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Neighbors help neighbors in KS

BY SUSAN KIM | HAYSVILLE, Kan. | May 6, 1999

HAYSVILLE, Kan. (May 6, 1999) -- Within 30 minutes after a mile-wide

tornado ripped through this town in south central Kansas, Mayor Tim Norton

asked the Rev. Bob Osenga a pressing question: "Can West Haysville Baptist

Church be a center for response?"

The answer was 'yes' -- just ask the thousand families that have come

through the doors for help since late Monday, and the hundreds still to

come. Now designated an American Red Cross shelter, the church began by

housing 35 senior citizens the night of the storm, and since then has

continuously served meals, collected donations, and recruited volunteers of

all faiths -- all in spite of the fact that the tornado slammed part of a

house through the sanctuary roof.

Red Cross volunteer Deanna Ferris, a member of St. Mary's Eastern Orthodox

Christian Church in Wichita, drove to Haysville Baptist Church within

minutes after the tornado hit. "Lightning was all around me, and I was

praying, please let me get there to help. This church is absolutely

amazing. I know that my denomination is vastly different from theirs. But

everybody in this building is helping in the name of Christ," she said.

Through the Haysville Ministerial Association, Osenga has helped coordinate

a noontime prayer service Thursday on steps of City Hall. He expects up to

400 people. "We are going to have a time of singing and prayer, and a time,

too, to focus on our priorities," he said. The tornado which killed five

and destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Kansas, hit Haysville particularly

hard.

Osenga said that the most difficult job for the many volunteers at the

church is managing and distributing donations. But past experience has

helped them react effectively. Several years ago, the church began running

a food pantry. As those efforts grew, West Haysville Baptist Church joined

with 11 other area churches, plus 22 businesses, to create Haysville

Community Outreach, a food warehouse that supplies four, local community

pantries.

This experience left both the know-how and the storage space needed for

major disaster response efforts, said Osenga. "We've been inundated with

food donations, but we haven't had to reinvent the wheel," he said. "We've

had donations from grocery wholesalers and from franchises like MacDonald's

and Burger King."

Osenga also noted the response from volunteers of all faiths, some as far

away as Los Angeles and New York. But most are people who consider

themselves as 'neighbors helping neighbors.'

Amy Kiker, who has attended West Haysville Baptist most of her life, spent

the day assembling and handing out food boxes to families. "I just felt an

obligation to do what I could," she said. "My house was untouched so I

wanted to reach out to those in need."

Ferris said she felt called to volunteer because people's pain and grief

pulls at her heart. Seeing television coverage of a disaster, she said,

isn't the same as being on-site and lending a hand. "Watching a disaster on

TV, you can become desensitized. I mean, you think that it's horrible, but

it's five times more powerful if you come out and meet the people," she

said.

Volunteers learn spiritual lessons no matter what their faith, she added.

"It's so easy to get caught up in material things, but in a blink of an

eye, it's all gone. Something like this shows us that we need to invest our

time in relationships with God and relationships with other people," she

said.

Ferris, who spent part of her day with grieving families who had lost loved

ones, said that ministering to others after a disaster involves a lot of

listening. "You can't tell someone you know what they're feeling - because

you don't. I have a favorite quote from St. Francis of Assisi that sums it

up: 'At all times, you should share the gospel of the Lord, and when

necessary, use words.' "

She added that, judging by what she observed today, people will need

emotional support for a long time to come. "This will be a case in which

people will appear to have it all together. But then it will hit them a

week, or a month, or even many months later."

Other volunteer efforts in this tight-knit community, while not as

large-scale, still involve neighbors helping neighbors. Glenda Mason,

director the daycare center at the First Assembly of God Church, kept the

center open because it is one of the only daycare centers that has

electricity. "If other teachers and children from daycare centers want to

come over here, we could help them," she said.

Becky Sampson, a member at the Faith Christian Church in Wichita, spent the

day helping a friend move items from her severely damaged home. Five

families out of about 70 in the church lost their homes. "I found out

through our pastor which people's homes had sustained major damage," said

Sampson. "I just wanted to help this woman because she's the kind of person

that will always help others, but wouldn't ask for help herself."

"I really like that something like this brings a community together. But

it's sad that this is the way it has to happen."

Posted May 6, 1999


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