(Kari Barlow for AWFUMC) - About two weeks after Hurricane Michael devastated Panama City and much of the surrounding area, Lynn Haven UMC Student Minister Neil McGee knew his youth group desperately needed a change of scenery.
“Some of them hadn’t left for the storm, and they were traumatized,” he said. “Everywhere you go it’s nothing but total destruction. It takes its toll.”
So McGee reached out to First UMC Opelika—where his wife Mimi grew up and he used to volunteer—about hosting the kids for a respite weekend. He envisioned a few low-key, relaxing days by the lake with no big plans. What he got was an overwhelming display of Christian love in action.
“They just loved on our kids like crazy,” he said. “It was so good for the students to see!”
After the clergy at First UMC Opelika agreed to host Lynn Haven, they set out to make it an unforgettable experience for the storm-weary youth. Teresa Vigueras, associate director of music ministries, and Rick Lane, associate pastor of youth ministries, contacted local businesses to secure donations of meals, event tickets and many other items.
“It is truly amazing to see what God can do when individuals faithfully respond to the nudging of the Holy Spirit,” Associate Pastor Patrick Hitchman-Craig said.
On Sunday Oct. 28, the Lynn Haven group—about 42 kids including a few chaperones—arrived toward the end of First UMC Opelika’s 11 a.m. service. Before the benediction, Senior Pastor Robin Wilson invited the group forward and offered prayers on their behalf. Afterward, they enjoyed pizza in the youth building and then attended an Auburn University volleyball game free of charge.
“After the game, they joined our youth for their annual youth cookout,” Hitchman-Craig said. “The two youth ministries played games together, enjoyed a great meal and quickly made friends.”
On Monday the kids toured downtown Auburn, relaxed and hung out and were treated to catered meals throughout the day. That night they attended the Auburn Ignite worship event, which featured Sadie Robertson—of “Duck Dynasty” fame—as the guest speaker.
As the group prepared to return home Tuesday morning, Wilson and Craig and other church staff spent time talking with and encouraging the kids and quietly presented McGee with a gift of $100 for each family represented.
“It was amazing. The kids were blown away,” McGee said. “It was quite an act of selflessness.”
That compassion was a powerful reminder of God’s goodness at a time when all of his youth were struggling.
“Their houses have tarps on them,” McGee said. “Some of them have lost their bedrooms. That’s hard to deal with when you’re a kid. It’s hard to deal with when you’re an adult!”
The visit also blessed members of First UMC Opelika, who have raised more than $18,000 toward Hurricane Michael relief and packed countless flood buckets and hygiene kits. They are also planning to send a response team to the Florida Panhandle in early December.
“I don’t know what the future holds for these youth, their families, or for Lynn Haven UMC,” Hitchman-Craig said. “But I know that they left Opelika encouraged and filled with hope. They know that the people called Methodist in Opelika are supporting them and praying for them. But best of all, they know that God is with them.”
That message is the one McGee is consistently sharing with his youth.
“We’re just kind of challenging them and saying, ‘This is the new normal. What are we going to do with it?’” he said. “I tell them I don’t know why this happened, but God can cause something good to come from it.”
Giving Tuesday is today! There are many worthwhile ministries to consider. We invite you to consider giving to the Alabama-West Florida Conference for the Hurricane Michael relief efforts. This money continues to be distributed to churches, pastors and communities who need it most. Click here to donate.
Several jobs related to the relief efforts have been posted. Please help us share these available positions. The deadline to apply is December 10, 2018. Questions related to these postings should be directed to Rev. Ashley Davis. Click here for more information.
We continue to encourage all volunteers to register through the portal to ensure our volunteer coordinators appropriately match the skill level with the need.
Thank you for the many ways you continue to minister to those in the Port St. Joe, Marianna and Panama City areas.
We invite you to watch and share a video message from Bishop David Graves and Rev. Ashley Davis related to our Hurricane Michael recovery efforts. Click here to view. Click here to read the transcript. Closed captioning is now available for this video and can be accessed by clicking "CC" to the right of the volume icon on Vimeo.
You may also listen to this message as an audio-only podcast by clicking here, by searching for "AWFUMC Podcasts" on iTunes or in your preferred podcast player. We invite you to subscribe to these podcasts.
As we continue to assess the needs in the Marianna, Port St. Joe, Panama City and surrounding areas, we will need as many ERT teams as possible. Badged out-of-conference teams are invited to the panhandle area. All teams must plan to be self-contained (bring your own food, water, gasoline* and either have your own housing/lodging or enter and leave the same day). *Depending on your service area, gasoline and groceries may be available. We are asking that all volunteer teams register through this portal so that your skills may be matched with the appropriate need.
Woodlawn UMC has faithfully served as our disaster response command center. Katie Winton has been instrumental in the response and produced this brief video. You might consider showing this in your next worship service. Click here for video.
There are several training opportunities available in the coming weeks. Click here for details.
Upcoming Disaster Early Response Team Training sessions
more training sessions are being scheduled and will be listed soon.
November 14, 2018 - Montgomery FUMC - RE-CERTIFICATION
November 17, 2018 - Cokesbury UMC
November 17, 2018 - Prattville FUMC
November 18, 2018 - Auburn UMC - RE-CERTIFICATION
December 1, 2018 - Greystone UMC
Additional Training Sessions - 200-level courses
"Mucking Out" Training - November 17, 2018 - Spanish Fort UMC
Chainsaw and Safety Use Training
November 17, 2018 - Auburn, AL
Please continue to pray with us that God will lead our efforts to glorify Him.
Thank you for your continued generosity and desire to help those in the panhandle of Florida. The response from the Alabama-West Florida Conference will be a long-term effort.
It is extremely important to remind local churches and any volunteer teams to please register through this portal. Your skill level will be matched with the appropriate needs. Even if you have a desire to work with a specific church, we ask that you register your team so that we do not have too many volunteers in one area that could potentially overwhelm a church or area in need.
As time progresses, it is natural to see a decrease of volunteers. We need many more teams in the coming weeks and months. The conference is asking that each local church identify members who could attend training to then serve. Click here for upcoming trainings.
There is a crucial need for trained assessors (UMCOR trained and qualified ERT persons) to come into the Port St. Joe community as soon as possible. After surveying the damage to homes, the majority of them have not been inspected. Housing has been arranged for up to 24 people. Volunteers would be responsible for their own breakfast and some restaurants are open in the community. Please register through the portal.
The conference has established a formal partnership with 28 churches that received damage from the hurricane and their pastors. These pastors have been given a prayer partner who can not only care for spiritual needs but can help communicate back to the conference any specific needs from the church or community. If your church has a desire to partner with a specific church, please let Rev. Ashley Davis know of your plans so that we do not duplicate efforts.
We continue to ask for monetary donations through the conference. This money is already being distributed to support staff salaries at churches that currently are not operational on a day-to-day basis. Our connection is at work thanks to your generosity.
We will continue to send updates as needed and greatly appreciate the many ways you have shown your expressions of love and care.