South Georgia United Methodists respond swiftly to help during Hurricane Matthew

10/17/2016


Epworth By The Sea on St. Simons Island was hit hard during Hurricane Matthew, but did not sustain any major damage. Photo courtesy of Brady Shierling

By Kara Witherow, Editor

Hurricane Matthew’s powerful winds and blinding rain struck Georgia’s coast during the late evening hours of Friday, Oct. 7 and lasted through the night into Saturday morning. Though the storm was not as powerful as first predicted and took a jog to the east before striking the coast, it brought torrential rain, powerful winds, a storm surge, and flooding, leaving homes, churches, and business damaged; roads blocked; more than 250,000 without power; and three dead in Georgia alone.

South Georgia United Methodists responded just as swiftly, providing temporary shelters, counseling, tree removal and debris cleanup, financial support, and prayers for those impacted.

“I have been amazed by the number of individuals, churches, and groups who have reached out to me asking how they can help,” said Allison Lindsey, Associate Director of Connectional Ministries. “Disaster Response is challenging because on one hand there is a tremendous sense of urgency to do something immediately, but the reality is that it takes time to make sure the affected areas are safe and to assess the actual needs within the community. UMCOR teaches that it does not take a badge to be a neighbor, and we saw many people out in their communities simply living out the gospel by loving their neighbors and meeting needs around them. We will continue to look for ways to be the church and assist those touched by this storm.”

Shelter from the storm

When mandatory evacuations were issued in six coastal counties, several churches opened their doors as shelters for those displaced by the storm.

Park Avenue United Methodist Church is an official Red Cross shelter and was the first Hurricane Matthew shelter to open in Valdosta. It reached its 200 person capacity by Thursday evening, Oct. 8.

Men, women, and children filled the church, sleeping on Red Cross-provided cots in every youth and adult Sunday school room. Other rooms were being used as recreation areas where people watched movies, played games, and relaxed. The entire campus was abuzz and full of activity on a usually quiet Friday afternoon.

Caring for others and responding to needs is something the congregation does every day, said Jamie Bone, the church’s Director of Lay Ministries.

“We do what we’re doing right now every single day for people in our own community,” she said. “This is what we’re made to do, and we just have a huge explosion experience of what we do every day. This is who we are and what we do. We’re just being faithful to keep doing what it is that we do. God just sent us a whole lot more this time.”

Just a few blocks away, Valdosta First United Methodist Church’s shelter was full, too, the only one in town that could accept pets. Cats and dogs shared rooms with their evacuated families, and almost every spare room in the church – from the senior pastor’s office to the associate pastor’s office to the supply closet – was filled with a family and pets from Brunswick, St. Augustine, or Savannah.

When church leaders asked for volunteers and donations, the congregation responded quickly and overwhelmingly, said associate pastor Rev. Shannon Patterson. Local restaurants provided meals to evacuees, a local pharmacy donated medicines and supplies, and volunteers gave countless hours of their time to help others. 

“This was one of the most remarkable and clearly Christ-honoring things I have ever been a part of,” said Dr. Bob Moon, senior pastor of Valdosta First UMC. “Our people responded with so much grace and generosity. On Saturday we had to put out the word to stop bringing things because we had more than enough. It was just like Moses telling people to stop bringing gifts because they had more than enough for the tabernacle!”

Evacuees from St. Augustine and Glynn County began returning home Saturday evening. Those from Savannah were able to leave by Sunday afternoon, and several attended Valdosta First UMC’s worship services, which were appropriately – though planned months in advance – titled “the decision to persevere.” Valdosta First UMC’s shelter officially closed on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 3 p.m.

“One of the most remarkable things I experienced was that by 2:30 on Sunday every room was cleaned, mopped, vacuumed, and sanitized,” Dr. Moon said. “Everybody enjoys the front part, but we had people who stayed to clean up at the end. Awesome!”

Just a few miles from Valdosta near the Florida border, Lake Park United Methodist Church sheltered about 50 evacuees.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to bring the love of Christ to those who have been displaced by the hurricane,” the church posted on its Facebook page.

Cordele First United Methodist Church also opened its doors as a shelter for storm evacuees. The Hispanic and Anglo congregations served together to those who needed refuge.

Vidalia United Methodist Church and Dublin United Methodist Church both hosted nursing home residents who had to be evacuated from Savannah and Brunswick. Volunteers provided pillows, blankets, and flashlights, and helped feed and comfort the visitors.

In Kathleen, just outside of Macon, Andrew United Methodist Church opened its doors to about 30 evacuees and nearly a dozen pets.

After the storm

As residents returned home, coastal congregations sprang into action to offer assistance, support, and encouragement.

Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah lost a tree but the church was structurally intact following the storm. The area, however, was greatly impacted by Hurricane Matthew, and the congregation gathered in a combined worship service on Sunday, Oct. 12 for a time of time for prayer, thanksgiving, healing, and hope.

On Wednesday, Oct. 12, The Chapel, Taylors Chapel, and Taylors UMC, United Methodist congregations in the Coastal District, hosted a community worship service. Hundreds of area residents worshiped, prayed, and enjoyed being together as a community of faith as they continued to clean up and rebuild after the storm. After worship services on Sunday, Oct. 23, the congregation will gather for a Flapjacks and Lumberjacks pancake lunch before dispersing to clean up more storm-ravaged yards.

While Americus First United Methodist Church didn’t receive evacuees, they are organizing fundraisers to help the Methodist Church of Cuba congregations who were affected by the storm.

“I witnessed so many examples of the connection coming together and of the creativity within our local churches to have a presence and be in ministry,” Lindsey said. “On Sunday morning, my thoughts were with the congregations who could not gather for worship, but Ben Gosden, pastor of Trinity UMC in Savannah, and Matt Hearn, pastor of Gateway Pooler, offered worship services using Facebook’s livestream technology. What a creative way to give people hope and help them feel connected. On Wednesday, when residents from St. Simons Island were allowed back to their homes, The Chapel staff held signs welcoming people home and handed out bottled water and hand sanitizer. That’s a small gesture with big impact. There are so many more inspiring stories that I could share and I am sure many more that I have yet to discover.”

To help

As we continue to pray for those affected by the storm, here’s how to help:

Financial Donations: To aid with disasters within the South Georgia Annual Conference you can send financial gifts through the Conference Treasurer's Office earmarked Advance Special #6796 - South Georgia Storm Recovery (Disaster Response). The address is PO Box 13145 / Macon, Georgia 31208. Financial gifts will make a significant impact on this disaster, future relief, and long-term recovery efforts.

Early Response Teams: We will be disseminating information as to if and when Early Response Teams are needed as soon as we can. These teams work in coordination with county Emergency Management officials and local disaster response groups. They will be activated as soon as it is necessary and safe to do so.

Cleaning Buckets & Health Kits: UMCOR cleaning buckets and health kits will be needed to replenish those being sent to the areas experiencing severe flooding. This is a great way to have all ages of your church involved in outreach. Your church can collect and assemble these relief kits. Instructions for the various kits can be found at www.umcor.org. Wesley UMC in Macon has graciously agreed to serve as our central collection site for the conference. Once you are ready to make a delivery, please contact Allison Lindsey at allison@sgaumc.com to arrange drop-off.

Bulletin Insert: Click here to download a bulletin insert to use in your church this Sunday.

Early Response Team Trainings: One upcoming Early Response Team trainings is scheduled to help equip individuals and teams to respond in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. The cost for the training is $25 per participant. At the training, participants will receive an ERT Training Manual and upon completing the course will receive an UMCOR ID Badge and a T-shirt. Background checks are required before receiving badges. Please provide proof of background check. Safe Sanctuaries background checks are applicable. Lunch is also included in the cost. To schedule an ERT training please contact Luis Morales at morhilll@gmail.com.

December 3, 2016
9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Isle of Hope UMC
412 Parkersburg Road
Savannah, GA 31406
Register here for this training

Keeping You Updated: We will continue to keep you updated through our website and Facebook page as assessments are made and invitations are given for outside ERT teams to come into these areas if needed.