If there has been one constant in the state of Louisiana in the past year, sadly, it has been the number of natural disasters wreaking havoc on the landscape and, in turn, congregations all across the state.
Last week, as tornadoes swept across the New Orleans area, the power of the United Methodist connectional system was evident once again in the form of ERT responders.
ERT stands for Early Response Team. A team consists of volunteers who have received specialized training and whom are then deployed by the Louisiana Annual Conference Disaster Assistance team in times of need.
Their mission is simple yet complex; bring hope to those who are suffering while sifting through rubble, clearing out debris or tarping a roof.
The work is intense yet also holy, just ask Rev. Bertrand Griffin pastor of Gretna United Methodist Church.
Rev. Griffin had just completed his ERT training when the tornadoes touched down in the area surrounding his church.
"The experience is sight, sound, smell." Griffin says. "Sometimes an overwhelming feeling comes over you as you minister to those who are in need."
As Griffin and other ERT volunteers began working on removing debris in the home of a local home, Griffin suddenly realized that the homeowner is a connection to his past.
"As different team members visit, I noticed the homeowner looked familiar," says Griffin. "When we finally face each other, we realize, simultaneously, that we definitely know each other. I'm standing next to my Dillard University dorm director, Sgt. Artis Hicks. We shake hands and hug and thus begins my God moment for the day."
Griffin couldn't help but reflect on the irony of shepherding the one time shepherd.
"Someone who shepherded me in college is now in need of me to shepherd him," said Griffin. "In the midst of the cleanup, we spent the rest of the day reminiscing over the time we spent at Dillard."
As much as Griffin was able to reflect and reminisce with an old colleague, he was also quick to reflect on the importance of ERT trainings, which are conducted at various churches at various times throughout the year by the Louisiana Annual Conference.
"The class gives you the basics, but the actual time in the field is invaluable," says Griffin. "Our ERT did a great job of clearing quite a bit of debris and setting up to place a tarp on the roof and side wall. But more importantly, we were able to provide a caring Christian presence in the aftermath of the Hicks' disaster."
If you are interested in assisting the efforts in New Orleans, please call Cornerstone UMC to see how you can help: 504-248-7998.
For questions regarding ERT trainings, please contact Nancy Waller in the Disaster Response Team office: DisasterReponseAdmin@la-umc.org