Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in worship in the Henryville United Methodist Church, which was open for worship for the first time after the terrible tornados and destruction that hit that community on Friday, March 2nd. It was an emotional service, with several persons sharing their stories, with people hugging one another and glad for a respite from the clean-up, and with many signs of hope. For the opening hymn we sang “Morning Has Broken” – which includes lots of language of hope for a “new day.” Truly Henryville UMC is alive and doing its part to help with recovery. Pastor Wilma Bone, who is preparing for retirement at Annual Conference, is doing a wonderful job of caring, leading, and supporting her congregation. She even distributed beautiful yellow Daffodils to everyone at the end of the worship service – as a sign of Spring and new life.

The community itself is starting to look a bit better – it was noticeable to me that some clean-up had occurred since I was there just last Monday. There are many agencies and people helping, and the help will be needed for a long, long time.

Our own United Methodist response has begun. We have a team present, with Rev. Jim Byerly living in a campground north of town and coordinating the work. Yesterday DS Charlie Wilfong was present in worship, as was Rev. Gordon Burton a UM clergy and chaplain from Methodist Hospital who is helping with the mental health aspects of recovery. Many local churches are collecting supplies, giving offerings, and preparing to send work teams once the people of Henryville have had their homes evaluated and are ready to rebuild. Early estimates are that over 200 homes were destroyed completely and another 150 have major damage – so there will be much rebuilding needed.

One of the most heartening responses occurred this past Saturday at the Bishop’s Confirmation Rally when the nearly 500 youth present brought supplies to give to Henryville and also took an offering of nearly $2,000 to help. That was an amazing response from those kids who are mostly junior high students.

As we respond to the folks in Henryville and elsewhere in southern Indiana, it is helpful to remember that recovery is a long process. That process is best described in these three steps (sometimes UMCOR and Red Cross and other groups use different labels for these steps, but here is my own best understanding of the process):

  1. Rescue is the first stage, when the police, fire, and rescue personnel help to rescue survivors from debris. This step is, obviously, best done by the professionals, but many volunteers step forward to help, too, and neighbors simply help neighbors.
  2. Relief begins as the Rescue stage ends, and it is all about getting people safe, sanitary, and sheltered. By law, in the United States, this Relief phase is assigned to the Red Cross, and they do a great job of coming into an area, setting up shelters, providing initial food and water, etc. Again, many other volunteers help out, but the Relief phase is often about 10 times the duration of the Rescue phase – so if Rescue continues for 2-3 days, then this Relief phase may last 20-30 days.
  3. Recovery is the longest phase of Disaster Response, and it typically lasts about 10 times as long as the Relief phase, so in the case above it would last 200-300 days. During this phase, most church and civic groups (including our UMCOR) come into an area and help people clean up and rebuild.

I share this brief description as a way of reminding us that a proper Disaster Response is a long process. There will be months of time when volunteers, VIM teams, and work groups will be needed to help people rebuild and recover. Even though the victims of this disaster may never get back to their “old normal” we can help them recover to a “new normal” for their lives. That was the message in worship at Henryville UMC yesterday – “Morning Has Broken” for a new normal. The old normal will never return, but a new day and new normal are breaking forth.

Let’s not grow weary of well-doing in this Disaster Response, let’s keep praying, helping, giving, grieving, and being the church.

Thank you in advance for your willingness to be a part of this long process.