Michigan Neighbors Hurry to Help
By Susan Kim*
April 17, 2012—When a rare March tornado struck the rural Michigan town of Dexter, carving a 10-mile path of destruction, the Dexter United Methodist Church sprang into immediate – and caring – action. The twister destroyed 13 homes and damaged 100 more in the town of 4,000 people.
Pastors and church members helped check on the safety of residents – whether or not they were members of the church – then began fanning out to clear what debris they could. “This was one of the most instant responses from a church that I've ever seen,” said Jeremy Wicks, disaster response coordinator for the West Michigan Conference.
Local authorities were amazed that, despite the significant damage, no one was killed in the storm.
“We feel so grateful and so blessed,” said the Rev. Tom Snyder, associate pastor at the 600-member Dexter UMC. “From the minute the tornado moved out of our path, neighbors were helping neighbors and friends were helping friends. All the people were busy helping. Nobody was waiting to say: 'Who's going to come help me?' ”
While checking on residents around town, Snyder said he met a man who lived near the church. The man was out helping a church group as they cleared debris. “I asked him if he was a church member,” Snyder said.
The man said he wasn't a member, but he said church members had been bringing him meals before the tornado hit because his wife had stage four cancer. “Then he said, 'I'm out here because now I figure it's my turn to help them,' ” Snyder reported.
Because of the high level of insurance in the town, the long-term recovery in Dexter will largely be handled by local volunteers, said Wicks, Snyder, and others.
Now the Dexter UMC is more interested than ever in disaster preparedness training, said Eric Miller, disaster response coordinator from the Detroit Conference. Miller is planning to help bring Connecting Neighbors, a church preparedness training program developed by UMCOR, to church members so that they can even further hone their already-effective disaster response skills.
Connecting Neighbors is a two-day, local church readiness program designed to give volunteer trainers the tools and information necessary to guide the development of local church disaster-response ministries.
“In terms of response to their neighbors, this church is already an invaluable asset,” said Miller. “Now with additional training and tools, they'll be able to build even more on that strength.”
Give to Spring Storms 2012, UMCOR Advance #3021473
to provide assistance to people in Michigan and other states affected by this and other recent storms.
* Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to UMCOR.org.