Laity from the PNW Conference gather and pray at Pateros Community UMC before they fellowship with other partners supporting the rebuild of Okanogan County.
PNW Laity: Our immersion experience in Okanogan County
By Jesse N. Love with Rosalee Mohney, et. al. | Photos by Andy O’Donnell
“When one suffers, we all suffer.”
“Seeing everything, in person, makes everything so much more real than in pictures.”
“I feel a deep connection to these people and this place.”
“This could easily happen to any one of us. Healing is what we all do for one another.”
Lightning struck dry grasslands igniting the Washington wildfires in 2014 and again in 2015. The Okanogan Complex Fire is the largest fire in Washington State history. According to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, over 1 million acres were burned, costing $253 million dollars. Although recovery and response have begun, communities are still in need.
In July of 2016, Pacific Northwest laity participated in a special immersion trip to the Okanogan area in Central Washington. This eye-opening experience gave participants a first-hand look at how wildfires impacted families and others. Humbling, faith-filled, illuminating, hopeful, enlightening, devastating, renewing, and intense were the actual words attendees used to describe this journey.
Along with destroyed property, the emotional and mental health of people across the region is currently of deep concern. Some residents are still homeless after the fires consumed their homes – as well as their livelihoods. Suicide, domestic abuse, and overall poor emotional health are just some of the symptoms intensified by this disaster.
For some volunteers aiding in the long recovery process, they too are feeling the emotional burden of seeing people struggle as the restoration process slowly happens. “The longer I am in this job, the harder it becomes,” is a sentiment shared by many volunteers and staff doing the very tough job of recovery work. One person says it is the most important ‘job he has ever had.’
Yet, with this heavy-heartedness comes illumination and insight. Both residents and volunteers are living into a sense that they are not alone and that God is with them. By helping those in need, there is a feeling of accomplishment among volunteers. There is a trust that God is at work through the few who are there to listen and share what is happening in this place.
It’s not over; help is still needed. We need to keep being the hands, the feet, backs, and pocketbooks to keep the Rebuild efforts in Okanogan County going.
Families in stress need homes. They need an atmosphere where kids can do homework. Families need a place where meals are enjoyed and a sense of peace and stability is restored.
This is not an issue just for ‘church people’. It is an issue for everyone in the state of Washington. It is an opportunity for the PNW Board of Laity to communicate across our district boundaries and into our communities so they can understand the emotional impact residents in Okanogan County have been feeling for many, many months!
Our long-term commitment to rebuild community through trust and relationships is our missional promise to those in our midst.
If you would like to support the rebuild in donation or volunteer through a work team, contact your district lay leader and visit bit.ly/pnw-rebuild to learn more.
Special thanks to PNW Laity and other partners who contributed their voices to this article: Barry Hansen, Marilyn Hoff, Nicki Dyer, Gordon Ellison-Oslin, Nancy Tam Davis, Carlene Anders, and Jim Truitt.
Rosalee Mohney serves as the lay leader for the Seattle District.
Jesse N. Love serves as the graphic designer & print manager for the PNWUMC.