When Early Response Teams (ERTs) from United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) arrived at a particular flood-damaged home in southeast Kansas, they found the homeowner to be distant — even bitter.
"She really seemed at first like she didn't want or need us," said the Rev. Hollie Tapley, disaster response coordinator for Great Plains United Methodist Conference. "A couple of us walked with her around and through her home to explain why we were there and what we could do to help." The homeowner allowed the team to muck out her home — one of thousands of homes in many states damaged during December 2015 and January 2016 storms.
The next day, the team arrived to find that the woman had already been working for three hours so that the team could better help her. "We were greeted with a semi-smile," recalls Tapley.
Later that morning, as Tapley and the woman sat in a truck to warm up from the freezing temperatures, Tapley learned that the woman was a recent widow. "Her husband died of stage IV cancer, and she was left not really knowing what to do. Two of her stepchildren had turned on her, causing so much anger and hate. She teared up and said she was just lost."
After continuing their talk for a while, the two returned to the house. "She was laughing with the team and cutting up," said Tapley. "What a difference."
One of the most important aspects of disaster response — the act of listening — had taken place. At the end of their time there, the team joined together in a circle with the homeowner. "There were smiles, and jokes…and then heartfelt hugs all around," said Tapley.
California, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas — these states and more were impacted by winter storms. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has been responding with emergency grants, ERTs and, as long-term recovery begins, case management training and volunteer teams.
Disaster response coordinators in many areas report that UMCOR relief-supply kits were delivered into the hands of storm survivors who needed them.
Countless stories across the country illustrate that UMCOR's response is about much more than statistics. In January, a group of volunteers from Lacroix United Methodist Church worked in the St. Louis area, on a flood-damaged home. The homeowner told them she had prayed for help just the day before.
"She said, 'You guys showed up today as an answer to my prayer,'" recalls volunteer Dan Strauss. "The only thing I could say is: 'Isn't God great?'"
The crew spent all day working at her home. "Through God's grace, we were able to complete everything she had asked God to provide," Strauss said. "I am blessed to have had the opportunity to be a witness to God's grace and his answer to prayer."
Susan Kim, journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.
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