By Mariellyn Dunlap Grace
“It almost restores your faith in people,” remarks Gordon Ginn, pastor at Grant Memorial United Methodist Church in Moscow, OH, where recent tornadoes severely damaged much of the town. Though he was in the hospital when the tornadoes hit, Pastor Ginn returned home the next day to find his church already serving meals to people affected by the tornadoes.
“That first week, we were sending 100 to 150 meals up to the affected area each day,” Ginn says. “And more people came [to eat] here at the church. Donations of food and water came in immediately. We even fed the college students who came to help out on their spring break.”
All this by a small, rural church with an average attendance of about 60 people on Sunday mornings. Since the tornadoes, Grant Memorial’s attendance has never dipped below 70, with 15-20 children. On Easter Sunday, the small sanctuary was filled to capacity as 139 people came to celebrate Christ’s – and perhaps anticipate Moscow’s – resurrection.
“The tornado, bad as it was, has brought about so much good,” comments Ted Hastings, a member at Grant Memorial who coordinated much of the church’s relief efforts. “I’ve been impressed by the outpouring of love and care, especially immediately after the storms.”
One example of that love was a man who stopped by the church to see Pastor Ginn: “The man had $100 in his hand, and he told me to give it to someone who needed it. I said, no, there’s a fund for that, but he wanted me to give it to someone personally. Right then, I saw a man we’d been helping, a veteran suffering from dementia whose house had been destroyed. Seeing him, the [first] man gave me $60 more. There have been so many instances like that, of being in the right place at the right time.”
While many volunteers stepped up to help the people of Moscow, those out in the countryside beyond village limits were left mainly to fend for themselves. But not for long – Pastor Jane Beattie of Felicity United Methodist Church soon began sending volunteers out into the rural areas with rakes and flyers telling what supplies were available at the church.
Felicity UMC became a central drop-off point for donations of food, baby supplies, cleaning supplies, trash cans, etc. Starting the day after the tornadoes, Felicity also prepared meals – as they do on a regular basis – for townspeople and volunteers. Felicity’s soup kitchen typically feeds 250 people each week, though the church averages just 55 in attendance on Sunday mornings. Felicity also has a food pantry, occasional clothing give-aways, a seed and gardening program, and is a Benefit Bank site.
“Most of the people in this town consider me their pastor, even if they never come to church,” Pastor Beattie says.
Several weeks after the Moscow tornadoes, severe flooding damaged over 100 homes and businesses in the small town of Hebron, OH. One of the places affected by the flood waters was Hebron/New Life United Methodist Church’s Baby Pantry, a ministry that provides diapers, clothing, formula, and other items to families that cannot afford to buy them.
About $5,000 worth of baby items were destroyed by the flooding, but instead of focusing on their own problems, Pastor Brian Harkness and his congregation looked outward: “In the initial hours, we met with neighbors, assessed needs, and prayed with families. The baby pantry used some of its funds to buy gift cards to McDonalds and Subway and gave them to families who had been flooded out so they could take a break from cleaning and go eat. We [also] coordinated volunteers to help families clean out their homes.”
In return, the community has poured out financial support for the Baby Pantry and the flood relief fund that Pastor Harkness and Hebron UMC were asked to oversee. “Many groups and churches have completed drives for baby supplies, and thousands of items have come in to replace what was lost in the flood,” Pastor Harkness says. “Those that we have been able to help have been very grateful.”
One grateful recipient of that assistance was a 70-year-old woman whose basement had flooded and had no one to help clean it out. “We took four volunteers over that day and found a basement full of 20 years’ worth of belongings, which all were destroyed and needed removed. We worked for a few hours and decided to come back with more help,” Pastor Harkness recalls. “I was contacted by West Ohio [and] offered help [from] a disaster response team led by Bill Marshall from Racine UMC. He brought a crew of 15 people who worked 12 hours in one day. They removed all of the contents of the basement, saved what they could, and threw away all of the damaged items. They totally cleaned the basement, dried it, and put everything back. It was amazing.”
To give and receive help. To love and be loved. To show compassion and be impacted by the depth of it.
“We have learned how amazing it is to see God at work in a community,” Pastor Harkness concludes. “People were constantly asking how they could help. Those serving received a greater blessing than those who were being helped. We all grew spiritually as we worked together to put lives back together.”
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)
To learn more about West Ohio’s Disaster Relief efforts, visit (link to Disaster Relief).