Love in Action: The Church Responds When Disasters Strike

By Rick Wolcott*

Mission projects offer opportunities for each of us to bear lasting fruit and to live into our East Ohio Conference vision of being, making and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ; being God’s agents of transformation in our communities and throughout the world; and boldly reaching new people with God’s love.

The United Methodist Church has long been a leader in responding early and staying late when disasters strike. The connection modeled by our denomination during times of great stress in peoples’ lives, and the ability of our clergy and laity to lend a helping hand and offer words of comfort and prayer, bring comfort to homeowners during their times of need.

East Ohio Conference residents of West Lafayette in the Three Rivers District, and of the Neffs community in the Ohio Valley District, have witnessed firsthand the importance of helping one another. A reported seven inches of rain fell in four hours on June 19, flooding homes in the village of West Lafayette. A few weeks later, on July 7, dozens of homeowners in the Neffs community watched helplessly as their homes flooded after several inches of rain fell in a short period of time in Belmont County.

When contacted for initial assistance, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Sager-Brown depot in Baldwin, Louisiana shipped 100 cleaning bucket kits and 40 personal health kits to the Neffs community.

Ohio Valley District Disaster Response Coordinator Bob Carson shared in an e-mail that he “received a spreadsheet from Belmont County EMA (Emergency Management Association) listing 34 properties needing clean-up assistance.” Those homes are currently being assessed before response teams are invited in.

In West Lafayette, Pastor Dan Eggan of Isleta and Fresno UMCs reports that, “Most of the damage was to basements, anywhere from a few inches of water to flooded full to the rafters.”

“Dan and my first responses were to the members of our congregations, which quickly spread to our community,” said West Lafayette UMC pastor the Rev. Matt Anderson.

“As Matt and I learned who needed what, we found ourselves busy redistributing supplies, often times moving from one victimized family to another,” Eggan said. “We would learn that one family had more of an item than they needed so we took their excesses to homes that expressed a need for such things. In one afternoon, we were able to address some simple needs of at least four different families just by redistributing items between themselves.”

He reached out to the Cambridge office of Colgate-Palmolive, which offered a pick-up truck load of cleaning supplies, and Anderson contacted East Ohio Conference Disaster Response Coordinator Mike Williams and Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Steve Court, who had teams respond to the affected areas of West Lafayette on three separate occasions to assess needs.

The team worked with West Lafayette Mayor Stephen Bordenkircher and several area organizations to assist affected homeowners, and the East Ohio Conference Disaster Response Committee authorized $2,000 of apportioned dollars to provide West Lafayette with additional temporary staffing to assess the needs for recovery assistance for the village and surrounding areas.

“The presence of Steve Court and the East Ohio Conference has played a major role in advancing the ability of the mayor’s office to gather a fuller assessment of who was affected and how; information that could prove critical to the community as other charitable agencies consider ways of helping,” Eggan said.

West Lafayette UMC partnered with Home Loan Savings Bank to create a fund to help those in need and, while promoting it, Bordenkircher secured Coshocton radio station Real Country WTNS AM 1560 to host a Day of Caring to encourage the local community to donate to the fund. The Coshocton Foundation matched the first $20,000 donated and to date more than $105,000 has been raised. A board of five community leaders, along with Eggan and Anderson, will distribute the funds based upon need.

“Our small community helped to pitch in and work together as neighbors helping neighbors,” Anderson shared. “From high school and middle school kids, and their parents, to local organizations and volunteers it continues to blow me away how our community pulled together to help one another. I’m grateful for the guidance of those in the EOC who help guide us as we continue to recover and put back the pieces.”

How You Can Help
We can best help those impacted by flooding in East Ohio by doing good and not causing harm.

  • We cause harm by self-deploying and by sending unwanted clothes and supplies.
  • We do good when we pray for those in need and we wait for an invitation to help them.

Visit the Disaster Response page of the Conference website to learn other ways that you can assist when disasters strike, and visit the Disaster Response District Coordinators page to learn whom you should contact if a disaster impacts your church or community.

Three Rivers District Flood Relief:

  • If you know someone that is still in need of assistance in West Lafayette, please call the mayor’s office at (740) 545-7834 or stop by in person to pick up an application for assistance.
  • If you or your church want to assist with the rebuild once projects have been vetted, please call the Three Rivers District office at (740) 622-8880 or send an e-mail to

Ohio Valley District Flood Relief:

  • If you can help with assessments, please e-mail Bob Carson at
  • A contact is being established for those wishing to volunteer to clean out basements. This includes ERT-trained persons as well as non-trained basic labor. Updated information will be shared as it becomes available.

Become an UMVIM Team Leader
“We need United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team leaders to organize teams of flexible folks who will serve wherever needed, doing whatever needs to be done. We need people to respond who are willing to be directed by a host community and not go into a mission site thinking they have all of the answers but that they are one of the resources,” said the Rev. Kathy Dickriede, East Ohio Conference coordinator of Missions and Community Engagement.

The next UMVIM Team Leader training is August 17 at the Urban Mission in Steubenville. There will also be one November 9 at Heart 4 the City in Akron. Visit the Trainings and Events page of the Conference website to learn more and to register for one of the upcoming team leader sessions.

“We need teams to travel throughout Ohio in August, September, October and beyond. The need is not just in the summer months but for retired folks and others to help rebuild people’s lives after flooding, tornadoes and storms,” Dickriede said. “We need people to respond through the connectional Church, to be hosted by the proper folks and to let us know when and where they are being deployed so that we can celebrate that work, inspire others, tell the mission story, and know where East Ohio relationships are being formed for this Kingdom work.”

Rebuilding Takes Time
Residents in South Carolina are still in need of help rebuilding their homes after Hurricane Florence dropped more than 35 inches of rain on parts of the state in September 2018. The United Methodist Church continues to work with disaster coordinators there, just as it will with our neighbors in West Lafayette and Neffs.

“Last week (July 8-14) was such a wonderful example of our Methodist connection at work and you should be proud of the effort by the clergy and lay people in your Conference. My team and I are very appreciative for their service and I know there are eight homeowners in South Carolina who are also thankful they were here,” Tim Whitten shared in an email to Bishop Tracy S. Malone.

The Hurricane Florence Recovery director for the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, Whitten was appreciative of two East Ohio Conference teams who were answered prayers for homeowners dealing with the aftermath left behind in 2016 by Hurricane Matthew and again last September by Hurricane Florence.

“I feel we must live out being the hands and feet of Jesus. Honestly, we always go on these trips with that as the main reason but really find out it is us who end up being served,” said Pastor Doug Theobald of Struthers UMC (Mahoning Valley District), who led a team of 53 representing two non-United Methodist congregations and four East Ohio Conference churches: Struthers UMC, Poland UMC (Mahoning Valley District), Lakemore UMC (Canal District), and Shreve UMC (Canal District).

“This was my 10th mission trip and it was amazing from day one,” shared Sheri Noble, chair of the Administrative Board and coordinator of Youth Ministries at Struthers UMC. “We were so thankful for our call to serve and blessed to encounter the people that we did.”

The team was organized into seven work crews that combined to remove and replace a roof and do flooring and painting, as well as drywall and siding work in Dillon, SC, an area that was hit hard by Hurricane Florence but hasn’t received the same amount of recovery support as coastal areas.

The same week, Pastor Carl Kandel of Navarre Fohl Memorial UMC (Tuscarawas District) led a second group of EOC volunteers to South Carolina, where they completed two projects in the Lakeview community.

“It means so much to see the faces of the people that we work for shine when we finish a project that they have needed done for a long time. It motivates you to serve even more in some way and it glorifies God,” he said.

We are all called to serve – in good and bad times – and to share the love of Christ with everyone we encounter.

“Living in Christian community and serving others, the Holy Spirit often does great work on us,” said Shreve UMC Pastor the Rev. Mike Grant, who was a member of the team of 53 that worked on homes in Dillon, SC. “If you want a way to impact the next generation for Christ, take them on a mission trip and watch the Spirit do amazing things. God is so good.”

Visit the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission page of the Conference website to learn more about how you can serve right here in East Ohio or participate on a team assisting others outside of the State.

 *Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.