Advertisement

Disaster Relief Volunteer Shares Life-Changing Experiences

Share:

Lisa Letkeman 2 Crop
Lisa Letkeman (in brown) with her team of volunteers. Brenda Sawatzky

For many, the shoebox gift campaign called Operation Christmas Child is what the charitable organization Samaritan’s Purse is known for. Few realize that this organization, founded in 1973, has long been providing disaster relief around the globe.

Lisa Letkeman of Niverville first discovered the joy of volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse in 2017. Two years later, she’s provided volunteer aid on seven different occasions at locations around Canada and the United States.

“My whole life, all I ever wanted to do was help people,” Letkeman says. “I felt like I needed an adventure, to step out of my comfort zone and stop being afraid of life.”

Letkeman openly admits that, throughout her adult life, she’s struggled with some paralyzing fears. The most recent, and the one that pushed her to this new challenge, was the moment her youngest child graduated, leading her to reconcile with the fact that her role as a mother would no longer be the same.

It was a moment in her life that she calls her mid-life crisis—and it led to a number of meltdowns that worried her husband and friends.

“I just thought my life was over,” she recalls. “It totally did me in because I’m really close to my kids.”

Lisa did what many Christians do: she prayed for guidance, which she hoped would bring new meaning to her life. When she heard about Hurricane Harvey’s destructive impact on areas of Texas in August 2017, she felt her answer had come.

Still, she had another major fear to overcome. Earlier in her adult life, she’d volunteered with another charitable organization in Europe which she describes as a “really awful experience,” causing her to cut her time there short and return home.

But she pressed on anyway and began an online search for organizations that were providing aid to the communities in Texas. After discovering Samaritan’s Purse, it all felt right.

By October 2017, she was on a plane headed for Pairland, Texas.

“I was almost in my mid-fifties [when I decided to go] and I wondered, ‘Can I even do this?’” she says. “But Samaritan’s Purse [makes it easy]. It’s a great organization.”

Since then, she’s been actively helping victims whose homes and lives have been devastated by hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. Her travels have taken her to New Brunswick, Florida, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island for two- to five-week volunteer engagements.

Most Samaritan’s Purse volunteers, she says, just show up when a call is put out. Letkeman has experienced times when she’s the only volunteer to arrive and other times when they have more than enough. Volunteers only need pay for their flight. Upon arrival, accommodations and food is provided by the organization.

“Samaritan’s Purse has what they call Lighthouse Churches, and so when there’s a disaster… the [local] church basically gives us free rein,” says Letkeman. “They give us space in their building for us to set up cots to sleep.”

Samaritan’s Purse provides trailers with showers and demolition equipment as well as onsite cooks to feed the work crews.

Volunteers are whisked off to the disaster site the day after arrival. In some cases, they may be put to work cleaning up fallen trees, branches, and debris. Other times, they dig into the arduous task of gutting homes that have been partially destroyed by floodwaters. The work crew’s goal is to get the home ready for contractors to rebuild.

“In some places it’s so humid and hot,” Letkeman says. “The mold is often right to the ceiling or in the ceiling.” 

Stories of Loss 

The work also often entails removing and disposing of the homeowner’s damaged furnishings and life possessions, something that brings an added level of poignancy to the task. Somewhere in the near vicinity, the devastated homeowner often looks on in tearful disbelief but with a grateful heart for the volunteer aid.

For this reason, Samaritan’s Purse tasks each of its volunteers with a second mission: to provide a listening ear, even if it means laying down the hammer for an hour so they can give the homeowner a chance to recount their story of loss.

Letkeman recalls with clarity one such situation: an older gentleman had recently lost his wife and now was faced with the indescribable pain of letting go of many of their cherished belongings due to flood damage. These were the very things that brought her memory to life for him.

Through encouragement and a patient, listening ear, Letkeman was able to help him reconcile with what needed to be done. She still keeps some communication with him to this day.

While there is heartache behind every situation the volunteers attend to, for Letkeman, the most heart-wrenching experience was the hurricane destruction she witnessed in Florida last year.

 “It was like Armageddon there,” says Letkeman. “I’d never had trouble keeping it together until [that experience]… It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle it, it’s just that I was really broken by what I was seeing… talking to a mother who’d lost her kids because she was living in a car.”

Working amongst the rubble, Letkeman and her team heard stories of families separated and split between relatives around the country, some families living in tents and others in their cars. Churches and fire halls were filled beyond capacity, trying to provide shelter and food for the many homeless and jobless residents.

Many of these same residents had no insurance on their homes due to the high-risk area they lived in. Most couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. 

Team Leader 

After just her second deployment with Samaritan’s Purse, leaders within the organization encouraged Letkeman to become a team leader, which essentially gives her the position of job foreman. She accepted the challenge.

Since then, she’s been organizing teams of five to 15 people as they are assigned to her. She provides oversight and encouragement to the volunteers who arrive, many of them women who need to be given the confidence to stretch their abilities and build new skills.

Between Samaritan’s Purse and the benevolence of a supportive couple from Letkeman’s home church, her flights are now covered. She also began attending annual training sessions last year where she learned the basics of safely dealing with mold and where she was provided some hands-on training in roofing and chainsaw use.

She says she’s built strong relationships with the other team leaders. As well, with each of her excursions away, she’s experienced the joy of making lasting friendships.

“For me and for most people at Samaritan’s Purse, it’s about the people connection,” Letkeman says. “Not just the people you’re working together with but the people that you’re helping. There are so many God moments every day [on the job].”

As for returning home from each volunteer assignment, the transition isn’t an easy one, she says. But instead of feeling guilt about the things she still has, she chooses instead to bask in a renewed sense of thankfulness.

Advertisement
More LOCAL NEWS

The Latest Look Inside the CRRC

Construction continues at the Community Resource & Recreation Centre in Niverville, where work has largely moved indoors. Although there have been some delays, the building is on track to be...

Read more

Construction continues at the Community Resource & Recreation Centre in Niverville, where work has largely moved indoors. Although there have been some delays, the building is on track to be...

Read more

Updated January 26: Local Active Cases at 10

On Tuesday, the province announced 94 new cases. There are 140 active hospitalizations, with 25 active ICU patients. Five new deaths were reported today, bringing the total death toll to 809. Our...

Read more

On Tuesday, the province announced 94 new cases. There are 140 active hospitalizations, with 25 active ICU patients. Five new deaths were reported today, bringing the total death toll to 809. Our...

Read more
Advertisement

Province Slightly Loosens Pandemic Restrictions

At a press conference on January 21, Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin announced that the time has come to slightly relax some of the pandemic restrictions that are currently in place to...

Read more

At a press conference on January 21, Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin announced that the time has come to slightly relax some of the pandemic restrictions that are currently in place to...

Read more

Niverville Council Meeting in Review—January 19

Niverville’s council met virtually on the evening of Tuesday, January 19 to discuss a variety of items on the town’s agenda. Waste Collection Fee Increase Coming Homeowners in Niverville...

Read more

Niverville’s council met virtually on the evening of Tuesday, January 19 to discuss a variety of items on the town’s agenda. Waste Collection Fee Increase Coming Homeowners in Niverville...

Read more
Advertisement

Small Increase Coming to Niverville Waste Collection Fee

Homeowners in Niverville will be asked to pay slightly more per year for garbage and recycling collection. Residents had been paying $118.07 per year, but going forward the proposed rate is $125, an...

Read more

Homeowners in Niverville will be asked to pay slightly more per year for garbage and recycling collection. Residents had been paying $118.07 per year, but going forward the proposed rate is $125, an...

Read more

13 Residents Test Positive in Heritage Life PCH Outbreak

The Heritage Life Personal Care Home in Niverville, which has been operating under code red protocols since an outbreak was declared two weeks ago, has announced a number of new cases of COVID-19 on...

Read more

The Heritage Life Personal Care Home in Niverville, which has been operating under code red protocols since an outbreak was declared two weeks ago, has announced a number of new cases of COVID-19 on...

Read more
Advertisement

RCMP Officer Being Investigated for Speeding

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU) is investigating an allegation of a driving offence against an on-duty member of the RCMP. On January 13, 2021, the RCMP notified the IIU of...

Read more

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU) is investigating an allegation of a driving offence against an on-duty member of the RCMP. On January 13, 2021, the RCMP notified the IIU of...

Read more

The Latest on the COVID-19 Vaccine

Much has been reported about the rollout and availability of vaccines since mid-December when they began to arrive in Manitoba. But the average resident of the Southern Health region will have to...

Read more

Much has been reported about the rollout and availability of vaccines since mid-December when they began to arrive in Manitoba. But the average resident of the Southern Health region will have to...

Read more
Time until next issue
Citizen Poll

Are you satisfied with the way your municipal government handles garbage/recycling pickup services?

For related articles, see link below.
https://nivervillecitizen.com/...

https://nivervillecitizen.com/...