By Wendy Healy
Herb Nellis smiles as he tells the devastating story of losing the first floor of his home in a flood from Hurricane Sandy’s wake.
The longtime member of Gethsemane Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Keyport, N.J. — in a section of the New Jersey shore particularly damaged — says he can smile because faith is getting him through.
“What gets me through?” Herb asks. “That people care. You think you’re strong and then something like this comes along and shakes you up,” says the 66-year-old retired truck driver and small-business owner.
ELCA Disaster Response has been in the area since the storm hit, providing basic needs such as food, water and shelter; building and reconstructing homes, communities and congregations; coordinating volunteer efforts from people across the country and supporting case managers working directly with those who have lost everything. The ELCA has made a commitment to stay until the work is done.
The outpouring of support, says Herb, from his pastor, Matt Thringer, church members and the community makes all the difference.
Two months after the Oct. 29 storm flooded much of the town, including Herb’s home, he is still living in an empty house offered by the generosity of friends. At first, he, his wife and two grown children were living 50 miles south with his mother-in-law in Old Bridge, N.J., sleeping on the floor, but then jumped at the opportunity to live in a borrowed house.
“It’s been really overwhelming,” he says. “But when you live at the beach, you have to realize that this is going to happen at some point.”
He readily accepted help when the Mennonites and Amish sent teams of volunteers to help muck out and renovate homes. The group working on his house pulled out sheetrock and floors, ripped out the kitchen, cleaned the crawl space, and bleached everything in sight, says Herb.
“I had 3 to 4 feet of water in my house, including sewage,” he recalls.
Herb felt the outpouring of support for Sandy survivors in New Jersey recently, when a delegation from the ELCA and The Lutheran World Federation, led by the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, visited congregations affected.
Herb was happy to tell his story, especially to the leadership of a church that he says has always been there for him.
“I’ve always had a strong faith and believed in God,” says Herb, “I even went to a Lutheran grade school.”
“God will be there for us.”
Wendy Healy is an ELCA member and owner of Griffin Communications in Danbury, Conn.