By Billy Robinson
On Feb. 24, eight United Methodist Volunteers In Mission personnel gathered in Biloxi, Mississippi, for the 2015 UMVIM/UMCOR Southeastern Jurisdiction Disaster Academy. While standing on the beach many reflected back on our first major response for the South Carolina UMVIM Early Response Team, which happened Sept. 6, 2005, in the first week’s aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
We organized as an ERT Team in the fall of 2004 and started out of a small trailer with one chainsaw and several hand tools. With a $4,000 donation from North United Methodist Church, North, we were able to retrofit the small trailer with shelving and various needed disaster equipment and supplies. We had one small-scale response in January 2005, then came our eye-opening devastating experience of Katrina, which thrust the entire Southeast into disaster response and disaster preparation.
Everywhere we have gone—from responses to every hurricane since Katrina to countless tornado outbreaks throughout the Southeast—it has always been the Christian church at the forefront of any response, reaching out as God’s hands and feet to hurting and devastated people who desperately needed to see and feel the ERT’s motto, “Christian Love in Action.”
This message has been told to us over and over by those we have gone to help:
- A girl in Gulfport, Mississippi, who was frantically looking through the Katrina-flooded aftermath of her home for a photo of her mother, who had died 10 years prior. We all stopped mucking out and started helping her until we found some water-soaked photos of her and her mom.
- An elderly couple whose home had been flooded and were living out of the loft over their garage since they had nowhere else to stay and were depending on a local UMC to supply their basic needs.
- A lady in Allendale who was so grateful to God for sending us to put a tarp on her tornado-damaged home that she couldn’t stop praising Him.
- Many survivors who stated they were angry at God and continuously asked “why?” and “where is God?”—then they saw us and other faith-based organizations roll into their devastated neighborhoods with the cross and flame emblems and encouraging words such as “Christian Love In Action” written on the trailers, followed up by countless selfless acts of the church being the church as it should be.
- A 91-year-old lady we came to help and minister to in Barnwell who in turn ministered to us through a devotion found in a booklet we gave her titled, “The Power of God.”
- A tearful phone conservation in Alabama with the mother of a son who was in the hospital in critical condition after he survived an EF5 Tornado that took the life of his wife; we were sent to the devastated home site to salvage anything valuable.
- All the beautiful ways God has molded and changed our lives as we go to help others during their times of dire need but return with such a more profound, grateful, humble, thankful and wonderful outlook on life.
We have come to the realization that there is absolutely no more of a rewarding and fulfilling purpose in life than actually doing the will of God and having the distinct honor and privilege of being His hands and feet to the world.
Wow, how throughout these 10 years God has prepared us, built us up and used us in so many disaster responses throughout the Southeast and Hurricane Sandy in the northeast. We have had 17 major responses, which include seven hurricanes (Charlie, Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, Irene and Sandy), eight major tornado outbreaks, several floods and winter (ice) storms. Several of these major responses included more than 100 separate mission responses each, in which we cut out egress routes to homes and trees off roofs using chainsaws, placed tarps on damaged roofs and cleaned out flooded homes.
State and local missions occur several times each year, and our ERT personnel, trailers and equipment have been very active throughout the years with various community projects including Salkehatchie, Habitat for Humanity, WARM projects, etc.
We have had 60 training classes with 1,035 UMVIM/UMCOR-certified ERT members, who undergo background checks and an eight-hour disaster response class plus additional training in first aid and chainsaw safety.
At present, we have 710 members in South Carolina. All members are volunteers. Our purpose is to respond to the aftermath of a disaster to help make structures safe, sanitary and secure, while providing a caring Christian presence. One of our most important jobs is to minister to the affected people of a disaster by simply listening to them and allowing them to see the love of Jesus through our care, concern, love and action.
We do not go in and force our beliefs on anyone, though we proudly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ while letting our actions speak for themselves. We are fully self-sufficient in that we take with us everything needed for our teams so that we are not a burden on the affected people or any agencies. We rotate new people in every three days because of the physical and mental stresses associated with a disaster.
Currently, we have 12 disaster response trailers in South Carolina filled with a wide variety of supplies including chainsaws, tarps, skill saws, reciprocating saws, lighting, generators, various safety and first aid equipment, etc. UMVIM owns seven of these trailers, and individual churches own and maintain the other five.
We are Christian people who have a strong desire to show others the love of Jesus during their times of need. We are the Christian church being “the church” we are called and commissioned to be. We are “Christian Love in Action!”
Robinson is South Carolina UMVIM Disaster/ERT Coordinator.
10th Anniversary Blowout
On April 25, South Carolina UMVIM ERT members and supporters gathered at the farm of Chuck and Misha Marshall in Chesnee for a wonderful celebration of God’s grace and blessings upon 10 years of ministry for the group.
The event was sponsored by the Marshalls and New Beginnings UMC, Boiling Springs, which included barbecue and all the fixings, including a wide variety of desserts. Christian and folk music rang out though the flowing meadows farm nestled on the border of North Carolina. Mission photo displays and news articles over the years made for interesting viewing as attendees realized how honored and blessed they have been throughout the years to be used as ministers to others during their times of need. They also realized how God had used the missions to change them into better caring and loving Christians.
Then came the opportunity for horseback rides, swimming and search dog demonstrations. Most important was the awesome, warm and affectionate fellowship among all and the chance to relax in the loving Christian presence of God’s loving care and beautiful creation. “Alleluia” (Easter Edition) was sung by Sarah Moseley and David Giles. As its melody flowed throughout the hillsides, it summed things up: “Praise God (Yahweh/Jehovah). We praise God for His priceless gift of eternal life through Jesus and for all he has done through and to us and will continue to do!”
ERT: Who We Are
The ERT is willing to help wherever and whenever needed.
We are members of The United Methodist Church and are called United Methodist Volunteers In Mission. Our special response group to disasters is called an Early Response Team (ERT). At present time we have 710 members in South Carolina. All members are volunteers.
Our purpose is to respond to the aftermath of a disaster to help make structures safe, sanitary and secure, while providing a caring Christian presence. We do this through cutting or clearing access routes into structures, applying tarps to roofs and securing the structures to prevent further damage. This may also include mucking-out after a flood. We do not perform any repairs that may affect insurance claims. We then rapidly move on to other structures doing the same thing.
One of our most important jobs is to minister to the affected people of a disaster by simply listening to them and allowing them to see the love of Jesus through our care, concern, love and action. We do not go in and force our beliefs on anyone, though we proudly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are fully self-sufficient in that we take with us everything needed for our teams such as food, water, sleeping arrangements (RV’s), equipment, fuel, etc. so that we are not a burden on the affected people or any agencies. We rotate new people in every three days because of the physical and mental stresses associated with a disaster.
All members of ERT go through an UMVIM/UMCOR (United Methodist Committee On Relief) ERT course on disaster response, which is an eight-hour course on the basic fundamentals of disaster response. The course includes the basics of the Incident Management System/ICS, chainsaw safety, response safety, response procedures, etc. All members are taught that we never go without a formal request to respond and that we fall under the chain of command, never doing any forms of freelancing. In addition to completing the class, each member has to complete a successful background check through the South Carolina Conference before receiving an UMCOR photo ID badge.
All members are requested to complete a basic first aid class and CPR. Any member that runs a chainsaw must complete a chainsaw safety class. We have many personnel on our teams that are EMTs, paramedics or RNs. Our goal is to send at least one of these emergency medical professionals with each team. We have many people that are also certified in critical incident stress management, search and rescue, ICS, national incident management system courses and disaster response. The large majority of our members have been on a wide variety of mission projects both domestic and abroad. Many of these missions have been in the aftermath of disasters, such as various storms throughout the Southeast including Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, Irene and Sandy. Our teams usually consist of seven to 14 members led by UMVIM/UMCOR-trained team leaders.
ERT Coordinator Billy Robinson Jr.: 803-247-5737, 803-539-8429 or [email protected]
ERT Assistant Coordinator Darrel Briggs: 803-381-5116 or [email protected]
ERT Assistant Coordinator Terry Rawls: 803-924-2128 or [email protected]