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Hope vs. Dispair: Lessons Learned From Waterloo, AL

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

I was first acquainted with the community of Waterloo in 1996 when I moved to the Florence, Alabama area to attend International Bible College (now Heritage Christian University). In early 2000 I moved back to Cloverdale, Alabama to start working with the Pine Hill congregation. It is a small community in the far western part of Lauderdale County. Our church address for the building was actually a Waterloo address. I often tell people that this was the first community that I came to love. I've lived in this area twice in my lifetime (96-97, 2000-03) and visited hundreds of times. My wife, Misty and I, have actually visited there twice in the past month. We love this place!

The city of Waterloo was named after the famous battle of Waterloo. Its a beautiful area with lots of room for fishing and hunting. The community is relatively small, but it used to be much larger! Today the city sits on a tiny patch of land that takes up less than 1 square mile but is still home to about 200 people (the last census said 203). For more than 100 years from its beginnings in 1819, Waterloo was a small-but-bustling little town on the banks of the Tennessee River. In fact, at one time it was the second largest city in Lauderdale county… second only to nearby Florence!

Then… In the late 1930s Tennessee Valley Authority came through town and informed its residents that the Pickwick Landing Dam was to be built very soon. The good news was that FDR’s New Deal was creating new dams and infrastructure to help the area. The bad news was that the entire city of Waterloo would be submerged with water if the people didn’t move. There was nothing they could do about it. Even though the dam was 20 miles away… the water would essentially level the city of Waterloo in just a matter of a few days. It was devastating news to this growing community.

How could this happen? Well, at first the US Army Corps of Engineers started in the 1920’s with Wilson Dam that flooded some of the Shoals. Later they needed a second dam, so Wheeler Dam was created in the 1930’s. However, there was a problem in Florence and Tuscumbia. There was just too much water… so TVA knew a third dam needed to be built up the river. It was an urgent need! That’s when TVA decided they had to build the dam at Pickwick Landing.

The TVA had to get the project approved, and the area evacuated, in just a few months. In fact, between authorization and construction it was only six months… and the project was finished in record time. The TVA had to purchase the entire town of Waterloo (and the Riverton community) swiftly. They purchased 63,700 acres of land, 12,590 acres of which had to be cleared first. Then they had to relocate 506 families, move 407 graves, and over 70 miles of roads had to be relocated. All in just a few months. Some locals say it was a miracle that so much was accomplished in such a short time. Those are the facts.

Knowing that I love history… I sought to learn more about this odd experience. Many church members from my home congregations (Cloverdale and Pine Hill), along with other locals, shared personal stories with me from when that event happened. Most residents at that time were racing against the clock to move their homes, buildings and relocate cattle. Men had to take off work, children were pulled out of school, relatives had to come into town to help with the relocation process. People lived in fear that at any minute water would flood the city unexpectedly.

One of the saddest stories told to me was by a man who was helping families at the cemetery. Many of the people had to be told that there was not enough time to move all of the graves in time. As the clock was ticking, and fear was spreading, people were told that their homes (some recently built during the boom) were too large to be moved with trucks on the crooked roads that were also under construction. Despair was rampant.

In those last few months before the flooding… fences laid unamended. Buildings were not painted or repaired. Broken down trucks and cars stayed in the streets or driveways. Businesses were abandoned. Road improvements inside the city limits were never fixed. Everything stopped. After all, why paint a house if it were to be covered with water? Why repair anything when the whole city was to be wiped out? Nothing mattered. The people gave up all hope!

I learned a simple point… "Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present." This is why we need hope. Hope brings power to the present. Recently I preached a lesson on Colossians 1:24-29 and talked about the blessing of “Christ in you” is called, “the hope of glory.” What does that mean? It is a REAL hope. Unfortunately, there are those today that have false hope (I Corinthians 15:19). False hope will ultimately make you miserable. It’s hope in money, possessions, hobbies, collectibles, athletics, intellect, abilities, ceremonies or even just doing good works to be seen by others. Paul recognizes that to live without Christ is to die without hope! I remember reading Dante’s Inferno several years ago where the sign over the gate to Hell reads, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” It is true. There is no comfort at death… Unless… you… are… saved.

Depending on the translation you are using, the root word “hope” is found somewhere between 142 times (KJV) to 182 times (NIV). Paul uses the word “hope” around 40x in his writings. That Greek word translated as “hope” is a word that means “confidence.” It is also translated as “assurance, confidence, and even boldness” depending on the context. Those who belong to Christ… who are a part of the Body of Christ… have confidence of glory because they have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood. They have confidence because of His resurrection. They are confident of a better place prepared for them. They have every reason to hope!

The Christian hope is not in the uncertain things of this world, but the well-grounded expectation of that which God has prepared for us… that which He has promised to His people. What does “the hope of glory” involve? What is this Christian hope? It is the one thing you need if you want to abandon despair. Let’s seek this hope!

You are loved.

Dr. Ray Reynolds

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