USA (MNN) — Nearly a week after Hurricane Sandy blasted inland, first responders were still discovering just how hard New York's Lower Manhattan area and the New Jersey shore were hit.
There are many graphic images of the damages and reports of aid getting through to grateful survivors. However, that actually led to a difficult question: for the communities and burroughs that the news wasn't spotlighting: what was happening to their rescue effort?
World Renew's disaster relief director Bill Adams says, "If it's not on TV, if it's not on the news, then they're not going to get the attention. But World Renew focuses on those kinds of communities where they're not on the news, and they're going to need the support to get back into their homes."
World Renew, formerly the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, spent Friday training teams of first responders and chain saw crews. Adams explains, "We have a group already in New Jersey. We have another cleanup team heading there next week, and we'll be sending out another management team early next week to get into some of these areas where you're not hearing as much on the news."
Staten Island was one such community, but even as the spotlight now turns to them, there are other smaller neighborhoods that won't share the benefit of awareness and coverage. However, this is where the Church is effective. They know their people, their community, and their needs.
Adams added that the organization is in contact with many congregations in states across the East Coast that are connected to the Reformed and Christian Reformed denominations–and in communities affected by Sandy. Because of this connection, World Renew can get a clearer picture of real people, real needs, and figure out how to get there.
The teams first had to connect to check on everyone's welfare. Once that was done, they could figure out where to begin. Fast response could happen because World Renew volunteers were already working in Schoharie, New York, where Hurricane Irene dumped a foot of rain in less than 24 hours in August, 2011, and flooded homes and businesses throughout the community.
Rapid Response Teams and regional managers have set up relief staging areas with tarps, chainsaws, and tractors to clear felled trees and cover damaged roofs. Adams says even as their teams tackle the back-breaking work, they're constantly reminded to take advantage of opportunities that come their way. "The building of houses and fixing of properties is good and it's important, but it really is what God uses to open the door and to let people know there's a God that loves them. That's really the mission of our group."
Every volunteer on the Rapid Response Team is taught this principle: "I Peter 3:15 says, ‘But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks for the reason for the hope that you have. But do it with gentleness and respect.' Invariably, people ask us: ‘Why are you doing this?' And we always have the opportunity to share Christ and to pray with people."
World Renew is also responding through its International Disaster Response and Rehabilitation program to Hurricane Sandy damage in Haiti. More than 60 people in the Caribbean were killed even before Sandy reached the Florida coast last week.
World Renew is a Christian non-profit agency of the Christian Reformed Church in North America that ministers in development, relief, and justice education with people in need around the world, since 1962.