Moravian Disaster Response works to heal hurricane woes

For the most recent updates on Board of World Mission efforts, visit www.moravianmission.org.

Editor’s note: This article was crafted over the summer and deals mainly with the response to the 2017 hurricane season. Hurricane Florence’s appearance prior to going to press adds a new chapter to the work of Moravian Disaster Response.

Each year, natural disasters devastate the lives of people all over the globe, some of whom are fellow Moravians. More often than not we get news about these storms on the radio, the internet or on TV and wonder what we can do to help.

Enter Moravian Disaster Response.

Moravian Disaster Response, or MDR, is an outreach of the Board of World Mission that offers assistance in areas that have experienced devastation from circumstances beyond people’s control, such as hurricanes, earthquakes or tornadoes. The 2017 hurricane season was especially bad, as three high category hurricanes caused a lot of damage in many areas of the Moravian world. MDR worked with local partners to identify the places where they could have the largest impact: Port Arthur, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Port Arthur, Texas

Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane that hit the Houston, Texas, area at the end of August 2017. While there are no Moravian churches in the Houston area, there is a denomination called the Unity of the Brethren which shares a heritage with the Moravians that goes all the way back to Jan Hus. They also have a representative who attends Board of World Mission board meetings. The most impacted Unity of the Brethren congregation was Good Shepherd Moravian Church in Port Arthur, just east of Houston. This town and congregation experienced extreme flooding. Within the church itself, many items, including their organ, piano, carpet, pews and some walls, were destroyed. Additionally, many of the members of the Good Shepherd congregation and Port Arthur community were forced to spend time in emergency shelters following the storm.

The first stage of MDR assistance included sending the Moravian Disaster Relief trailer, full of construction tools and supplies, from Wisconsin to Texas. This trailer has since been joined by a second MDR trailer of tools, as well as an RV that was donated to help act as housing for the volunteers until the Church was repaired to a point that it could house volunteers as well. Since November 2017, teams from places like Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and North Dakota have been traveling to Port Arthur to help with rebuilding the church and homes of its members. Much work has been done, but Good Shepherd continues to provide hospitality to incoming volunteers who are needed to continue the work and recovery efforts in surrounding communities.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands, which are a part of the Eastern West Indies Province of the Moravian Church, were hit extremely hard during the 2017 hurricane season. Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, devastated the area in early September. Hurricane Maria followed closely, toward the end of September, compounding the damage caused by Irma. This province includes nearly 50 congregations on the islands of Antigua, Barbados, St. Croix, St. John, St. Kitts, St. Thomas, Tobago and Trinidad. The Moravian Church is also involved in mission outreach to the islands of Tortola, St. Maarten and Grenada.

Immediately after the hurricane, many airports were closed and communication was difficult, so the Board of World Mission’s first stage of assistance was sending funds. In February, when travel and communication was again possible, the first team was sent to help with debris removal at Emmaus Moravian Church on St. John. A team of engineers, as well as Justin Rabbach, Executive Director of the Board of World Mission, followed the initial team. They made assessments with regard to structural stability of the buildings and provided suggestions for a path forward. At least four teams traveled to St. Thomas throughout the summer to work on the Moravian Memorial School and Church campus to ready classrooms for students who would return to school in September.

The hurricanes caused significant damage across the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. MDR work will continue well into the future here, as local leaders continue to identify next steps of the recovery, which will include work on church and school structures as well as private homes. 

For more on the response in the USVI, see John McCorkle and Chip Richardson’s reflections accompanying this article.

North and South Carolina

After this article was written and was in the editing process, Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas with strong winds, a high storm surge, and heavy rains. Water proved to be the main source of damage throughout the region, with record flooding and ocean damage across the region.  Working with our local ecumenical partners we will be organizing work crews to begin to help with clean-up and restoration as soon as it is possible to do so. 

You can see updates on this work on the BWM website, moravianmission.org, or the BWM Facebook or Instagram pages, which can be found by searching “Moravian Board of World Mission.” If you feel called to give to this cause, you can do so at moravianmission.org/give. Type “Moravian Disaster Response” in the comments section to designate your donation to disaster relief. In addition to funds, volunteers are needed to help assist with the work in both Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The BWM has been able to send numerous transfers of funds to help with materials and contractors as necessary, but we hope to continue to deepen our relationships by offering of our time and talents to assist those struggling to return their lives to a new normal. If you are willing and able to go to one of these sites as part of a work team, watch for updates from the Board of World Mission, which will list dates and desired skill level. You can email [email protected] for general information about MDR and [email protected] for volunteer opportunities in Texas and the US Virgin Islands. 

The Board of World Mission would like to thank all of the generous donors, congregations and individuals, who have made this work possible, as well as those of you who have been praying for continued recovery. Your generosity has allowed MDR to respond at a level that has not been possible since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As we continue to provide help for those effected by last year’s storms and we anticipate more this year, the work continues. Thank you for your commitment to this work, and for enabling the Board of World Mission to coordinate a Moravian response to disasters. 

Sylvie Hauser served as intern with the Board of World Mission during the summer of 2018. Images courtesy of Board of World Mission