‘God will find something for you’
Missions group welcomes volunteers
Destructive storms, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, do more than destroy buildings and homes.
They uproot lives.
After the waters recede and the mopping up is done, the work is not over. Many people whose dwellings have been hit by violent winds or high water have to wait years before they can go home again.
The storms not only leave a high water mark on their walls, but their personal lives.
June (not her real name) endured an emotional roller coaster after Hurricane Matthew swept through her town of Fayetteville, North Carolina, in October 2016.
As the flood filled her home, she, her daughter and granddaughter sought higher ground by sitting on the kitchen counter all night. They depended on a candle as their only source of light, while helplessly watching the water rise up the cabinets. It had only been two weeks since she had buried her husband.
When the waters receded, she was homeless. For the next six months, she drifted from one relative’s home to another, sleeping on couches.
Andy (not his real name) did not experience the aftermath of a hurricane. Instead, he lived in Nashville, Tennessee, seven years ago when the city was hit with 13.5 inches of rain in 36 hours. The home he and his wife shared with their three children became inhabitable. He tried to repair his home himself, while continuing to work a full-time job. He became so overwhelmed by the project that he considered ending his life.
Peggy (not her real name) in Joplin, Missouri, rode out the tornado that hit that town in May 2011, by sitting in her bathtub. The funnel cloud took her for a ride and when it landed, she only had a few cuts. However, she did not know where she was.
All the local landmarks were gone, including a Kmart. She also did not know where any of her family was and if they were safe.
These three scenarios were recalled by Ron Hoover and Joy Shields, mission team leaders for the Altoona District Volunteers in Mission Team of the United Methodist Church. VIM is part of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, a nonprofit that works globally as well as nationally to alleviate suffering and advance hope and healing.
VIM does not help immediately after a disaster but comes in after case workers in that area have accessed needs. VIM works with local officials and inspectors and operates under the rules of that locale, Hoover said.
Hoover and Shields have worked on more than 50 projects since the Altoona District VIM took a trip to Gulfport, Mississippi, in 2006 to help rebuild homes along the Gulf Coast that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Most of the homeowners the teams help have little or no insurance and some of them even face more hardship when they unknowingly hire contractors who do some of the work, take the homeowner’s money and are never seen again.
Shields said that was the case at the home the team repaired in New Jersey that had been damaged by Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012. The elderly couple who owned the home gave the contractor $100,000 in insurance money.
“He did $25,000 in work and left. The couple had no money to finish it,” she said.
“We have had instances like that on every major project we have gone to,” Hoover said.
The VIM teams work in an area for a week. Both skilled and unskilled workers make the trip and do plumbing and electrical work as well as installing subfloors, floors, drywall and painting.
All the team members are volunteers with some taking a week’s vacation to participate while others are retired.
“We had a lady who went for the first time on our trip to Windsor, North Carolina, last month,” Shields said. “She’s 76. Age is no barrier.”
Shields, who served as mission team leader for the first time on that trip, said the team in Windsor consisted of two men and six women. She admitted being apprehensive about what would be expected of them.
When they arrived, they learned that a lot of jobs requiring little or no skills needed to be done, such as cleaning paint off the floor and painting baseboards. While the women did those tasks, the men did electrical, drywall and masonry work and installed a washer and dryer.
“God will find something for you to do,” said Hoover, who has been the mission team leader for the last 11 years. He is passing those duties on to Shields as he and his wife are planning to move out of the area.
While hands-on work is the main reason for the trips, one of the jobs does not entail using a hammer, saw or any handyman’s tools. It’s a job that’s fulfilled with a listening ear.
“A secondary way we help is to lift up people who live in despair in a lot of ways,” Hoover said.
Shields said a VIM member on the trip to Fayetteville in the spring just sat and talked with a woman.
Before the team left, Shields said, the woman’s daughter thanked them.
“She told us, ‘You don’t know how much you helped my mother. She was depressed. You helped her so much.'” she said.
When it comes to the physical labor, Hoover said volunteers may take their own tools or use ones available in VIM’s fully equipped tool trailer.
They also do not have to be from the Altoona area or Methodists.
“We have had people from other states, such as Ohio and Virginia, as well as eastern Pennsylvania on the district team,” Hoover said. The group has included Catholics, Baptists and other faith traditions.
Accommodations for the volunteers are usually provided by churches with the workers bringing air mattresses and sleeping bags. Showers and food are provided.
Shields said a woman from Harrisburg often goes to do the cooking.
Hoover explained that a $200 to $300 cost is involved for each volunteer to cover expenses, such as fuel, and to give a donation to the church housing them. The thought is that the volunteers do not want to further burden the people in the disaster area. The cost also covers a dinner attended by the families and volunteers the night before the team leaves.
The team’s next trip is being planned for Florida in March or April to help victims of Hurricane Irma, and new volunteers are welcome.
Four trips are usually held each year, two in the spring and two in the fall as well as local projects.
In the Altoona area, VIM has installed the kitchen at the Teen Center as well as projects for The Door in Bellwood and has helped Second Avenue United Methodist Church with neighborhood projects each summer.
Hoover and Shields said in addition to working, the volunteers have a lot of fun and make new friends.
Once they finish their assignment, they can return home, knowing that not only were steps taken to restore a home, but spirits, too.
Hoover said, the volunteers learned that Andy, the man who found the pressures almost too much to bear, started going back to church after his home was restored. He not only took his wife and children but encouraged his brothers and their families to go, too.
“He got re-acquainted with God,” Hoover said.