It wasn’t until Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that I came to fully understand and appreciate the true gift of our connectional church. In the early days of the first responders, the United Methodist Church was present. UMCOR –United Methodist Committee on Relief — was there. With the generosity of the people called Methodists across the world, the organization of UMCOR, and the hands and feet and hearts of volunteers, the Mississippi Gulf Coast scrapped its way back. The heart of recovery, the heart of UMCOR, is the people of the United Methodist Church. Early on, people asked, “Where is UMCOR?” My friend Ed Blakesly, the first Disaster Coordinator after Katrina said, “UMCOR is us.”
130,000 volunteers later, there have been 13,000 homes repaired and 130 new homes constructed…all by done by the men, women and students who came for the last 7 years. We came to say, “A storm is a terrible thing to waste.”
Tennessee and Kentucky are no strangers to natural disasters — namely in the form of tornadoes and floods. What we fail to think about is that West Tennessee and Western Kentucky sit on or near the New Madrid Fault. It is not beyond the realm of possibilities that the next disaster could be a major earthquake.
In the 2003 tornado in West Tennessee, Christy Smith oversaw case management, construction and volunteers for that recovery in three counties.
Christy tells this story:
“I stopped at a client’s house several months into the recovery and apologized that it had taken so long for us to get to her. (The storm was in May and this was probably August.) What she said changed my life, ‘That’s okay, Honey. I knew God would send someone!’ What? Me? I knew behind me was the invisible strength of God’s hand and people …praying, giving, organizing, training, preparing. She couldn’t see them…just me. So for her, I WAS the visible evidence that God cares about her. ‘Yes, Ma’am,’ I finally stammered. ‘God sent me.’ I had never really thought of myself in ministry…until that moment. ‘”
Here’s the reality: When there is a disaster, someone…just like that woman…is EXPECTING God to send someone. That’s happening right now all over the country, but particularly in the sorrowing Northeast. When we don’t come, it’s not just survivors we disappoint, it’s the God we love and serve that we disappoint. Christy continues: “That takes me to my knees and makes me want others to have the opportunity to serve.”
There are many places and ways one can serve. I want to appeal to you to consider serving in Disaster Response–now in responding to Hurricane Sandy and in the future as we anticipate the next disaster that will hit Tennessee and/or Kentucky. And one will. An opportunity is just around the corner for you to engage in training. The SEJ Disaster Academy will be held February 18-21, 2013 at Simpsonwood Retreat Center in Atlanta, GA.
For more information contact Christy Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) – but beware! Christy is relentless. Also, Bill Carr, Memphis Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, and Jason Brock, Missions Team Leader for the Tennessee Conference, can assist you.