'Church on the Hill' offers NC refuge

BY SUSAN KIM | SEVEN SPRINGS, N.C. | November 5, 1999


SEVEN SPRINGS, N.C. (Nov. 5, 1999) -- The Seven Springs United

Methodist Church, known as "The Church on the Hill," has sat quietly

since 1874.

Overlooking a rural village, it has more steps leading up to it -- 66

-- than it does members -- about 50. But when Floyd struck, the

little "Church on the Hill" became one of the only places in Seven

Springs that wasn't under water. And so, almost by default, it became

a hub for disaster response.

When the Neuse River overtook the entire community, the National

Guard moved into the church. Then the rescue squad joined them.

Members from the Seven Springs Baptist Church, underwater itself,

started feeding up to 100 people a day -- a lot, considering the

village proper has a population of about 140 people.

Several days later, the American Red Cross was able to start

providing emergency services to Seven Springs residents, and even the

Chamber of Commerce sold Seven Springs t-shirts to people coming to the church.

Plastic protective shrink-wrap covered the sanctuary's red

carpet, and a giant card crafted by children from the Church of God

in Goldsboro took up a seven-foot stretch on the floor.

"Some church members were saying, 'when's this going to end?'

Some people wanted to get back to normal. I said, 'this is what should

be normal,'" said the Rev. Jim Humphries. "This disaster has helped

our church see what it could be. We need to be a place where people

can come for care."

Many Seven Springs residents may have felt a lack of care simply

because their state of disaster was late getting noticed. "It's not

that we were ignored, exactly," said Humphries. "But the flooding

happened later for us. We watched it happen in Wilson, Tarboro,

Greenville, and then it hit us."

"There was flooding here during Hurricane Fran about 10 years ago,

but nothing like this," he added. "People moved stuff onto blocks --

but then it came higher than blocks."

Virtually every house in the village of Seven Springs proper, was

flooded, and the majority of homes in the outer Seven Springs

community sustained water damage.

But response remained quiet, Humphries said, until Seven Springs'

mayor was interviewed on national television. "She very emotionally

said 'nobody's paying much attention to us.'"

The next day, "I wondered why my phone started ringing off the hook"

with people offering help.

For this student pastor, in the midst of pursuing his master's degree

at Duke Divinity School, disaster response had not been in his plans.

Neither was the flooding of the parsonage. "It's difficult to both be

a pastor and one of the ones flooded out," he said. "I have to keep

reminding myself that I'm one of the people who was flooded."

Humphries describes coordinating an effective response as "a

full-time job" that he's been able to accomplish with the help of

other churches, faith-based disaster groups, and neighbors who want

to lend a hand.

"The Baptists have been instrumental in getting things done. Our

ministry really was just to offer our building. The Presbyterians

were also here early, volunteering and cleaning up," he said.

"And, non-church going people are possibly the most important part of

this story. Because we've all pulled together and gotten to know each

other pretty well," he added.

Even the burden of the inevitable pile of donated used clothes was

alleviated when the Salvation Army hauled them away.

But there's a long way to go. Only about five families are back in

their homes, said Humphries. "There's hardly anybody home, so we

don't know who to help."

Residents Lisa and Alan Cash, living in 90-year-old house inundated

with water, are home and working alongside a team of volunteers from

the Friendly Avenue Baptist Church in Greenboro, N.C.

"We can't live here yet," said Lisa, "but we figure we'll do one room

at a time." The house has been gutted -- the drywall ripped out, the

floor ripped up, and most of their possessions piled on the front

lawn.

The volunteers work in 80-degree heat and humidity, hauling and

lifting in a house that smells dank but was once home to this young

couple.

Kevin and Sue Walker -- another young couple -- are leading the

volunteer team. "Why are we here?" said Sue. "Because our pastor

challenged everybody to spend a day or a weekend helping people like

this."

Darby Shelton, another volunteer, is here for his college fall break.

"If it was us, I'd want somebody to be there for us," he said. "And

I'm here to show God's love, and be a witness to that love."

Lisa's wedding dress -- one of the fortunately salvageable belongings

-- airs on the front porch. She and Alan will be married four years

on Oct. 21.

"Well, happy anniversary," said Humphries. "Though I know this isn't

the way you wanted to spend it."

But the atmosphere isn't depressing. The volunteers cheer each other

one, the denominational jokes fly, and people don't miss a beat.

Alan, soaked with sweat and exhausted, glances around at the progress the volunteers have made. "If volunteers want to know where to come, this would be a good place," he said.

Posted Nov. 5, 1999


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