Canadian Relief Efforts for Hurricane Sandy Victims
Contributed by Kirstie Shepherd of the Hamilton Ontario Stake
On a weekend in early January, 140 young adult Canadian members from Ontario and Quebec travelled to New York City to help with the relief effort after Hurricane Sandy. Working with 68 local missionaries, they accomplished a total of 2,940 hours of work and completed 111 outstanding work orders in the Plainview Stake area of Long Island, NY. The group gave welcomed relief to the church members in the area who had already given many hours of service in their own community.
When I was first asked about going to Long Island to help with Hurricane Sandy Relief, I didn't think I'd be able to go. I had just had two weeks off for Christmas holidays, and the Friday we were to be in New York City would be my third day back at work. However, during sacrament meeting as I heard about the work the group would do, I could feel the Spirit prompting me to be on that bus. I planned out my work week so that I could get all of my work done by Thursday; I packed my bag for the trip; but most of all, I prayed that my boss's heart would be softened so that I could get Friday off. When I asked for the day off he agreed without any hesitation, and I knew that his response was an answer to my prayers.
Upon arriving Friday morning after a long overnight bus trip, I was paired with two members of my YSA branch and two local missionaries. We went to a home that had been completely destroyed in the flood. In two months of trying to gut the house, little progress had been made. After five hours, we had completely gutted the first floor of the house. The work was hard, the conditions were far from the best, but the job was fun. As we worked, we chatted with Janine about her family, about the flood and even about the gospel. As we worked and talked, we felt Spirit grow in that home. At the end of the day, we were left standing in the shell of her house staring in silence at the studs in the walls and the plywood boards that covered the floor. No words could be said. The Spirit was so strong that I knew everyone in the room could feel it. Janine was left speechless. Tears welled up in her eyes and all that she could manage to say was a soft, yet powerful, “Thank you.” Pulling herself together, she asked if we could take a picture with her. As we were heading out the door, she gave us each a hug. When it was my turn she pulled me in tightly and held me with so much love and gratitude. Here was a woman, a complete stranger to me only five hours before, whom I now loved with all my heart and soul. This is what the pure love of Christ feels like. This is the real meaning of Charity.
On Saturday, I was paired with two more members of my branch and two other local elders who drove us to Long Beach for the day. Our first call was at the home of Mary, an older woman. She was an inspiration to us. The flood had damaged only her basement, but she had lost many of her belongings. However, her spirit was unbroken. She focused on the positive. She had some floorboards that needed to be removed. We made quick work of it, and before we knew it the job was done. After finishing we spent some time with Mary just chatting about her experience with the flood and her life since then. What an example - to be happy even in the midst of tribulation! We ended by taking a picture and sharing hugs, and once again the love I felt for this complete stranger was indescribable.
Our second job that day was only a few blocks away. Marilyn needed a lot of help. No work had been done in her home and a lot needed doing. We tore down the drywall and ripped up the floorboards, all the while clearing it out and adding it to the huge pile of garbage on the curb. What seemed like an impossible task at the beginning was quickly completed, and before we knew it, we were all on Marilyn's tiny front porch taking a group picture with her. As we were leaving, I stopped to give Marilyn a hug. She pulled me close and held me tight. I said, “Thank you for inviting us into your home.” She pulled back a bit, looked me in the eyes and burst into tears then said, “I'm the one who cannot thank you enough. I am so grateful. You have done so much for me. You are my angels.”
In Mosiah 2:17, it says, “And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”
This weekend I learned wisdom. The Lord knew that I needed to experience this lesson first hand, which is why He gave me the initial desire to go and then blessed me with the means to do so. He knew that I needed to learn the important lesson of what it really means to have charity. I testify of His hand in all things. I testify of the joy and happiness that comes through serving our fellow man. I testify of the Lord's undeniable and unconditional love for every one of his children, and I testify that it is possible to feel and give this love through the service we perform for our brothers and sisters. It was the greatest weekend of my life and I hope to carry this feeling forever in my heart.