By Jessica Brodie
Editor’s note: For more on UMCSC disaster response, including how to help with the ongoing flood recovery effort, visit www.umcsc.org/screcovery. Volunteers are needed from across South Carolina and out-of-state.
COLUMBIA—A year and a half after floodwaters left her house a mess of mold and ruined wood, Annie Taylor can finally go home.
And today, she’s praising God for sending team after team of United Methodist volunteers to her rescue.
“I’m so overwhelmed,” Taylor said, eyes wide as she stands on her lawn gazing at the fresh exterior of her modest three-bedroom Columbia home, complete with new siding, new doors, newly painted shutters and even a houseful of new furniture. “I feel like I got a brand-new house. I’m just blessed!”
On April 7, members of the South Carolina long-term disaster recovery team gathered with other volunteers outside Taylor’s house to do a blessing of the home and unveil the surprise Taylor had been waiting for: a tour of her rebuilt home.
The project is not only the latest home the disaster team has completed since the October 2015 flood but also the most extensive, said Ward Smith, conference director of recovery ministries.
“When I assessed the house they had gutted it to the bare walls, all the sheetrock in the walls and ceiling were not there, the electrical had been messed up and we had to put a lot of things back together,” Smith said.
Smith said teams from all over South Carolina and out-of-state worked on it steadily for nearly a year, so the home blessing also served as a celebration of their hard work.
For Marvin Horton, construction coordinator, the house was one of the first he laid eyes on when he began work with the recovery team, so he’s been able to see it from the very start, which made it especially meaningful for him.
“This is awesome—it’s just incredible,” Horton said, his own expression matching Taylor’s as he scanned the house with fresh perspective.
Taylor and her friends and family gathered with the volunteers on the steps outside her home for the blessing, led by the Rev. George Strait, as well as Scripture readings and other uplifting words from Smith and Horton.
“Lord, we dedicate this property unto you,” Strait said as all bowed their heads. “May your warrior angels protect this house.”
Smith read several Scripture passages about hospitality, serving others and shining God’s light in the world, including Psalm 121:5-8, Matthew 5:14-16 and Hebrews 13:2. Then Morton officially presented the house keys to Taylor.
Taylor gasped as she stepped from room to room, marveling at the work. A widow who has raised three daughters, two sons and her grandkids since she moved there in 1974, she has been forced to stay with family members since the flood. The flood collapsed the ceiling in two bedrooms and ruined her flooring, insulation and drywall.
“I’m ready for my space,” she said, smiling broadly.
Her family members were just as excited.
“I grew up here, and we never had a back porch. Now we have one with steps!” said her daughter, Sandra Green. “God is good; God is just awesome!”
Not only did Taylor receive the gift of a home complete with donated furniture, but members of the recovery team presented her with an old-fashioned “pounding,” with gifts of a pound cake and a pound of oatmeal, cornmeal, rice and more.
Volunteers were smiling almost as much as Taylor as they recounted their own work stories—some hanging doors, others painting.
“It is absolutely beautiful, far more than I ever thought it could be,” said volunteer Harriet Strait, member of Memorial UMC, Greer, who said the project was so involved it seemed it would take 10 years to complete. Now, she said, “It’s glorious. It’s an inspiration.”
Volunteer the Rev. Diana Westerkam, a retired United Methodist pastor and a member of Washington Street UMC, Columbia, had no prior construction skills when she and fellow church members contacted Smith to help in flood recovery. But they learned quickly.
“You do what you can do. Certainly anyone can paint, clean,” Westerkam said. “There’s something for anyone, and it’s just mostly time and energy.”
When they first started on the house, “We were down to the studs,” she said—no electricity, no water, no heat; it needed a lot of work.
“Now it’s a beautiful place,” Westerkam said. “It’s a very special feeling when you can see the results of what you’ve done and see how much it means to her and her friends and family.”
For more on UMCSC disaster response, including how to help with the ongoing flood recovery effort, visit www.umcsc.org/screcovery. Volunteers are needed from across South Carolina and out-of-state.
By Jessica Brodie