October 23, 2011

Deep faith long big part of Manchin’s life | Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT – Sen. Joe Manchin III grew up a privileged child. He readily admits it. He’s proud of it. 

But he didn’t grow up in the lap of luxury. 

He grew up in Farmington, the train tracks not far from the house. 

Times could be tough. 

But he was rich in the unconditional love of his parents and the deep faith his family held dear, he said at the annual celebration of the Greater Fairmont Council of Churches Saturday at Westchester Village, where he was keynote speaker. 

On Sundays, he and his siblings had two choices: Go to church or stay in bed all day long. If they were sick enough to miss church, they were too sick to play. 

Or they could visit their grandfather, Papa Joe, a man of faith who could quote the Bible chapter and verse, and would preach from the back of his Farmington store. 

“He had a moral clock inside,” the senator said. 

“Sometimes I’d take the porch. Most times, I picked church.” 

His grandmother, Mama Kay, would stop and pray as they would take a walk. 

“I was raised with that,” he said. 

When you stayed at her house, she had three rules: You couldn’t swear, you couldn’t drink and you had to work. 

Papa Joe would gladly lend you money, but you had to work for it. He thought nothing of delivering groceries to the needy. 

Now, as one of West Virginia’s two senators, Manchin knows that this ethic must continue. 

“This helped shape me as governor,” he said. “That was how I was raised.” 

He was relatively new to that job when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005. 

“The most humbling title is ‘commander-in-chief,’” he said. When the hurricane lashed out at New Orleans that Monday, he waited for word from President George W. Bush to deploy National Guard C-130 planes to New Orleans. The call never came, he said. 

Like many Americans, he watched the devastation and human tragedy unfold on television. When, the next day he saw bodies floating in the water that covered New Orleans, he had two thoughts. 

“This was not the America I knew. There was nobody there at the highest level prepared to take care of these human needs. 

“We had to do something.” 

The C-130s were dispatched to New Orleans and brought back hundreds of survivors to Charleston, where triages were set up for showers, new clothing, and medical needs. 

“We were working hand in hand with the military. Nobody could do this alone. 

“You’re watching your brothers and sisters who have lost everything. I had never seen spirits so low.” 

He’ll always remember the little girl who came up to him. 

“Mr. Governor, can I go shopping?” 

He told her she could have anything there she wanted. 

“But I don’t have any money,” she said. 

“Honey, this is your lucky day,” Manchin told the little girl. 

Just a few months later, the Sago mine disaster occurred Jan. 2, 2006, in Upshur County. 

He immediately flashed back to the Farmington No. 9 disaster of November 1968, in which he lost both family and friends. 

He remembered how worried families huddled together those bleak November days, hungry for any word at all about their trapped loves ones. 

“This was locked away in my brain,” he said of the memory. 

He vowed this would not happen at Sago and ordered updates on the rescue progress every two hours. 

An unfortunate miscommunication incorrectly led everyone to believe that all 14 miners survived. In fact, only one, Randal McCloy, left the mine alive. The remaining 13 died. 

“That was communication gone wrong,” he said. “Human error of the worst proportion. We had people sacrificing to save lives. Everybody did everything. You cannot blame anybody. 

“In times like this, the best and worst, the faith-based community is as solid as a rock. 

“The demands, needs and responsibilities to your fellow human beings … you cannot do these without a faith based in God. 

“I was raised with an awful lot of faith in God.” 

But denomination or religion is not important, he added. 

“What matters is sacrificing for your neighbor. The wealthy sometimes have a hard time giving. My father would sometimes borrow money from the bank to give it away. 

“I watched this first hand. I was a privileged child to see all this. Unconditional love.” 

Faith-based organizations bring this same kind of unconditional love to their communities. “You are unsung heroes,” he said. “You put the fabric of faith.” 

After the presentation, he discussed the influence of faith on his life. 

“From going to church in Farmington, a certain amount of structure was there. That’s how all of us were raised, with unconditional love. 

“That did as much, if not more, to shape me and the belief I have in God and ultimately people, that good can come. Church has structure and discipline. 

“But it’s outside the church where real faith is practiced. I saw that with my aunts and uncles, grandparents, my parents, my cousins. We lived it every day. We had examples of our elders, our community, our neighbors and friends, who kept giving of themselves. They reached out. They wanted us to do better. They expected us to do better. 

“They also guided us in their actions. It’s easy for me to tell you, but it makes much more of a lasting impression if I show you. If I can live my life better, with compassion and giving and caring, if I’m strong enough to make sure my faith is strong enough, then I’m not worried about whether it would hurt or help, or how it looks in society. 

“If it makes a difference in somebody else’s life, that’s really what we’re here for. I was fortunate as a privileged child to see that. There were no fancy homes. I lived in the beautiful town of Farmington, where everybody was basically the same. 

“I reach back to that every day. I make decisions not based on thinking somebody can do something for me. 

“When you see a strong community, you see a faith-based society. They will partner up and fill in the gaps. Government can’t start up and run all the social programs that are needed. Faith-based communities can still reach them. 

“Without that faith in God, without that belief that you as a human being can do better and give something back, if you haven’t had that structure in your life, the faith-based community will share it with you and you hopefully share it with others. 

“This is so, so important for us, to deliver the services we need and give people the faith they need. Faith-based communities not only tell you what to do; they show you how to do it.”

By:  Debraminor Wilson