Haitian Methodists, UMCOR assess volunteer needs

Haitian Methodists, UMCOR assess volunteer needs

By Linda Bloom

The Methodist Church in Haiti and United Methodist Committee on Relief are identifying “suitable projects and assignments” for volunteer teams wishing to assist with earthquake recovery in Haiti. Both groups are asking volunteers to delay their arrival in Haiti until those assessments are complete.

Evaluations in the six church circuits most affected by the earthquake are being made to determine the extent of the damage in church communities and beyond, according to the Rev. Gesner Paul, president of the Methodist Church in Haiti.

“Suitable projects and assignments for volunteer teams wishing to contribute to the recovery effort will not be identified until this process is complete,” he wrote in a January 28 letter to the United Methodist Church.

Paul estimates work teams for priority projects probably could schedule trips for late March and April, once the emergency relief and debris-removal phase is completed. Rehabilitation work also needs to be completed at the Methodist Guest House before the building can host volunteer teams again.

Paul expressed deep gratitude for the outpouring of love and support from United Methodists. “You have kept us in your prayers and we are grateful. You have sent donations through the United Methodist Committee on Relief. We thank you for your generosity. You have expressed your selfless interest in volunteering your time to come to Haiti to help with the recovery effort and we look forward to welcoming you.”

Once areas for relief and rehabilitation are prioritized, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission “will be integral in the long-term recovery of the church and communities in Haiti, and opportunities will soon be available to come and help in meaningful ways,” he wrote.

UMCOR executive Melissa Crutchfield expects medical personnel, structural engineers, and architects will be among the skilled volunteers needed at the beginning of the recovery process.

Debris removal must be done before rebuilding can begin and UMCOR and the Methodist Church in Haiti are among the groups organizing cleanup teams of local citizens in cash-for-work programs.

Structural engineers and architects are among the skilled volunteers who can contribute to what most likely will be a national rebuilding plan, Crutchfield points out. “It’s critical that we have some experts to lay a solid foundation,” she says.

In time, however, many types of volunteers can partner with the Methodist Church in Haiti in both spiritual and practical ways through the earthquake-recovery period. “I believe there’s an opportunity for volunteers in the longer term for rebuilding not only the church structures but the church community,” Crutchfield says.

Donations to support UMCOR’s Haiti Relief efforts can be made to Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325. You can donate online, or write checks to UMCOR with “Advance #418325 Haiti Emergency” in the memo line. Checks can be put in church offering plates or mailed to: UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. The entire amount of each gift will be used to help the people of Haiti.

Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.


Fallen UM mission leaders remembered in Haiti
By Kathy L. Gilbert

Walking up the curving driveway to the Hotel Montana, Melissa Crutchfield stopped several times to pick flowers.

Crutchfield, United Methodist Committee on Relief international disaster response director, was on her way to a memorial service for two United Methodist executives and friends who died in the hotel after being trapped inside during the January 12 earthquake.

The Rev. Sam Dixon, top executive of UMCOR, and the Rev. Clinton Rabb, executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, both died from their injuries. The January 22 memorial service occurred at the same time a funeral service for Dixon was taking place in Raleigh, North Carolina. Rabb was remembered January 23 in a service in Austin, Texas.

Dixon and Rabb went to Haiti to discuss projects to improve life in the impoverished island nation. They were in the hotel when the quake hit. Both men were trapped for several days in the rubble before rescuers found them. The initial elation at their discovery turned to grief when neither mission worker survived.

“This time last week, we thought they were alive,” Sharad Aggarwal, another colleague from UMCOR, said as he walked inside the hotel gates to the service.
The Rev. Gesner Paul, president of the Methodist Church of Haiti, and the Rev. Marlo Despestra, also an official with the church, coordinated the service that was attended by Crutchfield, Aggarwal, and the Rev. Edgar Avitia Legarda, an executive with the mission agency. The three are in Haiti preparing the way for UMCOR to respond to the aftermath of the earthquake.

The private service began with the singing of “Amazing Grace.” While Paul prayed, a search and rescue team was still working to recover bodies from the rubble.

“They came to help us,” Despestra said. “It must have been a very painful time, they must have suffered a lot. We don’t understand why or ask God why. The God who created us is with us now.”

The small gathering said The Lord’s Prayer together.

“We commit their souls to God and his Son. We know one day we will have the privilege of being with them in heaven,” Paul said. “The Methodist Church in Haiti is grateful for their service.”

Crutchfield left the small bouquet of pink, white, and red flowers on the rubble.

Kathy L. Gilbert is a news writer for the United Methodist News Service on assignment in Haiti.


Clinton Rabb celebrated for making a difference
By David Briggs and Linda Bloom

A mission leader who died serving one of the world’s poorest nations was remembered as a friend and advocate for the most vulnerable of God’s children.

More than 700 friends, family, and mission workers from throughout the world packed University United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, January 23 to celebrate the life of the Rev. Clinton Rabb, 60, who died from injuries received in the rubble of the earthquake that struck Haiti January 12.

Tears, some laughter, and moments of profound silence filled the two-hour service that took participants from the plains of Mongolia to baptisms in Russian prisons to the darkness of post-quake Haiti as witness after witness spoke of the passion for life and faith of the director of the Mission Volunteers program at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

“As we are gathered here this day, the occasion of our worship is the death of Clinton Rabb. The purpose of our worship is to give thanks to almighty God for his life and for life eternal,” said Bishop James Dorff, who leads the Southwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference, where Rabb was a clergy member.

In an emotional presentation of a plaque to the Rev. Suzanne Field Rabb, Clinton Rabb’s wife, Bishop Juan Alberto Cardona said the Methodist Church of Columbia wished to pay homage to the man who loved all people, “especially the smallest of this world.”

“No one,” Cardona said, “has love as big as those who give their life for their friends.”

The Rev. James Gulley, an UMCOR consultant who was trapped with Rabb and Sam Dixon, struggled to control his emotion at times as he spoke of the ordeal.
Although Rabb was pinned down in the rubble with his legs broken, Gulley said, he would spend much of his time trying to lift up Dixon to make him more comfortable by creating a makeshift bed of plaster and laptop bags.

That strength, and his resilience through days of agonizing pain and vicarious suffering, gave hope to his colleagues that Rabb would survive. At one point, as rescue workers struggled to free him, Rabb told a reporter, “Please tell my wife that I deeply love her.”

“I can’t answer the question of Job, of why some people suffer and die and others do not,” a shaken Gulley said at the memorial service. “We all will someday meet again.”

“There is a deep abiding grief, one that would extinguish the stars and dismantle the sun, with the knowledge, ‘My beloved Clint is dead,’” Suzanne Field Rabb said.

“He was my north, my south, my east, and my west,” she said. “I thought my love would last forever.”

Clinton Rabb served as a pastor and chaplain for the denomination’s Southwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference before joining the mission agency in 1996. He created the “In Mission Together Church to Church Partnership Program,” which links congregations, annual conferences, volunteer efforts, and mission personnel.

David Briggs is news editor of United Methodist News Service, Nashville, Tennessee. Linda Bloom is a news writer based in New York.


Sam Dixon remembered for life of service
By Linda Bloom

Hundreds of worshippers celebrated the life of the Rev. Sam Dixon, the leader of the United Methodist Committee on Relief who was on a mission of mercy when he died in the rubble of the Haitian earthquake.

Friends and family, United Methodists from agency leaders and bishops to North Carolina colleagues and missionaries in the field, gathered at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, on January 22, 2010, to remember a life given in service to others.

“Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?” the Rev. William Simpson said in a moving eulogy referring to 2 Samuel 3:38.
Simpson, Dixon’s former pastor and a close friend, noted that Dixon died on the birthday of the slain civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Dr. King said the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. I believe that fits Sam Dixon,” Simpson said.

The Rev. James Gulley, an UMCOR consultant who was trapped with Dixon and four other colleagues in the rubble of the Hotel Montana after the earthquake, told the story of their ordeal in a voice occasionally broken by emotion.

“There were moments of hope, moments of anger, moments of humor, moments of despair,” Gulley said. Gulley said Dixon’s last words to him were, “Please tell my family I love them,” and he named his family members one by one.

“You could not be in his presence and not have a sense of his passion for his faith and for his work,” said Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

Dixon, 60, had served as the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s top executive since 2007.

A world traveler for the business of mission, Dixon went to Haiti to discuss projects to improve life in the impoverished island nation. When he walked into the lobby of the Hotel Montana on Jan. 12—just moments before the earthquake would bring the building crashing down around him—he was anticipating a working dinner with five colleagues.

Instead, he was trapped for several days in the rubble of the hotel, pinned under a concrete slab. Rescuers eventually found the group and four colleagues were saved. They worked to free him, but it was too late. Dixon’s death was announced on Jan. 16. A fellow Global Ministries staff member, the Rev. Clinton Rabb, was pulled out but died later from his injuries.

Dixon had served for 24 years as a pastor before joining the Board of Global Ministries’ staff in 1998. He became executive director of the United Methodist Development Fund in 2001, then was elected to lead the board’s unit on evangelization and church growth two years later. In that role, he also supervised programs in mission education and relations with mission partners.

Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York. Ted Avery, a freelance writer from Durham, N.C., contributed to this story.


Crossing boundries to share the gospel
By Robin Russell

In 1990, Rudy Rasmus was saved from a life of running a bordello with his father. Two years later, he and his wife launched St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, with just nine members.

The church has more than 9,000 members now—3,000 of whom are homeless—with 400 baptisms last year. Mr. Rasmus credits the church’s evangelistic mindset—a “radical response of love”—for the growth.
“People who need the system most are crying out for change in how the system works,” he told about 615 attendees at the Congress on Evangelism in New Orleans, January 5-8.

One of the keynote speakers at the annual event, sponsored by the Council on Evangelism and the General Board of Discipleship with the support of the Foundation for Evangelism, Mr. Rasmus told the audience that before he became a Christian, he didn’t have much use “for church or church people.” He recalled sitting in a church pew for five years waiting to see if the gospel really was true.

“There was something about this Jesus that began to change my heart,” he said. “I could no longer do or say things I used to do or say!”

He’s never forgotten his experience of finding God’s grace. He calls evangelism “love with skin on it.” And he sports a beaded goatee to make unchurched people feel more comfortable at St. John’s.

“People really need Jesus. People really want Jesus. So what’s the biggest barrier? Church folk. More specifically, preachers—which is why I wear the beard and look like a musician.”

He reminded conference attendees that Jesus came “not to condemn the world but to save it,” and that means acting more out of love than fear. St. John’s works with the marginalized and the poor, he said, yet there are no bars on the church’s windows. In the 18 years he’s been pastor, the church has never had a break-in.

“Whatever we’re afraid of grows large in our minds. It is that much more difficult to see that person as a neighbor,” he said. “It’s time for a revolution. And Jesus was the ultimate revolutionary.”

Racial boundaries
The conference drew United Methodists from across the connection—clergy and laity who are particularly interested in evangelism and outreach. Keynote speakers included Bishop Minerva Carcaño (Desert Southwest); William Paul Young, author of The Shack; the Rev. Jim Walker, co-pastor of Hot Metal Bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and the Rev. Kendra Creasy Dean, associate professor at Princeton University.

Bishop William Hutchinson (Louisiana) welcomed attendees to New Orleans, where he said United Methodists have had to learn to overcome racial, ethnic, and social status boundaries as they rebuild their devastated city together.
“The lives of the people in this great city have been disrupted and changed forever.…New Orleans as you knew it, no longer exists.…Cities all along the Gulf Coast were laid waste. The houses of worship were not spared.”
Residents who were dispersed from their homes and then scammed by unscrupulous contractors have had to depend on their faith communities for help, Bishop Hutchinson said. Yet some churches were reluctant, at first.

“There was to be no mixing of the established neighborhoods.…We don’t cross over into those other neighborhoods—even in the faith community,” Bishop Hutchinson said. “You want us to do what? Merge ourselves to that church? We don’t even speak to the people of that church, much less merge our worship services with that church.

“It’s so easy to go back to the way things were. If post-Katrina New Orleans has taught us anything, it has taught us that we have to return to life by another way. We cannot do it like we once did.”

Young adults respond
Jeffrey Hooker, 25, pastor of Immanuel United Methodist Church in Waltham, Massachusetts, a first-time attender at the Congress, said there are no youth in his congregation. But he still plans to use some outreach ideas he learned in a workshop: “Do youth group things” with older adults. Go bowling, have a pizza party, and encourage them to bring a friend.

“A light went on in my head,” he said. “We’ve got to change the culture of the church. ‘Evangelism’ is a dirty word in religious circles. It’s really just the calling of people, calling out the lost to be saved, offering a truth you can share.”

Kara Eidson, 27, an associate pastor at First United Methodist in Lawrence, Kan., and a provisional elder who hopes to be ordained in June, said she struggles with the “in-your-face” style of evangelism that includes handing out tracts “to save everybody regardless of whether they already attend a church.”

“I’m very passionate about reaching out to the unchurched,” she said. “I want to see us getting more involved in building relationships. We want to reach those who serve with us.”

Generational boundaries
In morning Bible studies, Bishop Will Willimon (North Alabama) stressed that the church shouldn’t ignore those who are younger than the average membership. After all, he said, Jesus was a young adult, yet he carried the “full revelation of God.”

He urged United Methodists to do more than simply “caring for the people who were previously saved in another generation and calling that ministry.”
“Why have we set up a whole organization to benefit the spiritual needs of one generation?” he asked. “…We’ve lost a sense of the Cross as the radically transforming sign of the embrace of God.”

Bishop Willimon urged United Methodists to practice the “spiritual discipline” of spending at least an hour a week with someone who’s not a Christian. “How sad when we crank down ministry to those who have already heard and who are no longer shocked by the gospel,” he said.

“We’re in the middle of a supernatural movement of a God who is determined to get back what is his. Nothing is going to stop the movement of the Holy Spirit. And one great thing about being a Christian is you get a front-row seat on the machinations of an amazing God.”

Robin Russell is the managing editor of The United Methodist Reporter. This article was adapted from her lengthier story in the Reporter. Reprinted with permission of The United Methodist Reporter (www.umportal.org).

Haitian Methodists, UMCOR assess volunteer needs

The march of the Last Responders

By Steve Beard

They weren’t taking any chances. For Super Bowl Sunday, the historic St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans called the Vatican to seek permission to replace the Papal flag over the front entrance of the sanctuary with the flag of the New Orleans Saints.

Attendance rivaled Easter Sunday, and the entire congregation was bedecked in black and gold. After his sermon, Monsignor Crosby Kern prayed for the Saints, pulled off his vestments to reveal the quarterback Drew Brees’ jersey, and led a “Who Dat” cheer as he shook hands with parishioners.

With tongue in cheek, it was suggested during the service that the faithful should remember St. Joan of Arc—her large statue only blocks away from the cathedral—as she rode a colt to victory as a saint.

In sports narratives, it’s hard to beat the Saints-Colts storyline. With all due respect to the faithful Indianapolis Colts fans, this was never going to be a fair fight. The underdog and scrappy Saints became America’s team. The experts picked the Colts, but the heart and soul of the nation picked the Saints. How could a fan not want to see the Lombardi Trophy go to a city that was almost swallowed up in a watery grave?

According to the Nielsen ratings, Super Bowl XLIV was viewed by the largest audience in TV history for a single broadcast. The case can certainly be made that the numbers reflected a deep seated interest in the recovery of New Orleans.

I’m not an impartial observer. I wore my “Believe Dat!” shirt and my fleur-de-lis Saints hat during the Super Bowl with pride. Years ago, I fell in love with New Orleans. I loved the Creole and Cajun cultures, the architecture, the jazz, the art, and the food. Jambalaya, red beans and rice, muffuletta sandwiches, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, shrimp po’boys, boudin sausage, chickory coffee, and beignets—what’s not to love?

The history of the city is etched with the scars of floods, fires, hurricanes, and battles. Its streets have been trod by preachers and pirates, steamboat captains and stowaways, the devious and the pious, the Jazz Man and the Jesuit, as well as a whole host of lovers, rogues, and warriors. I love the eclectic history.

But after Katrina, I fell in love with the Saints. Their decision to stay in the city and help rebuild the devastated area prompted my respect and admiration.
Yeah, yeah, it’s only sports. I hear you. But weren’t we witnessing a team trying to give CPR to a city?

40 billion gallons
In early January, I was back in New Orleans. During the shuttle ride from the airport to the hotel, we drove slowly past the Superdome. Instantly, the devastating images of 30,000 bedraggled men, women, and children trying to take refuge in the partially-destroyed edifice came streaming through my mind. The aerial shots of the desperate and dispossessed looking for an escape from the torrents of water seemed to play all over again in slow motion as we drove by.

The elderly, the sick, and the poor were trapped like contestants on a particularly cruel episode of Survivor, surrounded by 40 billion angry gallons of putrid water.

Four-and-a-half years have gone by since Katrina threw her tragic tantrum. It’s hard to imagine this place under water—but not impossible. If you venture out of the French Quarter, you can see the aftermath. Of course, much of the devastation has been erased, hundreds of unsalvageable homes bulldozed. You will also not see the thousands of truckloads of debris that have been removed, nor will you witness the 200,000 cars that were strewn about as if King Kong began throwing them around the Lower Ninth Ward.

What can be seen may be as subtle as eye-level waterlines on the sides of buildings where the tide had reached, or it can be as unsubtle as the spray painted markings of the First Responders—the rescue workers who entered each and every home looking for survivors hiding in the attics. Their series of X’s and O’s and initials have been called the iconography of the tragedy. When was someone last inside? Were there any human remains?

In some neighborhoods, it’s not uncommon to see a freshly painted, rebuilt home with a new roof sprung up between dilapidated hovels that look as though they are waiting for a wrecking ball. As a homeowner, you may have no idea if your neighbors will ever return. Nevertheless, you start over, rebuild your home, reestablish your residence, and take a gamble on the future of the city’s saints.

Watching the horror
Leonard Carter was in Texas watching the horror at the Superdome unfold on CNN. Retired after 21 years in the military and retired a second time from the New Orleans School District, Carter was chomping at the bit to return to his home and begin the process of cleaning up the mess.

He managed to return before New Orleans was officially opened back up to the public and drove through the desolate and eerily silent streets—something like a war zone after both sides had run out of bullets.

As my guide one afternoon, Carter regaled me with stories of recovery and restoration in the neighborhoods of the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Wards. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s a project manager for the Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Recovery Ministry.

The faith-based relief agencies — ranging from the Southern Baptists to the United Methodists to the Roman Catholics to the non-denominational — have been the lifeblood of the mission to restore that which Katrina destroyed.
The United Methodists have kept a trained eye on those who fell through the cracks. “We have always looked out for the least, the last, and the lost,” he says.

Carter has seen it all. He has also heard the heart-breaking tales of those who were scammed by phony contractors. Deceptive vultures preyed on the weak and vulnerable. Yet one block over, Christian charity and compassion motivated the building of a new roof. It is a workplace of contrasts—open hands and dark hearts lurk in the same neighborhood.

As if that were not enough, bewildered citizens wrestled with the profound tragedy of an elderly woman dying in her FEMA trailer during a tornado—days away from moving into her rebuilt home. For those pouring their hearts into rebuilding, how do you begin to grapple with the perplexity of that situation? After all the hard work, sweat, and toil, an experience like that tears at faith in Providence and serves as a graphic dagger through the heart.

Nevertheless, the men and women rebuilding New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast region wiped the tears from their eyes and stayed on course, keeping the faith.

United Methodist action
As of January 31, more than 72,000 volunteers have shown up to work with the Louisiana United Methodists. They have appeared from every Annual Conference within the United States and from 33 countries. Over the last four years, many churches within our denomination have repeatedly sent work teams. For example, Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, has sent 55 teams on the 14-hour drive to the Gulf Coast. Seventy percent of the volunteers are repeat visitors.

Thus far, United Methodists—through three million volunteer labor hours and contributions to UMCOR—have contributed 95 million dollars worth of economic development to the region.

There are currently 67 full-time employees working with the United Methodist Church focused on the rebuilding effort.

In New Orleans, 39 United Methodist churches were flood damaged. The Louisiana Annual Conference collected a special offering to pay the pensions and pastors’ salaries of those whose congregations were dispersed and sanctuaries damaged. Local congregations began using the recovery effort as a ministry. They have even sent their own staff to other disasters in different parts of the United States.

Remarkably, United Methodists in Louisiana recently raised $164,000 for Haitian relief.

We can fix this
Nothing makes 71-year-old Leonard Carter happier than being able to look at a home and say, “We can fix this.” He has between 20 and 50 houses being salvaged at any one time. The whiteboards in his office survey the progress of each home. The United Methodist relief ministry juggles work teams, finances, and the hopes and dreams of eager displaced residents.

“I look forward to going to work every day,” says Carter. The office hours at the center begin at 9 a.m., but Leonard is often already on the job at 6:30.
While I was in New Orleans during the first week of January, there were 70 college students associated with various Wesley Foundations throughout Arkansas working on the rebuilding project.

They keep coming—four-and-a-half years after Katrina!

Desperately needed, the volunteers are all put to work. High school students to retirees to trained construction workers—plumbers, carpenters, masons—all show up to help.

Many of the big-time relief organizations are downsizing their operations. With faith and stamina, United Methodists will be among the Last Responders for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

On and off field saints
The Saints’ NFL franchise was awarded to New Orleans on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, 1966. John Mecom, the original owner, called Archbishop Philip Hannan to ask if he or his Catholic parishioners would have any objection to the franchise naming the team the Saints.

The archbishop gave his blessing, but wisely told Mecom, “Most of our saints were martyrs.”

A few years later, Hannan actually wrote a Prayer for the Saints which included the humorous plea, “Grant to our fans perseverance in their devotion and unlimited lung power, tempered with a sense of charity to all, including the referees.”

At the Saints and Sinners booster club banquet in 1968, Hannan ended his prayer with these words: “May the ‘Saints Come Marching In’ be a victory march for all, now and in eternity.’”

New Orleans knows that saints come from all walks of life. Some are found in black and gold on the gridiron, while others emerge simply as hammer-toting believers in hipwaders filing out of a church van looking for a city to salvage.

For the soul of the city, New Orleans needed both. For the soul of the nation, we need New Orleans.

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.