Flood Relief Ministry Update: A Good Night’s Sleep.

The Community Builders Sunday School Class has been on a journey of discovery ever since God prompted two churches to send funds to our church for the purpose of offering assistance to those displaced by hurricane Matthew. Our previous article Breakfast at the Relief Shelter explains our first encounter with those in need.

Since this time, most of our ministry efforts have centered on building contacts and praying for the effort. FEMA and the Red Cross has been meeting most of the immediate needs. However, the time for FEMA’s presence has come to an end. Even after an extension, their claims office closed it’s doors last week. Now is when the real work of putting the community back together begins.

I’d like to share with you my recent journey that led to more clarification from the Spirit as to what we are being led to do to make a difference. It all began one Wednesday morning when I woke up and decided to pay a visit to an old friend. On most Wednesday mornings, Milton Bullock – a musician who formerly performed and traveled with The Platters – sings at the Rocky Mount Train Station. I had not had the chance to catch up with him since the hurricane. As he lives in Princeville, the area that experienced the most severe flooding, I knew he would be a good resource to make direct contact with those in need without going through a third-party agency.

When I walked into the train station, Bullock greeted me with a bear hug as though he was expecting me to visit. I explained that I was investigating needs and trying to carve out our church’s niche for offering assistance to flood relief victims. He handed me a business card that revealed that he was not only a resident of Princeville, he was a town commissioner. I had most certainly found the connection to the people that I needed.

I asked him to tell me about the damage in Princeville and to tell me about some of the people he personally knows that were affected. He said, “I’ll do better than that. I’ll show you. Do you have time to take a little field trip.” An hour later, after he was done performing classic pop songs from the Platters for the passersby in the train station, we were on our way.

The first stop was the FEMA headquarters in Tarboro. I did not realized until I spoke with Bullock that day that he had to evacuate his home for a couple months himself, so he had first-hand knowledge of the plight that affected many Princeville residents. FEMA had sent privately contracted inspectors to assess the damage to him home. Unfortunately, these here-today-gone-tomorrow inspectors did not put forth enough effort in identifying his problems. While his home had been approved for habitation, an independent contractor revealed hidden moisture in his duct work that would create health hazards by the spring time. Bullock was on his way on the last day of FEMA’s presence to file an appeal letter to make another claim. I could not help but wonder how many other people has similarly overlooked issues that would not be identified until it would be too late to file.

I met Peter at the FEMA office, the supervisor in charge of this temporary site.
Wearing a shirt brandished with both the acronym FEMA as well as the insignia for homeland security, it was very interesting to have  a conversation with someone who had so much insight into the government’s role in disaster relief. Peter was able to offer some good suggestions for how our church could stay in touch with recovering residents and provided contact information for local relief agencies.

After filing paperwork, Bullock directed me to the motel where he himself spent two months waiting for his home to be inspected for reentry. The employees at the front desk lit up when we entered. I could tell that Bullock’s charm and charisma were going to open up some doors of opportunity for this unfolding ministry. Sure enough, the desk was more than willing to cooperate in giving me information about the needs of the displaced persons residing in their motel and offering suggestions for how we could work together to help them. This motel currently housed over 160 displaced people – their monthly rent provided by FEMA funds while supplies lasted. The needs were overwhelming and the residents too numerous for me to talk to many, but I was able to have prayer with a select few in the lobby.

From there, we ventured to another motel with only three residents. The smaller number allowed for more personal conversation. I was able to meet with each one privately in the dining area, listening to their story and assessing what we could do to help them get back on their own two feet again. I point-blank asked them what simple items we as a church could provide. I was surprised by the humble requests that were made. Most continued to reinforce the conclusion that we already had made, that the greater need would come when they were able to get back into their homes after repairs had been made. Right now, storage space limited what we could offer.

One man simply said he wanted some fresh underwear, and I suggested socks to go with them. Another man thanked me but insisted that he was doing alright. Insurance would restore his items once he house was livable again. I finally surmised that a fast-food gift certificate would break the monotony of the cold food he and his wife were eating to sustain themselves in a cramped motel room. The third woman had abandoned a CPAP machine in her condemned house. Her allergies and asthma had robbed her of a good night sleep ever since she came to this motel three months ago. She desperately needed at least an air purifier to improve the air quality in her small room. That was something we could easily provide for her.

A few days later, I returned bearing gifts. The lady at the front desk was even more welcoming than before. She remarked about how touched she was by my care and concern, especially how I took the time to listen to each one and have a personal prayer for their needs. I guess the displaced families were not the only beneficiaries of my previous pastoral visit. Each resident was elated when I presented them with the very gifts we had identified they needed. “Pastor Phil,” the woman exclaimed when I approached with the air purifier. Without even noticing what I was carrying, she was simply excited to share with me the latest news. “Since you prayed for me the other day, FEMA called, they told me I’m getting a trailer on my property.” For six generations, her family has lived on the same street. She was convinced she would have to relocate. This bit of answered prayer enabled her to truly go home – to her property – where she belongs. When I showed her that the box in my hands was for her so she could sleep better tonight, she wept.

The gift of a good night’s sleep. We all deserve one. For those who were displaced by hurricane Matthew, they have been few and far between. That was the revelation that our Sunday School class needed to see from this spiritual journey. Mattresses. They need new mattresses. Many were destroyed, soaking up moisture and growing a fresh breed of unhealthy mold. It became clear at that moment, we would use the funds we received to provide mattresses for families who are able to return to their homes. One class member knows a mattress store owner. Another has a box truck. We could get the entire church involved in providing sheets and blankets. In the name of Christ, we would distribute a good night’s sleep.

Once again, thank you Wakeminster Baptist Church (Raleigh, NC) and Sedley Baptist Church Ladies Bible Class & the James Fox Class (Sedley, VA) for donating the seed money that is blossoming into a ministry with a large impact. Continue to pray for this unfolding journey as we try to be obedient to what God is calling us to do.