Note from the editor: In October 2016, a team of nine people traveled to Tappahannock and Montross, Virginia on a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) Tornado Recovery Mission Trip. This post comes from one of the volunteers, J. Scott Nicholls.

When disaster hits, even though it may take a long time, buildings, homes and businesses that were damaged or destroyed by nature can ultimately be rebuilt. Personal belongings can be replaced, though keepsakes cannot. It is hard to see the devastating impact these events have on the “individuals,” both physical and psychological. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) trips serve to repair property damage, but first and foremost, they work to heal hearts serving as the hands and feet of Jesus.

On February 24, 2016, a tornado outbreak hit Virginia. These tornados killed several people and destroyed many towns and homes in places like Tappahannock and Montross, Virginia. A Floris UMC UMVIM Team served that area Thursday October 6-Monday, October 10.

We were hosted by Upper Essex Baptist Church located in Caret, Virginia, north of Tappahannock.

We were assigned three sites/homes during our time in Tappahannock. The first was Lynne’s home. While no tornado directly hit the house, the huge pressure drop blew the side out of her home causing structural and water damage. By the time we arrived, it was in the final stages of being made ready for Lynne. Our team needed to install ceiling fans and frame/drywall some additional space in the kitchen to allow room for a pantry and countertop. We completed the work, and Lynne has moved back into her home.

The next two sites were in Montross. One was Diane’s, who lived in a trailer a couple hundred yards down from Ms. Hilda (her mom). Diane’s trailer was moved eight feet off its resting space, and her front and rear stairs were destroyed. Since February, she’d had to use a stepladder to exit the rear of the trailer and temporary stairs to enter the front.

Though the tornado did not directly hit her home, it came close. A mere 100 yards away was the concrete pad of what used to be a home, now gone. Our work was to build Diane a new 6-by-8-foot front deck and stairs and a 5-by-5-foot rear deck and stairs. These decks were vital for getting in and out of her home safely. When we finished the front deck/stairs and she and her grandson could walk out their front door, the glow in her face was noticeable.

I was fortunate to lead a team of three new volunteers to work on her mom’s home, which sat just up the hill. Ms. Hilda was 88 years old when the tornados struck. She had raised 11 children in that home. It was nearly destroyed in the tornado, which took out a corner of the house and ripped away siding, roofing and other building materials. Ms. Hilda was trying to move to an interior room when the tornado hit, but the door blew in, trapping her under debris. She was bleeding severely. Fortunately, another grandson arrived and pulled her from the rubble, and she survived. She was lucky that her son owns a construction business; family and friends repaired most of her home.

Our work was a single room with a collapsed ceiling and floor damage. It needed a handrail installed from the main level to the upstairs. Over the course of four days, our team removed the carpet, padding, tack strips and half of the ceiling. We installed insulation, new drywall and two coats of drywall compound to prepare the room for being habitable again. We also removed and replaced a damaged section of the flooring.

Like her daughter, Ms. Hilda insisted that we sit at her kitchen table and eat our prepared lunches (local churches supplied our lunches and dinners each day). She also wanted to provide us with warm soup, but the only soup she had was bean soup from a can. Let me tell you, that was the best soup this soul has ever had because of who served it and how lovingly it was offered.

During lunch, we usually tried to eat fast and get back to work. But one day, Ms. Hilda came to the table and said, “I want you to look at this photo album when you all are done eating.” For a bit, our goal was to listen and be there for her. Naturally my mind went into work mode, and I thought, “Well this will take time out of our limited schedule to get the work done” But when we finished eating, she showed us the before and after pictures of her home and pictures of the rebuilding process, including some of her in her cast, healing from the physical injuries she suffered when pinned under debris. So for a bit, our goal became to listen and be there for her. I was reminded by God why I was there and that the work we were doing was so much less important than letting Ms. Hilda talk through her ordeal. This was her way of rebuilding “inside” herself.

We finished our work and were ready to depart. Ms. Hilda hugged us. As I was leaving to go down the hill to work with the team on her daughter’s stairs and deck, she held my hand. She did not want to let go. This is etched in my mind. I well up with tears when I think about the feeling of her hand in mine and remember hearing her thank us. Though we did help her move toward closure by finishing up the final room that needed repairing, we also were blessed by her being a part of our lives.

If you have not been on a mission trip, listen for the Holy Spirit. When you are called, you will not regret serving. I know this trip was just as moving for me as my first, some 12 trips ago. And if you see any of the missioners listed below, please take time to ask them about their experience. I am sure they will each tell you that they would gladly go on another trip and share their experiences with you.

UMVIM teams have more fun! Ask us: Steve Dripps, Scott Nicholls, Navin Alexander, Rhonda Glasmann, Divya Tucker, Remel Tucker, Jill Morganwalp, Susan Wells and Tim Wells.

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