Bishop Shamana Commends to Us the Love That Keeps On Giving

February 14, 2008

On this Valentine’s Day I invite you to send some love to Fernley, Nevada, that has recently experienced a devastating flood – leaving many in the town without basic resources.  


As our Conference Disaster Response Team gears up to assist the community of Fernley, I am reminded of the damage to my home during the Southern California Northridge earthquake. The memory is still fresh as I recall how UMCOR helped the Conference do casework in churches and communities, coordinate with community agencies, and prepare for long term recovery. I was grateful to be a part of that effort as a Conference staff team member.


FEMA described their experience with our recovery efforts this way: “When everybody else goes home, the M ‘n’ M’s are still here…. the Methodists and the Mennonites are here for the long haul.” That’s a reputation we want to keep. It’s been true in floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes, here and around the world.


We do not have a United Methodist Church in Fernley, but that doesn’t stop us. The closest church, Fallon UMC, has been designated as a recovery center. Already churches in the surrounding areas have joined the recovery efforts. Susan Berges, pastor of Ely UMC, drove six hours with church and community members to help the people of Fernley. Other area churches have provided volunteers to help with clean-up in the days immediately following the flood.


I spoke with Sue King, our Conference staff person for Disaster Response and Volunteers in Mission ministries about the efforts. This is her description of the situation.


In disaster training we talk about the three R’s of Disaster Response – Rescue, Relief, and Recovery. The Rescue and Relief phases are finished in Fernley – the helicopter lifts of people, mass feeding and sheltering, clothing distributions and mud removal that get a lot of media coverage. But Recovery is just beginning, where churches and community groups quietly roll up their sleeves and begin the hard work of helping people recover from often traumatic losses. 


United Methodists help in two major ways in disaster – supporting case management with funds and volunteers and by sending rebuilding teams. The California-Nevada Conference of the United Methodist Church is sponsoring case management as part of the Fernley Flood Recovery Team. On February 16 case workers trained by UMCOR the week before will help families develop their recovery plan by connecting them with available resources for material and emotional needs. 


In Fernley, a desert town where no one anticipated the need for flood insurance, 515 homeowners and 130 renters have lost clothing, furniture, appliances and cabinets, with sustained damage to homes, fences and outbuildings. After clearing mud and debris, they will have to remove the water-damaged sheetrock, insulation and flooring. They must have duct work and studs sanitized and dried, and then put the flooring and walls back together again. 


FEMA and state funds are available for many, but only if they apply. Some people are so stunned by the losses of the event. Some think they are ineligible for FEMA or don’t want a low-interest FEMA loan which, in turn, keeps them from applying for the financial grant assistance that is available only through the SBA (Small Business Association) loan application process. Others may not be eligible for FEMA or state disaster funds or may have needs that cannot be assisted by those programs. Case workers keep people from falling through the cracks by assisting them in looking for other resources. It is not enough to say, “Well, federal and state funds are available, so everything will be okay!” 


As a church, we believe that Jesus calls us to “serve the least, the last and the lost.” In times of disaster, we have an opportunity to do that in a very real way. One UMCOR disaster consultant puts it this way, “The United Methodists are here until the end of recovery, when they turn off the lights and put out the cat.”


I know that you want to help in whatever ways you can to get the people of Fernley back on their feet. We are the people of God who have embraced the vision of Passion in Jesus Christ, Compassion for All. I invite you to send your checks to Conference Treasurer, 1276 Halyard Drive, West Sacramento, CA 95691, with a designation to Fernley Disaster Response, Advance Special #865.


Here we are, Lord. Send Us. Use Us. 


Your Sister and Bishop in Christ,


Bishop Beverly J. Shamana