Team leader makes Minot a priority
Warren Ellis will be back.
After working on rebuild jobs on 10 flooded homes in Minot, Ellis returned home to Whitefish, Mont., at the end of June with his most recent rebuilding team.
The 35-member group was the fifth that Ellis put together to come to Minot following the 2011 Souris River flood. He plans to return in October with a sixth.
Ellis heard about the level-5 FEMA disaster – the same as Hurricane Katrina – shortly after it happened through the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
“The Montana district was relaying disaster relief information,” Ellis said. “I jumped all over it.”
His then-pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran, James Maxwell, coordinated the first trip to Minot in August 2011. Ten people came and they stayed in Glenburn.
“We worked on 10 homes,” Ellis recalled.
During that trip, Ellis met Cindy Yale of Burlington. Ellis said that Yale, who was with Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, talked about how bad the flooding had been in Minot and how the media “wouldn’t touch” the story.
“That put it in my heart,” Ellis said.
Yale told him that LSSND and Lutheran Disaster Response, unlike other many other organizations, wouldn’t leave until the last home was rebuilt.
“She said they were here for the long haul,” he said. “I committed, too.”
He made it a mission to promote Minot’s rebuild throughout Montana and has followed through.
“It’s the best move I ever made,” Ellis said.
In October 2011, he returned with 27 people.
After Hope Village opened in April 2012, Ellis’ teams volunteered through the one-stop volunteer center. He brought two teams that year, a group of 32 in June and a team of 56 in October.
So far, Ellis’ teams have contributed 4,799 hours of volunteer labor – and he’s coming back in October.
“Christ wants me in Minot,” he said.
As a 15-year-old, Ellis had plans for when he turned 55. Not surprisingly, Minot was not a part of those plans.
“At 15, I wanted to join Laborers for Christ upon early retirement,” he said, referring to the Lutheran group that works on Christian building projects around the country.
Instead, Ellis, now 55, is still working as a planer at Plum Creek Timber, where he’s been for 18 years. He has no plans to retire, but he won’t stop assisting in Minot until the rebuild is complete.
“I always wanted to work for Christ,” he said.
Although he’s never been a public speaker, Ellis has made presentations on Minot’s behalf to groups of 300 or 400.
“I tell them, ‘these are our neighbors,'” Ellis said. “No one knew how bad it was.”
The communities and churches have responded. He began fundraising for the year in January and raised close to $13,000 for this year’s trips, which included a matching grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.
“We went looking and the Lord provided funds,” he said.
He has raised enough money to pay for each trip, including transportation. For that, he also has the use of a Trinity Lutheran school bus that seats 50. Two of the volunteers who have made multiple trips have CDL licenses and are former school bus drivers.
Two-thirds of the June 2013 team had been to Minot at least once before.
“They love it,” Ellis said.
One of the “newbies,” Bob Ellis – no relation to Warren – hails from New Zealand. He and his wife, who’s a Montana native, split their time between the U.S. and New Zealand.
Many of the 35, representing 14 different churches, are prepared to return again in October.
“I’ll be back until it’s done,” Warren Ellis vowed.
Their help is still needed in Minot.
Hope Village coordinates housing, meals and jobs for out-of-town rebuild teams. The multi-denominational volunteer center works with homeowners who have gone through a caseworker system and cannot get back into their homes without help.
So far, Hope Village has served more than 3,800 volunteers and helped put more than 450 families back in their homes. There are about 100 homes that still need to be rebuilt.
To find out how to volunteer, see (hopevillageND.org).