MCALISTERVILLE - In the summer of 2011 a church congregation near Prattsville, NY, prayed for an opportunity to work together and serve their community. In August of that year, Hurricane Irene swept through, flooding the town with as much as six feet of water in 45 minutes.
The time had come to serve the community, and they had help rebuilding 13 months later from Juniata Mennonite School seniors.
Four members of the senior class, along with teacher Terry Smith and a few community members, headed north from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 to help the folks in the flood-soaked town.
Sentinel photo by TABITHA GOODLING
Juniata Mennonite School senior students recently returned from a missions trip to Prattsville, NY, where they aided in rebuilding homes following the 2011 devastation of Hurricane Irene. Taking part in the trip were, from left, front, Lydia Sheaffer, Norma Montesino, Rachel Allen; second row, Terry Smith, teacher, and Elias Shambach.
Smith and seniors Elias Shambach, Lydia Sheaffer, Norma Montesino and Rachel Allen recently talked about the experience.
The missions trip was made available through Brethren Disaster Ministries. Smith is also a pastor with Free Spring Church in Van Wert, which is affiliated with the Brethren church.
JMS seniors are required to submit a senior project that is solely about a missions experience. They must journal their experience, put forth the work hours and then present what they gained from the trip to a large group like a church, the school's chapel program or a service organization.
Shambach, Allen and Sheaffer had already started their missions project from other missions trips. Montesino, who is new to the school, needed a project. The Brethren Disaster Ministries needed help, so the trio of seniors joined Montesino, Smith and local men Steve Lauver and Mark Zeigler.
The group was led through the working process with nearby Huntersfield Christian Retreat Center and Rev. Charlie Gockel.
"We were told by the pastor there (Gockel) that some people don't get the idea of a group volunteering," Smith said. The town supervisor saw the individuals coming in to help rebuild the town and had many questions.
"He wanted to know 'Where did these people come from?'" Smith said, to which Gockel told him these were people from Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
"Then he wanted to know 'Who pays them?'" Smith said, and when he was told that these were volunteer helpers who get not one dime, the man went on to ask why they even came if they do not get paid.
"And that opens a door," to share the gospel, Smith said.
The JMS group was busy painting and priming walls damaged in the flood. Smith and Shambach worked on rebuilding a furnace room in a church. The furnace had previously been in the basement and was flooded. A new, separate room was added as a result.
Sheaffer said the highlight for her was "seeing the volunteers come together as literally the body of Christ. They told us in the beginning we would be like family in the end and I was like, 'Ok, maybe.' But we really were."
The crew from JMS noted they met many "interesting people" who had a lot to say and share, like a woman with a Brooklyn accent who was trapped in her second floor on Main Street days after the flood. While the rest of her street was evacuated, she and her husband were forgotten and trapped.
Her husband, however, was not one to share his experience.
"Please pray for this man," Smith said, because the husband still lives in a FEMA trailer and refuses to come outside. The entire experience of losing his home has devastated him to such a serious degree he cannot face the light of day.
"There's still mountains of work to be done," Allen noted. "All of this debris is still sitting there."
Some homes still have their porch roof on their front door step. Other homes are literally wrapped against poles and trees.
Montesino said it is evident that before the August 2011 storm, Prattsville was a beautiful town.
"There was one place where there was a perfect pathway with flowers on either side and at the end was a sign that said 'Open House,'" Montesino said. When you look past the sign, "There's no house."
Montesino also mentioned a church that prayed for a ministry opportunity only months prior to the flood. Even though the flood was devastating to so many, this tragedy opened the hearts of many individuals, she said.
"It's so cool how it all came together and as a community so many people were serving God."
To see clips of the devastation go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGn3GWIt6Sk.