Residents care for each other

Faith organizations help residents of ND, MN, focus on message of hope and courage as immediate crisis eases.

BY STEPHANIE BACKUS | FARGO, ND | March 31, 2009


The Red River Valley Water Rescue team brings in a home owner who needed to be rescued from the rising waters of the Red River.
Credit: Patsy Lynch/FEMA

Hope and courage is the message United Methodist pastors in North Dakota and Minnesota want to send to their congregations as fighting the Red River's waters continues.

"They were encouraged, again through hope, to continue to build and to continue to be vigilant in walking the dikes," said the Rev. Debra Ball-Kilbourne, of the North Dakota United Methodist Conference. "And if people were feeling shaky or frightened, or had health issues or young children, (pastors told them) to evacuate. It was a solid message -- to know yourself well and do what you need to do for yourself and your family."

Ball-Kilbourne said many in the United Methodist Community met together to talk about the flooding.

"Not all of them met, and most of the groups who did, met together. The pastors did a wonderful job of trying to instill hope and courage, and to provide pastoral care," she said.

Pastoral care is an important aspect of disaster response, according to the Rev. Greg Kroger, Superintendent of the Glacial Lakes District.

"It's important to remind folks to take care of themselves in the midst of a disaster. To rest, rotate responsibilities, and if they wear themselves out in well-doing early on, they're less effective in the long run," he said. "It's people caring for each other in the midst of all of this."

For now, Red River basin residents are continuing to monitor sandbag dikes and levies. One dike gave way to the water, flooding an area around a school in Fargo. Two of the five school buildings had water damage, according to officials.

According to Ball-Kilbourne, volunteers worked hard to protect their community.

"We're coming off of many days now of no sleep. People are coming from all over to fight the fight against the Red. Just when you think you get the levies built, (officials) come in and say it's not enough and we have to add another foot. And you can't just add to the top, you have to go in and add to the bottom," she said.

But overall, Ball-Kilbourne said there is a sense of calm in the community.

"There's really been no panic. People are feeling quite calm, but there are moments as we lose a house here or a house there that there's a very natural fearfulness," she said. "There have only been about six houses that have been lost. That's an incredibly small number for such an incredible amount of intense labor in the worst conditions ever."

Jim Anderson, a member of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Team, agreed that calm is in the air.

"Today, there's a breath and sigh of relief because of the way that the river has started to come down. It seems to be coming down relatively fast. We also saw a fair amount of exhaustion because people were trying to save their homes," Anderson said.

According to Ball-Kilbourne, volunteers have been working in the rain and cold, along with wind and blizzardous conditions, but it was all to save communities along the river.

"What they're doing is an amazing battle. Most of us have been there to help and we're so proud of them. The Red is a complicated river and it's an amazing thing they're doing, but this battle is going on in lots of our communities, depending on their size and where they are on the river," she said.

While volunteers have been key to protecting residents in the Red River basin, Ball-Kilbourne stressed the importance of having volunteers on standby for when clean-up begins.

"There are a couple of things volunteers can do to help. First is to organize themselves well before they come. The second is don't come yet. We're not ready. We're still fighting the fight," she said. "We'll need lots of mucking out and lots of building. They shouldn't be calling churches or pastors. Right now, everyone is fine. It's overwhelming folks here who need to check on people building dikes.

"And they need to pray, and they need to pray hard. In about two weeks, we're going to be asking for volunteers to come in, but boy, then we'll be ready, and we'll be the best hosts we can be."

Ball-Kilbourne suggested that teams who want to volunteer should organize and announce a time to leave after different faith-based disaster organizations make a call for volunteers.

Anderson went to Moorhead, Minn., after a church closed down from fear of flooding in the neighborhood. He went to help the church pastor keep in touch with her parishoners, but the area never flooded, so Anderson has spent his time in the metro area watching the flood situation up close.

"The good news is that the Red River crested quite early Saturday morning and is now below 39 feet. Our process now is to at least provide support to the presbytery in general. The thing that we're doing right now is to help the presbytery help prepare plans of what to do now in the clean-up period," Anderson said.

Anderson said volunteers will be called on to help clean-up more than three million sandbags filled by volunteers to protect the area.

"Volunteers will be helpful in that respect and in helping in the minimal cleanup of houses. We're not going to know what's needed for another week to 10 days," he said.

With an area that lies along the river, Ball-Kilbourne said Fargo/Moorhead residents have shown great resilience.

"The Dakotas have been people of great challenge and huge fortitude and faith. I guess we're finding out (through this disaster) that we still are."


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