Tag Archives: Hurricane Sandy

God’s Caretakers

Steve Krissby Steve Kriss, skriss@franconiaconference.org

After Hurricane Sandy, I trekked with a Mennonite Disaster Service assessment team out to the peninsula of the Rockaway neighborhoods of New York City. This thin peninsula juts south from Long Island into the Atlantic in the borough of Queens. It’s a beautiful spot for a beach vacation, but a precariously situated stretch of city neighborhoods packed with people.

There are a lot of political issues that I don’t speak to directly. I try to avoid issues with easy-to-figure-out delineations between left and right in the political conversations that boil over into the life of the church. But driving on the thin peninsula with feet of sand blown in from the beach, cars tossed indiscriminately by rising water and trees stripped by wind, I had a distinct moment of realization: “So this is what global climate change looks like.”

I’m ready to believe and name that the relationship between humans and the planet is provoking — or at least providing the perfect storm of situations to cultivate — significant changes that will continue to have serious repercussions for all communities.

As usual in the human community, the most vulnerable are often the people that Jesus suggested we should be the most concerned about — the poor, the elderly, people with disabilities. In Staten Island where the most deaths occurred in the United States from Hurricane Sandy, most who died were from those vulnerable populations.

I do all sorts of things that both contribute to climate change and attempt to take the pressure off. I live in a walkable neighborhood. I recycle religiously and have a garden with my neighbors. I purchase wind-generated energy. But I drive a pick-up truck about 25,000 miles a year, take frequent airplane flights and have innumerable spare laptops and cellphones lying around in the house that will contribute to mounds of toxic electronic waste someday. “Living simply so that others may simply live” is complicated.

As a kid growing up around Johnstown, Pa., I learned rebuilding without rethinking our relationship with the terrain leads to further and repeated destruction.

Our little neighborhood was ripped apart by a tragic flash flood in 1977. It never really recovered. Some houses were never rebuilt. Other reconstructed homes were elevated to avoid first-floor inundations with water if a similar 100-year storm would occur again.

In Johnstown, those storms seem to come every 40 to 50 years. Along the Northeast coast, we’ve had two 100-year storms in the last two years. Journalists and neighbors in the path of the storm’s destruction have remarked that those communities will never be the same after the storm.

Seeing storm-ravaged communities provoked a graphic realization that our actions — our behaviors as humans in an interconnected system — are not divorced from the winds, rain and waves. Instead, we are a part of the creation God has made and called good. God has charged men and women to tend this gift of planetary existence and to live well within it.

Paul writes that all of creation is waiting in anxious expectation for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed. Part of that revealing is reconnecting the human relationship with all of creation, in all of its beauty and raging. It’s connecting our care of the planet with our love of the Creator and our neighbors. Both our action and inaction are intertwined with our relationship to the Divine.

Reflections on one day with MDS on Staten Island

by James M. Lapp

On November 8, following Superstorm Sandy, I was privileged to participate with one of the early Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) teams to Staten Island.  There amidst the front end loaders lifting wet debris from the streets into dump trucks, we encountered a busy community of local people and volunteers like us attempting to be helpful.  One thing became immediately clear.  MDS and Mennonites did not have a corner on compassion and care.

Along the street in front of the Oasis Christian Center building, men worked over a grill preparing chicken for anyone, including us, to eat for lunch.  The church (with partial Mennonite roots) had moved their worship to another setting to make the building available as a center of distribution for clothes and food.  In the background we heard the purr of generators providing power for the activities going on in the church.  Beside the church, at a makeshift table under a canopy, two people gave direction to the many people milling about who were seeking to be helpful.

Located only a few blocks from the bay, this church, like all the homes in the area, was vulnerable when the high tide and storm surge came roaring down the street.  Across the front of the church a distinct waterline indicated the height of the water during the storm—about neck high for an average-sized adult.  Basements and the first floor of homes throughout the neighborhood had been flooded.  Near to the church were several homes where the residents had drowned.

Inside the church, we sorted clothes and food donated for those in need.  “Do you have any hooded sweat shirts?” someone inquired.  Such a request was not hard to understand on this cold November day.

“We lost everything,” a woman reported through tears, with deep gratitude for jackets to wear.

Toiletries, clothes, and food of every kind appeared.  Twice during the day a U-Haul truck pulled up to the curb with contributions gathered around the city for distribution.  Others in our group worked at restoring electrical systems destroyed by the water, or in removing drywall so that the interior of the walls could dry without mildew.

The residents of this Staten Island community have lived near the water all of their lives.  Never has anything of this sort happened before.  How quickly the fury of the storm shattered the lives of these otherwise stable middle-class families!  It was hard for them and for me to make sense of such devastation.   I could almost hear in the background the taunting voices the Psalmist experienced in the wake of such a personal tragedy: “Now where is your God?”  (Psalm 42:3)

About dark we began our journey back to Lansdale, Pa., and to the safety of our homes. The team was united in gratitude for being able to participate in such a day of service to others.  But beneath the reward of having been privileged to serve, I sensed an unspoken sober awareness of the fragility of life, and the reality that natural disasters such as we witnessed were seemingly becoming more frequent.  At least that is what some of our public figures suggest.  What might that mean for our nation, for us?  That question, plus the inexplicable destruction we had just witnessed in this Staten Island community remained for us to ponder as we returned home that evening.

Jim Lapp is a retired Franconia Conference pastor who has served broadly in congregational, conference and denominational roles.   He and his wife Mim Book have returned to Southeastern Pennsylvania this fall after serving in an interim pastoral role in Nebraska.

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Individuals and teams from many Franconia Conference congregations have served with Mennonite Disaster Service since Superstorm Sandy, including Salford, Plains, Philadelphia Praise Center, Doylestown, Salem, Blooming Glen, and Ambler.  If you have served in this way and have reflections to share, email your thoughts to Emily.

MDS settles into Staten Island for recovery

by Steve Kriss, skriss@franconiaconference.org

Two weeks ago Hurricane Sandy pummeled the Northeast Corridor, landing near Atlantic City, NJ with high winds and high tides that pushed water into New York City neighborhoods, reshaped New Jersey’s barrier islands, and caused widespread wind damage and power outages across eastern Pennsylvania.   In the days after the storm, the scope of damage continues to emerge.   The needs in the midst of clean-up and recovery change day-to-day.  But undoubtedly, the recovery is going to take awhile.

Mennonite Disaster Service has established a binational project in Staten Island’s hard hit Midland Beach neighborhood, which, according to the New York Times, contained the highest concentration of deaths from the storm.  Midland Beach is a collection of cottages densely packed together along New York Bay with views of the Verrazano Bridge in the distance.  It’s a tight neighborhood of long-term generations of residents alongside newly arriving immigrants from Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Neighbors were trapped by what some residents call a tsunami wave that rolled in from the bay to the east, through marshes in the north and from a large field that had been an aircraft landing area in the south.   Water poured through the streets, rising rapidly, trapping neighbors in houses for hours.   New York Police evacuated residents stranded on rooftops and in attics by boat while neighbors helped neighbors by evacuating with four wheel drives and canoes.  Some residents died in their sleep as the water rose quickly.  Bodies were still being recovered last week, wedged amongst furniture and debris.

Mennonite Disaster Service teams began arriving in Staten Island from Followers of Jesus Mennonite Church in Brooklyn a few days after the storm.   Within the first week an assessment team from Mennonite Disaster Service New York came to survey storm damage in Staten Island and Queens.  The team quickly recognized the extent of damage and bumped up responsibility to the binational office.  A week after the storm, teams from Pennsylvania began arriving at Midland Beach’s Oasis Christian Center.

Oasis was formed from the merger of two congregations, one of which had been a member of Lancaster Mennonite Conference.  A member of the church whose house had been damaged had served on a MDS team in Arizona a decade ago.  The church buzzed with activity as they received donations from various sources and reached quickly into the neighborhood by offering food, clothing, and guidance.  Pastor Tim McIntyre made sure that the space could be used as an aid center.  The church’s sanctuary was turned into a makeshift warehouse with weekly worship moved off-site.  Food was cooked outside in the church’s courtyard.  Bottled water and cleaning supplies overflowed onto the church’s porch.

Mennonite Disaster Service followed the lead of New Yorkers in lending a hand, including NYC Mennonites.  A group from United Revival Mennonite Church responded to needs in Coney Island a few days after the storm.  Volunteers from Followers of Jesus Church went to work in Staten Island, helping with cleanup and organizing the cleanup efforts.   After initial surveys, MDS sought to establish an operation center in Staten Island, bringing in volunteers from upstate New York along with Ray Zimmerman, Region 1 coordinator and Mel Roes from Lowville, New York who leads MDS New York.  Isaac Zehr and Vernon Long have moved south to organize the operations.

Meanwhile, volunteers began to trickle in from Southeastern Pennsylvania, coming from Allentown, Lancaster, and Philadelphia regions for long days of travel and work.  Lodging options on Staten Island are limited.  Many persons affected by the disaster are bunking with other family members.   MDS efforts are beginning with a focus on families in the neighborhood near the church building and with families involved in Oasis Christian Center itself.

MDS expects to be in the neighborhood awhile; they pulled in a RV for temporary lodging and made some negotiations for housing for long-term volunteers in the neighborhood angling toward some possible facilities for week-long workers as well.   The devastation across the city is extensive.  Many families expect to be displaced for months.  Some homes have been condemned.  Other families aren’t sure they want to return to their once-flooded homes as they recognize their beautifully-situated neighborhood will always be vulnerable.

Staten Island is one of New York City’s five boroughs.  With a population of nearly a half million people, its only connection to the rest of the city is by the Verrazono Bridge and the Staten Island Ferry.  Its bridge crossings to New Jersey provide easy access to groups coming from the south or west.  To schedule a day of volunteering in Staten Island, call (800) 241-8111.  There are no options for longterm volunteers at this point beyond day trips.

After Hurricane Sandy—resurrection stories

On Saturday, November 3, conference staffers Steve Kriss and Emily Ralph joined Mennonite Disaster Service in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens to assess the damage left by Hurricane Sandy and identify needs in preparation for sending teams to aid in the cleanup.  After returning home, Steve compiled this list of recollections, appreciation, and observations.

supplies in the sanctuary1.  Mounds of garbage in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens.   And the realization that this is not ordinary trash, but people’s possessions, the stories of their lives in discarded items that had held either purposeful or sentimental value only a few days earlier.

2.  Overflowing generosity that meant that the church we were visiting had to stop receiving donations by the end of the day because they had too much.  Oasis Christian Center (formed out of the merger of two congregations including a former member congregation of Lancaster Conference) transformed its sanctuary into a distribution center piled high with clothing, water, food, cleaning supplies.

The truck you want for rescuing neighbors during Hurricane Sandy3.  We passed by a large 4×4 truck and saw some guys who were gutting an entire house.   I commented that this was the right kind of truck to have this week.  I asked if we could take a photo of the owner with the truck.  He insisted that the whole work crew gather around the truck and that we share the photo with them.

4.  New York City is beautiful; the mix of skyline, bridges, architecture, water, and people is stunning even when it’s a mess.   Why would people live here?  Because it’s so beautiful and energizing, frustrating and amazing.

Helping hands 5.  People took what they had and shared it with each other—setting up food tables on the sidewalk, serving meals out of their car.  A group of Latino women made sandwiches and soup and told us, “We are poor, but we can help too.”   Members of New York’s Sikh community brought their vegetarian meals to the streets rather than keeping them at their temples as would be the norm.  We had amazing conversation and curry with basmati rice together while we discussed the community leader’s fascination with Lancaster County.  Meanwhile a boy from the community was repeatedly yelling, “Free good hot food!”   It was almost like communion.

6.  We walked to one of the worst hit areas of Midland Beach where two elderly neighbor women had drowned in their homes.  There were flower memorials outside of their homes and buried in the mud we spotted a copy of The Purpose Driven Life.water donations

7.  On Facebook, I posted that I’d be driving my pickup truck to Staten Island.  Within 24 hours it was filled with donations given in love from Mennonite friends in Philadelphia and another friend loaned me a car so I could leave my truck with friends in Staten Island.  I loaded up the truck at night almost to the hilt, but came out to leave in the morning to discover that my neighbors had topped off the load with more bottled water while I slept.  I returned that evening to find my yard cleaned and raked from the storm thanks to my other neighbors.

Rockaway Forever8.  We headed out with a Mennonite Disaster Service assessment team to the Rockaways.  The entire boardwalk had been lifted off the cement pilings and pushed back into houses.  One family reclaimed the boardwalk now as their beachfront deck and set up umbrellas and chairs along with a sign that said, “Rockaway Forever.”

9.  While we walked in the neighborhoods, I kept getting sand in my mouth as the wind kicked up.  I want to remember the grit of it in my teeth, the sensation of the storm both outside and within me.

10.  I was overwhelmed by hope in my encounters with people all day who reflected the Incarnation–the love of the Creator made Real–handing out peanut butter sandwiches, quietly cleaning neighbors’ homes, translating issues in Spanish, Russian, Hindi, offering hamburgers fresh off the grill to passing vehicles, gracious and committed first responders, plain-dressed Mennonite women who kept relief efforts moving efficiently, a woman driving around clean and dry socks to neighbors who were cleaning out their homes.

The human response to the situation was amazingly hopeful despite the challenges of cleaning up, rebuilding.  Fourteen-year-old Zach who went along with us remarked, “I wasn’t surprised by the destruction.  I was surprised by people smiling in the midst of it all.”   People like Zach, who wanted to come along with his big sister, photographer Emily, and my Methodist pastor friend Christine from New Jersey, who told the stories of what she saw on Saturday to her worshiping community the next morning while choking back tears, remind me that the power of the Christian story is that it is comedy over tragedy, not death but resurrection.

If you are from southeastern Pennsylvania and you would like to join a Mennonite Disaster Service team going to Staten Island, contact Rick Kratz, 267-372-4637.  Outside PA, contact the MDS representative in your congregation.  If you would like schedule your own team, contact Judy Roes, New York volunteer coordinator, 717-823-3020.  Facebook gallery of photos from Saturday’s trip.

Hurricane Sandy update from Mennonite Disaster Service

Update from Rick Kratz at Mennonite Disaster Service–call him with questions, 267-372-4637.

Locally

We have been in touch with Montgomery County and have some people to follow up with about basement clean outs and such.

New York and New Jersey

I don’t have anything for New Jersey at this time but as things unfold we will pass that on.

Mennonite Disaster Service is investigating New York City with the Mennonite Churches of New York City to see how best we can be of service.  As we get more information and request for assistance I will pass that on to you.  At this time we are keeping a list of names of those who contact us about going up to help. Please provide me with any names and contact information of people interested in helping locally or up in New York City.  As we receive requests from New York we will put groups together and respond as requested.

Many people or organizations are asking about donations.  If people or organizations would like to donate to MDS we ask that they do so financially.

Donations can be sent to our local unit:

MDS of Eastern PA/NJ
P.O. Box 64794
Souderton, PA 18964

MDS photos from Staten Island

Hurricane Sandy leaves destruction and opportunity

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Three days after Hurricane Sandy swept through south-eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, members of Franconia Conference are still cleaning up from massive flooding, downed trees and power lines, and extensive power outages.

Communication has been challenging and reports are trickling in–entire communities are still without power, dealing with road closures, and running short on supplies as gas stations and grocery stores are also without electricity.

Some of the reports we have heard:

  • Power is still out at Deep Run East (Perkasie, Pa.), Doylestown (Pa.), Swamp (Quakertown, Pa.), Methacton (Norristown, Pa.) and Garden Chapel (Dover, NJ) facilities.
  • Most of the Garden Chapel congregation is without power, although there have been no reports of damage to homes or the church building.
  • Methacton had and continues to have flooding in their basement/fellowship hall.  Without electricity, they are unable to pump the water out.
  • Many members of congregations along the Rte. 113 corridor around Souderton, Pa., are without power, as are the Conference Center offices and the Souderton Center, which is owned by Franconia Conference.  Penn View Christian School—the site of next weekend’s Conference Assembly—is also without electricity.   These power outages extend as far north as Allentown and as far east as the Delaware River.
  • Despite reports of wider damage in Philadelphia, Franconia congregations in the city survived the hurricane mostly unscathed.
Zume after Hurricane Sandy
Ben Walter, Ripple (right), and his housemates at the Zume House intentional community in Allentown, hosted their “power-less” neighbors for dinner the night after the hurricane. Luke Martin, Vietnamese Gospel, was among the guests.

In the midst of such wide-spread destruction, conference congregations are finding opportunities to minister to one another and their communities:

  • A young mother at Doylestown congregation made meals and delivered them to members of her congregation who were without power.
  • Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation, once their own electricity was restored, opened their facilities to anyone in the community who needed heat, bathrooms, clean water, or a place to plug in their electronic devices.  They also expanded their weekly Community Meal to include those who needed a hot dinner.
  • Individuals throughout the region have opened their homes to friends and neighbors without power, delivered supplies to those who are stuck at home because of blocked roads, and brought their chainsaws to aid in the cleanup.
  • Members of Ripple Allentown (Pa.) who were without power met at their pastors’ home for a meal and to “warm up a bit,” reported Carolyn Albright. “It was a holy, blessed time together.”

Noah Kolb, Pastor of Ministerial Leadership for Franconia Conference, received two emails from conference congregations encouraging members to share their resources with others in their congregation and neighborhoods.  “Often we try to get beyond these things to get to the work of church,” Kolb reflected, “but this IS church.  This is really the stuff of church.”

Because of the challenges of communication, conference staff has not been able to contact all conference congregations to learn of current conditions, needs, and relief efforts.  If you have any information, please report it to your LEADership Minister or any member of conference staff—don’t assume that the staff already know about it.

If your congregation and neighborhood has made it through relatively unscathed, please check in with other congregations in your region to see how you can help; also consider how your congregation’s facility or aid can help the greater community.

If you are aware of relief efforts or needs, please report these to conference staff so that they can connect needs with resources.  The conference email and phones are up and running.

On Monday, as the hurricane was approaching, Michael King, a member of Salford and the dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Harrisonburg, Va.), sent out an email to seminary students and staff.  “I don’t know precisely how we theologize at a time like this,” King wrote.  “Jesus teaches that the rain falls on the just and the unjust and that tragedies are not signs that we’re out of God’s favor. The Bible is also rich with images of God’s care, of God as the mother who shelters us under tender wings.  My loved ones, your loved ones, and all of us are in my heart and prayers amid the yearnings for God’s shelter.”