By Jessica Connor
This Christmas, a handful of homeowners in New Jersey are smiling a little brighter thanks to a team of 12 disaster workers from South Carolina and Virginia.
Bringing Christ s love in action as their Christmas gift, the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Early Response Team spent a week in Ocean City, Atlantic City and Tuckerton, N.J., doing muck-out and mold remediation for homeowners still in a state of shock after Hurricane Sandy swept the area in late October.
Most of them had lost everything, said team member Chuck Marshall, a retired paramedic who noted the homeowners were frozen in disbelief when they arrived. They had no idea where to start “ everything they owned, their whole life, was just gone.
Team leader K.C. Carter said the ERTs helped four families take initial steps toward rebuilding their homes and their lives. Many times, Carter said, homeowners are so devastated by a storm that they need a helping hand from relief workers to prod them into action.
The first home still had about a foot of water in it, and the second about two feet, and this one belonged to a single lady who had been so devastated by everything that she had done nothing, Carter said. This was five weeks after the storm and there was still water puddled in the house.
So the team brought the light of Christ to those who were hurting, Carter said “ a gift even more poignant during the season of His birth.
The trip began Dec. 1 when eight S.C. ERTs headed north, answering a relief call sent out by the bishop of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. They met up with four Virginia ERTs at Annandale UMC, Annandale, Va., and the next day the full team arrived at their host church,
Central UMC in Linwood, N.J. The team had the opportunity to light the church s first Advent candle during that Sunday evening worship service.
What a great way to kick off our week of service to the Lord, Carter said.
The major work began Monday, when the team spent the next four and a half days ripping apart the homes of four families in what Carter calls the most loving and caring manner possible.
In the southern region of New Jersey where the team worked, most of the damage came from the combination of high tide and storm surge, which flooded homes and businesses with as much as two feet of seawater, the team said.
While not devastating structurally, it does require the removal of the lower four feet of drywall, wet insulation, floor coverings including hardwoods, base cabinets, appliances, furniture, etc., Carter said.
On the surface, the area was relatively unscathed, Carter said. Local officials did a remarkable job with cleanup, he said, and the area was clean of debris “ not the devastation ERTs had seen on the streets after Hurricane Katrina. But the damage done by Sandy was far deeper than it appeared, team members soon discovered.
When your house has had two feet of saltwater on the inside, there s plenty of devastation, Carter said.
But beyond the physical labor of moving furniture, sopping up water and cleaning out mold-infested homes, the team said building relationships was even more important “ with each other and with the storm survivors.
Everyone we came in contact with was most appreciative of our efforts, and we definitely now have a number of new friends in New Jersey, Carter said.
Marshall noted the wonderful camaraderie among the team that couldn t help but infect those they helped. One of the homeowners was standoffish at first; she had told the team there were a lot of scams going on after the storm, and many posing as relief workers were simply trying to take victims money. But almost by the hour, she was more and more trusting, Marshall said.
What was really touching was we always hold hands and say a prayer before each job, and she was there, so we asked if she wanted to join us, Marshall said. She joined hands in the circle, and as soon as she started praying, she broke down and started crying, and she cried through the whole thing. We saw a great change come over her through the day and a half we worked on her house.
It was the Lord at work, Marshall said.
Carter agreed, noting that it is amazing what can be accomplished when we are other-focused.
Every time I am involved with an UMVIM team it always amazes me as to how the Lord weaves His willing souls into the most beautiful tapestry of cooperation and teamwork to get the job done, Carter said.
Team leader: K.C. Carter, Buncombe Street UMC, Greenville
Jill Evans, Clemson UMC, Clemson
Marvin Horton, Cornerstone UMC, Rock Hill
Chuck Marshall, New Beginnings UMC, Boiling Springs
James Morrison, Trinity UMC, Anderson
Dennis Murr, Trinity UMC, Ander
Les Pritchard, Buncombe Street UMC, Greenville
Glenn Williams, Main Street UMC, Greenwood
Tom Bowen, Annandale UMC, Annandale
Ken Morris, Lexington UMC, Lexington
Steve Reynolds, Annandale UMC, Annandale
Jim Wall, Annandale UMC, Annandale