On April 29, a typical Saturday in East Texas was turned upside down by the end of the night. The first and last dance moves at the Edgewood High School prom were duck and cover, and one woman took an emergency exit toward shelter on her drive home from a friend’s baby shower. After several tornadoes touched down, a dark cloud of what Canton Mayor Lou Ann Everett called “heartbreaking” and “devastating” destruction about 35 miles long and 15 miles wide still hovered over those left behind.
While it appeared that Canton was hit the hardest, damage was also reported in Grand Saline, Fruitvale, and Emory. FUMCFW sent two Early Response Teams (ERTs) to serve in the face of disaster. “We went primarily to be a Christian caring presence to those in shock and grief over their losses, and to help wherever we were needed,” says Rev. Chuck Graff, Associate Pastor of Adult Ministries. “Flexibility is key to all who serve as the situation is always changing and it’s a challenge to know where to start in the midst of the major surrounding destruction.”
One group teamed up with others from Mansfield and Acton to help Canton homeowners remove debris and retrieve salvageable items. The other group headed to Fruitvale where they aided an injured couple in saving what was left from their destroyed home and worked with an elderly farmer to clear wreckage before moving cattle. In all cases, the teams comforted the families as they helped them pick up the pieces. “One moment your day seems very normal, but the next thing you know a disaster like a tornado strikes and 45 seconds later your whole world is changed and you’ve lost almost everything — your home, your possessions, and life as you know it,” Chuck reflects. “Our priority is to stand with people to offer them our love, support, encouragement, and hope while helping clean up — in the midst of their grief, shock, and denial — so they can start going through their possessions and begin to move forward with their lives.”
Linda Moore and her husband, Gary, recently completed their training as ERT members and this was their first time to serve following a disaster. They spent two days in Fruitvale, a small town with a population of only about 400 people. Linda admits that she and Gary were both a little bit uncertain about what they were actually going to be doing and what they would see. However, once they got there they realized that the sites were very well-run and organized.
There were three different churches that provided food and a central group that spent long days manning the stations. “They were so welcoming and everyone treated you like you lived there,” Linda recalls. “The interactions with all of the people and the way they came together in a time of crisis and need really made a statement to the caring attitude of the United Methodist Church.” While Methodists from all over East Texas and beyond served as a team, we also joined forces with other denominations in one large group effort. “It was great to see the cooperation of the people involved and how it was non-denominational — just people in need and people trying to help provide something to alleviate that need,” Linda adds.
In some cases, that need may have been as simple as talking to the people who lived through this unforgettable experience. Linda says that it was interesting to hear the tales of what they went through and how they survived it. “As Chuck says, ‘Just be there and be a presence,’ so that’s what we did,” she explains. “We just let them talk and it seemed to help a good bit toward the road to recovery.” Throughout the process, the teams were thanked and hugged and even given hot meals — which Linda describes as their way of providing support to those who came together to help their community — a gift that all the volunteers were really grateful to receive.
The following ERT members served alongside Rev. Chuck Graff: Ronda Brandt, Tolbert Greenwood, Linda and Gary Moore, Catherine and Mike Hollis, Lori Robbins, Jeff Siewert, Jennifer Stephens, and Sheila White-Stewart. “You all need to be very proud of those who took the time and have this commitment and love of God and neighbor to serve those in need,” Chuck exclaims. “They were amazing and used their gifts to bless others. Thank you all!”
This is just one time and place our ERTs have served, and you never know when disaster will strike again. If you feel called to become a part of our Early Response Team, we offer training sessions throughout the year. From retirees who have the flexibility to answer calls as they come, to young adults who need advance notice to take off work, all ERT members have an opportunity to find the service that fits their schedule — and their abilities. “I would recommend the training to anybody because there will always be a job for you,” Linda encourages. “Even if it’s not in the field, your team leader will filter through other less physically demanding options based on information from the conference about what kind of response help is needed.”
While we are very thankful for the 25 trained ERT members we already have here at First Church, there are many ways to serve and others are always welcome to join.
Contact: Rev. Chuck Graff | firstname.lastname@example.org | 817-339-5065