By: Karla Hovde
Minnesota United Methodists answered the call to assist hurricane survivors in Florida, thus bringing hope and healing to a hurting world.
Hurricane Ian hit Florida in late September, causing one of the deadliest and costliest disasters in the state’s history. Then in November, Hurricane Nicole caused additional flooding in Florida that impeded disaster recovery efforts. At least 100 Florida UMC church buildings and countless homes and businesses were damaged.
The Florida Conference of the UMC called for Early Response Teams (ERTs), specifically requesting that Minnesota teams participate. Minnesota has sent two teams so far—one was there Nov. 11-21 and the other from Nov. 27-Dec. 7. Another Minnesota ERT team is scheduled to go to Florida in late January.
The ERT program’s mission is to provide a caring Christian presence in the aftermath of disaster. Both Minnesota teams worked in the Fort Myers area and were hosted by local UMC churches. Even weeks after Hurricane Ian touched down, the team members saw collapsed buildings, enormous piles of debris, boats washed on shore, and people living without electricity.
The first Minnesota ERT team consisted of three Minnesota United Methodists, who were joined by other teams from Denver, Montana, and North Carolina. Participants cleaned, secured, and power washed four homes so that the homeowners could start rebuilding and recovery work. The team removed appliances, drywall, hot tubs, flooring, and water-damaged personal belongings.
The second team was led by Gary Bochman and included nine Minnesota United Methodists. Their work involved mucking out homes; removing personal belongings, furniture, and appliances; sorting what could be saved; preserving items of personal meaning; gutting interiors of homes; and cleaning debris around the exterior of homes.
Both teams were also able to hear the survivors’ stories and spend meaningful time with the homeowners and their neighbors.
Ruth Pfaller was part of the second Minnesota team. This was her first time going on an ERT deployment, but not her first time connecting with Minnesota’s ERT program. In 2012, she and her family lost their northern Minnesota home to flooding.
“I’ve never been so grateful in my entire life for all the help that we got and the people that showed up who didn’t even know us,” Pfaller said. “I just wanted to give back and help other people feel like I did.”
Paul Baker, the Minnesota Conference’s disaster response coordinator, explained that when local leaders call for help following a disaster, ERTs go in knowing that God is already there and ready to join in God’s work.
Their official purpose is cleaning up the mess left behind by the disaster, but “the main thing that we are able to offer is a listening ear and a caring heart,” Baker said. “People who have lost almost everything need to tell their story, over and over. The team members are of course God’s hands and feet, but probably more importantly, we serve as God’s ears.”
How you can help
Just as large disasters like Hurricane Ian continue to impact residents long after they are out of the news, the response and recovery work provided by United Methodists is also long-lasting.
The next training session for future ERT volunteers will be Jan. 7, from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. at Messiah UMC in Plymouth (learn more and register).
The Minnesota Conference is sending another team to Florida sometime between Jan. 25 and Feb. 5. If you would like to participate, email Paul Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. You must have attended a training session and have a background check on file with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in order to volunteer with ERTs.
Pfaller urges everyone to participate in an ERT trip at least once.
“It changes you and it makes you more appreciative of what you have,” she said. “It helps you to gain perspective on the little things in your life.”
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church