November 15, 2018
James writes, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself (James 2:14-17).”
It’s taken me a few days, OK, actually a week to process my experience before I could begin to summarize my experience as an “Early Response Team” (ERT) member.
I was trained in ERT, at COAH about a year ago. This is governed by UMCOR, but ERT training is not mandatory for volunteer service. It was a Saturday class, and at the time I thought, “this is nice, but when am I actually ever going to do this?” Fast forward a year and add hurricane Florence. An email went out to all the ERT’s asking who may be available if there’s a need prior to the arrival of the storm. COAH doesn’t have a team, so I remained on a general contact list. I tentatively threw my hat in the ring and waited. After the storm and the disastrous flooding that followed, when it was safe, trips were established, and the invitation went out. I signed up.
I’m an introvert living an extrovert’s life. I have a lot of extroverted activities that I enjoy but the things that really peak my anxiety are small talk and strangers and I had just signed up to go on a trip with six other strangers for four days. As the trip gets closer, UMCOR helps you understand what situation you need to prepare for. Do you need to be completely self-sufficient or will there be power, water, food, etc.? I understand I was very lucky. Not lucky, extremely blessed. We were blessed with a donated beach house to stay in and had a grocery store and restaurants to buy lunch and dinner each day.
I was the only female on the trip, and by far the youngest by easily 20 years. However, from the moment I arrived, and we met a really beautiful thing happened. The Holy Spirit took over and bound us together as a family. We were seven representatives, from four different United Methodist churches, acting as the hands and feet of Christ. We were the Church universal.
The team deployed before us had worked on a house which was nearing complete deconstruction. It had been flooded under five feet of water, which meant about two feet of water reached inside the house. If you are considering joining the ERT ministry, please don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by your skill level or lack thereof. Tearing apart a home takes much less skill or training than crafting one together. But even construction can be taught quickly. I think of working on Habitat for Humanity homes, where they hand you a tool, teach you what to do, and they next thing you know – you are hanging sheetrock! Deconstruction is very similar, only easier. We were able to finish clearing out the damage in this home (sheetrock, flooring, bathrooms, fixtures, etc.) and leave it to be sprayed with mold killer. We then moved on to the next home on the list. This home had its shingles ripped off, which caused flooding down through the ceiling into the front three rooms of the home. This home was a fresh start with a new list of issues and different work to be done. We made good progress on that house and the team following us will move in and take over. That to me was another sign pointing to the over-arching design in the grand plan of God’s people working together.
It’s difficult to put into words what this work does to you. It’s intimately personal. When you are clearing out a home, you are removing someone’s life – their memories, their broken treasures – and piling them by the street. But you are also helping them move from a place of overwhelming anxiety and loss to a point of hope. Once the home is cleared the owners feel relief. Then the home gets deconstructed. They can then see progress. Then hope. Then a future. Then excitement.
To have teams of volunteers come in and liberate families from the disaster zone they are living in, or the homelessness from being displaced, to show them in an absolute tangible form, that people care – it is beyond words. It is transcendent of this world. I felt like a part of an angel army. I got a glimpse of heaven in this untethered act of love.
I never had to make small talk with my teammates. We had deeply spiritual conversations on those seven-hour drives. Discussions of Christ, the Church, and Christianity in (dare I say) politics. We discussed our family lives, our struggles, and our joys. We were a band of brothers and a sister in Christ. Our faith was perfected in action. The bond this experience created within our team was spiritual and God-ordained. Each of us working as a team of strangers only explained in Christ.