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United Methodists offer leadership, words of hope

 


United Methodists offer leadership, words of hope

Sept. 7, 2005      

By United Methodist News Service

United Methodist leaders offered words of hope Sept. 7 as the Gulf Coast region continued to struggle back from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

The church took out a full-page ad in USA Today, a prominent clergyman appeared on NBC’s “Today” show and a United Methodist bishop in the region issued a letter to members urging help for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

UMCOR, meanwhile, had staff throughout the gulf states assessing damage, organizing aid and helping the church’s annual (regional) conferences plan their response.

“We’ve got a lot of sorrow, yet everywhere I look, I see church people looking out for the missing and the most vulnerable,” said the Rev. Paul Dirdak, UMCOR executive director, during a Labor Day weekend trip to Mississippi.

UMCOR was invited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Mississippi office to play an advisory role for federal disaster management planners in that state. The church agency said its experience in managing large numbers of displaced people in developing countries led to the invitation from FEMA. Transitional housing is a top priority for UMCOR as it works with FEMA and ecumenical agencies on a long-term plan.

Dirdak and other UMCOR staff participated in planning meetings in Jackson, Miss., the site of one of FEMA’s disaster operations centers, during the Labor Day weekend.

One of the United Methodist Church’s historical sites in Mississippi, Gulfside Assembly, will be featured on NBC’s “Dateline” Sept. 9. The show airs at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Gulfside, in the coastal town of Waveland, was destroyed when Hurricane Katrina made landfall Aug. 29, according to reports from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

‘Be the Hope’

In the USA Today ad, the United Methodist Church called upon people of all faiths to “be the hope” and to support relief efforts through volunteering and giving. The ad was placed by United Methodist Communications.

“It’s important for us as a church to say to the people of the Gulf Coast that we are concerned, and that we are praying with them and will be with them through the entire long recovery process,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top staff executive of United Methodist Communications. “We as a church can send a message to the whole of the United States, if not to the world, at times like these that community is important, that we need each other, that sharing with each other is a healing process. It restores the brokenness.”

The ad showed a couple embracing in front of the ruins of a home. The text, in part, stated: “Through this crisis, people of all faiths are coming together to aid those they have never met. Many are opening their hearts, their minds and their doors to feed, clothe, and give shelter. When we work together for the good of all, we achieve our best, we heal our broken community and we restore hope.”

The ad closed by mentioning UMCOR.

Speaking out

In the Gulf Coast region, Bishop Larry Goodpaster of the Alabama-West Florida Conference issued a statement to United Methodists in his area. Hurricane Katrina primarily affected the Mobile, Ala., area.

“Across our conference, churches are opening their doors and hearts to receive persons displaced by this storm,” Goodpaster said. In the weeks ahead, work teams, clean-up crews and volunteers will be needed not only in the conference but also in neighboring states, he said. “We will also be working closely with the Mississippi and Louisiana conferences as we respond to their needs.”

The Rev. Kirbyjohn Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church and a friend of President George Bush — a fellow United Methodist — appeared on the “Today” show to talk about the interfaith response to the disaster. Houston churches are working together in a major outreach to help evacuees who have flooded into their area.

Irv White, Windsor Village director of marketing, said Caldwell is a key player in Operation Compassion, “which is an interfaith effort in the Houston area to offer a more holistic approach to what’s going on with the survivors here.” White also confirmed that the pastor and Bush have spoken a number of times in recent days about the disaster.

Missions update

The Board of Global Ministries has posted online updates of several mission institutions related to it that suffered major damage from the hurricane:

  • St. Mark’s Community Center in New Orleans’ French Quarter was submerged in water when that city’s levees broke.
  • Moore Community House in Biloxi, Miss., sustained heavy damage but was still standing. The center suffered mildew damage from flooding and the playground was destroyed.
  • Dulac Community Center in Louisiana sustained roof damage.
  • MacDonell United Methodist Children’s Services in Houma, La., suffered minor damage.
  • In Mississippi, Meridian’s Wesley House Community Center suffered substantial property damage from rain and a tree crashing into the building but was still operating.
  • The Mississippi Rural Center in Columbia was standing but power and phone services were not available.
  • The Wood Institute in Mathiston, Miss., lost trees and power but was housing 55 evacuees in a Red Cross-sponsored shelter.

Also operational were Bethlehem Center in Jackson, which sustained minor damage, and Dumas Wesley Center in Mobile, Ala., which suffered wind damage, according to the Board of Global Ministries.

Donations to support the United Methodist response can be made online at www.methodistrelief.org and by phone at (800) 554-8583. Checks can be written to UMCOR, designated for “Hurricanes 2005 Global,” Advance No. 982523, and left in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068.

Information on providing health kits, flood buckets and other relief through UMCOR is available at http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/kits.cfm.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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