On November 7-11, a team of five folks from Fellowship Brentwood and Franklin piled into vans and drove over 12 hours to New Bern, North Carolina to help the community recover from Hurricane Florence by participating in local, on the ground relief efforts. As a part of the team, I wanted to share with you a picture of our journey on this trip and the perspective gained.
Back in September, Hurricane Florence came from the Atlantic and made landfall along the North and South Carolina coasts. New Bern, which is nearly on the coast itself, was one of the hardest hit areas. Florence brought severe winds and heavy rains that produced both wind and flood damage in the community. If you have any personal experience with either of these disaster elements, you know that it can be a long road to recovery even after the news cameras have left, easily taking years. I know personally that communities affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 are still dealing with the ramifications today.
Though it had been about two months since Florence hit when we arrived and much recovery work had been done already, you could still often see piles of debris on the curbs of homes and businesses. When homes are flooded, all of the water-damaged parts of the home need to be removed and thrown out; essentially, you need to gut your house. Ideally, you do it soon so mold does not accumulate, which can create an even bigger problem. So, it was common for us to see furniture, drywall, insulation, duct work, personal items, etc., piled up along the curb, a sure sign of a flooded home. While the water had receded by this time, the evidence was still there. Who knows when the city will have picked it all up.
We also saw so many down trees. Being an area filled with trees, many homes and businesses had trees fall onto them. Or, they fell on their cars, or they fell over the roads; there were trees all around that fell over from the hurricane. While many had been removed already, we saw several trees still fallen. Often they are so big, so removing fallen trees is a major job. In a moment of humor, we noticed that someone had piled several logs of fallen trees together and spray painted a sign in front of it that said “free logs.” Everyone would have gladly loved to see their fallen trees removed. We saw a few community mulching operations from down trees with piles of mulch bigger than houses.
As a team, we were flexible and ready for anything. That’s a part of the mindset when you go on these trips. “Just put us to work!” Each day in the morning, we met as a large volunteer group and were assigned to our work crews and jobs for the day. Our team of five divided and conquered amongst the other volunteer groups and participated in a variety of assignments throughout the trip. Collectively as a team, we cut down trees, cleared brush, participated in a house demolition, gutted houses (including moldy ones), and crawled underneath houses to cut out and remove wet insulation and duct work in their crawl spaces (that particular job was intense!). Some of us on the trip were highly skilled at construction, tree cutting, and other handy tasks while others were just willing and able to help in any way they could (me). I know there were a few projects that took me out of my comfort zone. Some of the jobs we did were big while others were small. All of the work we did was significant and helpful.
It’s fun to see the camaraderie that develops on trips like these. Though all five of us didn’t know everyone when we started out, our Fellowship team really bonded over the next few days. It was great to see this firsthand. In addition, we were there partnering with a nationwide ministry called Christ in Action. This ministry hosted us and coordinated and led all of the relief work we were doing in New Bern. We stayed at Cornerstone Church, where Christ in Action had set up its temporary base of operations, called “Camp Hope.” As volunteers, we stayed at the church and slept on the floor of the church sanctuary, on cots and air mattresses. We took showers in a shower trailer outside. There was a kitchen trailer that would make hot meals for us that we would eat at makeshift tables set up in the sanctuary each day. We were there with other groups of volunteers from other parts of the country, both young and old. As a ragtag group, it was a privilege to meet new people and work alongside them. We had the commonality of hearts motivated to help through a love for Christ, and it unified us and brought us together.
A special part of these disaster relief trips is always the opportunity to connect with the locals from the affected area. We had multiple opportunities to engage in conversations with locals. After completing each job, if the homeowner was home at the time, we intentionally took the opportunity to pray with them. This led to meaningful ministry moments, and the owners always expressed gratitude for our assistance. This is such a trying time for them.
One cool ministry moment occurred when as a team we were at the original Pepsi Pharmacy one night when our evening was free, before it was about to close, so it was really just us and the employee (her name was Melissa) behind the counter (did you know that Pepsi was invented in New Bern?). We started talking to Melissa about what we were doing there and she ended up sharing how she lost most of her things, including very sentimental items, due to the hurricane. We could tell it was meaningful and helpful for her to be sharing with us, and that we were the listening and understanding ear she needed. One of our teammates, Sarah, prayed with her before we left. This was an unexpected but profound opportunity that God orchestrated, putting us in the right place at the right time.
I think about Melissa, or the waiter we talked with at the restaurant we ate at for dinner on the last night of the trip, or Virgil, who invited us into his home to pray with his family after we removed a down tree in his yard, or the lady we brought peace of mind to after gutting sections of the house to check for mold and not finding any, or the family that cried as their house was demolished, or the lady who was taking care of her elderly mother who didn’t have the finances to clean up her yard after the hurricane, or Pastor John of Cornerstone Church who helped us chainsaw some of the down trees on the church property. These are some of the people that we had the opportunity to connect with on this trip, whom God loves deeply and is still present with even in these difficult times. Please be praying for this community as it continues to navigate this journey of recovery.
When we think about our new vision and helping people find wholehearted life in Jesus, I’m grateful for the opportunities we had on this trip to work “better together” and live “not about ourselves” in providing direct relief to vulnerable people in time of great need. This trip gives you great perspective on what really matters and what is truly lasting and worthwhile when your life changes due to a sudden, unexpected disaster. It also reminds us that we ultimately are not in control of our worlds, but rather, we are dependent on God. By helping these people in tangible ways, we showed the love of Christ to them, and we pray that, through our efforts in some small way, these people would find wholehearted life in Jesus.