By Billy Robinson
South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers In Mission’s Early Response Team started response to Hurricane Irma Sept. 12—one day after the storm struck this state.
By the grace of God, South Carolina was spared a direct blow, and teams responded to 12 damaged homes across our state instead of the thousands needing help if there had been a direct hit.
Now, teams are doing their part to help people in need in other states affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
The week of Sept. 24 found teams in the Savannah/Tybee Island, Georgia, areas performing chainsaw work and muck-out of six homes. One of them took several days of tedious work removing storm-flooded items and tear out from a home while salvaging anything good. Teams also went to Florida Oct. 8-12, primarily in Lithia, Florida, and areas south, where the eye of Hurricane Irma came through.
Teams had been responding to various mission projects throughout South Carolina since Irma hit, and most true early response requests had dwindled to where we could send teams out of state. We headed to the Savannah and Tybee Island area Sept. 24-27 with 12 volunteer missionaries that worked two 11-hour days and six volunteers that worked an additional eight-hour day.
On the first day we completed five chainsaw projects in which three were heavy chainsaw work. At two of the locations we performed roof work using tarps and tar.
On the second and third days we mucked out a home on Tybee Island that had 16 to 26 inches of salt water inside with people living in both ends of a duplex. We helped remove all their belongings and construct a tent to temporarily store the good items while discarding most water-damaged appliances and furniture. We cleaned the homes by scrubbing and using a spray to stop mold.
Most of the early response needs in the Savannah area have been met. We were able to pray with the survivors, witness and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them through our actions plus through conservation and reading of Scripture to a few that asked us why we do what we do.
We always respond that it is a distinct honor and privilege to be used by God as His hands and feet, which gives us great fulfillment. Plus, you cannot outgive God. The more you give, the more you receive in true everlasting riches found only in Jesus Christ.
We stayed at the beautiful Wesley Gardens Retreat in Savannah. The South Georgia UMC Conference set us up nicely and in a joint effort we were able to provide much-needed aid using a database system called “Crisis Clean-up” in which all faith-based organizations, the Red Cross, state and federal agencies can input projects needing help. The 211 information system is one of the main ways survivors can make their needs known. They provide detailed information to 211, which then enters them into Crisis Clean-up.
Our team was made up of volunteers from across South Carolina and included the Rev. Fred Buchanan and Billy Robinson as team leaders, Trudy Robinson, the Rev. Bob and Becky Allen, Hank Edens, Gary Smith, Bill Turner, Ray Mills, Steve Yano and Felix and Misty Vazquez.
Oct. 8-12 took us to the Lithia and Tampa areas of Florida. Three ERT groups with three ERT trailers and 22 God-inspired volunteers responded to God’s calling to help hurting and displaced people. We stayed at Grace Community United Methodist Church, Lithia, and were treated to a wide variety of meals, supplies and hospitality by them and Hyde Park UMC, Tampa.
We had to do a lot of assessing in the various storm-affected areas ourselves along with good cooperation from the Rev. Erik Ashley of Grace Community UMC and others, including Ward Smith of our conference, who was already in Florida helping train Floridians on set-up methods for roofing projects.
ERT Assistant Coordinator Chuck Marshall and South Carolina Conference Case Worker Kathleen Titus-McLean were instrumental in helping us prioritize and find work needs throughout the area by accessing Crisis Clean-Up and helping give us direction. Steven Bishop of our group would then plug in all the locations and map out the most direct course to them.
We were able to help 15 families by showing the love of Jesus to them through our actions, care and concern. We worked on 15 homes providing everything from chainsaw work to tarping storm-damaged roofs to mucking/cleaning out water-damaged homes. Several of the homes were in such dire need that it took an entire team two days to complete.
We divided into three teams as directed by God, meaning that God placed the right people into each team as we headed His direction and formation. It was obvious that this was the case, as two of the families we helped had close family or had previously lived in the same location of a team member from South Carolina working on their home.
There are always several touching stories with our missions that really tug at our heartstrings: people who are hurting with destroyed homes, lives and dreams; people who need the love and hope that comes only through Jesus Christ. We have the honor and privilege to portray that to them through our actions and prayers. Each time we become better people as God also works in our lives teaching us His patience, faith, trust, etc.
ERTs worked extremely hard in extremely hot and even dangerous situations bringing hope and joy to many people in need as we cut massive trees that had destroyed portions of homes and penetrated deep into some lives and homes allowing rain, bugs, heat, mold and debris inside. Some still had no power after almost a month. At two homes, we cut out trees and removed debris so the power company would have access to reconnect their electricity.
We were able to help make their homes safe, sanitary and secure by cutting away the trees and limbs that were still deep into their homes, placing tarps on the severely damaged roofs and cleaning out flooded homes while providing mold remediation. We also provided them with spiritual care including prayer.
SC ERT responders were the Rev. Mike and Heather Evans, Ed Wesson, Bill and Elaine Turner, Dennis Beauford, Curtis Burnett, Chuck Marshall, Cherilynn Hewitt, Phil Griswold, Gus Meyers, Pat Coleman, Jill Evans, the Rev. Jimmy Dillard, Jim Miller, Steven Bishop, Daniel “Danny” Mckown, Hugh Kight, Don and Kathy Beatty, Sue Miller and myself. Also, Smith acted both as a recovery trainer and an ERT.
We were joined one day by Floridian Charlie Radigan, whom Evans had trained on a mission to Tampa and West Palm Beach, Florida, the week prior in which he trained more than 100 Floridians on muck out.
More ERT trainings are upcoming. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 803-539-8429.
Robinson is South Carolina UMVIM ERT coordinator.