Churches Unite to Aid Flood Victims
The devastation left behind by floodwaters created by melting ice and a bomb cyclone weather pattern that struck the Midwest in March remains wide spread. Nebraska, in particular, suffered heavy losses — millions of dollars of damages to roads, more than two dozen bridges damaged or destroyed, hundreds of homes flooded, and large sections of railways made inoperable, not to mention the losses farmers and ranchers continue to face.
Yet, as Bellevue (Nebraska) Christian Center (BCC) has discovered, providing a helping hand has revealed what some may see as an unexpected challenge.
Richard Nakai, the youth pastor at BCC for the past eight years, says that the Monday morning after the weekend flooding started, the church opened its doors as a relief distribution center.
“I had made a number of calls to community leaders asking about ways we could help,” Nakai says. “Sunday night, the county’s emergency management organization called me back and asked if we could be the distribution center for the entire county. I put the word out on Facebook, and we had eight volunteers show up early Monday morning, but by the end of the day, we had 50.”
What Nakai and the volunteers soon discovered was that people were reluctant to accept help.
“So many times we heard people ask for just one of some item when it was clear they could use far more,” Nakai says. “They were afraid that if they took more than one or two items, others might not receive the help they needed.”
Nebraska District Superintendent Bob Wine isn’t surprised. He says that there’s a sense of self-sufficiency and “taking care of their own” during times of trouble in Nebraska — being the helper, rather than the helped. Even he has had some difficulty learning if churches suffered damage due to the flooding.
The problem with this historic flooding, however, is that it was so widespread, neighbors couldn’t help neighbors, as is commonplace, because so many were in the same situation.
Nakai says that their answer to making sure people got the supplies they needed was to place a trained volunteer with each person or family as they came in. In this way, the volunteer could develop a relationship as they eased fears of “taking too much” and made sure that families took enough supplies to care for each member.
BCC, which averages about 800 to 1,000 in attendance and has been led by pastors Gary and Laurie Hoyt for the past 30 years, also raised $15,000 to help assist flood victims — hundreds who lived in their community. The church, which is located only a few miles south of Omaha, also was a source of hundreds of volunteers and an untold number of donated clothing and food items.
However, what has really stood out to Nakai is how the churches — including other AG churches — in the area have worked together, ignoring denominational differences, to meet the needs of those impacted by the flooding.
While BCC was serving as a distribution center, others churches were serving as shelters, cooking and providing three hot meals a day, gathering furniture items to give to victims, housing clean-up teams, paying for laundry, and the list goes on.
“The churches’ response has been incredible,” Nakai says. “A church in Omaha called me every day to ask what we needed — and whatever it was, they would go out and buy the stuff and bring it down here.” Churches in Florida and Maryland also sent checks to help with the relief effort.
Lorrie Ott posted to the BCC website: “As a recipient of the food and supplies due to losing our home in the flood of Pacific Junction, Iowa [about 16 miles southeast of Bellevue], I want to thank all of you for the love and support you are showing us at this most difficult time . . . God bless you all.”
On April 3, BCC moved its center to partner with the Salvation Army, which had rented out an old J.C. Penny’s store. “The new location is a multiagency resource, offering people everything they need — the food, clothing, and supplies from our location along with the ability to connect with FEMA and other forms of government assistance,” Nakai explains.
Since establishing the partnership, BCC has continued to send volunteers to assist with the resource center, but has shifted its focus to aid with clean-up. “Convoy of Hope is stationed about 10 miles from where we are, so we’re now sending people to sign up with them,” Nakai says. “Then, on April 27, we’re sending a team to a small church in Hamburg, Iowa, that had its basement flooded, to tear out drywall and try to dry it out for them.”
Throughout the experience, Nakai has marveled at how simply by being willing to listen to people’s stories and being a source of help has given people the hope they’ve needed.
“When people would first walk into the center, they were overwhelmed as many didn’t even know where they’d be sleeping that night,” Nakai says. “But through really caring for each individual, you could see the difference between someone walking in and feeling lost and someone leaving feeling they can do this . . . it’s one of those things where God just fills you up as you’re pouring yourself out.”