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United Methodist church, interfaith team respond to hurricane survivors in Clewiston

United Methodist church, interfaith team respond to hurricane survivors in Clewiston

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

United Methodist church, interfaith team respond to hurricane survivors in Clewiston

May 12, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0485}

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

As Florida braces for the next round of hurricanes, many of last year’s victims are still suffering. When an interfaith work team did a door-to-door assessment of damages in Clewiston, they found Maria. 

CLEWISTON —  " ... you would think we had given her the world," said the Rev. John Hicks of Maria, whose home got some much-needed repairs from Hicks and a community interfaith work team. "The team shared they felt more blessed than Maria." Hicks, who is pastor of First United Methodist Church of Clewiston, said there's still more to do for Maria and many other residents. Photo courtesy of the Rev. John Hicks, Photo #06-347. Web photo only.

Hurricane Wilma left Maria and her son in a desperate situation, but the Rev. John Hicks, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Clewiston, recognized her needs immediately. 

“Her son was in a wheelchair. Looking at the six-inch drop from the door and the foot-high steps, I asked if she was able to get Jose´ out of the house to go to the doctor,” Hicks said.  “She said they often dropped him when they had to leave.”

What Maria wanted most from her visitors was their prayers for Jose´, who recently had a tumor removed from his back. Communication was difficult because Maria speaks only Spanish and can’t read or write. When helping her pull a permit for repairs to her house, Hicks also discovered she could not sign her married name.

But Hicks and the team prayed with her. “No matter. We communicated with a deeper language level that involved care and prayer,” he said. “We all knew what ‘Amen’ was. We had translators there. It was communication through the spirit.”

The work team’s generosity didn’t end there. They knew they had to help this family that had become prisoners in their own home.

“The hurricane had blown away the covering on the porch, so I asked if we might build a wheelchair ramp so Jose´ could get in and out of the house if he wanted to,” Hicks said. “Maria was thrilled.”

Members of Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) worked with Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce (CREW) in March to assess the hurricane damage. Hicks is a member of CREW, a community group of civic, social, service and faith-based agencies and organizations, as well as concerned individuals and businesses, who are working to address the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the community in the restoration and rebuilding of people’s homes. CRWRC’s headquarters are located at the Clewiston church, and the group has an office at First United Methodist Church of Moore Haven.

The assessment found 585 homes in the Clewiston and Moore Haven areas that need repairs from damage caused by Hurricane Wilma. Many of those suffering are elderly, migrant workers and low-income families, and the needs include everything from minor work to major repairs. 

“They have given us a more complete picture of the unmet and future needs of those in our community … We are now in the process of taking actions to help these people help themselves get resituated and re-established,” Hicks said.

“One meal at a time, one house at a time,” he added.  “We’ve been doing tarping until roofers can come. Many are still on waiting lists for roofers.”

As the team surveyed communities, Hicks said they found destruction and despair everywhere. They discovered a man living in a tent behind his flattened home. Seventy-eight-year-old Marta Fernandez crawled under her trailer to reconnect the plumbing in her home. Hicks’ team put the trailer back on its pad, repaired the holes in the sides and floor, rebuilt the front and back steps, and built a shed to cover her washer and dryer.

Verdell McKenzie will never forget the day Hurricane Wilma roared through her community. “I could hear the wind lifting my roof. It was a hard flop, flop sound,” she said. 

Wilma left more damage than the 71-year-old grandmother could handle on her own. “It was raining through my light fixtures. Water came in on the carpet. I got structural damage on the porch.”

The work team made repairs and helped with her wiring. McKenzie repaid them with a home-cooked meal of chicken and rice. “I did feed them,” she said. “I’ll be forever grateful. That’s something you can’t forget. It comes from the heart, and I wanted to say thank you.”

CLEWISTON — Using help from an organization called Operation Blessing the Rev. John Hicks and volunteers from the community and Virginia were able to purchase materials for and build a wheelchair ramp for Maria's son. Photo courtesy of the Rev. John Hicks, Photo #06-348. Web photo only.

As Florida prepares for another active hurricane season, McKenzie hopes her home will survive another round. “I think it can stand; at least I hope and pray it does,” she said.

“People are panicking,” Hicks said. “Hurricane season is starting, and they still have needs. That’s weighing heavily upon them.”

When Hicks and his team made a follow-up visit to Maria earlier this month, she expressed her gratitude for the wheelchair ramp. “I didn’t understand everything she said, but I did catch ‘gracias a Dios,’ thanking God for her many blessings.”

Maria hesitated to ask them for anything more, but they found the storm had left her with a door and window that still needed repairs. 

“We left her after prayers and hugs — and a promise that we would look for a new door and window for her,” Hicks said,


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.