By Crystal Ludwig
When the calls for help came after the devastating hurricanes of summer and fall 2005, Grace Brethren congregations were quick to answer. The Grace Brethren community raised more than $210,000 for a disaster relief fund from which resources were distributed to individual churches as their projects required. With that money, congregations are making a lasting impact in various ways.
Wooster (OH) Grace Brethren Church, under the direction of pastor Ivanildo Trindade, has used its $10,000 to adopt the damaged home of Mary Parker in Slidell, Louisiana, as their project. Parker, in her 70s, is a 37-year worker at the First Baptist Church in Slidell and when her home was damaged in Hurricane Katrina, she had to choose between relocating with one of her sons to Arkansas or remaining in Slidell. A dedicated member of her community, Parker chose to stay in Louisiana but lacked the funds to rebuild her home.
During one of Wooster’s general relief trips to Louisiana, the team decided to consolidate its resources to help Mrs. Parker get back on her feet. They are replacing all of the drywall, appliances, electrical fixtures and more, and they hope to complete the house by July.
A major benefit of relief programs is the unity it brings to churches across the denomination. The Grace Brethren Church in Norwalk, CA (Pastor Wayne Ayer) had a unique opportunity to partner with Wooster GBC when Pastor Ayer and his wife attended a taping of the Dr. Phil talk show several months ago. Pastor Ayer was seated near Dr. Phil’s wife, and during the course of the show, he spoke to her about his church’s upcoming relief projects and asked if she could refer the team to resources that would provide children’s toys to distribute in Louisiana.
The next day he received a call from the show’s producer, who connected him to a toy store owner, who donated $5,000 worth of toys. Darcy Bouchard of the Alta Loma, CA, GBC, who was also involved in this project, says, “We were able to load my RV with gift boxes and were able to give the children of Slidell a Saturday of fun and lift their spirits. All together we were able to provide 600 children with gifts that they might not have otherwise received.”
The Grace Brethren Church of Lititz, PA, under the coordination of pastor John Snow, used its $5,760 in relief offerings to send 45 people to Metairie, Louisiana, to distribute 21 tons of food and water and clothing for 1,500 people, as well as to restore a church and school facility, gut houses, and pass out tracts.
Free Haircuts Included
One woman from the Lititz church brought her hair cutting equipment and gave free haircuts. The ministry of the Lititz church was both physically and spiritually productive. “There was a woman led to the Lord by one of our ladies the very first day,” says Pastor John Snow.
In February, the Myerstown, PA, GBC, led by pastor Tim Couch, sent a team to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, not only to help with hurricane relief, but to share God’s love with the victims of the disaster.
Pastor Couch tells a story that illustrates the team’s effectiveness: “It is incredible to see the way God is working here in Baton Rouge. I had the opportunity to ride the city bus system on Monday and Tuesday for much of the day. People were very open to conversations and very few rejected our offer to give them a tract. I met a guy named Curtis Hubbard on our final bus route and as we talked I could see that he was really worried about what would happen should he die that day. Right there on the bus Curtis trusted Christ as his Savior.”
As part of its ongoing effort, the Myerstown church is currently seeking to plant a church in Baton Rouge. Kevin and Lorna Kreider have moved there permanently, and senior pastor Keith Shearer recently visited the area to speak, conduct seminars on the LSU campus, and generally help raise visibility of the church-planting effort.
Not every church sent teams from far away states to areas affected by the hurricanes; some were right in the middle of the devastation. Grace Community Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (Pastor John Nelson) missed church for two Sundays because their building was out of power for 14 days because of Hurricane Wilma. The congregation was thankful that the building was not damaged, and they were able to use allotted fellowship funds to help people in their area.
Just before Christmas, Pastor John Nelson and others personally delivered checks totaling more than $15,000 to people in need, including a widow whose house was severely damaged and a neighbor who began to cry on his doorstep when help was offered. The church has been able to follow up with some of the people it helped, and some have begun attending services and contributing to the life of the congregation. Nelson expresses his appreciation to the Fellowship for allowing them to assist individuals so personally and directly.
Partnering With Local Churches
Hope Valley Community Church of Red Hill, PA (Pastor Peter Smith) sent two teams to Gulfport, Mississippi, one just weeks after the storm and another several months later. They worked with Crosspoint Church, a daughter church of First Baptist Church of Gulfport, to repair roofs, clean up mold, rip out and hang drywall, and wire electricity in various homes in the neighborhood. Hope Valley used its $5,000 allotment for transportation and supplies for the second team, which partnered with a neighboring church and was able to make personal contact with hurricane victims.
Many other Grace Brethren churches, including some from California, participated in relief efforts also. At press time a group of nearly 40 adults and teens, most from the Winona Lake (IN) Grace Brethren Church, were in Gulfport during spring break working to restore housing. FGBC World in previous editions has featured relief work led by Pastors Jim Brown of Goshen, IN; Terry Hofecker of Dublin, OH, Dan O’Deens of Parkesburg, PA, and others.
Other Grace Brethren churches participating in the relief effort include Hope Grace Brethren of Dillsburg, PA (Pastor George Traub); Grace Church