By Cindy Garver in collaboration with Bruce Wright and Cheri Coomer

“True ministry that is pure in the eyes of our Father God is to make a difference in the lives of the orphans & widows in their troubles…” James 1:27

It has been four months since Denise lost her home in Marianna, Florida during Hurricane Michael. It was the house her husband built, where her two college-age kids grew up. Since then, she has been able to purchase a sectional house, but consistent roadblocks have kept her from being able to build a new home.

For three days Indiana United Methodists have worked on clearing a lot in preparation for Denise’s home. One of the crew members asked, “Does somebody confirm the need to ensure the qualifications before we are assigned jobs?”

“Do any of us really deserve kindness?” I asked in return.

Denise may not have been in the same economic class as others in the area who were in need, but it’s not just about the need. It is also about limited resources. There just isn’t enough help to go around. Period.

As a widow, homelessness takes on a different dimension. If there was someone Denise could turn to, she would have. Who should she be able to turn to but her brothers and sisters in Christ? The very people whom she walks alongside and ministers to in ways God has placed on her heart.

Like Denise, Elle lived alone with her cats and her beloved Australian Shepherd. Her mobile home was brutally battered by strong winds from Hurricane Michael and she was left to fend without water for over a week. When our Early Response Team met Elle, she was receiving her water supply from the local UMCOR disaster response coordinator to get by each week.

Our first priority was to establish a sense of community by getting to learn more about Elle, her life, and her needs. We learned quickly that Elle adored animals, and she enjoyed tending the plants around her home.

Our second priority and our calling was to respond to in an effective and Christian-like manner by being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to Elle and her neighbors, and ensuring that we left the area, along with its residents, in better condition than we had found it.

Our team cleared several trees around the wellhead on Elle’s property to allow for a new water pipe to be installed. While our ERTs worked, they shared sporadic conversations with Elle, learning about her life, history, and faith. Elle was not a Christ follower, but she believed in a power “out there” pointing to her relationships with animals and creation. We actually had many things in common, and I could not help but love her. She is God’s creation.

After cleaning up the area around the wellhead, the pump was able to be fixed the same day. Members of our team returned the following day and installed a 160ft. PVC pipe, and even had time to install a large sink behind the house and a faucet near the front lawn to allow Elle to water her plants with ease.

As members of the ERT team hugged Elle goodbye when the project ended, she was crying. She had experienced God’s gifts of water and love after a long dry spell.

INUMC Disaster Response Coordinator Cindy Garver arranged an ERT mission trip to Marianna, Florida, an area that had sustained significant impact when category 4 Hurricane Michael struck the region last fall, leaving behind over $20 million of damage throughout Florida, the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Michael has been recorded as the third most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall and the tenth costliest. It has been Cindy’s passion to re-establish focus on being prepared to actively engage areas in Indiana, as well as across the US, in times of disaster and ERT trainings are expected to be made available across the Indiana Conference this year.

Click here to learn more and sign up for an Early Response Team Training, Saturday, May 4, Grace United Methodist Church, South Bend.