In March, Pastor Jack McClelland of Fredericksburg Presbyterian, an ECO Church in Fredericksburg, Ohio, volunteered with 14 other men in Port Arthur, Texas through ECO’s disaster relief partner, World Renew. Pastor McClelland recently reflected on his experience with World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS).
DRS: Tell us about the people on whose homes you worked.
Pastor Jack: We primarily worked on the homes of Miss Mae, Miss Eileen, and Miss Etta*. We completed the repairs on Miss Mae's house and participated in a "blessing ceremony" led by Henrietta, the World Renew Site Coordinator. Miss Mae received a blanket to bless her new home during the ceremony, and she started to move back in the next day. She was in her sixties, and this was the second time she had lost her home to a disaster.
In 2005, Miss Mae’s home was damaged by wind from Hurricane Rita. She and 13 other family members had to move out of their flooded homes and stay with Miss Mae’s daughter. The home was a 40-minute drive from Miss Mae’s house, and the family had one car to get to appointments, work, school, and her son-in-law’s kidney dialysis appointments.
Last fall, on the night that Hurricane Harvey hit Port Arthur, Miss Mae went to bed while it was raining. When she sat up to answer a phone call from her son in the middle of the night, her feet landed in water next to the bed. She grabbed a few things and opened the front door to leave, and a wall of water hit in her chest, along with snakes that were trying to get out of the flood. The only place to get away from the water and snakes was on top of the clothes dryer, but it was shorting out and sparking.
Miss Mae’s family and friends soon arrived in two modified pick-up trucks to rescue her and some of her neighbors. When one truck flooded out during the two-mile drive to safety, her daughter, son-in-law, and 7-year-old grandson had to wade through flood waters in the dark. A friend carried the boy on his shoulders, and at one point Miss Mae's son-in-law told the others to leave him because he couldn't go on – the port from his dialysis was submerged in the filthy flood water. The rest of the group refused to leave him, and they all eventually made it to safety.
Miss Mae hadn’t lived at home again until after our volunteer group left in March. Her praises to the Lord and thanks to us, all through tears, were expressions of joy that I'll never forget.
We also worked with Miss Etta. She was a wonderful woman and sister-in-the-faith who made us fried catfish on her birthday! It was a pure joy to work on her home and get to know her.
I don't know much about Miss Eileen other than she was suffering from dementia and her family wanted her to be able to move back into her home before her memory was completely gone. We did as much work as we could for Miss Eileen during the week we were in Port Arthur.
DRS: What type of work did you do on their homes?
Pastor Jack: All five homes we worked on were homes owned by senior citizens who lost everything in Hurricane Harvey. We did a whole spectrum of work, from hanging drywall and doors, to electric and plumbing, to painting and finish work.
DRS: Why did you decide to volunteer?
Pastor Jack: Our church decided to volunteer because we had some idea from the news about how devastating the flooding was after Hurricane Harvey. However, when we arrived in Port Arthur, we were shocked to see how many people were still displaced, and that some parts of the community would likely never recover. We found out that it will take years for Port Arthur to get on its feet again.
Overall, our volunteer trip was a great experience for a bunch of people who tend to be “fix-it types” to work together in Christ's name and for His glory. We really bonded and grew in faith over the common goal of helping people in need. Personally, I had a great experience and was very impressed with World Renew's Christ-centeredness, coordination, and cultural sensitivity.
I've done a lot of trips like this and even led a few, and this was by far the smoothest experience I've ever had. I know how much work it takes from people behind the scenes and great volunteer leaders to make fruitful experiences like ours happen. This definitely won't be our last World Renew trip and I'll be sure to spread the word among my ECO pastor colleagues about what a great partnership we have with our Reformed Church brothers and sisters.
A few more impressions from volunteers in the Fredricksburg group about their work in Port Arthur:
● "I now know that God will always pull us through the toughest of times."
● "I enjoyed getting to know a new set of brothers in faith who will now and forever be an important part of my spiritual community."
● "A highlight of this trip was meeting the people who live in the homes on which we worked and hearing the impact our small effort made in their lives."
● "I enjoyed sharing my talents to help others."
● “I am amazed at the Spirit of Christ in the people we met who have experienced such loss."
● "If I am honest, I came to make myself feel good, but I left with discomfort about some areas in my life that I need to get into perspective."
If your church would like to volunteer this fall or plan a trip for 2019, visit worldrenew.net/volunteer to explore the possibilities. Learn more about World Renew Disaster Response Services (DRS) at worldrenew.net/drs.