By Elliott Wright*
New York, NY, June 4, 2013—The disaster response team of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC) was in action almost by the time the dust settled from the devastating tornadoes that struck central Oklahoma on May 19 and 20.
“Our first concern was with emergency needs such as food, water, and shelter,” said the Rev. David Wilson, the OIMC superintendent. “We set up an emergency center at New Life United Methodist Church in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City, and also focused on rural communities such as Little Axe, which was hit the night before Moore was.”
Wilson said that his group was working with some 25 Native American families in Moore and about the same number in Little Axe, which is about 20 miles from Norman. “The damage at Little Axe was not as extensive as in Moore, but it is an isolated community and is not receiving as much public attention as the larger town,” he said.
“One of the very first things we did was to receive calls from family members who live far away and who were asking about the safety of their loved ones,” Wilson continued. “We received the names of tribal members representing at least 15 tribes that were affected, and we located numerous people for worried relatives.”
The rebuilding phase will begin when needs are assessed and priorities set. OIMC has a notable track record of providing mission volunteers for disaster cleanup and reconstruction across the United States. In Oklahoma, rebuilding efforts in the immediate future will likely be focused on Moore, Shawnee, Little Axe, Meeker, and adjacent areas, Wilson said.
The OIMC superintendent was interviewed by telephone and also supplied written accounts of the initial visits of the disaster response team to hard-hit communities.
In Little Axe, Wilson said, “One look at a few of the homes that were hit was overwhelming.” In the main community of the 3,400 member Absentee Shawnee Tribe, he met with the tribal governor to discuss immediate needs. He found the tribal leader working in a warehouse where he was helping to dispense food and clothing.
“The governor told me that their relief efforts were not just for tribal members but for all in the area,” Wilson said. “His words were a powerful reminder of the way Native people live our lives. We are not called to worry just about ourselves and our relatives but all of our relations.”
The historic generosity of Native people was also evident in the wake of the May tornadoes, Wilson said. “I was at the historic Goodland United Methodist Church, a Choctaw congregation near Idabel, while they took up a special offering for the relief effort. I saw many children and youth come and drop money into the plate. It was refreshing to be reminded that people of all ages are remembering others,” he said.
The response team is made up of clergy and laity from the conference and persons who represent various other agencies in the state. Partners include the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic and Trail of HOPE Oklahoma.
UMCOR provided OIMC with an emergency grant to help with immediate needs, and the organization’s head of US Disaster Response, Greg Forrester, is in Oklahoma this week to meet with OIMC and Oklahoma Conference disaster response personnel and to survey damages and needs.
You can support UMCOR US Disaster Response, Advance #901670 with your online gift, or by calling toll-free 1-800-554-8583. To make an immediate $10 donation, text the word RESPONSE to 80888.
*Elliott Wright is an information consultant working with the General Board of Global Ministries.