 to $8,000 — enough to purchase Sensabaugh a good used mobile home and pay her lot rent and utility expenses for moving in.
Church member Mike Falatta, a businessman who lives in Church Hill, was the one who informed DePriest about Sensabaugh’s situation prior to the Christmas Eve service Monday. Falatta had been interested in helping the family for Christmas and went by Sensabaugh’s residence Christmas Eve only to find the mobile home smoldering.
Now Falatta is spearheading the effort to find Sensabaugh a new mobile home.
“We’ve had more people say that they want to give toward this,” DePriest said. “So we’re budgeting that $4,500 with what others are wanting to give Sunday. There’s a better, newer model trailer close to where she was at, and if we can buy that trailer we’re shooting for around $7,000.”
DePriest added, “I’ve been able to share in the excitement of this, and to me this is what church is all about. To see the church respond that way just thrilled me. It made me proud to be a pastor.”