It went down as one of the worst floods in the history of Burlington.
In July 2017, the skies cracked opened, leaving much of the city underwater. While the water receded, there are haunting memories of the destruction for many residents.
For Journey Church, which has locations in Burlington, Beach Park, Ill., and Kenosha, Burlington’s floods brought forth a sense of helplessness at the inability to know what to do to help the residents who were struggling without power, water and homes.
While members of the congregation were previously interested in becoming a vital cog in emergency preparedness, response and recovery efforts, it took the floods to realize it was the proper time to create a volunteer team, said Jeff Berard, Journey Church Disaster Response Team director.
“During that devastating event, hundreds of homes and businesses were affected for many days. People came to Journey Church looking for help, and many came wanting to help,” he said. “Journey Church, of course, is not the only place people went, but just because of the footprint and position in the area, many came.
“Our pastoral staff was overwhelmed as they tried to do whatever they could, but they were just not prepared. We could have done better.”
With his history as a volunteer firefighter, fire investigator and fire inspector, from which he retired, Berard has experience working with a variety of emergency departments and law enforcement agencies and understands the systems and how they operate. It seemed only natural that he should lead a disaster relief ministry.
“I was given the opportunity to lead this team, and I immediately accepted based on the gifts, talents and skills God has given me throughout my life. I can now use them again to serve people needing help,” he said.
“In any disaster, the group most affected are the vulnerable. They do not have the resources available to rent a hotel room, get food, clothes, medical care and the basics. They, in many cases, just lost everything they owned and are experiencing great grief and trial. They typically have no relatives to stay with or people to help. We believe the church is to stand in the gap and provide for those who cannot provide for themselves.”
The team, which works closely with Missouri-based Convoy of Hope, has 90 trained members of various ages, levels and capacities. As the team expands its membership, volunteers will be added from outside Journey Church.
There is no requirement to join Journey Church — or any church — to participate in the Disaster Relief Team, and volunteers are welcome and will receive training from area fire/EMS, medical and law enforcement teams.
“They share their expertise and resources with us, and we are there to help as the volunteer base when needed,” Berard said. “Having this relationship is key to our long-term sustainability.
“By working closely, everyone knows each other, that we are trained and that we are all certified to be there. This alone removes a lot of stress from an incident commander.”
Lending a hand
So far, the Disaster Response Team sent several team members to Madison last year to clean up after flooding, as well as assisted a local family whose home was destroyed by fire.
Berard hopes the team will help fill the gaps in the community.
“This team is unique in that we are, first, an all-volunteer organization, which is challenging, but I can say with all certainty these are the very best and most dedicated people anyone can serve with,” he said. “I could not have selected a better team of true leaders as the ones we have today.
“Our operational plan incorporates redundancy and cross training in each critical role, so when something happens our leadership team can fall into whatever is needed.
“Yes, we could use more people, and interest is spreading, but we believe we are in a good place and building a community that will be prepared, equipped and ready when something does happen.
“In the meantime,” he added, “we invest our time learning from others, building our team and relationships in the community and educating people on how they can be prepared.”
Living the Gospel
Kevin Taylor, Journey Church lead pastor, looks forward to being equipped to assist those in need. He added that the team is living the Gospel of Jesus Christ by reaching out to others in need.
“The Disaster Response Team was formed because there is a recognition that not only are Christ followers called to be examples of Jesus in thought and lifestyle, they are also compelled to help people who find themselves unexpectedly in desperate moments of life,” he said.
“Never are we more helpless than when a tragedy strikes — a flood, a tornado, a fire — and never are we more in need of people who simply care and are compassionate enough to do something about it.”