Picture this: You are standing outside the rubble that used to be your home. Pictures of your family, your favorite nick-nacks, golf clubs, and hand tools are somewhere in ruins buried in mud or ash. The carpet squishes with the water left behind, and the house smells of stagnant water. Your heart is so heavy with so much loss, and then you realize you have to clean up this mess.
Early Response Teams (ERTs) bring the hands, feet, and heart of Christ through a caring Christian presence to people still reeling from their losses. ERTs are people like you and me who are trained to follow first responders after floods, hurricanes, fires, tornados, and earthquakes to help stabilize families and to be a compassionate listening ear.
Our work changes with every disaster. I served on a team that went to an area where it had flooded. In one home, we searched for treasured items and items that could be saved and shoveled the rest into large trash containers. Whenever the homeowner needed to talk, we stopped to listen, to be present with her as she recounted the horror of the flood. We shined the light of Christ on this woman at one of the darkest times in her life.
In another home, a person was still living with wet carpet and molding drywall a month after the flood. They couldn’t afford to go anywhere else, and they had to keep working, so they stayed. Our team went in and removed the soggy carpet and cut out the wet drywall and treated the mold. We removed the damp debris and set it out to be picked up by trash crews.
After Hurricane Harvey, we worked on the home of a widow in poor health. She continued to live in her home with huge holes in her roof. Almost every exterior wall was damaged, and she had no electricity because the hurricane destroyed the connector to the house. The power company would not restore power until the connector worked, but she had no means to pay for that, especially after losing so much. So she lived without electricity in a home full of holes as it continued to rain. We tarped her entire house, and as we were stabilizing her home, the UMCOR people went to work and found money to pay the electricians. She cried and cried because something impossible for her became possible through the people of God.
Being an ERT is hard work. You get dirty and sweaty. You go into places that are a mess. And it is incredibly meaningful work to see hope restored as survivors feel they can now take the next steps forward. “Why do you do this?” they ask. “We came so you would know that God has not forgotten you,” we answer.