Reflections of a Rookie Responder

Date Posted: 9/12/2013

Destination: Moore, Oklahoma. Several “newbies” joined a group of experienced TAC volunteers who helped with tornado relief and recovery in our sister state to the north. Read about their perspective and the overall success of this adventure.


From several points of origin, teams of mission minded volunteers recently traveled to help Oklahoma residents literally “pick up the pieces.” For Rusk UMC it was a ‘maiden voyage’ to form an Emergency Response Team, but one Robert Blankenship would rate a  9.5 out of 10, even though he required a bit of hand-holding, initially, as a new team leader.


“Knowing that our church was the first in our district to set up our very own team sent morale way up,” Robert shares. “It was a shot in the arm for our church because our members could see their investments in action. And, when First UMC Teague Pastor Alan Van Hooser gave us custody of the trailer we were very proud.  Finding the money to finish “tricking it out” was a piece of cake.  Even in Oklahoma when it was obvious that we needed a weed eater, one of our team members bought a top of the line model out of her own pocket.  So many things could have derailed this process but everyone stepped up and made it easy.”


Adds Robert, “With so many teams coming and going, I don't know how the local coordinators sleep at night. Our Oklahoma family can only be described as a match made in heaven.  I never will forget the first day the homeowner came home from work and turned in her driveway.  She had her windows down and you could hear her screaming with joy a long way away.  We all felt so appreciated and happy to do as many extras as we could in addition to building 600 feet of fence. I returned realizing that churches that establish their own teams have the most powerful experience because we did it together.”


Quite another adventure began in Katy, Texas with 30 willing missionaries from two churches, Grace Fellowship UMC and St. Peter's UMC, and trailers loaded with tools. At least a dozen had never been on a week-long mission experience, and several were completely new to disaster relief.


God's plan unfolded, in spite of nine hours of travel, including two flat tires. According to Steve Godby, Grace missions coordinator, the team arrived at the host church, St. Luke’s Asbury United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City to designated rooms filled with air mattresses. As camp leaders, Steve and St. Peter’s UMC Associate Pastor Nathan Bledsoe facilitated new friendships and outlined the routine for the week ahead.


“Our team's first opportunity to serve began in the small town of Newalla, OK., located just outside Oklahoma City,” Steve explains. “The task was to clear debris from an empty lot where a mobile home once stood. The homeowner lived in a trailer home adjacent to the lot. As the team cleared debris they found pieces of the family's life story buried by the devastating tornado. Pictures, letters and other small items were joyfully returned to the owner.”


Tuesday brought rain and a day of service at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma City. Adds Steve, “Our team plugged into service at a food warehouse, a well-organized machine, and spent the morning outfitted with hair nets, beard nets and plastic gloves scooping, weighing and packaging food -- then, weighing and boxing packaged foods that arrived on pallets standing six feet high. At the end of the day the volunteer coordinator encouraged us by sharing the number of people that would be fed, thanks to our service.”


As skies cleared Wednesday, teams once again headed out to clear debris. This assignment included clearing large trees and as the chain-saw gang headed to one location the rest of the team headed to another and another stayed at the host church to do painting and cleaning.


“On Thursday, as the team assembled at breakfast to determine the work plan for the day, we learned one of the Early Response Team Equipment Trailers had been stolen,” notes  Karen Evans. “Amid disbelief and disappointment, we eagerly listened to the reading of our Jesus Calling devotional for the day: "Do not let unexpected problems distract you from My Presence. Instead, talk with Me about everything, and watch confidently to see what I will do."


A small team took the remaining trailer and tools and cleared debris while the rest of the team addressed some of the needs of the host church. Repairs, repainting, electrical work, gardening, mulching, weeding, trimming and general cleaning were just a few of the jobs that needed addressing.


“Methodists landed in the media as news stations in Oklahoma City and Houston covered our stolen trailer story,” adds Disaster Response Coordinator DeWitt Cox.”  


Adds Karen, “Each time a team begins a mission trip they come with a set of expectations. Since plans change daily, the only thing that remains constant is the need for flexibility and reliance on God. Thankfully, God's plan is always so much bigger. “


Steve Godby praised the team victimized by the criminal activity for living out the embodiment of Christ. “I cannot remember being so awed and humbled by a demonstration of Christian Presence. You renew my faith in the training we do and the people served. God turns evil into good and this example will archive in the minds of ERT everywhere.”