Confessions of a Disaster Response Volunteer
by Rich Duggan, OPC Disaster Response Volunteer & Member, New Hope OPC, Bridgeton, NJ
On August 31st, a group of five men from New Jersey, including myself, departed on our planned trip to Midland, Michigan. We were going to help a couple of families that had their homes significantly damaged by flooding when multiple dams failed around Sanford Lake in May of this year. One house, belonging to the Moots, had been completely devastated, requiring essentially a complete rebuild of the entire interior of the house, including electrical, plumbing and HVAC. The other house, belonging to the Kennedys, had been flooded on the lower level, causing significant damage to multiple bedrooms, a family room, a utility room and a bathroom. Our team was focused on the Kennedy’s home, but also supported the work at the Moots’.
I had done some short-term missions trips in the past, but this was my first disaster response volunteer experience. I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. I was eager to get to our site and make an impact; to feel like we were truly helping someone. When we got to Midland, our Site Coordinator, Mike Greene, took us to Kennedy's home where we met Tom and Linda. They greeted us warmly and showed us our projects for the week: a damaged dock to be demolished, a deck to be restored, a gazebo to be cleaned up, a bathroom to be put back together, bunk beds to repair and paint, and trim and doors to install. We had our plans; we knew what we were going to do, but it turned out there was much more in store.
I wanted to focus on the work, on the measurable progress we made while we were there. I rejoice that God did give us success in the work, but I am also pleased that as Ephesians 3:20 reminds us, God is able to do abundantly more than we ask or think. Spending time with Tom and Linda, as well as talking to Michelle and Glenn Moots at the church, opened my eyes to my own pride. As I listened to what they had been going through for months, I realized that if I were in their shoes, I would work to figure out what I would need to do and how I would get through it. In Midland, I saw the whole Body of Christ working together, with multiple gifts of administration, hospitality, and physical skill coming together to support a hurting member of the body. I realized how beautiful that was, and how I would struggle to try to handle it myself. I also got to see how significantly the support and love that we were there to provide affected Tom and Linda. Throughout the week we got to know them more closely and developed a lasting friendship. We were able to understand how much of a burden it was to have a significant part of their home left unrestored for so long. Seeing the joy that filled their hearts as parts of their home began to look like home again truly encouraged me. I had thought that just getting projects checked off a list would have made for a successful trip. But it turned out that establishing new relationships and learning how the Body of Christ works were what God had in mind for us.
I wonder what new things I will learn the next time I can volunteer for the Disaster Response Team!