Editor's Note: This page has the first-person stories of the UCC's Partners in Service who are working in disaster ministries. For a page with a synopsis of each story, click here.
Home Congregation: Blue Route Vineyard Church, Media, Pa.
Being born a child of God, I was created with a caring heart. This I specifically remember from my teenage years: When one dreams about "what to be when they grow up," my thoughts repeatedly went to "Peace Corps."
"Life happened" after that ,,, a child and such. Peace Corps did not happen.
My son married at the age of 24, and I, as a single mom in my 40s, re-evaluated my life. I decided upon a less common path. That was 2004. Leaving all I was familiar with behind (house, job, family), I began a three-year journey of volunteering in the United States and developing countries. Basically, I followed Jesus. During those years I worked through a variety of different organizations and I was led, for a period of time, into disaster work with the UCC after Hurricane Katrina.
After my full-time volunteer respite, I returned home to Pennsylvania for eight years and worked seasonally while continuing volunteer effort through all winter months. It was during those winters that I became more familiar with the Partners in Service Volunteer Program. I worked with the program for a few winters, but not always in the disaster realm. The Partners in Service program of the UCC encompasses a lot of diverse programs to provide an outlet for one's gifts, talents and passions.
The Lord led me back to disaster work in West Columbia, S.C., for the winter of 2015-2016. This is where my husband Tim Sheaffer (a staff member of Brethren Disaster Ministries) and I met, that season, in what seemed to be the most unlikely of scenarios where neither one of us was working in disaster recovery for that reason.
Married by Labor Day 2016, we now reside in our camper, focusing our efforts in the disaster relief ministry. Since then, I am, again, working through the amazing Partners in Service program, which allows me to give energy, commitment, heart and service to others.
The floods of June 23, 2016, were devastating to Clay County, W.V., and Tim and I have been living in the town of Clay since Thanksgiving 2016 to assist the local people with recovery.
Home Congregation: First Congregational Church UCC, Greene, N.Y.
My life was building to a crescendo as I approached my 35th year of ordained ministry and the age at which I could annuitize my retirement. I had no physical restrictions following my heart attack two years earlier, and my wife of 33 years was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer in her pelvic region.
I finished up my ministry and Beth and I began traveling in our motor home. She accompanied me in the traveling and I accompanied her through a round of chemo treatment, three surgeries, a second round of chemo and her death.
I entered the lonely desert of grief. Then, at the oasis of General Synod, I found Alan Coe, UCC Director of Disaster Ministries in New Orleans. He invited me to engage with people where they lived, and I was assigned to supervise volunteers who came to New Orleans to help survivors of Katrina rebuild their homes and their lives.
The invitation to become a Partner in Service working in disaster recovery was informed by my living and ministering through the Flood of '97 in Grand Forks, N.D. Having lost half our home to the rising waters of the Red River of the North, I had experienced the power of people who visited me in my emptiness and the value of church people volunteering together. The community of the church and meaning of the gospel were made real as I worked to rebuild my home and recover my faith. Following two winters in New Orleans, I worked in Taylor, Texas, for three months last winter and am now in Daytona Beach, Fla., for four months, where fellow Partner in Service Betzi Yungclas and I are assisting early recovery from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Betzi and I recommend that anyone who has a month or more to volunteer through Partners in Service consider answering the call. Committing your time and energy to helping others in all parts of the country and all types of living situations and economic conditions will add to the lives of others and to your life and faith enrichment. Check out the opportunities for involvement at UCC.org/partners-in-service.
Home Congregation: Park Hill Congregational United Church of Christ, Denver, Colo.
Growing up in disaster-prone Oklahoma, I discovered my sensitivity and empathy for people touched by tragedy. In these situations I relied upon my faith values, skills, heart, and inquisitiveness to reach out. I served as a Red Cross volunteer, and later served various roles in disaster recovery and human services administration with the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and federal government, including as a Voluntary Agencies Liaison for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Over the course of the last 30 years, I have worked in the response to more than 40 federal disaster declarations and multiple local and regional incidents and emergencies.
My sensitivity and skills have grown tremendously through the years. I currently serve as UCC Southern Conference Disaster Coordinator, where I am helping UCC Disaster Ministries and the conference serve people recovering following Hurricane Matthew.
I attribute my "calm when urgency strikes" at least in part to my DNA. I undoubtedly inherited my parents' war-exposed DNA and, like my father and grandfather who sat in a railcar during an air raid in 1940s- blitzed London, I usually become calm when urgency strikes.
This has helped as God has blessed my efforts in helping to equip the church to respond. The Holy Spirit and I are partners as I pray, "Where can the comforting presence of Jesus Christ be made known in this situation?" Bringing communities together, teaching, and companioning them towards recovery and resilience brings joy and gratefulness as I see God at work through the hands of the church and others.
Home Congregation: First Community United Church of Christ, Dallas, Texas
I am the daughter of a United Church of Christ pastor. At the Annual Meeting of the South Central Conference, there was a table set up for the disaster recovery ministry of the church after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. My life was changed when I picked up a brochure describing the UCC recovery ministry in New Orleans after damage that resulted from Hurricane Katrina.
I read the brochure during a break in my workshop. I returned to the booth after the workshop and Alan Coe, UCC Director of Disaster Ministries in New Orleans, answered my questions. I said to him, "I could do this." The next morning I awoke knowing that I needed to this, feeling that God was calling me to volunteer.
I had retired from AT&T six years earlier, where I had started my career 30 years earlier as the first woman in the country to climb telephone poles. I followed the Spirit into this opportunity to be helpful in a new way. When the ministry in New Orleans closed, I remained with Partners in Service, the long-term volunteer opportunity in UCC, and went to Tucson, Ariz., for two years with an organization called Human Borders, an organization with whom the church had partnered.
I returned to Disaster Ministries and have served in Joplin, Mo.; Pensacola, Fla.; West Virginia; Bastrop and Williamson County, Texas; Columbia, S.C., and now in Volusia County, Fla., where UCC Disaster Ministries is partnering with VIND (Volusia Interfaith/Action Networking in Disaster), which is the acting Long-Term Recovery Group for Volusia County following Hurricane Matthew's wind and rain on the east coast of Florida in October 2016. Early recovery, in which we are presently involved, includes tarping roofs, clearing downed trees and debris, and organizing lists of people who have requested help.
In the next couple of months we will be requesting groups of weekly volunteers to come to help rebuild homes damaged by Matthew.