In an unprecedented flooding event that has prompted 43 parishes to declare a state of emergency and that has affected much of North and Central Louisiana, as well as a number of the state’s southeastern parishes, Louisiana’s United Methodist churches are “stepping up” to meet the needs of those affected by the devastating rains.
St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Sterlington is serving as a shelter for evacuees, said Rev. Richard Turnley, pastor of the Monroe District congregation. “God is providing food, water and other needs through the hands of the people of St. Andrew’s. There is a constant flow of church volunteers coming in and out all day, checking on people, helping as they can, said Turnley, who added that Rev. Allison Sauls from neighboring Foundry UMC has been helping out by coming over to offer prayer with those staying in the shelter. The church is prepared to shelter up to 50 people, if necessary.
Rev. Turnley said that in the midst of this devastating event, United Methodists have an opportunity to “live out the Christian life.” “I am noticing the great joy in the faces of our members, because they are happy to be of help to others. We do our best work when our mind is in the attitude of a servant.”
Rev. Bill Moon, pastor of Elizabeth Sullivan Memorial UMC in Bogalusa, said the Red Cross assisted the New Orleans District church in setting up a shelter that will likely cap at 75 people. When interviewed, Moon said that there were around 40 evacuees currently staying in the church gymnasium.
While visiting with some of those fleeing the flood waters, Moon was asked by one older women, “Aren’t you the Methodist preacher?” “Although she was a member of another denomination, she and her church friends had been praying for a family member of mine through their prayer chain,” said Moon, who added that the woman could possibly lose her home.
These people were forced out of their homes in one way or another, said Moon. “Some will have minor damage, some will lose their homes, and some cannot access their homes because their property is flooded. There were already reports of three to four feet of water in houses. In some instances, their car was submerged. In any case, these evacuees would have been isolated.”
Trinity UMC in Ruston was called upon to open for sheltering on Friday at 9 a.m. “Church volunteers helped with setup and staffed the shelter throughout the day, and although we received numerous notifications of possible needs, no one actually came to stay. Presumably travelers needs were met with hotels and parking lots such as the one at WalMart,” said Rev. Gary Willis, pastor of the Monroe District church.
Allen Tuten, a member of Trinity and the church’s volunteer shelter manager, said the church is on standby right now to help if needs do arise. The church has 20 cots setup for that possibility, and has enough cots and blankets stored at the church to ultimately house 220 people. “Over the last 15 years, Trinity has served as a shelter around half a dozen times. During Hurricane Katrina, we housed in excess of 200 evacuees. Trinity is somewhat unique in that we have 22 members who are fully trained as Red Cross shelter volunteers, so when called upon, we can handle within our membership the process of taking in and taking care of guests.
In a press release issued today by Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, she stated that the Louisiana Conference Disaster Response team is “doing its best to respond to the needs and requests.” United Methodist Committee on Relief has issued an initial $10,000 emergency grant to the conference, and conference leaders are “working closely with UMCOR to distribute needed supplies, assess damage and determine the next steps in what will be a long term recovery effort.”
A shipment of 1,800 cleaning buckets and more than 7,000 health kits from the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin arrived on Friday in North Louisiana. A total of 500 buckets and 2,000 health kits were delivered to Asbury UMC in Natchitoches; buckets and kits are being distributed at the local WalMart located at 725 Keyser Ave. An additional 1,300 buckets and approximately 5,000 health kits were delivered to Grace Community UMC, 9400 Ellerbe Rd. in Shreveport. The church is serving as a distribution center for the items.
In addition, a second truck will head to the Monroe/Ruston area between today and Tuesday, depending on how quickly the truck can be loaded. This shipment will bring 1,800 buckets to the Old Airport Hangar in Ruston; 1,300 buckets to St. Paul's UMC, 1901 Lexington Ave. in Monroe; and 500 buckets to Rayville UMC, 905 Louisa St. in Rayville. More information will be posted on this second shipment as it is available.
Local churches throughout the conference are staging to reach out to impacted communities, planning to help in any way that they can. Asbury UMC is located in Bossier City, one of the most affected areas as a result of the flooding. “We had prepped to shelter folks, but the housing wasn’t needed. We are poised, however, to do recovery work as needed. I’ve been receiving many calls from folks saying ‘I’ve got a trailer,’ ‘I’ve got a truck’. Or one even said, ‘I’ve got a football team that can volunteer.’ Everyone wants to help their neighbors. We have reached out to our members to determine needs they have, and I hope to find out even more tomorrow morning at worship services," said Rev. Ramonalynn Bethley, pastor of Asbury UMC.