Hurricane Matthew Relief Trip Report

Our team of six Hope Force International (HFI) staff and reservists formed the initial response team to Hurricane Matthew. We met in Nashville and drove our equipment to Fayetteville, NC. The original plan was to head to Florida, but as Hurricane Matthew made its trip up the coast, it became apparent that we could do the most good in North Carolina. Additional reservists and volunteers joined us in the following days.
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Through a string of relationships (which is how most things get done!), we connected with city officials in Lumberton, NC. They were thrilled to have us involved, but we had to wait for the water to recede before we could get into the area to begin work. So we setup our initial base of operations in an empty house near Fayetteville (it was up for sale, owned by a friend of a friend…). 14670860_1187053201340489_7850694225780063080_nWe worked on eight homes in the Fayetteville area while waiting five days for the water level to go down in Lumberton.

Some of the homes in Fayetteville were owned by widows that we connected with through local churches. Fort Bragg is near Fayetteville, so we also had the privilege of helping the families of some military men stationed there.
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Lumberton is a city of about 21,000 people. It is an economically challenged area, and has been recognized as the “most dangerous city in NC”, “4th most dangerous city in the US”, home of the “worst NC drivers” (fatalities/capita), and the “6th worst place in NC to get a job”. Nevertheless, the city officials we engaged with were impressive, dedicated, hard working, caring people. They were excited to have HFI engaged as much for the emotional & spiritual care we brought as for the physical labor we provided. During the time I was there, HFI brought in three chaplains in response to the city’s requests for help.

Everyone we met in Lumberton defied the city’s negative reputation.

Woody’s a good example. When the levee was breached and water flooded into his neighborhood, sandWoody spent the night making trips into his neighborhood in a boat rescuing those who couldn’t get out. His own home was badly damaged and will require a lot of work to repair. Decades of remodels left multiple layers of drywall and paneling, and layers of flooring upon flooring – and the flood waters settled between each of those layers. It all needed to be removed so his home could dry out properly.

The hardest part of disaster relief deployments is having to leave knowing there’s still so much work to be done. It will be months or even years before some of these people recover from the physical and emotional trauma. It is our “terrible privilege” to be able to engage with a few and do what we wish we could do for all. But our belief and prayer is that some of those we meet will find the source of peace and joy in Christ that far surpasses the losses they’ve experienced.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support that made this effort possible. You can continue to support Hope Force International at http://www.hopeforce.org.

Responding to Hurricane Matthew

If this seems like déjà vu, it was only seven weeks ago that I posted something similar as I prepared to leave for Louisiana.  It seems that disasters don’t submit themselves to our scheduling preferences…

matthew_mapHope Force International has asked me to join their initial assessment team in preparation for sending response teams to the East Coast.  Our initial connection is with a partner near Orlando, but we may move up the coast from there depending on the need and connections.  As of this writing, the deadly storm is just moving away from Florida as it moves up the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas.  So it’s still too soon to know where the worst damage will be and how bad it is. But this storm has left hundreds dead in Haiti and other Caribbean islands and has killed at least four in Florida so far.  About one million Floridians are without power.

Tomorrow morning I’ll fly to Nashville where I’ll join Hope Force staff to haul our tool trailer to Florida. I’ll be on the ground there, doing whatever needs done until I fly home on October 20.

I welcome your partnership in this ministry.  Here are a few things you can be praying for:

  • That beyond the physical repairs, we would be effective at bringing the message of hope, encouragement, and love to the survivors of this devastation.  Our work is more about people than it is about property.
  • Hope Force will keep their response effort going as long as three things are true: 1) the need continues; 2) funding is available; and 3) manpower is available.  The increased rate of disasters has drained the availability of Hope Force’s reservists in recent months.
  • Wisdom and safety for all involved.

I was incredibly blessed by the outpouring of support for my Louisiana trip.  Not everyone can be boots on the ground, but those of us who can couldn’t do it without the support of others who have the heart to pray and give towards this effort. The excess funds beyond my personal expenses go to Hope Force to help with the relief efforts.  You can provide financial support for me and the relief work by check or online through my church at https://graceorange.churchcenteronline.com/giving/donations. Select “3100 Hope Force Int’l Disaster Response – AW” in the “To” box.

A NOTE FROM GRACE CHURCH OF ORANGE:   We appreciate your financial support of our short-term mission projects.  Please make your check payable to Grace Church of Orange and send it to 2201 E. Fairhaven Ave. Orange, CA 92869.  On the memo line of your check, please specify that your donation is for HFI Disaster Response. Be aware that IRS regulations do not permit tax deductible donations for specific individuals, so indicating a person’s name may affect the deductibility of your donations.  (Please check with your tax advisor.)  If you would like for the person to know about your donation, you may include a note with your name on it.  If for any reason your donation is not needed for this project, (such as more funds received beyond what is needed), it will be applied to other missions efforts.  If you give $250 or more you will receive a statement of your donations in January of the following year.  Please contact the church office at 714-633-8867 if you have any questions.

Thank you for enabling me to represent you to those in need!

Kingdom Building – Flooding Louisiana (with God’s Love)

It was arguably the worst house we’d been in all week – not that it lacked for competition! Over two weeks since the floodwaters had risen several feet up the walls in this home, closet floors were still stacked full of soggy clothing. Pots of grease and cooked food stood in pots on the stove. Piles of personal belongings awaited triage in several rooms.

We were getting used to the rats nests behind the drywall in these houses, but the ammonia smell (not from cleaning products) Rat debriswas overwhelming as we tore up the kitchen floor.

God knew what we needed to get us through that day…

Our devotional that morning centered on building God’s Kingdom. A kingdom is a territory under control of a king. God, for the purpose of providing a greater way to reveal His glory, has temporarily relinquished control of some “territory” to the enemy. That provides us with the opportunity to reclaim some of that territory for the Kingdom of God.

Luke 17:21 tells us that, “the kingdom of God is within you.” The territory we’re reclaiming is in our hearts – the hearts of those we serve, those we serve with, and our own.

Truth and love are the weapons we use in this battle. 1 Peter 1:22 tells us, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren,fervently love one another from the heart”

There’s an old story about a man walking down the sidewalk in a big city. He saw a construction project across the street. As he watched the work, his curiosity grew about what they were building. So he walked across the street to where a man with a brick in one hand and a trowel in the other was working. “What are you doing?” the man asked. Without looking up, the worker grumbled back, “I’m laying brick, what does it look like?” This was an accurate answer, but not what the man was looking for.

So he walked down the street until he found another bricklayer and asked, “What are you doing?” The worker glanced up and answered, “I’m just earning a paycheck.” Another accurate, but not particularly useful answer.

He approached a third bricklayer and again asked, “What are you doing?” This worker looked the man in the eye and with great pride replied, “I’m building a cathedral!”

The point is that our perspective matters. Yes, it’s true that we’re tearing out drywall and wet insulation, pulling nails, hauling out debris, and other laborious tasks. We’re also listening to, encouraging, and helping people. And there’s a sense that we get a “paycheck” — the reward of feeling good about being a blessing to these flood survivors.

But the endurance to make it through a job like this one required us to draw strength from a higher motivation:  We’re using the truth and love of Jesus Christ to win back “territory” from the enemy for the Kingdom of God. That passion overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles!

Report From the Field: Flooding Louisiana (with God’s Love)

I haven’t had the time — or more accurately, I haven’t had the energy — to post anything since coming to Louisiana. Full days of hot, sweaty, smelly, sometimes emotional, hard labor doesn’t leave much to run on by the end of the day. But you can get a sense of what my days have been like by checking out the Hope Force International Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HopeForce.  There are at least 15 pictures of me, plus links to a couple of video clips that I make cameo appearances in.

Removing wet fiberglass from under a floor
Removing wet fiberglass from under a floor

Every one of the 16 homes I’ve worked in during the past 11 days has at least one heart-wrenching story, ranging from great faith to great despair.

The injection of hope that comes from getting a major boost in the cleanup effort from a team of volunteers for a day or two can be transformational. I’m surprised by the number of people trying to do this huge job on their own or with little help.  And there’s a race against the clock: Before long the mold in many homes will get bad enough to require hazmat suits to complete the cleanup effort.  And for many people, it will be months or even a year or two before they can move back home.

Imagine not only losing your home, but also your cars, place of business, and even your church to floodwater contamination.  That’s not an unusual story. And if you wonder why most people don’t have flood insurance, it’s because they’re not in a flood plain — this hasn’t happened here before.

Working on people’s homes opens the door for our physical workers and our trained chaplains to spend time with the homeowners, helping them process through their circumstances. Love in action is a powerful source of healing, joy, hope, and even peace in the midst of life’s toughest challenges. And this kind of action requires love that comes from a source outside ourselves:

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

1 John 3:16-18

From http://ChristInMyCoffee.wordpress.com

Flooding Louisiana (with God’s Love)

Tomorrow morning (8/20) I head to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Hope Force International has asked me to deploy to help with flood relief work. So far, about 40,000 houses have been damaged and 86,000 people have applied for federal disaster aid.  Floodwaters are still rising in some areas. Damage is considered comparable to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

Each symbol represents a property in the Baton Rouge area seeking assistance. Source: crisiscleanup.org
Each symbol represents a property in the Baton Rouge area seeking assistance. Source: crisiscleanup.org

As is typical in these situations, exactly what I’ll be doing depends on what needs done while I’m there. Last year in South Carolina, that included handling the team’s administrative work, talking to homeowners to assess whether or not we could help them, tearing out wet drywall and insulation, and managing a warehouse for a day.  Some of you may recall the story of the young man who came to faith in Christ as a result of the several days we spent working on his mother’s house. He couldn’t understand why we would do this when there was nothing in it for us. Just one example of the love of Christ opening the door to the truth of Christ.

I welcome your partnership in this ministry.  Please be praying for me, the Hope Force staff and volunteers, and especially the people we engage with.

There are two ways you can participate financially. You can help cover my costs, like airfare and two weeks’ car rental (about $1600 total because of the last minute booking and scarcity of flights and cars in the area). You can do this by check or online through my church at https://graceorange.churchcenteronline.com/giving/donations. Select “3100 Missions – Flood Relief AW” in the “To” box.

A NOTE FROM GRACE CHURCH OF ORANGE:   We appreciate your financial support of our short-term mission projects.  Please make your check payable to Grace Church of Orange and send it to 2201 E. Fairhaven Ave. Orange, CA 92869.  On the memo line of your check, please specify that your donation is for Missions-Flood Relief. Be aware that IRS regulations do not permit tax deductible donations for specific individuals, so indicating a person’s name may affect the deductibility of your donations.  (Please check with your tax advisor.)  If you would like for the person to know about your donation, you may include a note with your name on it.  If for any reason your donation is not needed for this project, (such as more funds received beyond what is needed), it will be applied to other missions efforts.  If you give $250 or more you will receive a statement of your donations in January of the following year.  Please contact the church office at 714-633-8867 if you have any questions.

You can also support Hope Force International’s efforts directly.  See Hope Force’s website at http://hopeforce.org.

I plan to return home on September 4.  Thank you for doing your part to help those in need!

Urban Hope – Taking it Home

In closing—
The Urban Hope team arrived home safely yesterday (except Amy who is remaining there for another two weeks) from a wonderful and impactful week. A huge “Thank You!” to all of you who have supported us through this journey, both financially and through prayer.

God taught me so much from Streetwise. The conference gave us the opportunity to learn about reaching various groups of people for Christ, and then actually going out and putting what we learned into practice each day. Going into Streetwise, I was not quite sure what to expect.  Mostly, I was hopeful that it would make me better at, and more comfortable with, sharing my faith. It did, but in a way that I did not anticipate.

Mark 16:15 tells us to, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” We as believers have been commanded to spread the Gospel- to share our faith with the world. Christ is able to work through us to bring others to Him, and that is an amazing thing. But it also something that used to cause me guilt. I felt guilty about the fact that evangelism is not one of my strengths.  I felt guilty that I was not serving Christ the way I thought I was supposed to. Streetwise changed that; it changed how I see myself, and how I share my faith.

Personally, I enjoy talking to people- but when it comes to bringing God into a conversation and sharing my faith, I have never been comfortable with it. I am not one who has ever been good at evangelism, or put it into practice often. But on this trip I realized that that was part of the problem. I thought that I had to be good at it to do it. I thought that what I said to a person could actually change their heart and life. This is so utterly far from the truth. The salvation of the world is not dependent on us- the salvation of the world is God’s work and God’s work alone. Nothing we say to an unbeliever will ever save them. Yes, it is our responsibility as believers to point people to Christ, and to show God’s love to, and passionately share the gospel with, the world. But it is not about having the perfect spiel of evangelism rehearsed and ready to go, or presenting the most touching and convicting speech that has the power to change lives. Because God is the only one who changes hearts and lives.  And what I learned was that I when I make it about my own comfort and insecurities- or my effectiveness, I am taking away from the power of Christ, and I am making it about me.

One of the things they taught us at Urban Hope was to greet everyone we passed by on the street. That way, we did not have to think about how intimidating a person might be to us, or what response we might receive from them. We were not to pause and decide if in being kind to others would cause ourselves some sort of harm or discomfort. Stop stereotyping and just say hi.

This really hit me hard. I do a good job of blending into society and living among a culture that so desperately needs Jesus, without even caring about, or considering, the work God is able to do in them. Sure, I know God can do amazing things and work in miraculous ways, but I am I actually living like I truly believe that?

I am so guilty of judging and deciding things about people without even talking or interacting with them. Everyone needs God! It is not up to me who God saves and who He does not. And yet I pass by and overlook people every day without showing them any sort of kindness or love. Who are we to decide who deserves God’s love? When we put people into boxes based on race, wealth, poverty, sexual-identity, age, religion, and appearance, we are also putting God into His own box. If we overlook people of any kind, if we decide that we do not want to show God’s love to them, or that we should not share our faith with them- it’s like we are saying that God is not powerful enough to save that person. If God is powerful and loving enough to save me, He is powerful and loving enough to save ANYONE!

Evangelism is not about saying the right thing to the right person. It is about showing God’s love to everyone because God truly does love everyone. It is about listening to people’s stories and learning about their lives, and being willing to share how God has changed your own. It is about sharing the Gospel through love, in love. Dwight L Moody said, “The world does not understand theology or dogma, but it understands love and sympathy.”

This is what I learned this past week, thank you for letting me share it with you!

Thank You to Urban Hope and Streetwise for having us, teaching us, and allowing us to serve God alongside you.

//Abby G

P.S. A few photos from our last day there! Urban Hope hosted church in the street on Sunday in order to help encourage neighbors to come and join. The photo of the board was for our entire Streetwise team, and anyone met someone they wanted to continue praying for, their name went on the board. Hundreds of names by the end of the week!

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Hope Day 5

Hi, this is Joe.  Today was a restful and fun day with goodbyes and reflection.   I’ll start with my favorite lesson from the week. Urban hope encourages evangelism through being FISHers of men. FISH means using FRIENDLY interaction to INITIATE conversations, listening to people’s STORY and finally sharing the HOPE of the Gospel. I now love forcing myself to be friendly to everyone on the street and all the new friends from Urban Hope and Operation Barnabas.  At the end of the day we said goodbye to the 25 Operation Barnabas friends that I had gotten close to by doing ministry with.

The goal of today was to host a SplashFest block party for kids and to teach the gospel from songs and games.  We learned that it is important to not assume that kids following the rules and memorizing verses have saving faith.  After lunch at an authentic Dominican restaurant, we took a bus to the neighborhood to gather kids and their families to come to the water party. God provided by letting us dodge two thunderstorms and everything was set for the party to begin. Over 200 people from the neighborhood attended! The water party had great OB skits, games, and a Gospel presentation followed by small group discussion with kids.  In my group all three kids claimed to believe in Jesus so I tried to talk with them about what they believed and reinforce assurance in their salvation. After a final soaking the party was over.

There were no problems from the nearby protest that was in the news except for noisy police cars and helicopters.

Thank you for your prayers so far and please pray for safe travels tomorrow.

– Joe

 

P.S. Due to the lack of WATER at the SplashFest, most of us did not have our phones on us and we don’t have any pictures yet, but will be posting some soon hopefully!