A few weeks ago, a group of six individuals from Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) flew to Houston, Texas, to help with the relief efforts there. Hurricane Harvey uprooted thousands of families, destroying homes and businesses of all in its path.
Patty Marsh, Upper Columbia Conference Adventist Community Services coordinator, invited individuals to assist in any way they could.
“I felt a calling to help,” says Andy Wolfe. “I saw the need on Patty’s Facebook page and told Ted Berciu. We decided, hey, let’s do this.”
The UCC volunteers arrived in Houston late on Sept. 19, 2017. They were housed at the Berean Church and worked during the day at the World Harvest Outreach Adventist Church — turned into a warehouse — in Houston.
The six include Andy Wolfe and Ted Berciu, who were affectionately called “the boys” by Helen Gibson, Areleen Stevenson, Doug Venn and Don Eckenoth, pastor — the older four — were dubbed the “young people” by Wolfe and Berciu.
They hit the ground running and were busy helping the more than 500 people a day who came through the warehouse. "What size diapers do you need? Oh, do you need baby wipes too? Can you use some cleaning supplies, bleach, vinegar, Pine-Sol, brooms, mops? Can I help you with a case of bottled water?” These were some of the phrases the group said or heard over and over through each day. They also unloaded trucks and worked in the warehouse. They worked closely with Willy and Linda Walker, who are part of the Southwest Regional Conference.
“It was a privilege to work with the volunteers on our team,” says Eckenroth. “The hosts at the Berean Church were gracious and hospitable."
“I will always cherish those two weeks as we were God’s hands and feet," says Gibson, who was delighted to be chosen to go. She recounts stories she heard: of people who would not receive help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and of a gentleman who looked depressed.
Gibson asked, “How are you doing?”
He replied, “Not good. We lost everything ... so difficult to start again. We received word that FEMA will help us. We are thankful.”
Multiply these encounters by 500 a day, and you can feel the ethos of this team. ”We were helping out our brothers and sisters,” says Wolfe. “I was surprised that I had this sense of family. The sense of togetherness was pretty powerful."
“One of my favorite experiences was having the people of Houston accept us as part of their community,” reports Stevenson. “The survivors were thanking us for coming to help them.” But she says it was a privilege to help them. Her prayer was to “be willing to be willing.” She is humbled that she could help.
On the last day the team was there, they took a drive through Houston. “It was a real eye-opener,” says Wolfe. “There was flood debris along the streets and medians. The smell was bad from rotting items and mold.”
Stevenson elaborates, “It was depressing to see street after street of household items out on the sidewalks.”
As the first group of six arrived home, another group from Upper Columbia was already on the ground in Houston ready to continue the work.
“Thank you for stopping your routine and responding,” Marsh said to the first team. “I believe it was a God appointment. In eternity we will learn the rest of the story of how your sacrifice and love made a difference, greater than you were able to see.”