By Rev. Jeff Pruett, First UMC, Wiggins, MS
Obstacles, barriers and even rain have not slowed the efforts of local United Methodist Churches and teams in the response to Sunday's tornadoes that have affected many counties in south Mississippi, according to the Rev. Wayne Napier, Disaster Response Coordinator.
An invitation has now been issued to United Methodist Early Response Teams that are certified to assist with the work that is already well in progress by local churches. These outside teams must be self-sufficient and coordinated through the following hubs; Petal First UMC, Asbury UMC, and Columbia First UMC.
Rev. Jonathan Wallace, pastor at First UMC of Petal and the Rev. Andy Stoddard, pastor of Asbury UMC, also of Petal are coordinating the work in that area. From these two churches, local servants have been helping since the early hours after the storm. Though assessments for the long-term effort have not been completed, these two congregations have places to send Early Response Teams starting Thursday, February 14.
To contact Petal First UMC call 601-582-0440. The address at Petal First is 418 S. Main Street, Petal. The phone number for Asbury UMC is 601-545-3006 and its address is 1331 Highway 42, Petal.
Rev. Stoddard said there is also a need for persons who speak Spanish. There are a number of Hispanic communities that have been affected by the storms. Volunteers who have the ability to speak Spanish are needed.
The Rev. Keith Gaughf, pastor at First UMC of Columbia is coordinating the work in and around the Marion County area. The telephone number for Columbia First UMC is 601-736-7121 and the address is 411 Church Street, Columbia.
The work in Hattiesburg is still hampered by debris-filled roads. As of February 14, the long-term response locations had not been identified because the preliminary assessments are inconclusive. Main Street UMC, Parkway Heights UMC, Saint Paul UMC, Heritage UMC and Oak Grove have worked tirelessly as well. Connections have been made for our work in the Hattiesburg area to be coordinated with Volunteer Hattiesburg of Mississippi in Lamar County.
Napier praised the work of Hattiesburg District Churches that have worked tirelessly in these early days. With the invitation issued for outside teams to supplement the existing work being done, we will continue to be "the church beyond the walls." Napier was also grateful for the leadership and support offered by the Rev. Mike Hicks, Hattiesburg District Superintendent. Napier reported that supplies from Camp Love have been carried to Edward Street Mission, for distribution into the communities.
"We hope to know soon when we will transition to the long-term recovery effort," said Napier. "We must keep an eye toward the long-term work of rebuilding; we will be here for the work of restoring a new sense of normalcy."
Another aspect of Disaster Response is not only rebuilding physical structures, but helping people in the chaos after the storm, trying to make sense of everything. "One way we can help is to have people willing to serve as "walking chaplains" by walking through affected neighborhoods and listening to families," Napier said. This service could start Monday and will be coordinated through the recognized hubs of UM response.
Meanwhile Napier continues to work closely with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and local Emergency Operations Centers (EOC).
For the long-term recovery phase, money is and will continue to be the greatest need. Those funds can be sent to the Conference office. To make a financial gift towards the Mississippi Committee on Relief (MSCOR) send checks to the MS Annual Conference office, indicate Mississippi Disaster Relief in the memo line. The address is 320-A Briarwood Drive, Jackson, MS 39206.
Disaster Training Saturday, Feb. 16
Assessments will continue next week and possibly the following week throughout the region that was devastated by Sunday's tornado. There will be a training event to properly educated persons to assess disaster needs at Petal First UMC this Saturday, February 16th at 1 p.m. There is no cost for the training, conducted by the Rev. Daryl Sanderson, Conference Disaster Assessment Specialist.
Those who desire to assist with the assessment must be part of a recognized team so that information is coordinated between assessment teams and response teams. This one hour course will equip persons to assist in this vital aspect of United Methodist response.
The only thing needed for the course is one's preference for note taking. The address is Petal First UMC, 418 S. Main Street, Petal. Rev. Jonathan Wallace is the host pastor.
Across the Mississippi Conference, over the next four months, Early Response Team (ERT) training will be offered in each of the 11 Districts. Those dates will be announced soon.
Health Kits Needed Now
Rev. Wayne Napier said there is a need 1,000 for personal Health kits. These are needed to distribute Saturday after the aforementioned assessment training.
The contents of the Health Kits are:
Because these are being distributed locally, within our conference, it is acceptable to place a label with the church's name on it. However, if these were being sent to an UMCOR warehouse for a later date, notes or labels do not comply with guidelines for international distribution. These kits need to be sent to Petal First UMC, 418 S. Main Street, Petal, MS 39465.