Day one in Jersey and off to the races! We got to Greentree Church at 6am and settled in for a few hours of sleep. Breakfast at 9:30 and church at 10:30. What a beautiful service and dynamic worship. The members here are so warm hearted and gracious to us. We feel overwhelmed and humbled at their kindness and love. After a wonderful lunch provided by a church family we loaded the bus and headed out to canvas the area looking for anyone that needed help. Linda Long who graciously greeted us as we arrived and got all of us settled in, also came out with us for the day to find those in need. We always pray and ask the Lord to send us where He wants us to go. After a couple hours we were able to find many in need. One just led to another. As we drove through neighborhoods it was a common site to see heaps of household belongings thrown to the curb. It only takes moments to see the heartache in their eyes. Several of the residents that we spoke with have returned to their homes. With little space heaters, bare studs, and trash all over they are attempting to live in their homes once again. Several began to cry as we offered our help. One young man just couldn’t stop crying as we offered to strip the sheetrock and pull up his wood floor. One woman in particular asked over and over, “Why are you doing this? What is your motive? What do you get back?” We reiterate to her and many like her. We believe that the Lord calls us to help one another when we’re hurting.
The tears began to flow down the faces of our team members today as we walked into the homes of the precious people in this city. One thing I love about these trips is that we come to serve and give our lives away. However it seems that we run into the heart of God as we get dirty, work hard and gut houses. We take our simple little lives, do a small random act of kindness and God somehow invades our hearts.
Our team members are as follows: Ron Haas, Dave Root, Joe Kraus, Al Griepentrog, Kevin Mitchell, Jason Jasurda, Keith Miller, John Specht, Doug Zarnke, Lukas Long, Elisa Jackson, Julie Micheal, Beth Zarnke, Kim Corigall, Tonya Brown, Tom Shilts and Cathie Shilts. We really are having so much fun with one another.
After a full afternoon we returned to the church for a delicious turkey dinner with the fixings including pumpkin pie. Chris is our hostess in the kitchen. She made sure our meal was served on glass plates with real utensils! I feel like this church has rolled out the red carpet for us and it causes tears to well up in my eyes. They’re hurting and suffering and yet they serve us in this capacity. It’s overwhelming to all of us.
Linda and her husband, Doug opened up their home to us to watch the Packer game tonight. Really? There are 17 of us! What hearts! We have made a heart connection with so many already and have only been here 13 hours. It’s a beautiful thing to see hearts united with people that you’ve never met before.
As the evening draws to an early close several from our team are watching The Pack, others going for an early bed time to try and catch up on some overdue z’s! God is good all the time!
Monday, Nov 26
Day two and we hit the ground running! 6:30 breakfast and off we go. Our team was divided into 4 work sites. Fred and Doris, a retired couple from Greentree Church have joined our team for the day. We’re so thankful to serve alongside them.
Several of the team went to Crissy’s house, a single Mom. The order of the day was pulling hundreds of nails out of the floor and spraying fungicide on the floor joists in the crawl space. Tom, my amazing husband, suited up and belly crawled to do the spraying. Crissy says she was walking in circles and feeling overwhelmed not knowing what to do next. She was crying out to the Lord for help and then our team showed up. Striping out was completed in half a day.
Our second team served a family by the name of Jim, Kathy and their teenage son Jason. They had been doing some of the gutting out themselves. We were able to assist them in pulling up the flooring. They have chosen to stay in their home through it all. One small kerosene heater so their only source of heat, burr!
Next door, our third team had the privilege of helping Mirza, Sabina and their two children Aqib-11 years old and Aniqu-8years old. On Sunday as we were canvassing the streets. Mirza asked if we could just help him carry the furniture and some bags of plaster to the curve. Through our conversations we were able to convince him that we wanted to help him. So today our team proceeded to tear out sheetrock, wood flooring and pound in several hundreds of nails into the floors. Mid day Mirza bought food for our team: coffee, donuts, and roasted chickens. As several of our team members expressed, it is very difficult to receive food from those we are serving. Everything in us says, “we are good. Please keep your money so you can rebuild your home.” However we have learned that we honor them when we accept their gifts.
Today we saw hope restored in Mirza’s eyes. It seemed as though someone had lifted a thousand pounds off of his back. His smile was full of joy and peace in the middle of chaos. God is at work in the middle of the storm AND we have the honor of seeing Him at work. It’s a beautiful thing to behold!
Our fourth team worked at the house of Jerry and Diane. They are members at Greentree Church. It was difficult for them to ask for our help, but a friend convinced them to do so. As we listened to Jerry give us instructions on what has to be torn out tears welled up in his eyes. He said, “I’m just hoping for some sense of normalcy for Christmas. Jerry’s wife Diane had the outside of their house decorated for Christmas. She told us that she needed to do it so things could feel normal for her. As is our custom we offered to pray for Jerry and Diane. Once again Jerry’s eyes overflowed with tears. The trauma of the storm, their life in chaos and help arriving, all culminates for them. As our team members say, “and this is why we give up our vacation time and work tirelessly. It’s just to show one person that the Lord loves them and hasn’t forgotten them.”
Since Crissy’s team finished their project by 2pm we shifted them over to Donna’s house. She needed her garage emptied. Donna is a single Mom and is caring for her elderly parents, Gene and Delores. The water was 3-4 feet high in their garage. Donna and her parents were using the garage for storage space. They had many pictures, memorabilia, keepsakes, baby pictures, etc in boxes and bins about 8 feet high throughout the garage. It’s all of those items that you treasure and never hope to have destroyed. Imagine if you will, one month old, contaminated water sitting in bins and saturating boxes. Our amazing team began the task at hand. The smell was almost more than you could stand. It burned your nostrils. Donna told us that her mother was having sleepless nights worrying about everything in the garage and getting it cleaned out. Just as we were finishing up, Gene and Delores happened to stop by. You could hear the trembling in Delores’s voice as she walked by all of her keepsakes heaped on the curb. Once again they were so grateful for as they called it, “angels” showing up.
Chatting with another neighbor we learned that they have stayed in their home since the storm hit as well. Their basement is full of sewer water. They have one space heater for a two story home. They said that this morning when they woke up it was 38 degrees in their house. The news reporters are gone, but only one short month after the storm we are still finding family after family still living in mold filled, water damaged homes.
On another note we had a tailgate party for lunch on the back of our pickup truck. I drove to three different sites, set up our delicious hot beef sandwiches donated by Arby’s, Marshfield. Thank you so much Rhoda! What a treat.
As we wrapped up our day after dark and headed back “home (Greentree Church),” I couldn’t stop the tears from pouring down my face as I drove. I thought of our amazing team and how they shoveled and carried contaminated, water filled bins to the curb without one complaint. I could see the look in their eyes of, “wow this smells really, really bad,” but not one negative word. I thought about how much it pleases the heart of God when we get in the trenches with those in need and get dirty to serve them. I thought of the 75 year old gentleman with us, down on his knees pulling out nails. I thought of the smiles on the faces of those we helped today. I thought of the hope that was restored to a traumatized life today. I thought about God’s love and how he passionately loves us every day, all the time, no matter who we are or what we’ve done.
After dinner tonight our team was able to share their stories from the day and how after only one short day, their lives have been deeply impacted by serving. Kim described it as better than any vacation she’s ever been on.
Chris and her discipleship group prepared an amazing beef stroganoff dish, lettuce salad and heavenly dessert. They are an amazing blessing!
Chatting in the hallway at the end of the day, Linda, one of our hostesses invited us all to come to her house to relax and/or watch TV. “Oh and by the way,” she said, “I won’t be there, it’s unlocked, but make yourself comfortable.” Once again we’re humbled by the love of God flowing out of everyone around us.
Tuesday, Nov 27
Our days start early with a 6:30 breakfast and on our way.
We continued to pull up flooring, and pull down sheetrock and plaster at Mirza and Sabina’s house.
Our team got the go ahead to tear down at Nancy’s house on Genoa St. Plaster and lath board piece by piece, trim, and wood flooring all were demolished. I don’t think any of us can comprehend strangers coming into our home with hammers and flat bars and start ripping things apart. It can be overwhelming to many homeowners. Things they have worked for all their lives are reduced to rubbish on the curbside looking like everyone else’s rubbish. By the end of the day Nancy’s house was so close to done we could taste it. We actually had to shut the generator off so everyone would quit. At one point there were 11 of us in a small bedroom probably 10×10. We tore up the hard wood floor in about 15 minutes. It was a sight to behold.
It’s raining today and very chilly so that has brought an interesting dimension into our projects.
As we visited potential neighbors in need we came across a lady by the name of Michelle. She is a retired English teacher and she cares for her children and great grandchildren. As we visit with Michelle we learn that her husband passed away when he was 37 years old. During the course of the storm she lost decades of pictures and now has only 3 pictures left of her husband. It was in those moments of realizing that her pictures were gone that she broke down. Currently she lives in a larger two story home. They are keeping the house warm with the oven on and 3 space heaters. They can’t have the space heaters on at the same time because it will blow a fuse. Michelle runs the space heater in her bedroom while her two teenage grandsons are at school. Then when they come home she turns on the heaters in their bedroom so they can be warm. They are all taking cold showers because their hot water heater was damaged in the storm and no longer works. Michelle reports that this situation is not comfortable, but it’s not impossible. She continually states that she is so blessed because it could have been so much worse. Her glass is half full for sure, not half empty.
Our day ended talking with a neighbor. He tells us his story of asking Jesus to come into his heart when he was 17 years old. His life has been very difficult and has caused him to question many things about God. Nine years ago his son died of a heroin overdose. He questions where God was. These are some hard questions, but a few of our team members had the opportunity to affirm how much God loved him and we prayed with him. A grown man loving Jesus, slammed around by life, and suffering deeply from the loss of his son. To end our day we could offer listening ears, an understanding heart, and point Him to the One who loves him deeply.
Dinner was served by several beautiful people from Greentree again. We had stew, chicken nuggets, breads, salad and desserts. I think we’re going to roll home!
After dinner we shared our stories from the day. The Lord is moving in the hearts of our team. We’re being undone as we watch the hand of God moving in our midst.
Wednesday, Nov 28
With aching bodies, sore muscles and a bit of exhaustion setting in we head for the trenches. It’s in those trenches of life that God calls us to exercise our compassion and become the hands and feet of Jesus.
At the top of the list was returning to Genoa St where we completed the gutting process of Nancy’s house. She has become very dear to us in these short few days. Each day while we worked on her house she brought us Dunkin Doughnuts and coffee. Today we did more sheetrock teardown, pulling nails and cleaning up debris. Tom, Kevin, and the famous Tonya Brown suited up in hazmat suits to go into Nancy’s crawl space and pull down the plastic mesh that was stapled between all of the floor joists. As they pulled it down salt water poured out of the plastic onto their faces and bodies. Completing the job lifted a heavy burden from Nancy’s heart. Now she begin the building process.
Our second job site was for Michelle, a retired schoolteacher. Her back porch needed to be completely gutted with beautiful, huge storage cabinets demolished and thrown to the curb. Her positive attitude through it all was so uplifting. She continually thanks the Lord for her blessings and that it could have been so much worse.
Atlantic City was our next destination to gut a bathroom for Elaine. A follow up phone call expressed her deep gratitude for our help.
Pastor Days from Second Baptist Church in Atlantic City was referred to us. He said 7000 homes were destroyed in Atlantic City and they had a waiting list of people that needed help. The first family we were directed to was Brenda on Wabash Ave. It was one of the worst smelling jobs of the week. Imagine if you will, 17 people rolling on the ground covered in dog doo doo! That’s how we all smelled when we left. Our nostrils are still burning as I write. AND yet, not one complaint from our team members! It’s astounding!