By Sharon Mager
SEAFORD, De. — Grace Seaford Church member Jake Moss remembers the exact time a tornado warning sounded on his phone. “It was 3:30 a.m. and I laid in my room until 4 a.m.,” he said. Breathing a sigh of relief, Moss went back to sleep only to awake and discover that an EF-2 tornado
with wind speeds up to 95 miles per hour indeed touched down in the Laurel, Delaware area, about six miles south of Seaford, causing power outages and significant damage to homes, and injuring one person.
“The tornado just tore through houses, farms, and property,” said Larry Davis, Grace Church, Seaford’s senior pastor. Davis was shocked. Tornadoes in the area were rare. Feeling called to lend a hand, he contacted the local firehouse and discovered they were overwhelmed and were appreciative of any help the church could provide.
Davis explained that the disaster was too big for local authorities to manage but too small for a response from the national recovery teams. It was an opportunity for the church to step in and fill a need. He put out a call for volunteers, and several responded, including Moss.
“It was so cool to see him (Davis) jump into action in terms of ‘we need to do something!'” said Moss, who serves on the church council and works for Young Life. Moss said he’s thankful for a flexible work schedule allowing him to immediately sign up to help.
Davis contacted Kerry Hinton, pastor of Lynnhaven Baptist Church, in Pocomoke, Maryland, for some advice. A veteran disaster relief (DR) worker, Hinton told Davis to start the process with Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) Church Services Consultant Ellen Udovich.
“Ellen asked if she could come down to help and I said, ‘Oh yeah!'” Davis said. Udovich organized a team and surveyed the neighborhood, identifying three families that needed and wanted assistance. “It was mainly tree and brush removal,” Davis said, but there was a lot to do. Men and women ages 14 – 75, from Grace Church, Lynnhaven Baptist Church, and Oak Ridge Church, in Salisbury, Maryland, provided 132 working hours of service over three days.
Hinton brought a church DR team to help, and he trained all of the volunteers in the basic rules of safety when working with trees and debris, and specifically how to properly use the necessary power equipment.
Moss said he was especially happy to use a chain saw for the first time. He was hesitant, but quickly learned the new skill and became confident.
The team cut and ground limbs and dragged the debris to pick up points.
John and Jacque Fredricks, longtime members of Grace Seaford, were also happy to help. John, a deacon and Sunday School teacher at Grace Church, served 23 years in the United States Air Force and had basic disaster relief training, but he was grateful for Hinton’s instruction — particularly for his insistence that the team wears proper eye, head, and foot protection gear.
“Believe it or not, when cleaning up that debris, you can get hurt easily if you’re not paying attention,” John said. “I’m glad he emphasized safety all three days.”
At one house with fallen trees, the owner was a nonagenarian and his children were in their 60’s and 70’s, so it would have been challenging for the family to deal with the wood and debris. Davis said insurance did not cover the yard damage.
The tornado almost destroyed another family’s greenhouse, and the DR team worked to salvage what they could and throw out the rest.
John and Jake both said they made connections with the families they helped, some who provided the team with pizza and drinks.
“There was a camaraderie,” John said.
The church bought a Smart TV for one appreciative young man who did not have renter’s insurance. “That was fun,” Davis said, especially when they discovered that a clerk at the shop where they bought the television was the grandson of one of the people the church was helping. “You could see God’s hand at work,” Davis said.
Above all was the opportunity to get to know neighbors and plant some spiritual seeds.”We were able to pray with the families,” Davis said.
The neighborhood ministry was the church’s first experience with hands-on disaster relief, other than a survey team that recently traveled to Puerto Rico.
Davis said the experience opened their eyes.”This made us aware of the need for DR training in our local churches. We don’t think about a lot of disasters this side of the Bay, but they do happen,” he said. Disaster relief is a way the church “can really shine.”
Davis enjoyed the fellowship with the team and seeing church members serve their neighbors.
One church member, Tony Skrzecz, especially enjoys being out in the community and was thrilled to be doing the DR work. “He loved it,” Davis said.”He looked at me as he was grinding a stump with the chainsaw and said, ‘Pastor — this is the church!'”
When you give to the Cooperative Program, part of your funds support disaster relief efforts throughout the country and locally.