Disaster Recovery team is an answer to prayers

Left to right: Homeowner Keith Winstead; Dale Caswell, Florida construction coordinator and Virginia Tech construction consultant Cory Lutz discuss plans.

Maybell Grant believes in prayer—in praying unceasingly.

“I’ve been praying, praying, praying. I pray all the time,” Grant said.

“Lord, bless my house,” she prays. “In it, on it and around it, God, whatever you do, I’m satisfied.”

Grant, who accepted the Lord in her life in 1975, forsaking alcohol, smoking and swearing, was a member of a traditional church for more than three decades. She’s participated in street ministry and jail ministry and conducted church at home.

Maybell Grant, center, prayed for young people. Here she is with a Disaster Recovery team from Auburn University.

After Hurricane Matthew plowed the east coast of Florida in September 2016, damaging her Putnam County home, Grant prayed for young people. She wasn’t certain who she was praying for, just young people in general.

Later Grant, a resident of Palatka (an inland town of 10,000 people about 60 miles south of Jacksonville), was contacted by the Florida United Methodist Conference. The conference had heard from others about her plight and offered to help repair her storm-damaged home.

Grant’s prayers were answered. The conference agreed to pay for construction material. Labor would be provided…by young people.

When the first campus crew came through from Auburn University, Grant said she went into her bedroom, laid her head on her dresser and cried tears of joy, thankful that help arrived before she or a family member was injured in her living room.

“I just thanked God that nobody had fallen through the floor,” she said. “I’ve got grandkids running around here, and they could have fallen through.”

After these storms ended an 11-year break from hurricanes making landfall in Florida, the need for volunteer labor skyrocketed. Often the participants are retirees from up North. During spring and Christmas breaks when many of their classmates are enjoying recreational activities, young adults from campus ministries and others seeking a nontraditional holiday, come to Florida to do mission work.

The Northeast Florida homes of Grant, Keith Winstead and Sandra Rodrigues were damaged severely by Matthew, the storm of record for disaster recovery projects related to their homes.

All three homeowners also recall Irma with dread. Grant said there’s no car in the street in front of her house today because Irma caused flooding, ruining the engine. Having lived in her Palatka home since 1978, Grant says her neighborhood floods often.

It’s a clear, sunny Tuesday in early March, less than three months before the beginning of the 2018 hurricane season. It appears to be a typical spring day in Palatka. Sitting on her front porch, Grant engages in friendly conversation on a cell phone. Cars drive by and people walk by. Her young grandson is talking to a friend.

Usually, Grant stays indoors, especially when there’s noise outside. But these are not typical times. On this occasion, new friends wearing Virginia Tech and conference attire are marching in and out of her front door, bringing in tools and construction material. Behind her, in a dark bedroom, four Tech students repair a ceiling. It’s daylight, but the room seems dark until a photographer’s flash reveals their work.

Grant says it felt good to have people respond to her need, and young people were a specific answer to her general prayers. She says God also was looking out for her when she decided – unlike prior storms – to ride out Irma in her home, which was reconstructed in 1978.

“I do a lot of praying,” she said, “but this old shack has stood the test.”

Hours before Grant took that call on the front porch, the Tech students gathered in Winstead’s front yard to pray. Then they met in the backyard while plans for the day were finalized.

Many of the Tech students are future engineers. Freshman Leah Glisson says she was welcomed quickly into the Wesley Foundation at Virginia Tech community, which allows her to grow in her faith along with her classmates.

Like Grant, Winstead is thankful for the help of people like Glisson.

St. Johns County residents Sandra Rodrigues and Rodolfo Diaz rode out Matthew in their home.

“You can’t ask for a better set of people to come out,” he said.

Winstead, a construction worker, repaired the roof on the front of his home, and the Virginia Tech team was busy repairing the back side. After rejection by FEMA, Winstead appreciates the Virginia Tech team’s role in the renovation of his home.

“It was just out of the blue to us,” he said. “I can leave and not have to worry about it being done right. They’ve got a good, working crew here, and they are taking care of business the same way I would take care of it.”

Back home after Matthew, the power was out for days and FEMA’s refusal to help left him feeling powerless. “That’s where these people came in,” Winstead said of the Virginia Tech team.

Rodrigues, who is married to artist/teacher Rodolfo Diaz, says both have difficulty getting around, and they were homebound for Matthew because they could not find transportation to a shelter.

A neighbor’s son helped them board windows in the couple’s home of 30 years. The power was out. When darkness befell their community, they lit candles, making sure to protect the tails of their half dozen cats from fire.

“It was like an episode of The Twilight Zone,” Rodrigues said. “You’d hear lots of noises, but you didn’t want to go out there and see what was out there.”

--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.

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Donate here to the Florida Conference Hurricane Irma Fund to help churches and the neighborhoods that surround them. Volunteer to bring yourself or a team to help with the recovery. Together, with God, we are bigger!

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