By Linda Bloom
A UMNS Report
When Asbury United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ind., started sending work teams to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, its members never realized they would one day need the same kind of help.
That changed in early June when floodwaters swept through 37 counties in central Indiana and displaced more than 25,000 residents. One of the hardest hit communities was Columbus, where flooding shut down Columbus Regional Hospital and damaged schools, businesses and several hundred homes.
The Rev. Al Styron, Asbury's pastor, who grew up near the coast of Mississippi, said having damage in Columbus similar to Katrina's destruction was "the last thing we would have ever dreamed."
Although the disaster in Indiana was not on the same scale, he added, it was "every bit as devastating for those impacted here in Columbus."
Fellow Hoosiers and others rallied to assist Indiana's flooded communities. With help from the Midwest Mission Distribution Center, hundreds of United Methodist congregations across the state assembled and delivered an estimated 1,800 flood buckets filled with cleaning supplies.
Meanwhile, church members in Mississippi and Louisiana have come to the aid of the denomination's Indiana area. Bishop Michael Coyner received a $10,000 check from United Methodist Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of Mississippi and $10,000 from the Louisiana Conference and Bishop William Hutchinson in appreciation of Indiana's support during their own disasters.
Together with a $10,000 grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, $10,500 from the denomination's Dakotas Conference and other contributions from United Methodists in Indiana and elsewhere, about $100,000 has been raised to respond to the Indiana floods. To date, the South Indiana Conference disaster response team has distributed $55,000 to recovery committees in 11 communities.
Rolling up their sleeves
Work teams from Mississippi and Louisiana are scheduled to come and assist, according to Jenni Walker, resource administrator of the South Indiana Conference, who is helping coordinate volunteers. "It's really been great just to see the outpouring of the volunteers," she said.
A team of nine volunteers from the Seashore District under the leadership of Pastor David Cumbest of Heritage U. M. Church in D'Iberville, Miss., assisted in recovery efforts in Columbus the weekend of Aug. 15-17. Two years ago, Hoosier United Methodists built a volunteer center at Heritage to house work teams coming to the Gulf Coast.
In Columbus, the 700-plus-member Asbury church became the official disaster center for UMCOR, providing food and housing for volunteers. "We've been actively involved in the process since Day 1," Styron told UMNS in a July 31 interview. He noted that their local response has been helped by the experience gained by sending teams once or twice a year to Mississippi since Katrina struck in 2005.
On June 7, the same day the flooding occurred, Asbury members served about 400 meals at the Northside Middle School shelter. The next day, they served some 900 breakfasts, 500 lunches and more than 300 dinners. During the next two weeks, volunteers organized to clean up houses.
All six United Methodist churches in Columbus - Asbury, First, Petersville, Sandy Hook, East Columbus and Mt. Olive - have worked together to create a shared outreach ministry. Styron is part of the long-term recovery committee, which has both ecumenical and community members. The director of the United Way in Columbus has been named to lead the committee.
Asbury, which has collaborated mainly with First United Methodist Church, is working on 75 houses damaged by the flood. One of those is the home of Paul and Melinda Johnson, who lost everything on the first floor and currently are living with church members. Paul Johnson is the director of Christian education at Asbury.
UMCOR provided a two-day case management training session for the Columbus Recovery Committee at the invitation of the South Indiana Conference, disaster response coordinators Bob Babcock and David Powell, and the Indiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. Volunteers were trained to go door to door to assess any unmet needs and help residents complete applications for FEMA and Small Business Administration loans. UMCOR led similar sessions in Martinsville and Shelbyville.
Immediately after the flooding, Asbury members expected to skip the planned work trip this summer to Gulfport, Miss. But the week before, Styron said, "we had reached the point where we were in the drying stage for about 75 houses," allowing the work crews to be in Gulfport from June 28-July 5.
This time, their perspective was somewhat different. "Our most recent trip created a little bit more empathy, rather than sympathy, on our part," Styron added.
While some were in Mississippi, case managers remained in Columbus to determine needs. Now, the process of rebuilding has begun. "We have work crews lined up all the way through September," he said. "Then we'll evaluate and see where we are."
Those responding to the Columbus flooding have mobilized to address a number of concerns. The "angel" group, for example, is dealing with emotional issues and determining what type of furnishings and household goods will be needed. "Hopefully, we can cover all the bases and not just the structural needs," Styron said.
Walker said long-term recovery sites are being set up around the state for what could be a two-year period. Those interested in volunteering can contact her at 812-893-1760 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteers also are needed in northwest Indiana to assist survivors of January floods in the Remington, Monticello and Delphi areas. An organization called Disaster Assistance for Northwest Indiana was formed this spring by United Methodists, members of other denominations and community groups to assist in the recovery. More information is available at http://daniflood.org.
Hoosier United Methodists plan to bring 1,600 flood buckets and 400 health kits to an Oct. 4 special session of the area's two conferences at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis to help replenish supplies at the Midwest Distribution Center.
Donations to the South Indiana Flood Recovery efforts can be made payable to and sent to the South Indiana Conference UMC, 1520 South Liberty Drive, Bloomington, IN 47403-5167. One-hundred percent of all these contributions go for South Indiana flood recovery. Funds are distributed through the South Indiana Conference Disaster Response. To date more than $170,000 has been donated to South Indiana flood recovery efforts.
Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York. Dan Gangler, Indiana area communicator, contributed to this report.