By Rev. Sheila Miranda
On November 11, I had the privilege of representing the PNW Connectional Ministries Office at the dedication of three new homes in the Okanogan area. Thirty-some people, including staff, volunteers, and representatives of funding groups, trudged through the snow to visit and bless each home. While I was quite aware of the UMCOR funding, the generous giving to the Board of Laity’s “Rising from the Ashes” campaign, and the many volunteer efforts in the rebuilding process, what took me by surprise that day was the gratitude of the homeowners and the cooperation of many faith-based organizations.
The owner of the first home, who had moved in a few days earlier, declared, “There are no drafts! This is the best house I have ever lived in.” She commented that when asked about what she wanted in her house, she just told them to build it as if it were their own home. She felt like utmost care had been taken for her and her family.
At the second home, the owner fought back tears when asked if there was anything she wanted to say. She started slowly, “There are no words…”. Her voice broke with emotion. Then, when she had regained her composure, she spoke with gratitude: “All of you fly with wings of grace. I’m so blessed and so grateful. Out of such tragedy, who could imagine that such miracles would come? Not only have you restored my home, you have restored my life.” Representatives of Mennonite Disaster Services presented a handmade quilt of hearts to her to remind her of the relationships that had formed through rebuilding her home. Catholic Charities were also present as funding contributors.
The third home was a four-bedroom house for a father and his four daughters. The father expressed appreciation for what was done for their family and invited us to look around the home. We received their hospitality as they shared fry bread and huckleberry jam with all in attendance.
Barry Hansen, lay leader of Conconully United Methodist Church and member of the PNW Board of Laity, has served as the Project Manager for the Long Term Recovery Group since 2015. He has overseen the rebuilding of 42 homes in the Okanogan area, with four to five more to come. He presented each homeowner with their Certificate of Occupancy from the Colville Reservation. Barry spoke about the importance of relationships in the rebuilding process. He said that all the work could be hired out, but it wouldn’t be the same – it is the relationships that are formed with the homeowners and also with suppliers and workers that make it work. Relationships, he says, are the essence of the projects.
I was blessed to have represented our PNW Connectional Ministries Office at the dedication. Seeing what is accomplished when many people and organizations work together as instruments of God’s love and grace was amazing. Thank you to all who have given time and resources to be a blessing to families who lost so much in the fires between 2014 and 2020. Your ongoing commitment and generosity have been received with hearts full of gratitude.
Rev. Sheila Miranda serves as Assistant for Connectional Ministries for the Inland and Seven Rivers Missional Districts of the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.