Volunteers say they are called to help

Chainsaw teams, heavy equipment operators, bringing a hot cup of coffee -- volunteers touch lives of tornado survivors

BY NANCY HOGLAND | ATKINS, ARK | February 20, 2008


Volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Service help clean up after devastating tornadoes hit Gassville, Arkansas.
Credit: DNN Photo by Nancy Hogland

Volunteers working to help Arkansas residents impacted by the early February tornadoes say they have been called to help those less fortunate.

“It really is a blessing to be able to help folks who are suffering,” said Betty Geurink who with her husband Glen acts as a project coordinator for Christian Reform World Relief Committee (CRWRC).

The couple spent four days traveling throughout Arkansas and Tennessee earlier this month, acting as the “eyes and ears” for the organization, locating communities that need help, then making arrangements that will allow a 10-man chainsaw crew out of Michigan to come to the area and stay for an extended period of time.

“There’s a rather poor community about 17 miles south of Mountain View that has an extraordinary number of trees down, but no way to get rid of them. I met with the pastor at the Antioch General Baptist Church and he’s agreed to allow the men to stay there for a week. The church is going to feed them and I was also able to locate a place for them to shower. Organizing all the details may sound a little mundane, but it’s required,” she said, adding that since signing on with the organization in 1992, she has done everything from helping fill out paperwork to building houses.

“And I can’t imagine ever giving it up. We wanted to be able to do more for God when we retired and once we did, we were hooked! We wouldn’t trade this job for the world,” Geurink said.

Suzie Sinyard, a volunteer with the Red River Baptist Association Feeding Unit, expressed the same sentiments.

‘I believe God gave me the desire to help people as a gift a calling on my life,” she said. “He knows I love to help people and he also knows that even though I’m older, I can still cook and serve meals. I believe this is a ministry, just like any other and I’m so blessed to be able to take part in it.”

She said her husband, who travels with the group as a chaplain and part of the chainsaw crew, shared her passion.

“We both love the Lord and want to serve him by serving others,” Sinyard said. “We hate to see people hurting, but we are so thankful that God chose to use us to help ease their pain.”

While the majority of the hundreds of volunteers working in the area were members of a faith-based disaster response group, many others came to help simply because they knew they were needed.

Conway resident Darrell Sansom, who drove to Clinton to see friends one day, then returned day after day to help clear debris, fell into that latter category.

“When I heard about all the damage, I loaded up my backhoe and drove up. I’m a Christian. That’s what I’m supposed to do,” he said very matter-of-factly.

His wife, who came the following weekend with their four girls, said they were excited to be able to help those in need. “This is what we live to do,” she said.

A teary eyed Jason Curtis, whose home was ripped apart by the tornado, said he’ll forever be grateful that so many people are willing to give up their time to help others.

“I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them. This guy, who makes a living using his equipment, has laid down his work to spend the week here helping me,” he said pointing to a young man using a backhoe to pull twisted metal windows from a wall. “Others have been here every day with chainsaws, cutting up trees. The volunteers from our local fire department have come by everyday checking on me to see what I need helping me put some order to this mess.”

But it hasn’t just been the big stuff volunteers have taken care of everything else too.

Earlier in the week when Curtis was unsuccessfully attempting to brew a pot of coffee for his helpers, a vehicle pulled up and a volunteer handed out large cups of steaming hot java to everyone.

“It’s amazing you have a need and then a total stranger pulls up to meet it. People who haven’t lived through something like this just can’t imagine how important these volunteers are because without them, all that help wouldn’t be there,” he said. “It sure opened my eyes.”


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