Wisconsin recovery project “swings for the fences”

By Christy Smith
May 9, 2019 | ATLANTA

“We wish everyone who gives to UMCOR could see what’s happening at Winding Rivers United Methodist Church in New Lisbon, Wisconsin.”

Rev. Deb Burkhalter is talking about an UMCOR-funded recovery project aimed at bringing hope to survivors who faced devastating flooding in August 2018. “We just want to show our people we love them,” she says.
Grilling From left to right, Lynnette Jordan, Jenny Legespi and Sarah Jensen give of their time by cooking meals and feeding community members and volunteers. Photo: Courtesy of Lynnette Jordan

The Wisconsin floods, though they ravaged a large area of the state, quickly fell off the national radar as later disasters drew attention away. District disaster response coordinator Lynnette Jordan was unwilling to accept that her neighbors would be left with few resources to reclaim their homes.

Because she had been attending community meetings in Juneau County, she realized that United Methodist pastor Burkhalter was operating a vibrant, immediate response out of her new-church start.

“It was amazing what was happening in the building,” Jordan said of the former gun shop. After they made sand bags and attempted to fight off the rising water, church members supported the community with meals and muck-outs.

Burkhalter and Jordan call themselves two of the “Fab Five,” a group that includes volunteer coordinator Wendell Williams and disaster case managers Julie Hallam and Carla Von Haden. The team was hard at work even before they attended UMCOR disaster case management training in October.

Their commitment did not escape the notice of Cathy Earl, UMCOR’s director of disaster response and U. S. partner relations. “What they were doing exactly matches the mission of The United Methodist Church to transform the world for Jesus Christ,” she noted, “as well as UMCOR’s role to provide humanitarian assistance to those impacted by disaster.” 
Fab five From left to right, the Fab Five: Rev. Deb Burkhalter, Carla Von Haden, Julie Hallam, Lynnette Jordan and Rev. Wendell Williams. Photo: Courtesy of Lynnette Jordan

On Thursday, May 2, Winding Rivers UMC, the Long-term Recovery Project in Juneau County, five Wisconsin state emergency management directors, two United Methodist volunteer teams and community members gathered to turn the empty shooting range building behind the church into volunteer housing. On June 10, the United Methodist NOMADS (Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service) will arrive to rebuild survivor homes. Team Rubicon, a disaster relief group of military veterans, will bring 150 volunteers to New Lisbon for an annual Patriot Exercise to put their experience to work clearing the debris-filled waterways.

The commitment of the Winding Rivers team has gained the attention of responders across Wisconsin: offers have come in to fund a bathroom in the volunteer dorm; the church has become an Emergency Management site with associated resources; electricians and plumbers are coming to provide hook-ups for the NOMAD RVs; Wisconsin VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) has taken notice and referred others to observe how New Lisbon is responding.

“We swung for the fences,” Jordan says, “and we connected! Between Pastor Deb and me, we had a mustard seed of faith that has grown into a tree with many branches of service.”

Christy Smith is a disaster consultant for UMCOR.

To support the disaster response efforts of local churches and annual conferences in the U.S., learn more here.


More News and Stories

67 EarthKeepers Commissioned Online

A new class of EarthKeepers from 24 United Methodist regional conferences will go forth to lead their communities in environmental stewardship projects and initiatives.

A Call to Action for United Methodists in Response to the Plight of Migrants

The United Methodist Immigration Task Force calls upon Methodists across the connection to take action in support of migrants, immigrants and asylum seekers by praying, giving and writing our political representatives.

A family for Lupe

With the help of Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), a partner of UMCOR, a 16-year-old girl from El Salvador is resettled with her half-sister in Long Island, finally free from dangers of life on the streets and free to begin healing from a childhood of trauma.

Sign up for Global Ministries and UMCOR emails