Monday, April 25, 2011

Reaching Out to Vulnerable Communities after the Storm

Stony Brook Mobile Home Park was one of the places hardest hit by April 16 tornadoes in North Carolina. Photo: Barbara Tripp/UMCOR

Driving around the town I have lived in all my life, I realize how very much things have changed. Hundreds of thousands more people live in Raleigh, North Carolina, than did when I was small. The city has spread its boundaries way into the former countryside. But no amount of year-in, year-out change compares to the sudden changes a tornado—like the one that blew through here on April 16—can make!

Take my favorite seafood shop for example: the roof now resides in a neighbor’s yard. The historical African-American University closed up before the end of the semester, the windows blown out of all the dorm rooms. And homes, thousands of homes, damaged or destroyed in a jagged line that cuts across the heart of Wake County.

Where does one begin? We begin with prayer and then with hard work — work that will continue for a long time for many people all across North Carolina.

But there is much hope and help available. One of the extremely hard-hit areas in Raleigh was the Stony Brook Mobile Home Park. Rev. Heather Rodrigues is an associate pastor at Millbrook United Methodist Church, one of those churches originally established in the country, but now located deep within the city limits. Heather’s church works with a local nonprofit ministry, Centro Internacional Raleigh (CIR), which helps the local Latino immigrant population.

“John Fasion of CIR and I met a month ago,” she says. “He walked me into the woods across the street from our church to meet the homeless people living there. Many of them are Latinos, and John works with them out of his home church and CIR. That first meeting, to me, was a ‘God-Thing,’ providential,” Heather says, “as now, after the tornadoes, we have been able to connect concerning support for Stony Brook,” where many Spanish-speaking, Latino immigrants also live.

“Our church has the added bonus of having a Latino Outreach pastor on our staff,” she continues. “Rev. Leo Reich is heavily involved in the effort to assist people at the Stony Brook Mobile Home Park, and his Spanish-speaking gift is coming in handy.

“And yet our non-Spanish-speaking members are also out there doing good work” Heather says. “This morning one of them told me, ‘I don't speak Spanish, but that's OK—the people understand the words God, food, drink, and they understand my hugs and my tears.’ What a testimony to the Spirit's ability to overcome language barriers!” Heather remarked.

We, as United Methodists are connected not only to our own multitude of churches, but also to the communities in which we serve. This is one of the blessings of our church and of our training to respond to emergency situations, which encourage and guide us to reach out.

By Barbara Tripp, UMCOR disaster response consultant, and a native of Raleigh, North Carolina

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