By Kristen Caldwell
A small group from Colby United Methodist Church gathered inside the Mueller home in Port Orchard on New Year’s Day for the simple blessing of their rebuilt home a year after it was ripped apart.
“It was important to just be together and bless this house as they continue moving forward with their lives,” said Colby UMC Pastor Sheila Miranda.
But it certainly wasn’t the first blessing this family of six, with three dogs, one cat, and one rabbit felt since the December 18, 2018, tornado in their hometown devastated their neighborhood — but not their faith.
“God has a funny way of doing things,” said John Mueller of the day a quick, yet powerful tornado touched down in Port Orchard and wreaked havoc on his neighborhood. “It was surreal to look at (all the damage), but there was a sense of calm and peace the entire time.”
A lifelong United Methodist, John Mueller said he and his wife, Beth, also got to reap the rewards of the connections sewn in The United Methodist Church as one of the local United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams responded to their neighborhood to help clean up the aftermath.
“They came in with shovels, meals help, and tape. They were everywhere,” John Mueller said. “They integrated themselves within the community — not just at John’s house. And I was in awe.”
God’s mercy and grace were in every little detail of that day and the days, weeks, and months that followed, Mueller recalled.
The tornado touched down around 2 p.m. Mueller and his wife were at work; their children were either at work or school. The twister sucked the roof off of their humble red, split-level home. But none of the humans were there to get hurt.
Two of the dogs were in kennels that happened to be tucked into safe spots and were easy to recover. The third dog was hiding under a china hutch that had been knocked over onto a kitchen counter.
The cat was underneath a bed in his son’s room.
The rabbit was a little more challenging to get to, but one of the local firefighters who escorted Mueller to the house pushed through the door and got the final pet.
All the Muellers were safe.
The next day, though, through the shards of glass, broken furniture, and doors off hinges, they could see they’d lost nearly everything. John said emotionally it felt like jumping into a pit and not knowing what to do with the feelings of grief, loss and helplessness that can crop up.
But then, John said the sun popped up from the clouds for just a moment and rays of light trickled into their home.
“I feel at that moment; it was God saying, ‘it’s all going to be OK,’” Mueller said.
Miranda was on the phone with the Muellers the night after the storm had passed. They didn’t know what they needed. But she never sensed hopelessness from her parishioners.
“As great as the devastation was, there was gratitude for no loss of life,” she said. “They could cope with rebuilding.”
They had a place to stay for the night — one of their daughters had just moved into her own apartment a week before. Then, through their insurance, they were put up in a local motel and then a rental house while the rebuilding took place.
The Muellers went to church in Colby that Sunday, where Puget Sound Missional District Superintendent J. Mark Galang was in attendance as well as Jim Truitt, Greater Northwest Area Disaster Response Coordinator.
The Muellers took Galang and Truitt back to their neighborhood where they met with local disaster coordinators, who John said were stunned to know the United Methodists stood ready to help.
“Our church has supported UMCOR for years,” Miranda said. “When there was a need in the community they were right there. It was really powerful for the Muellers.”
John Mueller, who spent his career in the military deploying to third world countries helping them rebuild their infrastructure from a myriad of political and natural disasters, still gets chills and feels joy when he thinks about the volunteer response.
“United Methodists have a fantastic way of showing their faith through their deeds and their actions,” he said.
Kristen Caldwell serves as Interim Director of Communications for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church.