Mellie Jordan, with one of her three children, has brought a heart for justice to many disaster-affected communities.
Disaster work transforms us all, says Mellie Jordan
By Susan Kim*
June 16, 2016 —In the disaster response community, Mellie Jordan is known as an award-winning case manager. She also has the heart of a survivor, not only of a tornado that fortunately left her and her three children unscathed but of life circumstances that find her recreating herself even as she helps others find their own new paths.
Jordan grew up in the United Methodist Church, the daughter of a preacher. “The church was an essential part of my life,” she says. After moving to Texas — first Midland then Fort Worth — she moved back to Louisville, Mississippi, in March 2014. “Very unfortunate circumstances had brought me and my three small children back,” she said. “I was very uncertain of almost everything except that all I wanted was to be faithful to the God who loved me more than I deserved, and protected and provided for my kids and me through many ugly years.”
The details of those ugly years are shadows in Jordan’s past as she has become a light to hundreds of disaster survivors.
Shortly after moving back to Mississippi, tornadoes struck, and she found herself in a closet under the stairs with her children and her parents — their planned safe space. “After receiving the all clear, we were untouched but I learned that our friends had lost their house while they were seeking shelter in the church.”
Everyone was still unaware of the magnitude of the damage. Jordan offered to watch the family’s daughter while they figured out what to do. That was first moment of disaster response for Jordan. “I went and was faithful to serve someone who meant something to me, but would later learn God had called me to serve a community that meant something to Him,” she said.
Tornado aftermath unfolds
As the Winston Medical Center was evacuated, local churches were preparing to receive more than 100 nursing home residents. Jordan picked up the little girl whose parents had just learned they lost everything, and brought her, along with her own children, to her mother.
Then she went back out to help. “It was very chaotic as we had the nursing home residents triaged and also evacuees from the hardest-hit neighborhoods coming in waiting for the Red Cross shelter to be set up. People were coming in injured, soaking wet from the torrential rain that followed the tornado. Clothes had been literally sucked off of some. Moms didn't know where their children were.”
The church, she said, “stepped up and responded beautifully.”
The next day, she began delivering meals to tornado survivors. “We shifted our focus to the people in poorer neighborhoods, who didn't seem to have the same amount attention as other neighborhoods.”
After the community established a donations center, Jordan went to work there. She gave the Mississippi Conference an update on what had happened so far. Rev. Dr. Connie Shelton — at that time director of connectional ministries for the Mississippi Conference — asked if Jordan would be interested in becoming a disaster case manager.
Jordan’s answer was not just a spoken “yes,” but the kind of deeper “yes” that is the answer to a calling: “I immediately felt that God was providing this opportunity for me, and although I didn't realize everything I was committing to, I knew for maybe the first time ever I was where God wanted me. I was being who He called me to be.”
With the calling, there has been a lot of learning. “How had I gone 30 years in the Methodist church as a preacher’s kid and not known about UMCOR [the United Methodist Committee on Relief] and the amazing work they do?”
Curiously enough, those who work with Jordan often use the word “amazing” to describe her.
“She has a heart for justice that is as big as the world,” reflected Christy Smith, an UMCOR consultant who has worked with Jordan to train case managers. “She eases her way into a community, forms relationships and enters into partnerships in every single small town with incredible grace and skill.”
Disaster-burdened communities very quickly come to trust Jordan’s competence, Smith added.
For Jordan, it’s about loving the people. “The survivors are the people who are the most important in recovery. It's beautiful to see a survivor without hope be empowered to access resources necessary to recover sustainably.”
She also loves the volunteers, and describes them as “just people giving of their time and talents so selflessly.”
What is left
After a disaster, there might be something left or there might be nothing left, depending on which town, which block you visit. Regardless, Jordan said, “I love that God is so obviously there. Repeatedly, survivors have miraculous stories of how God showed up for them. Over the last two years in this ministry, although God may send us there to work, I have learned that the poor don't need us to bring them Jesus, because He is actively at work in these communities. When we enter their lives, it is us who are humbled. We learn more about Jesus.”
Jordan is a vibrant person, a leader, and a mother — and people are curious about how she balances her life. Her answer is: like everyone else does. “For me there is no magic formula. Only to be flexible, to be intentional, to really check in with myself, my family, and my work, and to rely on my discernment to make adjustments where and when I need to.”
Jordan reminds us that we don't have to be all things, to all people, all the time. “My kids don't need me to be supermom every day, because I am definitely not, and they are still pretty awesome,” she said. “Sometimes I have a hard time intentionally thinking of myself but I have learned how important taking care of yourself is in this ministry.”
If you feel called to actively participate in long-term disaster recovery, contact your conference disaster response coordinator or email email@example.com. Your gift to UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670, helps people respond with love, disaster after disaster.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.