Recently, we sat down with Jim Savage, Central Appalachian Missionary Conference’s Disaster Response Coordinator and Director of Mission and Outreach Ministries. We talked with him about the recent flooding, pandemic, and the faithfulness of Kentucky United Methodists.
As the Conference’s Disaster Response Coordinator, what have you been experiencing in the past couple of years?
It's an honor to be able to work in this position because I love to help people and I think this is one of the best ways our conference can reach out. It's part of the mission and vision of our conference. Not only are we a missionary conference that receives from the outside so we can do ministry inside the conference, but we are also missionaries through our outreach outside of our conference.
Dealing with disasters for years, but also more recently, how have you seen God work in your community?
With the devastation we have seen caused by flooding, we're building on what we have learned and how we are connected. One thing that still amazes me is how well-connected the United Methodist Church is. Even during this time of turmoil, I find that we, as a church, are so connected.
Immediately we had UMCOR stepping in. We saw teams coming in. We saw people reaching out to help. It was great to see how we're connected. It is amazing the work UMCOR does to prepare people, prepare teams, and then get those teams activated and motivated to move into an area with a disaster.
Tell us about the work your local people are doing within the conference and why it's important for them to get involved.
Some of our churches are getting ready for Christmas through gifting ministries in their communities. For example, one of our churches has a backpack ministry, and another has a bicycle ministry. We also have churches feeding people.
It's amazing how God works. We knew after the flood happened 18 months ago that we weren't as prepared as we should be, and we learned a lesson and began collecting flood buckets. So, at the annual conference during mission night, our goal was to prepare 40 flood buckets and hygiene kits. We raised just enough to do 40 buckets, then we got a phone call from the Minnesota Annual Conference. They wanted to highlight our ministry because of flooding. They gave us 40% of their mission night giving. We felt so honored.
That generous gift motivated us to try to fill 100 buckets and hygiene kits during the interim between the two annual conferences. GCFA got involved and their ministry partner, The Home Depot, donated 100 buckets. With that gift, we met our goal of 100 flood buckets. We completed this just before most recent flooding happened and were able to hand them out.
We still have 350 that are on hand to give out next time. Flooding around here happens often, and we'll be a lot more prepared the next time.
What is happening in the conference that excites you and gives you hope?
We have been able to bring in resources that will help people get close to living their normal lives. We've dedicated ourselves to the next few years to serve Eastern Kentucky survivors. It always excites me when we can reach beyond our walls, touch lives, and help transform them.
We were also able to access some resources from UMCOR through grants and training. Because of that, we plan to hire case workers and managers to help communities as they reset. We walk together with the survivors to ensure they have exactly what they need to meet their long-term recovery plan.
How is the "grassroots" movement inspiring change, and how is the conference working to support that movement?
The United Methodist have embraced the conference's vision and mission and are stepping up. We've been clergy led, and it's been out of convenience mostly, but over time that's exactly what our conferences have become. We are now asking our lay leaders to step up and help lead the conference.
We have made part of our mission and vision to get lay leaders more involved so that our conference is prepared and they're using all the gifts and talents that God has given us. We have so much talent out there. We have people who can lead worship, preach, and lead in all ministries of our churches. We’ve been empowering them to release their people to do those ministries and use their gifts and talents.
Post-pandemic, are you seeing the same volume of volunteer teams coming back to the area?
No, we aren't. I think people are still a little bit scared of COVID. I've talked to a few families that normally come, and they're saying they would rather continue to do mission work close to their home rather than come to central Kentucky.
What are your next steps?
We're still working on the long-term recovery groups with different methods, pastors, and laypeople. I'll still be traveling throughout the area, helping the different groups get started, but we'll also be overseeing teams coming in from UMCOR.
We have a team that will coordinate those trips so that we can contact the survivors, find out what they need, and place them with teams that will work on providing exactly what they need. This is ideal, rather than just coming in and trying to overload the place with lumber and trying to rebuild right away.
We will pull lay people, clergy, and businesses together to plan survivors' futures on how to recover from the flooding. We will continue to walk alongside the survivors and the leaders and long-term recovery groups in those communities, and make sure that they have everything they need to get back to their norm.
How can people get involved in this transformation?
Giving to the Central Appalachian Missionary Conference, the permanent “boots on the ground” helps. Financial giving to UMCOR goes a long way. You can also speak with your conference leaders and ask how you can get involved. You can also call us and let us know that you would like to bring a team to help.
I want to thank you all for the amount of support that you have given to us. We can't do the ministry we do without your help, and so we truly depend on you. Thank you for stepping up once again and showing your love for God, the United Methodist Church, and your missionary conference.
We thank you. Your support means more to us than you'll ever know.