Volunteers who receive UMCOR training before disaster ever strikes are able to respond more effectively.
By Susan Kim*
August 14, 2012--When Alice Brenny, a member of Asbury United Methodist Church in Duluth, Minnesota, enrolled in Connecting Neighbors, she had no idea how crucial her training would be three months later, when severe floods would tear through her home city.
“The Duluth area suffered a history-making, massive flood on June 19 – 20 of this year,” she said. “That's when I knew the real reason for taking the training in March. God knew there would be a need for someone to guide this church and community through the steps of the disaster and to give the connection and support to our many families devastated by the flood.”
The Connecting Neighbors Leadership Training Program, developed by UMCOR, is a two-day, local church-readiness, train-the-trainer program designed to give volunteer trainers the tools and information they need to guide the development of local church disaster-response ministries.
From Brenny's perspective, it's not just training—it’s a life-changing experience. Now her church's disaster-response coordinator, Brenny said she has shared her knowledge with her own congregation and with other churches as well.
“I had no idea that inside me was someone who could take this on,” she reflected. “Through the training and confidence built by the trainers and UMCOR staff, I discovered there's a lot more to me than I think.”
Heather Klason, disaster-response coordinator for the Minnesota Annual Conference, said she wishes even more church members would feel compelled—like Brenny—to enroll in training before disaster strikes, rather than as a reaction to a recent disaster.
“It's important to have conversations to plan for their church should they be affected,” she said. “Even more important is finding out, before disaster strikes, how they fit into their local disaster plan—city, municipality, or county—with their own unique resources that they can bring to the planning and response table.”
Increasing numbers of UMC congregations across the nation are eager to hone their knowledge about disaster-response and preparation, said Christy Smith, an UMCOR consultant who administers Connecting Neighbors.
People naturally turn to the church in times of crisis, seeking meaning, peace, and healing, she pointed out. A church that is prepared can help mitigate the emotional and spiritual impact of disaster, and may be a place of hospitality and sanctuary in a time of critical need.
“The goal of Connecting Neighbors is to inspire churches to ministry in all levels,” she said. “But you can only respond out of strength. If you're prepared rather than reeling from the disaster, you'll be in a better position to reach out and help.”
Your gift to US Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670, will help churches across the nation be ready to connect with their communities, before and after disasters.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.