Sometimes tragedies bring out the best in mankind. Steve Jones, of Newcomerstown, sees this while working with the faith-based "Eight Days of Hope" to bring relief to victims of natural disasters all over the United States.
Recently, Jones has been with work crews in Beaumont, Texas, that suffered massive damage from the rains and flooding brought on Tropical Depression Imelda in the Gulf of Mexico in mid-September.
The Associated Press reported the widespread damage was brought to the Houston area by one of the wettest tropical cyclones in U.S. history. Hundreds of homes and other buildings in the region, extending eastward from Houston and across the Louisiana border, were damaged by Imelda, as the one-time tropical storm slowly churned across the region, dumping more than 40 inches of rain in some spots and being blamed for at least five deaths.
The Associated Press story said several schools in the Beaumont area were damaged by floodwaters and two were closed indefinitely as officials evaluate the extent of the damage, the Beaumont Enterprise reported. The closure of schools in two separate school districts could affect more than 3,000 students. In Galveston County, officials said people along a Gulf Coast peninsula could be without fresh water service for a month because a water treatment plant was knocked out of operation by flooding, The Galveston County Daily News reported.
"How great it is to see God work in these situations every day," Jones said. "I have been a little envious of the people in the first century that got to see God in action first hand. This is as close as I have ever been to that time in history in my life. We see the stories and scriptures come alive on so many different ways. Only God moments every day. It's everything from true worship, seeing things done that are way beyond our own abilities, lives changed, hearts mended and people given hope that had none before. If we bring one thing to the table it is hope by working with love in God's power.
Jones said he was working with the Rapid Response arm of Eight Days of Hope, serving flood victims in Beaumont, Texas.
"A typical day starts with breakfast at 6:30 a.m. followed by one praise song and a short devotion given by one of the leaders," Jones said. "After that we break up onto our teams and any new people are added in with the existing teams. Each team leader lays out the days challenges, work location, what is needed on the job . We pack coolers with water on ice and everyone packs a sack lunch. Everyone wears a name tag and shirts given to them by Eight Days of Hope so we know who is who and who belongs on the job site."
Jones said some disaster areas require color coded wrist bands in order enter an area.
"After getting our safety equipment and tool from the tool trailers we head out to meet our families and do what we can to help them," Jones said. "Here in Texas we are dealing with flood damage into the first floor of many houses. Today I was with a group of 12 other people and we had two houses side by side that were flooded about three feet up on the walls inside of each house. Both of their vehicles and probably 95 percent or more of all they owned was destroyed.
"We circled up with the families and prayed for them and ourselves as we started what looks like more than we can do. Our plan is to have these two houses ready for a someone to come into the house and start rebuilding without having to do anything else. We start by removing everything on the house, saving what we can. The rest goes out to within 12 feet of the roadway where it will be picked up and hauled away. Next, the house itself is demolished. Today, that meant removing the walls and insulation up to the four-foot line on all interior wall, all bathrooms, lower kitchen cabinets and everything but the sub-flooring. All the doors were ruined, lower trim, etc."
Jones said the conditions are what might be expected for a Texas summer and the work isn’t easy, noting the temperature was in the mid-nineties with high humidity and that in one house, the floor is four layers thick, nailed or screwed every few inches.
"This is where God shows up," Jones said. "Somehow 13 people, including several over 65, some ladies and three under 30, finish one house completely and 90 percent of the second one by four o'clock in a hot humid day. For us, it’s a normal only God moment, it happens almost every day. Actually, I think it happens every day.
"We put our tools away, circle up with a family in tears and pray a blessing for them and for a good night's sleep for us, because we will do this again tomorrow.
"We head back to our dorms at the Dream Center, get a good shower in our shower trailer, have a good meal, sing a couple songs and have another devotion. Most of the people are off for the rest of the evening but the leaders usually have a meeting to attend where we go over the day, share and check on all areas of the ministry. Lights are out at 9:30 p.m. in the dorms after chatting with friends and calls to family."
According to Eight Days of Hope, it is a Christian, non-profit organization that is both evangelical and non-denominational, existing to demonstrate the love and hope of Jesus Christ by serving those in need.
"Our commitment to local communities is to work with local churches and organizations in meeting physical and spiritual needs. Our commitment to donors is to use the resources they have given to the fullest potential for the greatest good among those in need. Our commitment to volunteers is to provide them an opportunity to use their skills and talents to the Glory of God. We believe God has existed from all eternity in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is God, having come in human flesh, being fully God and fully man, except without sin.
"We believe salvation is offered as a gift: free to the sinner. The gift must be responded to in individual faith, not trusting in any personal works whatsoever, but the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ alone."
Jones said he got involved with Eight Days of Hope mostly through friends.
"They had talked about the experience several times but it was a couple years at least until I got a chance to try it out," Jones said. "Most of the events were a thousand or more miles away or there was something conflicting with my schedule that kept me from going.
"Finally there was a flash flood in the area of Mannington, WV, which is a couple of hours drive away and I knew it was my best shot at seeing first hand what they were all talking about. I signed up for a four day tour. They like you to come for at least three days. So I headed down to meet a group of like-minded people who have become some of my closest friends and a true second family.
"It is hard to explain how good it is to walk into the headquarters and see 50 of your closest friends that you have served with, sweated with, bled with, prayed with, laughed with and cried with. But that is what it is. I like to call it a family reunion where we all like each other.
"Another great aspect is the people we get to serve. To a person they have all been people who you would like to be friends with your whole life. I have enjoyed their stories and courage in the face of disaster. It seems the harder the get hit, the greater their attitude. Don't get me wrong. Sometimes when we arrive they are walking in circles in shock with no idea what to do. But with a lot of caring, sweat and listening to them, they come out of it. Many are not sure of us at first but when they see someone crawling through who knows how to help them, their fears melt, they open up and they become fast friends.
"The toughest part both in moving on to the next family and heading home is saying good-bye. It can be hard. You become attached to them and they to you but you leave knowing you have a new friend for life and a bigger family."
Jones said the best way to get involved in Eight Days of Hope is to go to the web site and sign up for their emails sent out to announce events.
"Basically all you have to do is get there with your own bedding," Jones said. "I take a cot and a six-inch air mattress. They feed you well, give you a place to bunk even wash your clothes. Gloves, safety glasses mask and or respirators are provided and a couple new shirts each time you come. For working I bring clothes and shoes that I don't mind getting stained. They will.
"Expect to get tired and sweat a lot. Expect to be blessed."