DR teams answer ministry call three times in late summer

By Karen L. Willoughby

UTAH-IDAHO- Utah-Idaho’s Disaster Relief teams traveled to Pennsylvania in early September to help in Hurricane Ida recovery.

Ten days previously they had been in Idaho to help in a microburst windstorm, and before that, in Colorado to help after a forest fire.

“We love to serve and we did get to do a lot of it right at the end of summer,” said Russel Hohmann, member of Redemption Church of Ogden, Utah, and director for the last six years of Utah-Idaho’s Disaster Relief ministry. 

“Everybody involved wants to serve the Lord,” Hohmann continued. “It gives us a purpose and a pathway to meet people who need help and tell them why we’re there:

“Our goal is to go out and tell people about Jesus Christ,” the Disaster Relief director said. “Cleaning up burnt-up or flooded houses is just a way to talk to people and show Jesus’ love to them.”

The six-person DR team from Utah-Idaho anticipated going to Louisiana after Hurricane Ida hit August 29, but “it seemed like all the big states were going there and Pennsylvania needed help,” the director said. “We decided to go there instead.”

Hohmann and his wife Clara served as the Incident Management Team in Horsham Township, ten miles north of downtown Philadelphia. They processed 89 requests for help from area residents, and helped with chainsaw and mudout ministries to free homes from the effects of flooding and an EF3 tornado, with winds up to 130 mph, which damaged more than 500 homes in the rural area.

The other four members of the UISBC DR team were involved in assessing property damage “to see if we can help,” chainsaw and heavy-duty equipment ministries to tackle fallen trees. In six days of heavy-duty ministry they cleared five homes from fallen trees and met with 25 property owners to assess homes.

A windstorm “microburst” September 1 near Buhl, Idaho, flattened trees “like a tornado [would],” Hohmann said. Ten houses were affected. In four days, the seven person UISBC DR team with the help of local church members cut down several trees and cleared the debris for one family’s home. 

The East Troublesome Fire near the tight-knit mountain community of Grand Lake, Colorado, last October mushroomed in about 36 hours from a “troublesome” 19,000 acres to a massive 170,000 – and eventually 194,000 acres – forced the evacuation of more than 35,000 people, and destroyed 466 homes.

“For many in the Grand Lake area seven months later, the struggle continues to try to reshape lives that went up in a flash,” according to a June 24, 2021, article posted to the denverchannel.com website.

An eight person UISBC DR team ministered there for two weeks in August.

“We separated metal and ash and put it in 40-yard roll-off dumpsters,” Hohmann said. “We worked on the remains of ten homes.”

The DR director, retired as a logistics manager after more than 40 years at Boeing, travels with the Disaster Relief volunteers and “church camps,” Hohmann said, meaning they sleep in nearby churches.

“Without the partnership of local churches this ministry would be severely hampered,” Hohmann said.

About 150 people in Utah-Idaho are trained DR volunteers. About 50 are active, “and everyone is older today than they were yesterday,” Hohmann said. “We’re looking for active retirees and younger people. Request your pastor to request an information meeting with Disaster Relief.

“I thought Disaster Relief would be an easy ministry when I got into it,” the director continued. “I figured, ‘Utah doesn’t have any disasters.’ The next year, 2005, there were the floods in St. George. That’s when I really got hooked on helping people through Disaster Relief. When you get to do what God has directed you to do, you are filled with His joy.”

To those who might wonder about the ministry involved in Disaster Relief, Hohmann said, “I tell ‘em, ‘You won’t know ‘til you go out and do it, so come and join us.’ God can use everyone who has a desire to be active in the Disaster Relief Ministry.”

The next training opportunities are slated for chainsaw and Serve Safe on November 5-6, 2021 in Burley, Idaho. “Online training is not offered at this time, however I encourage you to ask your pastor to schedule an in-person information session or initial Disaster Relief training,” the director said.

For more information, see UISBC.org/disaster-relief/ 

About the Author

Karen L. Willoughby

Karen is a National Correspondent for Baptist Press and has written extensively about Utah-Idaho and our region for many years.