Busy summer for Minnesota UM Disaster Response ministry
October 8, 2010
Just about the time that visitors who were in Wadena for an all-school reunion on June 17 headed out for a pleasant summer dinner, a tornado forced them to take cover. The powerful storm tore through the small southern Minnesota town and the nearby region, leaving at least three dead.
At once the Minnesota Conference Disaster Response Team, a trained group that can follow soon after first-responders do their work, prepared for action. Six team members came to Wadena on June 19.
“Only the trained members of the Minnesota Conference Disaster Response Team and Nechama, a Jewish response team, are able to provide this kind of early response clean-up work,” said Rev. Heather Klason, the conference disaster response coordinator.
Diana Hanson, Don Kerr, Phyllis Kerr, and Gary Lundin joined team leader Craig Gerdes, and Don Anderson moved the trailer and provided logistical support. Wadena United Methodist Church’s Pastor Shirley Nelson invited the team to bunk at the church. She spent her days ministering to church members and the community.
The next few days required basic cleanup, and the team expertly provided that in collaboration with Nechama. “Without their assistance we could not have accomplished as much,” Gerdes said.
The first night the Minnesota Conference team focused on cleaning up around the Wadena church and parsonage. The next day they were busy in the community, removing trees and gathering and sorting debris. Wadena public works came along soon after to collect the debris piles.
By Monday, three other team members arrived: Jeneyene Sitts, Carissa Barott, and her father, Bill Barott. The entire crew went to work on another residential area. Dave Runkel, the River Valley District disaster response coordinator, came and took over as team leader, until the team left at the end of Friday.
Meanwhile, “Pastor Shirley Nelson did a wonderful job in the community,” Gerdes said. “Members of her congregation were affected by the tornado, and she was a stable rock for them.”
That’s not all
The same evening, Kiester endured a tornado. Soon the Minnesota Conference Disaster Response Team was in town, chopping up fallen trees and gathering brush.
Sharon and Darrell Bloome and Darlene and Dennis Hilpipre first helped to clean up the town cemetery, removing trees and righting fallen flower pots. Once finished there, they helped with tree removal at the damaged grove of a farmer who belongs to Grace-Rice Lake United Methodist Church. “Life will never be the same” for people who endured a tornado, Sharon Bloome said. “The next time the wind blows hard, they will feel that fear; they will wonder what they will lose this time.”
Two months later, on Aug. 13, a downburst reaching speeds of close to 80 miles per hour hit the Benton and Stearns County area. This time, Gary Klason gathered a team in Sartel and Rice over two consecutive weekends, Aug. 14, 15, 19, and 20.
Seventeen trained United Methodists sawed fallen trees into smaller branches and the Civil Air Patrol transported them away. Many trees fell on power lines, leaving residential areas damaged by fallen trees and without power.
Nechama again collaborated with the United Methodists and others, even lending the UM group a chain saw.
The hands of Christ
“Almost everywhere we went, people were overwhelmed,” Gary Klason said. “We were sent to people who really needed most the help; we got directed to the right place. They were so appreciative of the help we gave.”
Assisting in Benton and Stearns County were Neil Henry, Don Arnold, Bob Lange, Don Kerr, Phyllis Kerr, Bob Koelman, Gary Lundin, Bill Barott, Jill Michael, Ed Michael, Jeanne Anderson, Gary Lueck, Tanya Oberg, Marilyn Townsend, Sid Hauschild, Jill Tetrick, and Gary Klason.
And as at least ten inches of rain fell on Sept. 23 and flooded much of Southern Minnesota and parts of South Dakota and Wisconsin, the Minnesota Conference Disaster Response Team again geared up for work. They are in contact with area emergency managers to determine where and when their clean-up skills will be used.
God’s presence even after a disaster is evident, Bloome said, in “the community of people who come together and the camaraderie. It brings out the best in people, everyone wants to help.
“Reaching out and helping someone else—that is what we are here to do; that is offering the hands of Christ,” she said.
Gerdes most values about this ministry the knowledge that the team helped anyone who needed their assistance. When people asked “Why are you here?” he felt good to say that the United Methodist Church organized and trained a team to be there to help anyone—no exceptions—who needed help.
“It is like communion,” Gerdes said. “We welcome all to God’s table. Likewise, when we go to help someone, we help anyone who needs it.”
Victoria Rebeck is director of communication for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.