Today I Saw God

Isaac's Story

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On Columbus Day weekend of 2015, a team of 14 people from Floris United Methodist Church headed to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y. to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The following post was submitted by one of the members of the Hurricane Sandy Relief Team.

Most of our team is engaged in various small projects renovating a basement previously used as a place of business. The owner is an elderly man of the Jewish faith named Isaac. He and his wife live in the residence above the basement. He's interesting to talk with and has a great wit and a twinkle in his eye.

Today Isaac came down to unlock a gate in the backyard where we needed to put debris and to assess the condition of his garden where we were carefully trying to remove some old large window casements. It's usually healing for victims of natural disasters to share their experiences, and for missioners, hearing these stories provides a backstory for the suffering, tragedy and fearful circumstances that everyday people encounter when faced with nature's wrath.

However, Isaac's story took a different turn when our team leader, Tim Wells, asked Isaac if he was originally from America. Isaac said, "Umm no, I'm not originally from America." When Tim asked where Isaac was from, Isaac looked away for a moment as though looking over many years and miles and sighed. Immediately you knew this was not a simple question for Isaac to answer. Isaac proceeded to tell a very condensed tale of an epic life's journey of survival.

Isaac was born in 1922 in Argentina. His parents were Polish and decided to return to the home country in 1929. In 1939, when Isaac was 17, the Germans invaded Poland. Isaac said that very quickly, in a matter of weeks, everything was taken away from the Jewish people. After surviving the ghettos of Poland, Isaac said that his family, along with 45,000 other Jews, were sent to Treblinka for extermination. At some point Isaac, a young healthy man, was pulled out of the crowd to work. He was sent to work in a Nazi munitions factory.

Later that day I asked Isaac if he did a very poor job of making munitions for the Germans. Isaac said he was lucky because the factory was immense, with tens of thousands of people working there, and thus there was a demand for continual maintenance tasks so he was assigned to the maintenance crew that repaired and serviced buildings. He said the assembly line workers were driven like horses to work as hard and long as possible.

Isaac met and married his wife during this time of enslavement. In 1945 they were liberated. We asked, "What happened then? Where did you go?" Isaac had a wry smile and said, "We were 'DPs,' (which he explained meant 'displaced persons') and were sent to another camp." This seemed tragic, but he explained that it was a preferable to remaining in Poland under Russian rule. Eventually they were repatriated to Argentina where they still had family and remained there until 1963 when they moved to Brooklyn. It was amazing to hear everything this man and his wife endured and survived, all of it occurring before I was born a year later in 1964. It is such an honor to provide a small blessing to a couple that has endured more than many of us can imagine. Maybe tomorrow I'll be fortunate enough to hear about Isaac's battle with Hurricane Sandy.

Submitted by Steve Bracewell.

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Layer by LayerSandy Relief Mission Team Update

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It is a diverse yet spectacular view sitting rooftop on the Hall's home nestled on this quiet Atlantic City street. In the near distance, one can see the extravagant strip of large and flashy casinos, with names like the Taj Mahal, Borgata and Revel. These dazzling buildings tower over layers of residential high rises and shops. The streets gently give way to neighborhoods filled with row houses, duplexes and single-family homes.

teamphoto-300x199Throughout it all, there are layers of life just like the strata of the earthlives that are integrated on a daily basis but also lives that stand out in complete contrast.

Even with this grand view to gaze upon, the focus of our team is on the work directly before us. So rather than gazing out towards the blue sky and sprawling skyline, we are confronting the layers of our job, our work and our mission.

When our construction leads, Eric and Dan outlined our work, it sounded like our team would swing up to the rooftop like super heroes quickly stripping the shingles away, making some needed repairs and finishing off with a new roof installation. Easy. A huge level of enthusiasm gripped the team. Things were moving fast and the first group donned their harnesses and went straight to work. We were feeling very BOLD.

The top layer of the roof was a breeze. It fact, we could strip the layer off with our hands. Shingles were flying every which way. Under the first layer we found a second layer. This layer was a bit more stubborn, but not daunting. With a little effort, it too could be prodded off with some ease.

We were all hard at work and sweat was pouring. It was not long before I decided that far more energy was needed just to make a small dent in the surface. I sighed. Shoveling and scrapping in the hot sun, this job was NOT easy. I stopped to drink water and looked around at my teammates. It, too, appeared that their initial eagerness was waning. Some even looked perplexed.

I went back to work trying to wedge my Wonderbar under the layers to pry away small chunks. I was not making much progress. I wondered to myself in frustration, "God, just how many layers ARE there?" News travels fast across the rooftop and soon we all knew there were at least four or five layers. Up on the ridgeline where I was straddling, I swore there were at least six to eight layers. The further down I went the more difficult the layer was to loosen.

I slowly realized that as hard as we were working, it was only a scratch on the surface of the many layers of difficulties, the Hall's still faced inside their home: the drywall and wood rot repairs, the carpet replacement and the painting. The healing of spirit and faith was just beginning at this family's inner core.

It became very clear to me, that just as He formed the layers in the sky and the strata in the earth, God had purposely placed each layer on the rooftop for our team. It was not a "hurry up and get done" job. It was not a mission for super heroes. It was a mission designed for those who came together to serve on this team.

It was our challenge to slow down and deliberately pick through the layers: to take the time to share in the strength and spirit of our teammates and to minister to a suffering or to share a joy.

Layer by layer to take the time to find patience and understanding of one another's skills and weaknesses and to understand how we can fully integrate those individual elements to grow and compliment each other.

Layer by layer to take the time to find faith and grow trust in God that he would be there with us as we tackled this challenging assignment. We do not shovel through these layers alone. He is with us.

Layer by layer to discover the love within each other, within the hearts of our homeowners, the Hall's, and most of all, God's love in all of us.

Though it seemed frustrating at first, to make such little progress in our service, we lift forward the rewards slowly gathered by our hearts and souls. God placed these rooftop layers before us to purposely slow us down, to take the time to truly understand and sense the care and love that is around us, that is within us, and most importantly, that God has for us all.

Take the time to trust in the Lord and to be bold in our faith in Him.

-Submitted by Karen Mattern

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Teamwork and Roof Removal: Sandy Relief Mission Team Update

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Team-sign-300x199Our New Jersey trip started off on Sunday evening as we all arrived at Lacey UMC in Forked River, New Jersey. Many arrived early (or at least on time) and had a chance to enjoy their first meal together as a team, followed by the first team meeting led by our fearless leader Tim Wells. After some administrative items and a briefing by our construction team, Tim led us in an inspirational devotion about being a good neighbor and the story of the Good Samaritan. It helped set the perfect tone for the next day, as we headed to Atlantic City for our assignment. Monday morning came bright and early, and after a full breakfast from our hosts at Lacey, we headed down to Connecticut Ave in Atlantic City ready to spend the week completing an intense dry wall job. However, upon arrival it became clear that God had a very different plan in store for the our team. We were no longer scheduled to complete a dry wall assignment.

Sandy-Day-1-Pic-2-e1375886429845-680x1024We were now assigned to removing a heavily damaged roof, and the demolition of a damaged and unsafe garage that had taken in over 3 feet of water. The homeowner Elise, and her son Tru have been in urgent need of a new roof since Sandy struck almost a year ago. While the team had very little expertise in the area of roof removal and rebuilding, what we lacked in skill we made up for in willingness and a heart for helping get Elise and Tru the roof they needed to be able to move forward with the additional repairs that need to be completed on the home.

We quickly divided into two teams, those willing to get up on the roof, and those who preferred to have two feet firmly planted on the ground! As the roof team geared up with harnesses, the other team headed to the garage. For the rest of the day, the roof team worked to remove the shingles from the damaged roof, while the garage team cleared out the garage, and started tearing down the building. By the afternoon, the garage had been leveled, and about one-quarter of the roof had been cleared of all shingles. A large rotted section had been replaced with new plywood to help alleviate some of the leaking the homeowner was experiencing. With 5 p.m. quickly approaching, efforts shifted from the garage area, to clean up of the old roof shingles. The roof team worked to get a tarp covering the exposed roof boards in the event there was rain overnight. Finally at about 6 p.m., tired, dirty but accomplished the team returned to Lacey for dinner and another team meeting.

Sandy-Day-1-Pic-1-1024x680Monday evening dinner was pasta, pasta and more pasta – just what we needed to recover from the challenging and demanding work of the day. After our meal, we joined for our evening team meeting to reflect on the day, and plan for day two. Lee led us in the evening devotion, and asked the team where they saw God or Jesus that day. Several people shared their experiences of the day, and we all could feel God working with us to create something special for this family. Ten was lights out, but most of the team was fast asleep well before that time.

Sandy-Day-1-Pic-3-e1375886479768-680x1024Day two started out much the same as day one, with another great meal provided by Lacey! Following our meal we again headed out to Atlantic City for day two. The teams quickly divided again, with the garage team focusing on the remainder of the garage demo, while the roof team continued removing the damaged shingles and replacing rotten sections. By lunchtime, the garage was done with the tear down and removal, and moved on to a new project of creating a new driveway for the homeowners. The roof team made significant progress, and by the end of the day the first half of the roof was cleared just in time for the rain to start! As the teams joined forces to quickly clean up the space, and replace the tarp to prevent any additional rain damage to the home. The team returned from day two, much dirtier than day one, but also much more inspired and eager to move on to day three. The team meeting tonight came early, with Tracy, Jecen and Reagan offering the devotion. The "trio" (mom and two teens) was on their first mission trip with Floris, and each shared what they were experiencing on the trip. A reminder to trust in God, the realization of how great teamwork can be, and a first experience of feeling the peace and joy of doing work for and with others were shared. Many others also talked about how God was continuing to provide for the team, and most importantly for the homeowners. With tired muscles and exhausted bodies the team headed to bed, exhausted from the day, but filled with the power and strength only God can provide as we head to the third day!

– Submitted by the Floris Sandy Relief Team

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Final Day Hurricane Sandy

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We finished roofing Kathy's house today. She provideda delicious eggplant appetizer as we worked.Eggplant Hurricane Sandy

Kathy now has a dry (and safe!) roof over her head. We had great support from the local roofing experts, Bill, Paul, and Greg, who spent a significant portion of their Memorial Day holiday away from their families to help us out. Here is the last shingle going on the new roof.New Roof Hurricane Sandy

We can't thank the local team enough for all of the support they provided during our trip, from the great hot meals they cooked us, to the expert construction knowledge, to the kind words and prayers.

We learned a lot of valuable lessons on this trip:

1. Some people are down on their luck.

2. Some people are a great inspiration.

3. Sometimes the above two are embodied in a single person.

4. If you spend all day in plaster dust, it might try and re-form in your hair when you take a shower at night!

5. If you spend all day on the roof hammering nails, you might hit your fingers a couple of times.

6. Never, ever underestimate the value of a good host church. Lacey UMC clearly is living out Luke 6:31, "Do to others as you would have them do to you".

We went out to dinner on the final night and the restaurant would only charge us cost for the meal despite our protests. We have been truly blessed by this trip, the people we have met, the work we have done, and the way God continues to work through us to build His Kingdom here on earth.

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Hurricane Sandy Group #3 – John, Steve, Donna, Dan, Becca, Emily, Bill, Dave, Will, and Dave.

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Hurricane Sandy Mission Trip Day 3

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guitar We are very blessed by Lacey UMC. They have been wonderful hosts and have given us many great meals. Linda Applegate, the pastor, provided us with our own private service this morning, even though she had her own church service to do right after our service. She played a mean guitar and we hope that Tom can aspire to these heights some day. Linda's husband Bill is the general handyman at the church, Sunday school teacher, mission coordinator, picnic go-to guy, and many other roles that we don't even know about. Linda and Bill are a wonderful team and the world is a better place because of them. When you think of living in the Light of the Lord, they are not a bad place to start.

roofOn these trips, we have an opportunity to help people who have been given a bad deal. We worked on a woman's house today who is one of those people. She lost her roof in Hurricane Sandy. She hired two guys to fix her roof for $4,000. They were not roofers. They rebuilt her roof with materials that were not roofing materials. They didn't know what they were doing and the roof didn't last long. We went over to her house and tore the old roof off and starting rebuilding using real roofing material. Hurricane Sandy is full of stories of people who have been given a bad deal or who are waiting for help, or a mixture of both. God has shown us that there are many ways to serve and that his love for us is never ending. He hopes to teach us that. Sometimes we listen, sometimes we don't, but the voice is pretty loud (and clear) when you are on mission trips.

We continue to count our blessings and are amazed at the opportunities we are given, when only we are ready to hear the voice of the Lord working through us.


Sandy Relief Team – John, Steve, Dan, Bill, Donna, Dave, Becca, Emily, Dave, Will and Mike (our local leader, who's been a great inspiration to us all).

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