Brother Joins Rebuilding Effort After 2011 Tornado

Posted: 2/4/2012

Brother Virg Siefker with construction supervisor and tornado victim (center) in Bertie County, N.C., in front of her almost-completed new home. In September 2011, when Brother Virgil Siefker started his new assignment at Glenmary's Bertie County, N.C., mission, he immediately began searching for the best ways to respond to the needs of the mission and larger community. One major challenge he found was that the county's northern areas were still recovering from a devastating April tornado which claimed 12 lives, destroyed 67 homes and damaged 40 others.

It was only natural that one of his many ministries would call on his decades of building experience—not just in constructing buildings but also in building community and building up people. "I thought that helping in the rebuilding effort was one of the best ways I could contribute," he says.

He quickly found a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization, Samaritan's Purse, which was constructing new homes in the county for people whose former homes were destroyed by the tornado and who were in greatest need of financial assistance. Since September, he has volunteered two days a week with this group that provides spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world.

"This project has been a very good fit for me," says Brother Virg, "because it involves people of many denominations joining together to help others in need and witness to the love of Christ." Since he's often the only Catholic on the crew, he's also quietly witnessing as a Catholic brother.

He is part of an ecumenical team that has finished building two houses and is working on others—with the goal of completing nine or 10 homes by July 1, 2012. This rebuilding effort in Bertie County is one of three that Samaritan's Purse has in progress in the United States.

Every week, groups of volunteers come to Bertie County from all over the country to serve on the work crew for five days—an average of about 15 people weekly. Brother Virg and construction supervisor Andy Beauchamp are the constant figures in this effort.

"The crew does everything in Jesus' name," says Brother Virg. "We pray together before we start work each day; when we get to the work site; and with future homeowners when they stop by. On the job, we talk about Jesus and sometimes ask each other questions." He says he feels very accepted and comfortable. "We're always building our relationships with Jesus, our coworkers and the homeowners."

One activity that's an outgrowth of workers' faith is their writing of short Scripture verses on the wall studs of each house. "This is an integral part of the work," Brother Virg says, "because we're dedicating our efforts to God. After the houses are built the homeowners will be surrounded, literally and figuratively, by God."

When new crew members arrive, they often don't have construction experience. As the supervisor, Andy says a major part of his job is teaching volunteers how to use tools and perform tasks needed to build the houses.

"Brother Virg is my right-hand man," says Andy. "He knows what needs to be done, and he trains and supervises volunteers, too. He's a great teacher, very patient. With his quiet demeanor, he reassures and encourages volunteers until they gain confidence and become proficient. He also has a great work ethic and takes real joy in his work. He's a real asset to all of us."

Andy points out that he thinks "the great work" the team does is more than homebuilding. It's also how he, Brother Virg and the work crew pray with homeowners and let them know that the workers and other supporters love them and want to help them get their lives back. In the process, he says, relationships are built—and Brother Virg agrees.

Andy, Brother Virg, other volunteers, and homeowners have said that the experience is life-changing.

On Dec. 9, 2011, two homeowners in Colerain, N.C., officially received the keys to their completed houses. After dedication ceremonies, the gathered group said prayers of thanks and celebrated the occasion.

Lucille Harrells, 76, one of those owners, lived with her family in a trailer for 30 years before it was blown away in April—fortunately when no one was at home. During construction on the property, she came by weekly to visit the workers, talk and pray with them, and say thanks.

"I'm so happy. I know God had a hand in it," says Lucille. "And I'm so grateful to him and all the good people who helped. I couldn't afford to do it myself, and I'm just overjoyed to have a home again. It made me feel like I had already gone to heaven!"

Brother Virg says that he's just very thankful for the opportunity—and eager to keep being part of this ministry until Samaritan's Purse finishes its work in Bertie County.

This article appears in the February 2012 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.