Global Ministries staff and directors put up sheetrock in the fellowship hall of Grace United Methodist Church in Union Beach, NJ. The hall is a central gathering place for the church community.
By Melissa HInnen and Linda Unger*
New York, NY, April 17—Directors and staff of the General Board of Global Ministries concluded their semiannual board of directors meeting last Saturday and climbed aboard two buses, one headed to New Jersey, the other to Long Island, NY, to bring a sign of hope and solidarity to Superstorm Sandy survivors.
Dressed in jeans, sneakers, and the brightly colored tee-shirts typically worn by volunteers with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)—the disaster-recovery arm of Global Ministries and The United Methodist Church—directors and staff were ready to get their hands dirty in a day of service.
“When the board decided to come out today and do a day of service in the New York area, I was all for it,” said Timothy Crisler, a first-term director from the Mississippi Annual Conference, who joined his colleagues headed to Long Island.
“So many people reached out to the Mississippi folks when we went through our disaster (Hurricane Katrina, 2005). We saw firsthand the church at work—God’s people coming from everywhere. And that’s what we’re about,” he said. “Mission. It’s all about mission.”
Yeabu Kamara of Sierra Leone, a director in her second term, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be of service—however limited by the single afternoon—to communities impacted by Superstorm Sandy—a departure from the usual round of three-day meetings.
“It is good for us because we are giving service to humanity, and then we appreciate more the work of our missionaries and all the field workers: what they go through, what they do for people,” Kamara said. “It makes us alive to other people’s sufferings.”
For Joan Young, an administrative assistant with UMCOR’s Global Health program, participating in the voluntary day of service was something she’d long wanted to do. “I jumped at the opportunity because, you know, when you help someone else, it’s like your living is not in vain,” she said. “And it’s what God would have us do!”
In all, a combined total of 53 staff and directors participated in the day of service, including board president Bishop Hope Ward, of North Carolina, and her husband, Michael, and UMCOR board president Wisconsin Annual Conference Bishop Hee-Soo Jung.
Once they reached either Long Island or New Jersey, they again split into two groups in order to maximize their time at different sites. In New Jersey, half the group got down to work at Grace United Methodist Church in Union Beach, while the other half assisted a homeowner in Sayreville.
At Grace UMC, during the storm, floodwater rose four feet in the fellowship hall. Because the sanctuary is slightly higher, it was spared significant damage and became a shelter for Sandy survivors exiled from their homes in the days immediately following the hurricane.
“The fellowship hall is a central gathering place for this community,” Greater New Jersey Conference Bishop John Schol told the Global Ministries team. “It’s important it become functional again.” He was joined at the site by key staff of the conference’s “A Future with Hope” Sandy-response program.
Terry Shipley was there, too. Shipley, a member of Grace for more than 50 years, is living in the parsonage while her storm-ravaged home is still being repaired. She said Sandy destroyed the church’s digital records and has kept many of its leaders occupied with personal challenges of their own.
She said what really helped her family and others after the storm was the fact they were together. “We could go to the church and the parsonage to be safe and together. We ate together, prayed together, and walked in the dark together,” she said, referring to widespread and days-long power outages provoked by the storm.
While the Global Ministries team put up drywall in the fellowship hall, Shipley expressed her gratitude for all the volunteers who have come to New Jersey to help over the course of the six months since the hurricane.
“We are thankful to be alive, and we are thankful for how gracious people have been. God has been present in the storm and after it,” she said.
In the town of Sayreville, Global Ministries directors and staff spent the afternoon painting the interior of the home of an 80-year-old survivor of Superstorm Sandy.
Soon after the storm, volunteers had mucked out the elderly woman’s home, which had been impacted by floodwater in the basement and up to three feet on the main level. When case managers followed up, they connected her with UMCOR to have her home repaired.
The damage was extensive, and the homeowner has limited resources. She is unable to remain in the house during the reconstruction.
The Greater New Jersey Conference has been strategic in how it uses a range of volunteer skills to coordinate the reconstruction of homes. Last month, 20 volunteers from the Upper New York Annual Conference—itself still recovering from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee of 2011—put up the sheetrock that the Global Ministries team painted last Saturday.
Bishop Ward prayed with the New Jersey volunteers and conference staff.
“We give thanks for the opportunity to offer ourselves in this small way to this great work,” she said. “We pray that you would continue to send volunteers in large numbers and that all will see the goodness of the Lord through caring for God’s people.”
New York Annual Conference Bishop Martin McLee greeted the Global Ministries directors and staff at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Rockville Centre—one of several New York Conference relief centers. After a brief orientation, the team left to work on storm-damaged homes in Oceanside and Freeport.
One of those homes belongs to Paula, a septuagenarian Holocaust survivor. Back in October, when she had learned that Superstorm Sandy was on its way, she hunkered down in the den of her modest home.
“I have a tree in the back that was planted when my last son was born, and everyone told me to sleep in the den in case it fell on the house,” she said.
So she settled into the den—formerly a garage a half-dozen steps below the level of the kitchen—and put on the TV. Suddenly, she said, “I looked to my right, and there was water coming in through the fireplace!” It rose several inches in the den, ruined the carpet, and put the room at risk of mold.
Paula’s son had helped her rip out her soggy carpet, so that only the skeleton of a floor was left. The Global Ministries staff and directors sprayed the entire area with a bleach solution, which would impede the growth of mold. Yeabu Kamara stayed a while after the spraying was done and listened to Paula talk.
“She was happy just because we were there and we were listening to her,” Kamara said. “I think it is something—just talking to somebody is something. We thought we did not do much, but we did so much for that lady because she was able to talk to us, to express herself.”
Yvonne, a retired school superintendent, lives at the end of a canal in Freeport with her 21-year-old son, who is wheelchair-bound. She had been preparing for years for her retirement, only to have Superstorm Sandy come rushing up through the Jones Beach Inlet and push canal water throughout her house.
She had been told to evacuate the day before the storm, so she had bundled up her son, and the two of them went to the New York City borough of Queens to ride out the hurricane. A month would pass before they could even get back to see their home; six months after Sandy, they are still living in a hotel.
The first thing Yvonne noticed when she returned to see the damage was the stench of dead fish. “And there was oil everywhere,” she said. “People had boats, and the boats had flipped over, spilling their oil. There was a green layer of it, and mildew, on everything—the grass, streets, sidewalks.”
The Global Ministries staff and directors helped Yvonne put some of her belongings into some semblance of order. Bishop Jung said, “I collected some of her things and put them into a bag. I know some of these things are treasures for the family, and I blessed them.”
For Jung, the Global Ministries presence in this day of service with Superstorm Sandy survivors was one of solidarity.
“I think we shared the pain in doing this work with them,” he said. “That’s the main thing. I don’t know how helpful we were, but we shared solidarity with them and helped out. I think that’s the journey.”
Your gift to Hurricanes 2012, UMCOR Advance #3021787 supports UMCOR’s ongoing work to support recovery efforts following Superstorm Sandy.
*Melissa Hinnen is director of Content and Public Information, and Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.