David is a 53-year-old gentleman with disabilities who was also recovering from back surgery when severe flooding hit Louisiana in August 2016. As the water rose around David’s Denham Springs home, a couple of men stopped to help him and one of his three dogs get to dry land. They said they would return, but they never made it back to get him.
As the water crept higher, David managed to get to a nearby home and grabbed onto its narrow porch railing. David knew that if he slipped off the porch, he would be in water over his head and unable to stay afloat. The house to which he clung quickly filled with water so he could not take shelter inside. He was able to get his dog onto the roof of the house, but he couldn’t climb up there himself. He held onto the porch, bracing himself against the current. It got so strong that he was afraid he would be swept away. Night came and there was still no sign of rescue. David spent the night treading water and pushing away snakes that tried to climb on him to get out of the water.
"When I came here, I was sure that there was no God. Now I think there may be a God after all."
In the morning, rescuers who came by boat found David and took him to a shelter. At the shelter, he found the second of his three dogs but sadly, he lost third one.
Five months later, David accidently entered a World Renew DRS walk-in center while looking for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) office. World Renew DRS volunteers at the center were helping flood survivors connect with their local recovery group, Rebuild Livingston. After telling him that FEMA was no longer at the location, DRS volunteer Evelyn Knetsch asked David if he would like to fill out an assessment survey with her. He said no at first, but as Evelyn started to ask him about his experiences during and after the flood, he began to trust her. As he worked through the survey, he told Evelyn that he has ongoing nightmares about snakes. He said that he was sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of an elderly friend’s home because his home was gutted and unliveable. Sleeping on an air mattress wasn’t good for David’s back, but he couldn’t afford to buy a new bed. Evelyn connected David with a case worker from Rebuild Livingston who made it a priority to get a suitable bed for him as soon as possible.
At the end of their time talking, Evelyn and David prayed together. He said, “When I came here, I was sure there was no God. Now I think there may be a God after all.”
In August 2016, David, and 90 percent of the residents in Denham Springs, about 40,000 households, experienced the worst U.S. disaster since Super-Storm Sandy in 2012.
Rebuild Livingston asked World Renew DRS to conduct a needs assessment, and over the course of two weeks in January 2017, DRS volunteers interviewed more than 1,400 individuals and families in Denham Springs. This was a record for a county-wide World Renew DRS needs assessment: It was more than any single assessment taken after Hurricane Katrina or Super-Storm Sandy.
Since then, Rebuild Livingston has continued to get calls from residents alerting them to even more needs in their community.
“It’s very common for people who have been through a disaster to not know where to turn in their community for assistance,” said Bob Laarman, Director of World Renew DRS. “On the other side, it’s difficult for a local recovery group such as Rebuild Livingston to figure out who in their community needs help and what those needs are. This is where World Renew DRS comes in. We can act as the bridge between survivors, who, if they don’t get additional help, are at great risk of falling through the cracks, and the local recovery organization that is eager to help their community members.”
The information from World Renew’s needs assessment surveys was given to Rebuild Livingston, and the agency is hard at work securing funding and resources, and caring for their neighbors. The organization’s top priority right now is to meet the urgent needs of flood survivors who were identified during the assessment. This includes connecting people with resources such as safe housing, beds, food pantries, diapers, and critical emotional and spiritual support. Rebuild Livingston is also making plans to address long-term needs, including home reconstruction for hundreds of households.
“Even through the difficult experiences, many flood survivors expressed unwavering faith and are confident that God will provide,” said Barb Bracko, World Renew DRS volunteer who served in Denham Springs. “Their faith is an inspiration and a beacon of light in the darkness that surrounds them. Although their earthly possessions have been lost, their eternal treasure has multiplied.”
Please pray for David and other survivors of this flood as they seek the strength they need to recover and rebuild. Pray that they will experience the peace of Christ as they continue their journey of recovery. Pray also for Rebuild Livingston, as they work with their community to help their neighbors.
Will you encourage disaster survivors like David by volunteering with World Renew DRS? As a volunteer, you can be part of changing stories from loss to hope in Christ’s name. In Denham Springs, plans to host and coordinate out of town volunteers to help with reconstruction are still underway. However, there are more than a dozen more communities like Denham Springs in the U.S. and Canada that are also recovering from natural disasters, some of which occurred more than a year ago. Visit worldrenew.net/volunteer to search for volunteer opportunities, and learn more at worldrenew.net/aboutdrs.
Barb Bracko, a World Renew DRS volunteer from British Columbia, shared David’s experience as written in this article. Bracko and 30 other volunteers from the U.S. and Canada were a part of the needs assessment in Denham Springs, Louisiana.