When Hurricane Wilma reared its ugly head in Florida, Pastor Henry Stanke was thankful that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church's disaster response teams moved to help his congregation at Fellowship OPC in Lake Worth, Florida.
Stanke had just finished spending many back-breaking Mondays spread over nine months repairing 240 feet of fence on the church property that had been knocked down by a hurricane in the previous year. Now the fence was down again.
"When the fence blew down, it was very discouraging, because it took me months and months to put up," said Stanke, pastor of the thirty-member congregation. "I was very glad they were here."
For four weeks, more than forty volunteers from fourteen OP churches in nine states made up teams that worked half their time on church property and half in members' neighborhoods. They cleared debris from the three-and-a-half-acre church lawn, replanted two valuable palm trees on church property, repaired the 240-foot church fence, removed tree stumps, reroofed one home, and tarped, patched, and reshingled other homes.
The effort concluded a ten-week response to three hurricanes that devastated the Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Florida coasts. This was the first time the OPC was involved in hands-on disaster relief, according to David Haney, the OPC's coordinator of volunteers for disaster relief.
"It's good to have this type of outreach to show we belong to our heavenly father," said Ron Marcoux, a church trustee who oversaw the teams' work and handed out OPC and church brochures to neighbors they helped. "Some people were surprised that others would give up their vacation time to help people out."
Team members listened to the concerns of the needy and prayed with those they helped. Many cried. Some looked past the felled trees and fences to see the blessing of meeting and helping their neighbors.
The relief efforts were beneficial to those who gave, as well as those who received. "It was definitely a blessing for us and for [others] to have the OPC work teams come down, because we have had constant work to do," said Marcoux. "Hopefully we'll have new visitors to church as a result."
Newly bought or donated equipment proved to be very useful. "Many commented on how wonderfully equipped we were and that we were able to accomplish a lot because of it," said Vickie Swann, assistant volunteer coordinator. "People were thrilled that they were able to actively get involved in disaster relief through our denomination."
The author is the office secretary for the Committee on Christian Education and a member of Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pa.
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