Local Churches Step Up to Ministry in Their Communities
By Susan J. Meister*
September 29, 2008—When a mission team from League City United Methodist Church, Texas returned from a trip to Red Bird Mission, Kentucky in early August, the members were on fire to expand their outreach. Only a month later, when Hurricane Ike roared through Texas, the church found itself on the front line of ministry to its neighbors.
"We have such a strong history of mission and we're in a good location, just 25 miles from Galveston," explained Pastor Kay Alewine. "Now we're doing two things in parallel-storing and distributing flood buckets and hosting work groups," added Travis Meredith.
League City UMC mustered volunteer help this week to unload a shipment of 1,300 flood buckets from Midwest Mission Distribution Center, an UMCOR partner in Illinois. On Tuesday, September 23, the day before homeowners were allowed back on Galveston, the church delivered 600 flood buckets to Moody Memorial UMC on the Island, escorted by a police officer who is a member of League City UMC. On Wednesday, David Armiger delivered 136 buckets to Texas City. The church plans to deliver additional buckets to Galveston on Thursday.
"The body of Christ is truly coming together," Meredith added. "This is what the church is to be."
Emergency Response Teams Start Clean Up Work
Aldersgate UMC in nearby Santa Fe is already hosting Emergency Response Teams (ERTs). UMCOR-trained Early Response Teams (ERTs) are self-contained groups who go into a community early to provide a caring Christian presence and to begin to clean up after a disaster. Lee Thornton is a member of Aldersgate and mission coordinator for the South District.
"We have a team of five from other Texas churches," Thornton explained. "They are cleaning up in Bayou City, where many of the residents are older people who are unable to clear debris from their yards or remove ruined household items." Bayou Vista is in an area that experienced a five to eight foot storm surge from the hurricane.
Not only is the church hosting volunteers, members are also serving them meals. Others are working at the local food pantry/thrift shop. Neighbors are helping neighbors remove trees and other debris.
Thornton was reminded that volunteers are often blessed by those they are helping. "We saw an elderly man in a wheelchair on his deck," she said. "He came to the edge of the deck, stretched his hand over our teams, and said, 'I'm blessed and I'm blessing you.'
"This man had been through the storm, was ill with cancer, and had no air conditioning, but he was blessing us," Thornton exclaimed. "When you do good for someone, it blesses you."
Conference Organizes for Response
The staff of the Texas Conference, in consultation with UMCOR, is working to organize both the relief and response phase for churches and communities. Cynthia Harvey, mission coordinator, has a list of over forty churches who are responding to the immediate needs. Responses include distribution of supplies, hosting volunteers, serving as shelters for evacuees, and doing neighborhood clean-up. Just before Ike, the conference blessed a fleet of nine emergency response vehicles (one per district) with fans, generators, tools and supplies; all have since been re-deployed in the affected area.
"We expect additional larger churches to house teams when electrical power is restored," Harvey said. Power has been disrupted in many areas of Houston. Significant numbers of customers are awaiting power nearly two weeks after the storm.
"Because of our experience responding to Hurricane Rita, we feel that we are ahead of the game," she continued. "We hope to get to recovery quicker. In fact, we already have two counties who will be doing case manager training in two weeks."
The Texas Conference expects to build upon the Rita Recovery operation in the Beaumont area and to establish another office in the greater Houston area as soon as possible. It is also registering volunteer teams on their web site.
How to Help
In addition to volunteering, you can help by donating assembled flood buckets to UMCOR Sager Brown. Click here for a list of contents. In addition, financial gifts to UMCOR Advance No. 3019695, Hurricanes 2008, can be made by check to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, or online by credit card, will aid the work of recovery, expected to be a multi-year effort in Texas and Louisiana.
*Meister is UMCOR's Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent