At 87, ‘disaster deacon’ opens his heart — and church — to flooding victims
TULSA, Okla. — Oh, Kenneth Hearrell has stories to tell.…
SAND SPRINGS, Okla. — The rains came down, and Christians are stepping up.
In this flood-ravaged Tulsa suburb, members of Churches of Christ are cleaning up damaged homes and distributing boxes of emergency food and supplies.
A team from The Park Church of Christ in Tulsa worked to clear debris from a flooded residence Sunday, as volunteers at the Sand Springs Church of Christ opened its disaster relief distribution center — as the congregation does every day — from 3 to 7 p.m.
Elliott Dunn, pulpit minister for the 250-member Sand Springs church, talked with The Christian Chronicle about his congregation’s experience.
Question: How hard did the floods hit this area?
Answer: We are located just east of Keystone Dam. The floodwaters coming out of Keystone Lake — they had to release an amount that wound up flooding quite a bit of area here in Sand Springs.
Q: Were members of your congregation affected by the flooding?
A: We’ve had three of our church members here who had water in their homes 2 feet or higher. One of our elders had 5 feet in his house. We’ve had two who had water get in their garage. And then we had a number who had to evacuate, but they were fortunate.
Q: Did they have insurance?
A: The elder has insurance. One of the members does not have insurance. I’m not sure on the other.
I’ve never done this before. I’ve never been through a flood. So I’m learning pretty quickly that if you have insurance, of course that’s going to help a lot. But it’s bad no matter what.
Q: But flooding like this is not something that happens here often?
A: The last one that happened here like this was in 1986, I believe. A lot of people were told in those neighborhoods that there were circumstances then that wouldn’t happen again, shouldn’t happen again. There’s people that were told they don’t live in a floodplain and didn’t need insurance.
A lot of them were told that. So it’s been a mess.
Q: Tell me about this disaster relief center that you’ve opened here at the church.
A: The organization out of Nashville, Tenn. — the Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort — we’ve known about them, and we’ve contributed to them like when Hurricane Katrina and things like that happen. So we knew about them.
I’ll just tell you how it happened: The Park Church of Christ in Tulsa got going with them pretty quickly. Then a few days later, we were debating whether to share the items with Park because the disaster is mostly here. But then the guy from that organization there in Nashville contacted us, and we quickly determined that it merited him bringing a semi-truck here as well.
Q: So your members have sprung into action to get this up and running?
A: Yes, they really have. Everything we’ve asked of our members — you know, come and unload a truck, come and get to work doing this — they’ve done it.
Q: Does the community seem grateful for the help you’ve been able to offer?
A: Yes. I’ll back up a step and say: The whole thing is overwhelming.
Of course, for those flooded and affected, it’s mind-boggling. And to the rest of us, it’s overwhelming. Because everyone wants to help. We all want to do something. So people are extremely grateful.
They come in, and they don’t even know what all they need. They just know they’ve lost it, and they’re glad to get anything we can help them with.
But they’re very, very appreciative.
Q: So from your perspective: One day you’re doing church as normal, and the next day you’re into seven-day-a-week emergency distribution?
This is over $70,000 worth of supplies that was brought here on a truck, and a week after the evacuations, we’re handing it out in a very organized manner.
We could not even dream of doing something like this without the Nashville group. I mean, they have it down to a science, to an art.
The guy told me on the phone, “If you need it, I can have it there in 12 hours.” I mean, it’s overwhelming for me, but it’s gone incredibly smoothly.
Q: Disaster relief is something Churches of Christ seem to do extremely well.
A: It is. I mean, people are already making comments. They notice.
I’ll put it this way: One of our members came this morning. She said, “I have to tell you. This woman I know from work. She was bragging on our church.” This woman had heard the story about when it was time to evacuate. Without an hour, we had 20 people and two big trucks at the (flooded) elder’s house and carrying out stuff.
So the community sees who’s really helping, and it makes a big impression.
I told our church this morning: We talk about when Jesus said, “When I was hungry, you fed me,” and now’s our chance to step up and show it.
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