When They Prayed
FROM THE BISHOP DAVID GRAVES   I chose the theme of our 2023 Annual Conference session, “When They Prayed,” based on Acts 4:31: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they ...
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Disaster strikes in my own backyard

June 18, 2021

“God is the source. Everything else is a resource.” Tony Evans

In South Georgia, when we think about the threat of natural disasters, hurricanes might immediately come to mind. Hurricane season kicked off June 1 and will end Nov. 30, and Kara Witherow, in her recent Advocate article, Prepare Now For This Season’s Storms, shares how to prepare now to respond when needed. Check the article out; the 2021 season is projected to be a busy one! 

In recent years, our conference has seen devastation at the hand of straight-line winds and tornadoes, neither of which are contained in a “season.” No matter the time of year, our churches and disaster response ministries walk alongside communities in response and recovery.

Hurricanes, although unpredictable, do offer some warning whereas tornadoes and severe weather can escalate quickly and with little warning. I live in Coffee County and experienced this firsthand a few months ago. A tornado warning was issued at 8:51 p.m. Saturday, April 24 and at 9:03 p.m. an EF-2 tornado was on the ground for 15 minutes, its path set through two residential areas just south of Douglas. It was a miracle no one was injured and no lives were lost. The tornado was on the ground for 8.2 miles with a maximum width of 360 yards. There were more than 100 homes damaged. 

I witnessed my community come together in incredible ways to meet the needs of those who were impacted by this catastrophic event. Disaster response ministry is at its best when working in collaboration through partnerships and knowing where the resources are to meet different needs that are presented following a storm. 

Communication is key, and one reason the response here in Douglas was successful was due to strong communication. Social media platforms were used to share items needed, food distribution locations, and other specific needs. A central location to coordinate these efforts was established and everyone worked together. These efforts were organized primarily through local churches. What an incredible example of being the church!

Fast forward 18 days later to May 12. I received a text from a local United Methodist Church which simply said: “Do you know of programs that can help the displaced from the tornado at Bear Creek?” 

A couple who were survivors of the April 25 tornado visited the church looking for help. They were living in a camper parked in the Bear Creek Mobile Home Park when their camper was picked up by the tornado while they were home. After that night, it was uninhabitable. For several weeks they had been staying in their car and different places seeking assistance. 

This is exactly what our South Georgia Disaster Response Ministries are designed for: to help the marginalized, those without resources and those who oftentimes fall through the cracks. I love Tony Evans’ quote at the beginning of this column. Yes, God is the source, and through the generosity of our South Georgia clergy and laity I had the resources to help this couple. 

I enlisted Rev. Aimee Baxter, a trained Disaster Response Case Manager in our Conference, and we met with the couple through Zoom to create a plan to give them security and stability. 

We walked alongside them and listened as they shared how terrifying that night was for them and how they did not want to go back into a camper or mobile home. 

Through your generous giving to our South Georgia Storm Recovery Funds, we were able to arrange a hotel room for them while they looked for permanent housing. They were able to find an apartment with the Housing Authority in Douglas, and we paid the deposits to secure the unit and utilities. I knew of other resources in my community and connected them with the Coffee County Food Bank and The Good Deeds Club who had donations of furniture to help them make their house a home. A local furniture company graciously moved these donated items. The South Georgia Conference also provided them with a Visa gift card for the miscellaneous items needed. 

Navigating and working through this was not always a smooth process, but it was truly a rewarding process. They asked me about The United Methodist Church, and I shared the connection at work and how it was a network of individuals and churches that helped them in their time of greatest need. In that moment, I was reminded why I am so proud to be a United Methodist and part of this extraordinary connection. 

Thank you, South Georgia. God is the source, and YOU are a resource having impact in my own backyard and literally all over the world! 

Allison Lindsey is the director of Connectional Ministries. She has a passion for the local church and its people. Contact her at allison@sgaumc.com.

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