Work Group Builds Relationships
Fourteen members of First Reformed Church in Waupun, Wisconsin, were among scores of volunteers who traveled to Prattsville, New York, this past spring. They went to help rebuild homes destroyed by the August 2011 floods in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Many buildings in Prattsville suffered severe flood damage, including Reformed Dutch Church.
One volunteer, Rose Riel, says highlights of the trip for her included meeting homeowners and hearing how God used the flood to bring residents together on a first-name basis.
"I worked on Ginny's house for most of the week, and each day she would stop in," Riel says. "You could see the excitement and the anticipation she was feeling in knowing that she would be in her home in a matter of weeks."
The volunteers worked on several homes, installing flooring, electrical wiring, and siding, putting in a picture window, renovating a porch deck and roof, mudding and sanding drywall, landscaping and picking rocks, and painting rooms. They also organized supplies at the Methodist church and cleaned and prepared meals at the retreat center where they were staying.
Barb James, wife of First Reformed's pastor, Bob James, says she volunteered to serve in Prattsville because she loves missions and had heard so much about the adult mission trips at First Reformed. "This was the first opportunity I had to join in, and I am so thankful to have gone.
"We enjoyed precious times of worship and prayer as a team as members shared with each other in such caring, loving ways. We were able to connect at a deeper relational level."
James says she was surprised by the joy that resulted when volunteers encountered an "interruption" of their work by residents, like Rose Riel experienced when Ginny would drop by. James says that Laurie Hawley, who facilitates work groups for the RCA along with her husband, Bruce, had prayed for these opportunities for volunteers to be blessed as they got to know the people they had come to serve.
Hearing stories from residents made the biggest impression on James during her time in Prattsville. They told her how "the church on the hill," a small church associated with the Huntersfield Christian Training Center in Prattsville, reached out to help people immediately after the flood. Training center staff worked with the Salvation Army to feed 200 to 500 people a day; the center also served as an emergency shelter, providing food and a place to sleep for about 100 people.
The pastor of the church on the hill, Charlie Gockel, told the volunteer workers that he had prayed for an opportunity to become engaged with the town. Through residents' stories, James learned that the center was where townspeople went during their time of need for many months. She also heard "how the churches are working together within the community, how the residents are seeing Christ through the hands of volunteers coming to help." Residents told her that 90 percent of the help they receive is from the churches.
In an interview posted online just after the flood, Gockel said, "Two weeks before this happened, we had a church meeting, and we prayed for the community and we said, 'Lord, teach us how to get into the lives of people in this town.' The night this happened, God opened the doors for us...we preach the gospel every single day with our actions and taking every opportunity we can to share Christ with people. I'm not saying God did this [the flood] for that purpose, but he's using it for his glory."
Bruce and Laurie Hawley hosted RCA work groups in Prattsville for much of the spring and summer.