Who would have thought that after the “once every five hundred years” flood in 2008, the flooding in northeast Iowa would be even worse in some places in 2016? We started at Shell Rock United Methodist Church.
“To God be the Glory” is the mantra of Pastor Dan Fernandez, who is appointed to Shell Rock and Clarksville UMC’s. Dan and his wife Dorothy are originally from the Philippines, where they were accustomed to major typhoons. Up to ten inches of rain fell on the night of September 21. With no place to go, water came up through the floor of the church before the Shell Rock River overflowed its banks just a block away, adding to the damage.
Six feet of water filled the basement, a foot higher than in 2008. The water just about made it to the door of the main floor when it stopped. The congregation chose not to replace partitions in the basement in 2008, but the new furnace, boiler, water heater, breaker box and east side air conditioner were all destroyed again.
“To God be the glory,” Dan proclaims as congregation members share their story. After church members used an industrial pump for two days, volunteers came from all over to shovel out the mud. A friendly insurance adjustor was able to help in 2008, but not this time. Flood insurance was too expensive. Estimates are between $30,000 and $48,000 to restore the basement. Everyone is optimistic, and we pray together for all those affected by the recent flooding, including from Hurricane Matthew.
Pastor Ann Donot of Greene United Methodist Church lost all of the items she had in the parsonage basement but says, “It’s minor. I really didn’t need it anyway.” Greene UMC, which is part of a two-point-charge, consists of both United Methodist and Church of the Brethren parishioners who have chosen to worship and serve together.
This flood wasn’t as bad as 2008, when the water in the church basement reached the top of the stairs. The congregation spent $20,000 to remodel, only to lose everything again except for one set of cupboards.
Greene UMC has an average attendance of twenty people, and most are in their 70’s and 80’s. Flood insurance was too costly for them as well. Everyone worked together to clean up the basement the first day, but on Friday they were too exhausted to continue. Just then Jesus showed up in the form of eight young Mennonite men from Christian Aid Ministries in Berlin, Ohio. They took down the ceiling and cleaned out the entire lower level. A Lutheran group helped as well.
The Clarksville UMC building escaped damage, but its members did not. Leann hands me a handwritten note when we arrive, explaining her situation and asking for prayers as well as hope. The dike intended to protect the area from flooding broke in two places, inundating her home. Leann and her husband lost a car, refrigerator and stove as well as many other possessions. They have no electricity and cook out-of-doors. Leann sleeps outside on the porch. Only the dryer was saved because her husband hauled it onto the bed of their truck before the house flooded. They had ninety loads of wood ready for the winter, but eighty-eight of the loads floated away. The front door won’t shut. Leann is afraid of looters.
Jessie talks about how her parents lost their entire house in 2008 and rebuilt two feet higher. Unfortunately, the water was also higher this time and entered the main level of both her family’s house and her parents’ house.
The Clarks relate how the homes of their children’s families were flooded. Dave Clark has been around Clarksville for a very long time. The town is named for his family.
Kim recalls how eerily silent it was the night of September 21, as their home became completely surrounded by water, including five and a half feet in the basement. Two weeks later, they are still pumping out water, even after forty high school students came over and carried everything out of their basement. In the midst of intense loss, Kim’s husband Ken remains relentlessly positive, saying, “This has been total chaos, but we just had stuff in the basement. The things we lost cannot be replaced by money, but what we can all do is pray for and help each other. And a five-gallon pail of patience would help as well!”
Iowa Annual Conference Disaster Response Coordinator Pastor Catie Newman said that the congregations of Nashua, Clarksville, Shell Rock and Greene have been sent $2000 emergency grant checks to help them with expenses incurred as they and their communities begin the clean-up. She also has five-gallon UMCOR flood buckets in her car. “Everyone in town says that the Methodist flood buckets are far superior to the Red Cross flood buckets!” they exclaim with pride.
“What would make a difference today?” Catie asks the families. As everyone shares their hearts, ideas start to multiply, and they begin to help each other.
- Clean out and dry up. Then accept the help of volunteer work crews to rebuild.
- Since the Governor has declared these counties to be disaster areas, register immediately with the county in order to be eligible for assistance.
- Don’t wait for the parts to come for your broken generator. Use the extra one we have!
- Put a dehumidifier in your basement. Get ahead of the mold.
- The cardinal rule for equipment is: when you need it, use it. When you are done, bring it back.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
- Ken says again, “We need prayer – and a five-gallon pail of patience.”
As we share a prayer circle at the end of our conversation, I discover that Leann is an artist who knits heart-shaped bookmarks for the Bibles at Clarksville. I am given a bookmark, thank Leann and wear it around my neck. Dave says, “I’ve never held the hand of a bishop before.” By the time we are done, I could have used a five-gallon flood bucket for my tears.
The tears have multiplied over the weekend as reports of hundreds of deaths in Haiti come in. Lacking the infrastructure, medical care, clothing, shelter and food and water to respond immediately, the people of Haiti also need our prayers and assistance. Haiti donations may be directed to UMCOR’s international relief fund (Advance #982450) or the U.S. Disaster (Advance #901670). Donations for the Iowa flooding may be made on the Iowa Conference website. (please Indicate Advance #223 in the designation line)
At a prayer service attended by twenty-five clergy from the Northeast District last Thursday, we respond together, “Water can lift a house off its foundation and sweep away memories. Its power can carve a canyon and provide light for a community. Water can destroy life and wash away everything we worked for. Its soothing streams can offer healing and hope to our weary lives. Water is God’s gift to us, and by water we are baptized and welcomed into the family of God.”
May God grant all those who are recovering a five-gallon pail of patience. And for the rest of us, may God give us a five-gallon pail of generosity, prayer and willing hands. To God be the glory!