On December 1 MSN led an ERT team made up of nine UMC members who answered the call sent out by the Bishop of the Greater New Jersey Conference to go to the aid of Hurricane Sandy disaster victims. With the Upstate ERT trailer in tow we set out for our intermediate stop, Annandale UMC in Annandale, VA, a suburb of Washington, DC. There we were welcomed by Erin McKenney and others. After overnighting at Erin’s home and picking up three additional team members from Virginia we traveled the remaining four plus hours to our home for the week, the Ocean City Tabernacle in Ocean City, NJ. We then headed for our host church for the week, Central UMC in Linwood, NJ. There we were greeted by Pastor Dave Delaney who had asked us to take part in their Sunday evening Advent pot-luck dinner and worship service. We were honored to light the first Advent candle and participate in a rousing celebration of Christ’s birth through song. What a great way to kick off our week of service to the Lord.
On Monday morning Pastor Dave introduced us to Bob Wytupeck with New Covenant Community Church who gave us our work assignments for the week. In this southern region of NJ the majority of the damage was the result of the combination of high tide and storm surge flooding homes and businesses with from six inches to two feet of sea water. While not devastating structurally, it does require the removal of the lower four feet of drywall, wet insulation, floor coverings including hardwoods, base cabinets, appliances, furniture, etc. Watching this happen to one’s home is devastating to the homeowner. For four and a half days our team ripped apart the homes of four families in the most loving and caring manner possible. Before leaving on the trip, we stressed the importance of building relationships taking precedence over the work required. Everyone we came in contact with was most appreciative of our efforts; and, we definitely now have a number of new friends in NJ. One in particular who stole our heart was Lovey Devaney.
Lovey and her roommate literally swam out of her home during the storm towing their two dogs on a life raft. That was a terrifying experience to say the least. Since the storm she found a hotel room paid for by FEMA. Her roommate moved on as well. When she met us at her home she was crying; and, as we circled up and began praying for her she openly wept.
The home was just as it was the day she swam out. All her furniture and clothes were basically untouched. She didn’t know what to do and was too depressed to deal with it. Five weeks after the storm there were still puddles of water on the wooden floors. We assured her that we were there to help but that it would be painful seeing her home ripped apart and most of her possessions trashed. Throughout the morning there were tears in her eyes as she was forced to decide what to discard and what to try to salvage. Meanwhile the team split into sub units carrying furniture out, ripping down molded drywall, removing wet insulation, wheeling out appliances, ripping out base cabinets, busting up ceramic tile, scooping up the debris and hauling it out to the road by the wheelbarrow load.
As the day progressed, after many hugs and loving reassurances from the team that the Lord was with her an amazing transformation happened. At first, the tears were gone. She began smiling on occasion and more freely parting with her “stuff”. By the time she left for work at 5:00 PM she was laughing and joking as though a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She was so thankful that the Lord had sent this team of eleven complete strangers to help her, expecting nothing in return. Is there a better example of Christ’s love?
We probably will never see Lovey again. We left some money with New Covenant Community Church to help with the rebuild . They assured us that they will continue to help her get back into her home. As a result of this week in New Jersey, Lovey and the other three families have a piece of our heart and will be in our prayers.