By Jessica Brodie
SELLERS—When 20 United Methodists from the Greenwood District returned from helping with the conference’s hurricane relief blitz in Sellers this January, they couldn’t get one man off their mind—Allen James.
James already had been living in near-poverty conditions. The small home had no stove before the October storm, and when floodwaters after Hurricane Matthew swept through his neighborhood, he was left with no running water and no working bathroom. Forced to stay in his mold-infested home because he and his neighbors had nowhere else to go, James had been cooking off a campsite burner and taking five-gallon buckets of water to a neighbor’s house to take a bucket bath since the hurricane.
“Our heartstrings were tugged at,” said the Rev. Mike Evans, Greenwood District disaster response coordinator and pastor of the Ebenezer-Panola Charge who helped organize the conference’s Sellers blitz with Matt Brodie.
During the blitz, a team ripped out James’ ruined bathroom, removed a downed tree and did other relief and repair work. As they worked on his and other homes, James’ spirit began to touch the volunteers. He called the help “a star over Bethlehem” and said the UMC’s work gave Sellers a “faith lift.” Many said his positivity and his genuine gratitude reminded them of the real reason they were helping: to love others as Christ loves us.
When Evans showed his congregations and others in the district some photos and video from the blitz—and shared James’ story—Evans’ tugged heart became infectious.
“It just broke my heart,” said volunteer Carolyn Cantrell. “Just about every time I watched that (video) I would just cry, and I knew I had to do something to help.”
Cantrell wasn’t the only one. As word spread, Greenwood District churches decided they needed to come together in a big way to help their neighbors across the state.
Evans assembled a specialized team of people with wiring, plumbing, carpentry and painting skills, and Snead Builders Supply in Greenwood helped with materials.
In Greenwood, the team pre-fabricated a complete bathroom for James, assembling the walls and floor.
“The only thing we couldn’t do was the roof,” Evans said.
Then, from March 12-18, a group of nine—including Cantrell, her husband, Ted, and Evans’ wife and daughter—traveled to Sellers with the pre-fab structure and appliances, including a hot water heater and washing machine, to do the onsite rebuild. Evans called it “an adventure.” The team stayed at Macedonia UMC, Mullins. On Day 1 they laid down the floor, put up the pre-fab walls and dried it all in. Days 2 and 3 were the roof, interior walls, plumbing and wiring. The rest was the finish.
By the time they left, they’d also redone James’ kitchen, adding a full stove and refrigerator and replacing his damaged sink cabinets.
“The first thing he said he’d do when we left is take a shower,” Evans said.
Volunteers came from a handful of churches—Tranquil, Greenwood; First UMC, Laurens; St. Paul UMC, Ninety Six; Panola UMC, Greenwood; and Ebenezer UMC, Abbeville—but they brought with them the prayers and financial support of many churches throughout the district. St. Paul also blessed a prayer shawl and cross for James, which were presented to him during the workweek.
Greenwood District Superintendent Dr. Stephen Love said the churches and volunteers in his district exemplified in Sellers what it means to reveal to others that we are Christians by our love.
“Love in action is one of the most effective ways to witness our faith,” Love said, noting he has seen this kind of outpouring of love in many service opportunities led by the Greenwood District disaster response team. “It is my hope that we build upon this kind of sharing, giving and loving of our neighbors as ourselves. I thank God for the opportunity to serve with persons committed to helping the people who find themselves in the greatest of need, without hesitation. The fulfillment of serving in this way is a reciprocal blessing for all involved.”
Cantrell said that’s just the way the people of the Greenwood District are.
“The Greenwood District really likes to help people all the way around. After the disaster, we filled 138 flood buckets in 38 minutes because there were so many people who wanted to help,” Cantrell said. “Once the word is out that people need help, the Greenwood District is willing to step up.”
They have one more special gift in store for James. The youth group from Leesville UMC, Leesville, will travel to Sellers April 29 and paint his home.
Mark Williams, director of children and student ministries at Leesville, said the youth are excited about the opportunity. Not only do they love a good road trip, but they love the opportunity to do good work in the name of God.
“It’s something our students can do,” Williams said. “Students enjoy being involved and like making a difference. What drives them is making a difference socially.”
Evans is hoping other districts will hear about Greenwood’s district-wide effort and be inspired to do something similar by adopting a flood or hurricane-damaged home that won’t otherwise get funding or help.
For more information on UMCSC disaster response, visit www.umcsc.org/screcovery.