Houston Church is “Overblessed” In Its Ministry After Ike
By Susan J. Meister*
November 6, 2008—Burt Palmer, pastor of Bear Creek UMC, Houston, recounted in an email to family and friends the effects of Hurricane Ike and the resulting outpouring of ministry that he experienced one week after the storm.
"We are better than okay in Houston, we are blessed....'overblessed,'" he wrote. "As followers of Christ, we've always had the power, but it took losing electricity to discover (it) again."
Like millions of others in southeast Texas and southwestern Louisiana, the church buildings had lost power due to the storm. In spite of that, Chris Smith, director of family life ministries, agreed to move forward and open a shelter for evacuees in the Family Life Center.
"When this building was completed in 2002, we decided to become a registered shelter," Smith said. "It fit our mission statement.
"There are ample opportunities for local churches to be in ministry at every stage of a disaster," explained Tom Hazelwood, executive for UMCOR's domestic disaster response. "Churches like Bear Creek have used what they have - facilities appropriate for sheltering - to step up in the emergency phase. Now, others are offering space to shelter volunteer teams working on long term recovery."
Rita in 2005, Ike in 2008
Bear Creek UMC was first activated as a registered Red Cross shelter in September 2005, when Hurricane Rita impacted families in southwest Texas. At that time, the church utilized 493 volunteers, who worked 3,536 hours during the 18 days of shelter operation. During Ike, when 140 individuals were assisted over 18 days, 502 volunteers logged 5,246 hours of service.
Becky French, a church member, was one of the volunteers. "Our volunteers handled food service, registration, client services, helping register and transport kids to schools, transporting residents to various places, doing daily laundry, and more," she explained.
The Bear Creek UMC shelter was up and operational by Wednesday, and, to everyone's relief, power was restored by Friday afternoon. In the meantime, other churches in the area were delivering food, water and supplies, including generators, before power was restored. Bear Creek UMC served 50-80 meals a day and sent out food, diapers and other donations.
UMCOR Seeks to Assist Recovery Efforts with Donor Help
Now that the emergency response to Ike is past, the focus is shifting to long term recovery from the third costliest hurricane in US history. The Texas and Louisiana Conferences are working with state agencies and faith-based groups to reach out to families who will need assistance in rebuilding their homes and lives. UMCOR, in cooperation with its partners, is actively involved in the recovery process. However, the effort is being hampered by a lack of funding.
"There's not much money coming in," said Hazelwood. "Our partners are making thoughtful grant requests, but at this point, there is just not much funding assistance we can give because of the limited donations."
In addition to the urgent need for funds, Hazelwood remarked on the need to continue to replenish flood bucket supplies at the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot. At this point, nearly every bucket in stock has been shipped to Texas and Louisiana.
You can help with the recovery from the 2008 Hurricanes with a donation to Advance No. 3019695, online or by check to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. 100% of your gifts to this and other UMCOR Advance Specials will be used to help survivors of natural disasters. A list of the contents of flood buckets is posted to the UMCOR Sager Brown web site.
As recovery plans progress, there will be a continuing need for volunteer teams. Contact your Jurisdictional Volunteer in Mission Coordinator for information about volunteering.
If your local church is interested in exploring shelter ministry, contact a local office of the American Red Cross.
* Meister is domestic disaster response correspondent for UMCOR.