Louisiana churches join hands, look for blessings

After the deluge come the blessings. And four United Methodist pastors in Lafayette are standing ready to pour those blessings back into their recovering communities.

South Louisiana was hit by 6 trillion gallons of rainwater during Aug. 11-13.

The Rev. Drew Sutton discusses flood relief efforts by The United Methodist Church in Lafayette, La. Sutton is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lafayette. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

The Rev. Drew Sutton discusses flood relief efforts by The United Methodist Church in Lafayette, La. Sutton is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lafayette. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

“Rain started on Thursday evening, and Friday it kept raining, and Saturday it kept raining, and I started to realize we had a big problem,” said the Rev. Drew Sutton, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Lafayette.

“For me, the awareness arose Saturday afternoon when I called a church member whose husband had recently had surgery and I could hear the tears in her voice. She said, ‘Water is in the house and I don’t know what to do.’ I told her I was on my way.”

By the time Sutton was able to get to her neighborhood the roads were impassable. The National Guard bringing in boats saved the couple. From the boat, Sutton said, he and others carried the couple through chest-deep water to get them to a family member’s home.

Pooling resources

A small group of pastors and congregation members gathered at Asbury United Methodist Church on Sunday night, Aug. 14, and started making plans to pool their resources.

“We just decided to be the church and we went out,” said the Rev. Susan Ferguson, associate pastor of Asbury.

United Methodist clergy and disaster response officials discuss church response to historic flooding in southern Louisiana during a meeting at Louisiana Avenue United Methodist Church in Lafayette. From left are: the Revs. Ramonalynn Bethley, Robert Johnson and Susan Ferguson and Scott Sutton, Acadiana District recovery coordinator. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

United Methodist clergy and disaster response officials discuss church response to historic flooding in southern Louisiana during a meeting at Louisiana Avenue United Methodist Church in Lafayette. From left are: the Revs. Ramonalynn Bethley, Robert Johnson and Susan Ferguson and Scott Sutton, Acadiana District recovery coordinator. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

The Rev. Ramonalynn Bethley, pastor of Covenant United Methodist Church, deployed 600 flood buckets and sandwiches. The Rev. Robert Johnson, pastor of Louisiana Avenue United Methodist Church — who had an established ministry with the homeless — was out in the poorest areas of the city looking for people in need. Asbury United Methodist Church set up a disaster relief database.

“By Monday morning we were ready to deploy not just to our church members, but to our community,” Ferguson said.

“We were out there in the community at the hour of their greatest need. Seeing them face to face, hugging them, praying with them. This was all over our community and we could not have done that if we weren’t working together,” Bethley said.

‘Thank heaven for the pastor’

Johnson found a community of low-income people living in a large apartment complex with no food and no help. He forged a friendship with Kevin “Tony” Oliver, the complex’s maintenance man who was the spokesperson for the residents during the crisis. Food tables were set up for the frightened people — many of who are undocumented and afraid to come out of their soaked apartments.

“I thank heaven for the pastor who came out and handed out cleaning supplies and fed us,” said Oliver. “You couldn’t walk in the streets. I have never seen anything like it in my life; it came so fast and so sudden.”

Kevin Oliver takes a break from repairing flood-damaged homes to discuss recovery efforts at an apartment complex in Duson, La. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Kevin Oliver takes a break from repairing flood-damaged homes to discuss recovery efforts at an apartment complex in Duson, La. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Oliver said the low-income complex includes lots of elderly and sick people as well as lots of children.

At one point during a tour of his neighborhood, Oliver said, “I think if God was in this community, it would be a much better community.”

Smiling, Johnson, replied, “God is here. You just need spiritual guidance to give people hope.”

Leveling the playing field

“That’s what the flood has done, it has leveled the playing field, and we are all in this together. Barriers that separate us are hard to detect in a disaster. We start linking arms. We fall in love with one another as people. I am looking forward to that day when it really shows up in our churches,” Ferguson said.

Sutton agreed that “something mysterious” is happening.

First United Methodist Church has been reading Romans 5:1-5, Sutton said, because a pastor from New Orleans shared those verses with him in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Paraphrasing the passage, Sutton said that suffering builds character, which brings help and hope that never disappoints and leads us into love of God.

“To be part of that and to see our community enduring and to see the character unfolding by the power of the spirit through events is just really powerful to witness,” he said.

“It’s what the church should look like,” said Bethley. “It is what heaven looks like.”

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. The Rev. Todd Rossnagel, director of communications strategies for the Louisiana Conference, contributed to this report. Contact Gilbert at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]


Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

UMNEWS-SUBSCRIPTION
Disaster Relief
United Methodists in countries bordering Ukraine continue to offer aid and encouragement to Ukrainian refugees. One United Methodist church in Poland is teaching Polish to Ukrainian refugees but also teaching Ukrainian to Poles who want to do their part toward better communications with the refugees. Ukrainian flag courtesy of Wikimedia; graphic by UM News.

New wrinkles in aid to Ukrainian refugees

United Methodist churches in countries near Ukraine rely on volunteers as they work with Ukrainian refugees, but they're also hiring Ukrainians for certain relief-related tasks. One church in Poland is teaching Polish to Ukrainian refugees but also teaching Ukrainian to Poles helping refugees.
Mission and Ministry
Lauren Przybyl, an anchor at Fox4 News in Dallas, and the Rev. Arthur Jones, senior pastor of St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, host a March 21 benefit concert for Ukraine at the church. Since Russia's invasion of that country six weeks ago, more than $5 million has come into the United Methodist Committee of Relief for Ukraine-related humanitarian aid, and the total grows daily. Photo by Jenny Skinner.

United Methodists pass plate for Ukraine

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, denomination members have been busy and creative raising funds for humanitarian aid, with the United Methodist Committee on Relief reporting targeted donations of more than $5 million.
Disaster Relief
Kibambe Kazadi Gracia, a student at Mulungwishi Secondary School, stands in front of the girls' dormitory where part of the roof was blown off at Mulungwishi Mission, a United Methodist mission in the South Congo Episcopal Area. Photo by John Kaumba, UM News.

Storm destroys parts of church mission in Congo

Established in 1913 by Bishop John Springer, the United Methodist mission houses a women’s school, a medical clinic, primary and secondary schools, and the Methodist University in Katanga.