Role reversal is common in the Red River Flood of 1997. "It's a lesson in humility," says Gregory Isaacson, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Ada, Minn. "People here have always been able to give to those in need. This time we're on the other end, and it's given us an awareness of why we give."
The town was evacuated on April 7, and more than half of its 1,700 residents had flood-damaged homes. Four feet of water soaked the kitchen, classrooms and ut ility rooms in the church basement.
The congregation quickly organized to receive dozens of out-of-town volunteers. Karyn Lutz, a family ministry coordinator at Grace, stood on a utility vehicle parked in the street and welcomed 46 members of Calvary Lutheran Church, Perham, Minn., on April 20. In a scene that repeated at dozens of churches throughout the region, she divided the party into work groups and dispatched them to homes around town.
"They haul out wet carpet and stuff and use power scrubbers to clean up houses, Lutz says. "It hurts to throw their things out. I cry sometimes. For some, the grief hasn't set in yet. They're in shock. Normal life is a long way down the road. Even so, people know it's worse at Grand Forks and feel a need to go and help."
At the home of Norman and Delores Moen, volunteers from Perham tear out soaked drywall and haul it to the curb. For the Moens the flood could have been much worse. As the water rose, a gasoline-powered pump filled their home with carbon monoxide. Their adult son, who had returned home to help them, awoke just in time to get them out and take them to the hospital.
"There's likely to be a lot of depression and need for counseling as the cleanup and rebuilding process drags on," Lutz says.
"People feel much better when they get washing," says Loraine Kummer,
a member of Grace. "Yet, the task is so enormous. One guy looking at his place told me, 'Just get a gun and shoot me.' "
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