Members of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Team from the Indiana Conference pose with homeowner Edward Ortiz (center) in front of the team's construction trailer in Minot, N.D. The team helped gut the interior of Ortiz' home and clean up. From left are Kelly Krause, Joe Minor, Ortiz, Tim Guth and the Rev. John Windell. UMNS/Mike DuBose.
This article appears in Interpreter Magazine, March/April 2014 edition. The issue is dedicated to the work and ministry of UMCOR.
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg
When the unthinkable happened in North Dakota three years ago, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was there. So were countless people of faith, who carried out Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, feeding, clothing, welcoming and offering refuge.
On June 24, 2011, the Mouse River overflowed its banks, and floodwaters rushed in at 75 miles an hour, ravaging the basement of Faith United Methodist Church, Minot, N.D. The powerful torrent yanked the refrigerator out of the wall socket and into the raging waters. All that happened, despite a hastily constructed 40-foot temporary dike around the area.
Seven weeks of flooding in the Souris Valley led to the worst disaster in state history. The catastrophe left 8,000 to 9,000 people homeless in central North Dakota. Faith was one of 24 churches sustaining damage so severe that the congregation voted in 2012 to move to another building, out of the flood plain.
“The flood changed my entire ministry here,” said the Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne, who was just beginning her second year at Faith.
Before the flood, Faith housed a popular, much-needed food pantry and soup kitchen. When flooding seemed imminent, the pastor said, “We evacuated our Lord’s Cupboard food pantry, distributing the commercial-cooler food to other programs that would feed people during the evacuation period.” The ministry relocated, first to the Ball-Kilbourne garage, then to a large trailer.
The food pantry today operates three days a week in an 800-square-foot borrowed area. Ball-Kilbourne said, “It is about a month from relocation to a rented store where we will have about 2,500 square feet on the ground level, plus a basement.” Faith’s soup kitchen provides a hot meal every Monday from borrowed space, rented for $100 a month from a neighboring church.
A third ministry, The Welcome Table, emerged after the flood. It offers food, shelter, case management, free health care and clothing, all from one location. The ecumenical, faith- and agency-based ministry is “very much supported by Minot’s two United Methodist churches (Faith and Vincent),” Ball-Kilbourne said.
The needs are great
|The Rev. John Windell (right) helped Edward Ortiz remove flood-damaged items from his home in Minot, N.D. Windell was part of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team from the Indiana Conference. UMNS/Mike DuBose
“The Welcome Table received a $200,000 grant from UMCOR and a $50,000 grant from the Dakotas Annual Conference,” said Bob Lower, who lost his home in the flood and now serves as associate director of Minot Flood disaster services for the Dakotas Conference. Partner agencies provided another $40,000.
However, because of rising costs and due-diligence issues, they have not found an affordable property to house The Welcome Table and its service providers, including a shelter for the homeless.
The needs are great, Ball-Kilbourne said.
“Clients of the feeding ministries (are) those whom Jesus sends,” she said. “We do not have a financial qualification and never have. Our understanding has been, ‘If you feel a need to be here, we will serve you.’
“Many in Minot who went through the flood and rebuilt,” she said, “are finding it very expensive to live here, post-flood and with oil,” Ball-Kilbourne noted. The oil boom began a few years before the flood hit and radically affected the economic landscape. Oil companies outsource housing. People who have rented for years suddenly find themselves on a month-to-month lease, with rapidly escalating rents.
Minot realtor Judy Hoskin said homes in the heart of the Bakken oil-boom region rent for $2,500-3,000 per month. “Many oil workers earn well,” said the pastor, who also sees them using food banks and clothing outlets. “More than 30 percent [of their income] is going into their housing.”
Immediately after the flood, recruiting volunteers to repair or rebuild flood-damaged homes was challenging. North Dakota wasn’t alone in needing help. In June 2011, other areas of the United States were reeling from more than 300 twisters that ripped through the Southeast and an EF-5 tornado that wiped out much of Joplin, Mo.
Staying ‘until the last nail … driven’
|Homeowner Melvin Boger (left) visits with United Methodist volunteer Kayla Pahls inside his flood-damaged home in Minot, N.D. UMNS/Mike DuBose
Through every crisis, however, UMCOR remained steadfast.
“True to its reputation,” Ball-Kilbourne said, “the United Methodist Committee on Relief was among the first to arrive and, we anticipate, will be among the last to leave.”
UMCOR sent an initial grant of $10,000 to the conference and trained Resource Agency Flood Team (RAFT) case managers to work with flood survivors. The disaster response community respects UMCOR’s case management work. A philosophy of care moves disaster survivors beyond file folders and into a recovery plan addressing physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
UMCOR also helped establish Hope Village, an ecumenical project that, beginning in 2012, furnished resources and housed volunteer teams. The agency “has been very supportive of our work in Minot,” said Lower, “approving grants for building supplies, providing funds to get Hope Village up and running, and maintaining our presence.”
In 2012, Hope Village and its partners repaired or rebuilt more than 500 homes. In autumn 2013, Hope Village closed its doors, and other faith-based entities followed suit.
“At that time,” said the Rev. Lee Gale, a conference disaster-response coordinator, “there were 20 homes in various stages of rebuild. Bob [Lower] and I decided together that we would not leave Minot until the last nail was driven.” Lower arranged with churches in Minot to house volunteers through summer 2014.
While the builders and repair workers were leaving, the owner of the building was clearing out the materials warehouse, Gale said. “When he found out The United Methodist Church was staying, he offered a smaller building suitable for warehousing building materials free of charge.”
Other faith-based entities pledged to funnel their remaining funds to use in Minot. Some offered to send volunteers.
Responding ‘in hope and love’
Hope Village closed “because of economic shortfall, not because the task is completed,” Lower stressed. “We have elected to continue the unfinished work for several clients who are at or near the poverty level who have not yet been helped. The United Methodists will have the last boots on the ground.”
In its new location, Faith United Methodist Church is thriving. “We were able to negotiate with the city and place an electronic sign up on the highway,” Ball-Kilbourne said. “It is helping us tell our story.” Current membership is 152.
In times of tragedy, Ball-Kilbourne said, legal aid and emotional and spiritual care are essential. She continues coordinates RAFT, a partnership of faith- and community-based agencies that assist residents as they recover.
“Volunteer case management,” she noted, “is the backbone of disaster recovery, “helping to sustain the spiritual and emotional spheres of the survivors as they ‘put the pieces together.’
“We provided each survivor involved in case management with a new quilt — a visual, if you will, of the fact that there are several seasons following a disaster and they could ‘put their pieces together’ into a ‘new normal’ for themselves and their family.
“I continue to be stopped on the street by people whose faces are somewhat familiar and am thanked. Usually, I did not work with them myself, but they associate me with case management, and they want me to know how their lives are going.”
“UMCOR,” said Gale, “in partnership with the Dakotas Conference, was one of the first faith-based entities to respond to the flood in Minot, and in the tradition of UMCOR, we will be the last ones out.
“We respond as one, in hope and love.”
Barbara Dunlap-Berg is associate editor of Interpreter.