A Deacon’s Role in OPC Disasters Far Away

by David Nakhla, OPC Disaster Response Coordinator
 
Just a few years ago, the only official disaster response entity in the OPC was at the denominational level.  One of my roles is to serve the denomination as the Disaster Response Coordinator.  In God’s providence, just prior to the 2017 “triple-whammy”—three hurricanes impacting three presbyteries within three weeks—the Committee on Diaconal Ministries had begun to encourage presbytery diaconal committees to take more leadership in the realm of disaster response. After all, aren’t disasters inherently a local or regional event? The move in this direction proved invaluable in enabling these three disaster response efforts to occur simultaneously: Harvey (Houston), Irma (Florida), and Maria (Puerto Rico).
     As the OPC’s Disaster Response Coordinator, I have been, more recently, interested in seeing our church take this even one step further. I have been desiring to see local deacons take an active role in owning disaster response, not just those that impact your church locally (which should go without saying), but also those that impact the OPC outside the bounds of your local church. And, you know what? I am so encouraged to see many of you brothers begin to do just that!
     As of the writing of this article, we are now a little past the middle of hurricane season (June 1 to November 30). Hurricane Sally is currently threatening the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Laura roared on shore just a little over two weeks ago, deluging the coast and impacting at least one OP congregation from downed trees and power lines. Tropical Storm Isaias was only a few weeks before that, flooding the home of one OP family in Maryland. Beyond hurricanes, wildfires have been raging on the West coast for weeks now and last week consumed the homes of two OPC families in Oregon. The crazy “Derecho” winds stirred up the Midwest recently. Disasters seem to be around us on every side.
     It is likely that none of these disasters mentioned has directly affected you. But, for the few affected, the impact is immense. And this is precisely the importance and value of a connected church being organized to minister to one another, such that when one part of the Body suffers the impact of a disaster, the whole Body suffers with it (I Corinthians 12).
     Brother deacons, I need each one of you. First, I need the prayers you offer on our behalf. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished outside the prayers of God’s people. Second, I need the offerings you take up for the benefit of others. Assisting someone rebuild their home without FEMA dollars or insurance payouts requires money, and usually a lot of it. Those dollars mostly come through the generous gifts of God’s people. And third, I need the volunteers you send. The need for volunteers seems to be the most difficult piece of the puzzle. Lives are full. Time is short. The need seems so far away. So, would you be willing to take more of an active role in recruiting and sending (yes, sending…pay for their travel) those who could serve disaster response well? I can almost guarantee that they will thank you for the opportunity to participate in the relief of the saints! We welcome volunteers who are both skilled and unskilled, those who can serve long-term and short-term, and those who live close by and come from far away. Please send them!
     It is my dream to see more and more deacons actively owning the disaster response efforts of the OPC. The victims of disasters, those who are blessed by the influx of support and gifts, will and do testify to the refreshment of this care and compassion showered upon them. But this is only possible through the generous giving of time, talents, and treasures toward this ministry of mercy.
     On August 18, I was concerned because we had been receiving gifts for the Midland Flood Response effort for almost three months and yet had only received $40,000 of the $100,000 we estimated that we would need. In sharing this with you brothers on the OPC Deacons Facebook page, I was so encouraged to see you respond. I believe that this may have been my first direct appeal specifically to deacons to share in a disaster response effort in this way. Brothers, I am happy to report that, now less than one month later, 50% more funding came in, mainly through generous gifts from local diaconates. That fund is now over $61,000! You responded. Thank you! Don’t stop supporting these efforts!

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A Mission of Mercy: Disaster Advanced Response Team

 

by Mike Cloy
Elder, Reformation OPC,
Gastonia, NC
In 2017, the Presbytery of the Southeast (PSE) Diaconal Committee committed itself to develop a way in which to respond to disasters so that churches could resume worshipping together after the impact of natural disasters. Providentially, the Lord provided proof of principle for a coordinated and trained disaster response team through Hurricane Florence.
     Six Dorr brothers contacted David Nakhla, OPC Disaster Response Coordinator, who referred them to me. They were able to assist the Presbytery of the Southeast during Hurricane Florence and provide mercy ministry to the OP churches in New Bern and Wilmington, NC. 
     This experience enabled the PSE to select qualified men from within the PSE to serve on their organic D.A.R.T. (Disaster Advanced Response Team), to train them, and to purchase the necessary equipment and tools to perform their duties.
    Teams are equipped with a skid steer (Bobcat), fuel transport tanks, chainsaws (extra bars, chains, and service tools), protective gear, many other tools needed for immediate response aid, food and water for the number of days they intend to be deployed, as well as the ability to sleep in the trailer if needed. 
     There are currently 13 certified members of the DART. Members of the DART are required to attend a FEMA CERT class within their local county Emergency Management Services system. This gives them some credentials to be allowed into disaster areas sooner than a regular volunteer, although they are not attached to FEMA in any way. They are currently working on getting a forestry certificate for storm-damaged tree removal to further their credentials in disaster zones.
     Unlike regular disaster response efforts, where the Committee on Disaster Response asks for volunteers, the DART does not receive volunteers. It is an organization of its own with 13 men on the list of approved and vetted volunteers. A minimum of four and a maximum of six men are required to drive the two trucks that pull the two trailers. As little as a twelve-hour notice is given to deploy each group on call. We try to schedule at least three times as many as needed in order to ensure 4-6 team members are available. These men must be members in good standing of a local church.
     When a disaster strikes one of the churches within the presbytery footprint, I (as the PSE DR Coordinator) make contact with the impacted church’s leadership to make them aware of the DART’s capabilities, as well as to obtain an initial assessment of the damage and research lodging accommodations.
     The deployment comes after the DART leader alerts the team with an imminent notice of deployment. The impacted church will then provide a more detailed assessment to determine the extent of damages to the property of the church, the property of church members, their extended families, and also their neighbors. The church will send proof of the damage in the form of pictures and a priority of work. The men on the DART receive the church assessment with these pictures in order to refine the equipment they might need to perform their mission of tree removal, tarping roofs, and water removal from flooded areas. Once the DART arrives at the impacted church, the church will assume the lead for directing the DART in service to the church. 
     The DART records all of its actions and creates daily reports. Updates are sent to David Nakhla, so he can begin to shape follow-up support for the long-term mission of helping the church minister mercy through a site and volunteer coordinator. 
     Since Hurricane Laura, the PSE is seeking to come alongside the Presbytery of the South (PSO) and assist them with DART capabilities. When the DART deployed to Pineville, LA, they were able to help seven families avoid the cost of tree removal in a total amount of $40,000.In the wake of Hurricane Laura, which hit the gulf coast of Louisiana and Texas just a couple of weeks ago, the DART was deployed to help churches and families affected by the storm. 

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Refugee Relief

by Pastor Chris Cashen
This article first appeared in the September 2020 edition of The Mercy Minute, the Committee on Diaconal Ministries’ quarterly e-newsletter.
 
What comes to mind when you hear of “refugee ministry”? Possibly ministry that requires travel to a particular place, hours or days of training, the acquisition of difficult language skills, and certainly sensitivity to cultural differences. Read more…

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