Set to Serve: Vouchers Help New Jersey Pastor Volunteer in Florida Hurricane Relief
By Carl Stagner
Nearly half a year has passed since Hurricane Ian slammed the Florida coast at Cayo Costa with 150 mile-per-hour winds and torrential rain, but the impact of such a disaster continues to be felt among those whose lives and livelihoods were ruined. Damage to homes, businesses, schools, and infrastructure was widespread and devastating. Parts of the state received upwards of twenty inches of rain; combined with storm surges of over twelve feet, whole communities were left underwater with numerous structures and roads completely washed away. With over a hundred casualties attributed to the severe storm, records reveal Ian to be Florida’s deadliest hurricane since 1935. Thanks to new ways Church of God work teams can receive support to put boots on the ground, cleanup efforts in parts of Florida were augmented by devoted Church of God people—Church of God people like Don Conner.
Don Conner’s wife Debra is the pastor of Highland Park Church of God in Gloucester City, New Jersey. After teaching for thirty-four years and spending summers doing handyman projects, his handy skills are keeping him busy lately on a full-time basis. Don’s been privileged to embark on work camp-style trips on several previous occasions, finding open doors to serve after natural disasters of varying kinds struck near home or as far away as Puerto Rico and Haiti. When Hurricane Ian made headlines, the Spirit’s call was clear. “I knew that areas of Florida were going to be devastated and that this was an opportunity to share the love of Jesus with those who continue to suffer from the destruction.”
Six volunteers traveled with Don to Florida last fall, one of whom was also from the New Jersey congregation. Others Don knew beforehand from various life experiences; news about the opportunity with Don spread by word of mouth and interest to accompany was expressed. The group helped 19 individuals or families, completing a total of 39 jobs. The hard labor consisted of debris cleanup, repair of broken structures, building new frames, and preparing plots of ground for new construction as needed. While the hard labor was the tangible work requested of coordinating teams on the ground, the spiritual labor through the transmission of hope was the most vital work taking place.
In fact, Don cites the smiles and expressions of appreciation of the people his team helped. One woman, he recalls, had lost her husband a year prior, then suffered extensive damage from the hurricane. Some of the people they helped had scheduled surgeries, families living thousands of miles away and unable to do much in the way of assistance, but Don’s team was there just at the right time.
“You pray about this stuff ahead of time [like going on a disaster relief trip], and things just unfold,” Don reflects. “I’m amazed how God went ahead and put it all together. What a great experience it was! An incredible trip.”
Because of the Volunteer Voucher Program offered by the Church of God Ministries Disaster Relief and Restoration ministry, those who are set to serve may also be resourced to serve as the Spirit leads. Four of the guys on Don’s team had to take time off work for the trip, and the vouchers were incredibly just the right amount to cover their flights to Florida. Don is grateful for the program and the means to make a real difference in the lives of real people so greatly affected by disaster.
“As long as the good Lord gives me the chance wake up in the morning, I’ll keep doing this,” Don concludes. “It’s an awesome way to serve.”
For more information about the Volunteer Voucher Program, click here.
Church of God Ministries is only able to respond swiftly when disaster strikes because it maintains a disaster relief fund. In crises where an immediate response is critical for relief, Church of God Ministries advances funds in anticipation of a gracious outpouring of donations from churches and individuals. Disaster Relief contributions are utilized to bring relief to those affected by disasters worldwide.
Donate today, and learn more about the numerous efforts of Church of God Disaster Relief and Restoration, at https://www.jesusisthesubject.org/disaster-relief-and-restoration/.