POLK, Pa. — News of the hardworking young men and women wearing black name tags spread quickly among the residents of small town Polk, Pa. After several days of cleaning homes ravaged by flood waters, the missionaries were honored with standing ovations by townspeople and leaders.
When news reports of extensive flooding caused by heavy rains reached President Jay Francis of the Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Mission, he called the bishop of the local ward to learn how his missionaries might assist with the cleanup.
Bishop Daniel N. Butler of the Franklin Ward, Jamestown New York Stake, went door to door asking residents if they could use help cleaning their homes and basements. He said people wept at the prospects of being helped.
On the morning of Aug. 31, President Francis rallied 25 missionaries from the area, and with the direction of the bishop, organized the missionaries into groups.
"We hadn't been there but 30 minutes when a man came by asking who we were," said President Francis. "I explained who we were and our desire to help. He got out of his truck and said, 'I knew God would answer my prayers.'
"He introduced himself as the Rev. Bob Graham, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Franklin, Pa. He told how he was asked to coordinate volunteers to help residents restore their homes."
Missionaries worked steadily for nearly five hours. "We cleared six houses of furniture and carpet. We separated salvageable material from items that were destroyed. We shoveled out garages and sheds and filled dumpsters faster than they could be brought in. Town members heard of our work and what we were accomplishing. They came looking for the missionaries to help them," said President Francis.
Rev. Graham invited President Francis to attend a coordination meeting that evening.
"They gave us a standing ovation," said President Francis. Later that night, Rev. Graham called President Francis to relate how the missionaries received another standing ovation, this time from townspeople who were assembled in a different meeting. He said the missionaries were "the talk of the town."
The mission responded the next morning by supplying 30 missionaries "who did the work of a small army," said President Francis.
"Your people not only work hard, but they are teaching the truth," Rev. Graham said to President Francis.
When work was completed Saturday, Sept. 2, President Francis assembled his missionaries and returned to the community coordinating center where they sang, "The World Has Need of Willing Men," and then "Called to Serve."
As they finished, many were wiping away tears, including Rev. Graham and the Council president.
"Our missionaries exemplified the gospel in action. They worked side by side with the people of Polk, and, for a few hours, they were lost in the care and compassion of serving others," said President Francis.
"It was so rewarding to help these people. By the end of the day, we saw their countenances change from despair to hope," said Elder Bryan Fowler of Sandy, Utah.
"I am touched by the love that I have for the citizens of Polk. Through this service I gained a great love for people I have never met and may never meet again," said Sister Jaclyn Heugly of Salt Lake City. — Shaun D.