The UCC Disaster Ministries team is being stretched this week, effectively responding to two devastating hurricanes — the aftermath of Harvey and horrific floods on the ground in Texas and Louisiana, and the current chaos Irma is bringing, leaving unprecedented destruction and a rising death toll in the Caribbean, with a pending strike of South Florida. There are also several wildfires blazing a path across the Western U.S.
"The needs of people in a disaster are fluid — literally. Cash donations enable the UCC to support people with what they need in the moment and to be a significant part of their lives as they recover and rebuild in the months and years to come," said the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, UCC Global Sharing of Resources team leader. "Your good motivations are multiplied exponentially when you donate cash through the UCC. Strong networks and long experience in disaster recovery give you deep impact in people's lives."
With a new appeal launched today for Hurricane Irma, the UCC is collecting much-needed donations for three different disasters — with three different giving options. Anything labeled Hurricane Harvey will go to Harvey response, anything designated to Hurricane Irma will go for both international and domestic Irma response. If you give to the Emergency USA Fund, it will be used for greatest need in this country, including a response to the wildfires in Montana, Oregon and California.
The UCC is getting help and encouragement in responding to these latest disasters from partners at home and abroad.
"The devastating news that we have been watching regarding hurricane Harvey has left us dumbfounded. I have been glued to the TV set for the last few days," writes Samia Khoury. She is a Palestinian Christian from Jerusalem, former board chair of one of the UCC/Disciples Global Ministries' partner in East Jerusalem, and an active member the YWCA in Palestine. "I am not sure how much of it is due to our failure to do something about climate change, but it should certainly make the world leaders consider that possibility very seriously. My thoughts and prayers are with you, and especially those of you who have been affected or lost dear ones."
United Church Funds is partnering with the UCC's Disaster Ministries, because the need is so great at this time, to help spread the word about how churches and congregants can support current and ongoing relief and recovery efforts.
In Houston, Zach Wolgemuth, executive for Disaster Ministries has spent the last few days evaluating the needs to be met in Texas, meeting with South Central Conference Minister the Rev. Don Longbottom, conference disaster coordinator Mona Lopez and area pastors and lay leaders.
"We took time for the group to share what they are seeing, how it has impacted their communities and members," Wolgemuth said. "I then shared information about sequence of delivery, the importance of their members registering with FEMA and SBA and how recovery happens with/through engagement in long-term recovery groups. We also talked about donations: monetary and in-kind, and what we (the UCC National Setting) can offer to them and their communities."
With the help of videographer Bob Lormor, Wolgemuth is documenting the destruction and the long-term recovery work ahead.
Yesterday they met First Congregational UCC Church of Houston member Jim Earl. He and his wife have basically lost everything inside their house, as well as facing the prospect of replace flooring, walls, furnishings—you name it. Today Lormor hopes to document the massive job of rebuilding Christ United Church of Cypress, 25 miles northwest of Houston. Tomorrow, attention shifts to Corpus Christi, with more relief supplies going to Port Aransas.
"I've seen, experienced much traveling with Zach," said Lormor. "First there's the initial shock of all that has to be done, and cleaned up. That's just the beginning. The biggest process is going to be long term. That's where the UCC comes in. Right now, the church and its partners are helping to assure those affected do all of the right things with FEMA, and the insurance companies, to get as much help as possible initially. But when the news media and insurance companies go away, as the UCC, as people of faith, we're here until the end."
The Rev. Shari Prestemon can attest to that. Now Minnesota Conference Minister, Prestemon was the Executive Director of Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Miss., during Hurricane Katrina.
"I have never seen the United Church of Christ better than I saw it in the months and years following that disaster," she said. "National setting staff offered constant support and encouragement during those exhausting years, providing advice, dollars and presence in the midst of it all.
"Everything the United Church of Christ did after Hurricane Katrina was a precious life-line for those of us in the thick of the disaster. It was all the most beautiful example of extravagant love that I have ever seen, precious hope embodied every day where devastation and loss otherwise ruled. Even now, as I remember it all these years later, tears pour down my face in thanksgiving. The United Church of Christ really did love us back to life."
And with the help of the generous gifts of the wider church, that's the mission again this time around.
Keep up with the latest information on the Hurricane Harvey cleanup and the response to the path of Hurricane Irma on the UCC.org webpages.