By John M. Kraps
My wife and co-pastor, Rev. Rachel Berry, and I are retired pastors from the Cal-Nevada Conference, who live in Champaign, Illinois now, and winter in Venice, Florida. Over the years Rachel kept hoping that one of our children would want to take their children camping, just as we did over the years: visiting Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Yellowstone, etc., in our beloved Coleman pop-up trailer. But our youngest only recently became engaged and our two older, married children seem to be a number of years from producing grandchildren. Meanwhile the pop-up, with so many fond memories attached, sat unused in our back yard in Venice.
As Rachel read the stories of homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Mexico Beach, and elsewhere, God whispered in her ear: Why not spruce up the trailer and give it to the relief effort to provide housing off the sand and away from the creepy-crawlies? Rachel decided to call the Florida Conference and was referred to Laura Ice, Recovery Coordinator. Laura checked with some pastors in the Panhandle and received a very positive response from the Rev. Dr. Themosticles “Themo” Patriotis of First United Methodist Church, Apalachicola. On very short notice, we contacted our mobile RV service tech who agreed to – free of charge – help us renovate the pop-up for the eight-hour drive. Rachel lovingly cleaned the trailer to “Operating Room standards.”
Rev. Themo was delighted to see us pull in, late the following Saturday night. He was on hold with an intake call trainer, arranging for folks in his congregation to be trained to respond to calls from people in the storm zone. He welcomed us warmly, saying, “We don’t call you ‘snowbirds’: You are our ‘winter church family!’” When I asked Rev. Themo how he planned to use our trailer, he replied that there are still thousands of people living in tents on the beach. The trailer would be used to give families safe and more comfortable transition housing.
The next day, First UMC’s Children’s and Outreach pastor, Seven Grogan, and his kids helped us set up the trailer for viewing by the congregation as they arrived for worship. Rachel and I joined the worship service on a very full Sunday in which, for the first time since before Michael hit, the church was not in disaster recovery mode. No supplies to distribute. No volunteers to feed and house.
Even so, a very full service honored vets and said goodbye to Micah Patriotis, Rev. Themo’s and Amy’s son, who left that afternoon for basic training in the Coast Guard.
Patriotis told his congregation that the first stage of recovery – clearing downed trees, stringing electrical lines, repairing roofs – was winding down. The church and surrounding recovery organizations have begun planning Phase Two. Citing the selection of deacons in Acts 6, he asked for volunteers to serve as intake and follow-up callers. “If you have a phone and a computer, you can do intake calls,” he explained. (To learn about ways you can help the recovery effort, call him at 850-643-9530.)
While we left our dear tent trailer with Rev. Themo and his congregation, we took our camping memories – and our new church family friendships – with us.
1. Coleman Pioneer Chesapeake POP-Up tent trailer.
2. L-R, John Kraps; Rachel Berry; Seven and Fenix Grogan; Amy and Rev. Patriotis and daughter Sheera; young people returned to 1st UMC, to send Micah Patriotis, 4th from right, to Basic Training in the Coast Guard.
3. L-R, John Kraps coaches Corban, Seven, and Gunner Grogan in setting up the trailer.
4. Interior of Coleman pop-up, cleaned to OR standards by retired Rev. Rachel Berry.
5. L-R, Sheera Patriotis; Fenix Grogan.
6. L-R, Corban Grogan, Gunner Grogan, John Kraps, and Children’s and Outreach pastor Seven Grogan.
7. Praying for the recovery effort and God’s hand on Micah Patriotis.