Saturday, July 17, 2010

Refugee Youth Services Program Wins National Award and Annie E. Casey Foundation Grant

Nashville, TN – Refugee Youth Services, an innovative program launched six years ago in Nashville by Catholic Charities of Tennessee, is the recipient of the Family Strengthening Award from Catholic Charities USA. The prestigious national award is accompanied by a $25,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Refugee Youth Services is one of only three programs nationwide chosen to receive the award and $25,000 grant, which recognize and reward exemplary family strengthening programs.

“We began this program with a vision to meet the many special needs of refugee youth and their families by providing multi-faceted services,” said Jennifer Escue, program director who helped launch the program in 2004. “This award is confirmation that visions can be transformed into actions and those actions can transform lives.” Escue will accept the award in Washington, D.C. at the Catholic Charities USA Centennial Celebration in September that will be attended by several thousand people from across the nation.

When the Refugee Youth Services program began in 2004, it had one full-time employee and one intern who primarily provided tutoring and socialization services to 16 teens. Today, more than 200 young refugees and their families are helped each year through a comprehensive program that employs five people full-time. Currently, the program serves young refugees, ages 5 to 18, and their families from Burma, Burundi, Congo, Sudan and Somalia.

Success in school is a major focus area of the program. Staff members help children and youth navigate the public school system through a range of programs that include training for school personnel, parent and student orientation, school liaison services and case management, academic enrichment and tutoring, mentoring and a variety of additional cultural enrichment opportunities to help prepare everyone for success. Last year, several Somali Bantu teens who had participated in the program graduated from high school. The staff also focuses on cultural orientation and socialization skills for youth and their families. For example, resettled families are taught how to use American-style toilets and appliances. They are helped to understand American laws, holidays and traditions.

“This program is about helping refugee youth get used to a new culture, learn a new language, and feel more comfortable in a new country,” said Josh Tinius, an employee of Catholic Charities who has worked with Refugee Youth Services for four years. “Children and teens naturally face many challenges in life. The refugee youth we serve have to face and overcome additional challenges and obstacles.”

Catholic Charities Refugee Youth Services is grateful for the support of a variety of community resources as it works to meet the needs of the young refugees and their families. For example, a classroom at Hillcrest United Methodist Church is the location of a summer session for children from several countries who play with puppets to act out situations such using a telephone to call the police or going to the dentist or doctor for a checkup. Other churches and various community centers also offer space for meetings. Throughout the year, the young refugees visit places such as The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, the public library, YMCA, and Adventure Science Center.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Content of FEMA document, "How Do I Apply For Disaster Assistance?"

How Do I Apply for Disaster Assistance?

Apply at
Call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362)
Help is Available in most languages
The TTY number is 1-800-462-7575

When you apply we will ask for the following information:
The address of your damaged home or apartment.
Names of people living in your household.
A description of your disaster damages.
 Insurance information.
Your Social Security Number.
A telephone number where we can reach you or leave a message
An address where you can get mail.
If you want your disaster assistance funds sent directly to your bank, provide the FEMA agent:
          +your bank account ype
          +account number
          +routing number

When you apply, you will be given a FEMA application number. Write down your application number and save it for future reference. You will need the application number whenever you contact FEMA.

Insurance is essential in any recovery process. If you’ve been affected by the disaster, make sure you call your insurance company and file a claim. Only damages that are not covered by insurance can qualify for FEMA disaster assistance. By law we cannot duplicate benefits.

If you move after applying for assistance, be sure to let FEMA know your new address and telephone number(s). This will ensure that all disaster awards get to you without delay.

Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status

FEMA’s temporary housing assistance and grants for disaster-related medical and dental expenses and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, applicants who receive SBA loan applications must complete and submit them to SBA to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.

As part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the organization that acts as coordinator of disaster recovery efforts. FEMA partners with local, state and other federal agencies to help those who are affected by federally declared disasters and who quality for temporary financial and/or direct assistance. FEMA’s individual & Households Program is one of the many elements that may be available for recovery support.
1-800-621-3362 or hearing impaired 1-800-462-7585

Copy of actual FEMA Document

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Not one flood but two floods hit Middle Tennessee -- a reflection by Tom Nankervis after visiting four different flood areas

Note: Though this remembrance is largely positive, there are still major areas needing volunteer response. These areas are largely in rural areas or smaller communities. You can keep up with needs by signing in to the Tennessee Conference Emergency Relief blogsite at


“Everything from my life is gone . . . except for three pictures on the wall,’ the elderly woman stated as she glanced from her flood ravaged house to the pile of debris lining the street in front of her property. The feeling of being yanked from all physical connections to the past and thrown into a world where the past has washed away is all too common. Gone are the photos of her mother and father, her siblings, her friends in grade school, prom photos, graduation photos, certificates of academic accomplishment, marriage license, marriage photos, birth certificates for her children, photos of her children growing up, shots of her deceased husband of many years. The night table that has been in her family home for generations smashed beyond recognition. The antique clock from the 1850s—one that still chimed—torn apart. The list could go on and on and the stories were the same throughout Middle Tennessee.

In The Nation section of Nashville mounds of refuse lined both sides of the street for block after block.

For 36 hours everyone in the neighborhood felt secure despite dire predictions by television commentators. “We’ve lived here for years,” they responded to the predictions, “and have had some severe storms but there has never been flooding. Later came the realization that flood waters were moving up to the front of the house and that the depth of the water was continuing to rise.

“We’ve got to get out of here,” panicked residents shouted. Some waited too late and drowned before they could get out, or drowned when their automobile got swept away.” Some swam to safety grabbing tree limbs to hold themselves away from the flow of the water. Others were rescued by concerned neighbors, others by boat as they fought to stay safe at the highest point of their house. Some bewildered individuals even stayed chin-deep in the churning, polluted water as it came into the house. The question for many was, “If we leave, where do we go? Where do we stay?”

The critical thing about this disaster is the peril that persons felt, many of them children, in the place that was the source of safety, comfort, and hope; a fear that can’t be easily erased - fear in the loss of sanctuary, a dissolving of present day connections to the past. Not many survivors are showing outward panic, but there is a sense of dismay in their eyes, a sense that they have to keep doing something to fight the ravages of the storm, but despair in realizing that their usually sharp minds are not thinking clearly. The first flood was and is the cause of nightmares. There is a sense of funereal grief to go with the mental numbness.

Cumberland District Superintendent Tom Halliburton, Bishop Dick Wills, UMCOR Consulant Christy Smith, Disaster Response Director Jason Brock, the Rev. David Rainey, and Nashville DS John Collett. The group gathered at Bellevue United Methodist Church to tour flooded areas throughout the conference and to talk with persons heavily affected by the flood.. Rainey, the Bellevue pastor, bids the group farewell.

All of this was due to the FIRST FLOOD – and the sense of hopelessness and despair would have been immense if it wasn’t for the SECOND FLOOD. Even while the First Flood was at its worse there was a flood of concern – police officers, local fire departments, emergency response units. Neighbors with boats and rafts offered assistance in getting individuals and families to safety. When the waters were no longer at flood stage . . . the second flood hit, a flood of hope, love, and concern which struck Nashville and mid-state communities with major magnitude. There were a few scam artists unfortunately, but throughout the affected counties major organizations from Hands on Nashville, to neighborhood groups, to denominations, to concerned individuals and groups from outside the flooded area, even from outside the state, responded. The amount of volunteer labor and the speed with which the volunteers responded even shocked the professional emergency responders. Within hours, not days or weeks, persons were working throughout the community—with strong guidance from the professionals. While flood waters in the major rivers were still rising, trailer loads of UMCOR flood cleanup buckets arrived from the North Georgia and Alabama Conferences. It wasn’t long before a 18-wheeler delivered a shipment of flood cleanup buckets from the Sager-Brown UMCOR depot in Baldwin, Louisiana, and another was delivered to the Memphis Conference.

Suddenly friends and many strangers were gathered around flood victims for support. The task of cleaning up flood damage began – carpets and carpet pads were remove and thrown out, polluted and soaked wall board was removed and taken outside as garbage; damaged furnishings, stoves, refrigerators, were removed and thrown out, items that could possibly be salvaged or were obviously of personal value to the home owner/renter were taken to safety. All of this was done in consultation with the flood victims. If FLOOD ONE was overwhelming, the show of love and support in FLOOD TWO had mammoth impact. It brought hope where none existed. Flood victims shared their stories, and their fears. Persons listened. They acted as “family,” “consultant,” “worker bees.”

The flood ruined many personal and prized historic mementoes--here a child's toy

Before long everything that could mold or mildew or was polluted by sewer soaked water was outside – in several neighborhoods the garbage looked like gigantic walls stretching on for blocks on each side of the road. But these walls were different—because they almost seemed like historic monuments. This wasn’t just junk—it was the story, the history, the memories of individuals, or families.

Countless individuals were touched by the group of persons that came to help when life had fallen apart. As they talked to the volunteers they discovered friends, persons they did not know who treated them with love and respect. Volunteer groups contained persons with various backgrounds—at one place there were workers from Church of Christ, Baptist, United Methodist backgrounds working together as well as individuals with no religious faith. There were old people, young people, African Americans working on the home of a white family, Caucasians’ working on the homes of African Americans and Hispanics. The flood will linger in memory but along with the flood will be the vision of the Heavenly Kingdom—all persons working together as one to help a “brother” or a “sister.”

United Methodist youth formed a human chain to load Flood Buckets, just delivered by an UMCOR truck, into conference vehicles for distribution throughout the conference.

That’s not all. Outside on the street were inmates helping to move the garbage into trucks. Other groups and individuals were delivering food and water to volunteer workers. At Midwest Transportation Services, a trucking company near the Radnor Railroad Yards, several groups of youth from outside Nashville, together with adult advisors, had formed a human chain to load flood buckets that came from UMCOR Sager-Brown into a Tennessee Conference trailer and a rental truck so they could be distributed throughout the conference. I can’t even begin to remember all the United Methodist Churches I came in contact with as I made my way from one flooded area to another. David Lay from St. John’s was with me for part of the journey. He is the Nashville District emergency response person. Persons from West Nashville UMC including Sherry Woolsey were helping recruit volunteers as well as collecting food.

The St. Mark's Early Response VIM team was hard at work in area of Nashville called "The Nation"

The St. Mark’s Emergency Response truck was present along with a bunch of workers from St. Marks and from Murfreesboro. There were literally dozens of United Methodist Churches providing a substantial number of volunteers. In Carthage, Tennessee, Cookeville District Emergency Response person Russ Cain, was coordinating volunteer efforts for an Early Response Team from the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Dr. John Collette, Nashville District Superintendant, preached at Blakemore United Methodist Church on Sunday, May 9th. He focused on the United Methodist motto, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” in showing the response of United Methodist congregations to the flood. He noted especially the “Open Doors” part of the motto—as United Methodist congregations opened their doors to receive and harbor individuals and families that had been through the storm. Churches from Carthage UMC in the Cookeville District to Bellevue UMC provided ongoing hospitality, even sleeping accommodations for survivors. “Our doors will be open as long as it takes for people to get the help they need,” indicated Dr. Collette. “UMCOR and United Methodist responders are noted as being the last to leave an area that has suffered natural catastrophe and we will be here to help as long as it takes.”

Some other stories

As I walked on down the street a German Shepherd barked at me. Being a veterinarian’s son I stopped to talk to the dog. I noted that the only really happy videos I had seen showed two Labrador retrievers – who probably thought they were in heaven with water nearly everywhere to dash through and jump into. The dog owner said “The dog’s name is Rebel.” She went on to explain that he was a genuine flood hero. An adult daughter who couldn’t swim had his leash wrapped around her arms and she held on as the dog swam bravely from heavily flooded house to the safety of dry land. The water had some current and it was over human heads – but nine-year-old Rebel brought his loved one to safety.

Flood victims were desperate to preserve valuable papers, pictures and certificates--and to do whatever it takes to do so

One creative homeowner spread damp pictures and important certificates throughout her automobile—using the heat coming through the windows as a dependable way to dry out (or bake out) moisture from items of personal importance including a picture of her mom, her wedding picture, and various diplomas and certificates.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Phone cards for military personnel available through the United Methodist Endorsing Agency


November of 2009 marked the sixth year that the phone card project has been in continuous operation. The program was sparked by one of our very own United Methodist Chaplains and the initial support was strengthened by the Illinois Greater River Conference of the UMC. I was a part of the process where we literally counted and sorted a table full of phone cards that had been provided by people of Illinois.

As the volunteer in charge of the project, I helped to develop a system to manage the program as efficiently as possible. We decided that it was important to thank each individual that donated either money and/or phone cards. This has been done faithfully except during a very brief period in the second year when donations were coming in at such a break neck speed that one volunteer couldn’t keep up.

During the second year, more and more people started sending money for us to purchase the cards instead of the cards. At this point in time Laura Flippen helped to develop a Methodist Logo Card which we continue to use today. We can order 5000 phone cards from our supplier at one time at a very good price. One 120 minute card costs $4.95. The Methodist Logo Card has a message on it stating that the card is provided by the people of the UMC and that they are praying for safety. We have placed 20 orders for 5000 cards. We have collected over $650,000.00.

Our process is simple: we collect the donations, order cards, and send them directly to our United Methodist Chaplains serving in the areas of conflict. Donations may be sent to:

United Methodist Endorsing Agency
PO Box 340007
Nashville, TN 37203

Currently approximately 40 chaplains hand the cards out to their service personnel in what ever fashion they determine is best. We remind them that the cards are intended to reach those in the most need. We receive stories and pictures of these cards reaching their intended recipients…for which they are so grateful.

Several times during the last six years, in the office we have said…”it looks like the program is ending since the donations are way down.” Inevitably, we take back our words, as the donations spurt ahead, and we purchase more cards. “It’s a God thing”. As of November 2009 the project has provided over 15.5 million minutes of phone card service to our service personnel who are putting their lives on the line for us. God bless them all!
A personal note: I am so very grateful for all those guys and gals who are serving our country. I am so very proud of our United Methodist chaplains who are ministering to these young people and I feel very privileged to be able to put these cards in their hands.

Judy W. Carter, Coordinator/Phone Card Project updated 11/18/09

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Terrebonne Parish Restoration Project offers opportunities for youth to participate in home repair and restoration

On September 1, 2008, Hurricane Gustav ripped through South Louisiana, and Terrebonne Parish experienced the eye of the storm. As a strong Category 2 hurricane, Gustav's winds raged at 115 miles per hour, pushing a 12-foot storm surge into coastal Louisiana. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Ike, the third most destructive hurricane in U.S. history, came ashore in Louisiana. Ike's 9-foot storm surge inundated hundreds of miles of coastline and thousands of homes in South Louisiana, re-flooding several homes that had already been damaged by Katrina, Rita, and Gustav. Together, these storms have devastated South Louisiana, leaving thousands in need of help.

Terrebonne Parish Restoration Project was created to provide an opportunity for teens age fourteen and older to participate in the home repair and restoration of those affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Youth volunteers will work to repair roofs, floors, siding, and everything in between. Through their efforts, multiple homes in the Terrebonne area will be restored this summer.

TARP invites you to the home of Cajun culture and the heart of America's wetland, where homes and lives must now be rebuilt. Youth volunteers who commit one week of their summer to serve with TARP will have the opportunity to apply their faith in life-changing ways by sharing Christ's love through their words and actions. Volunteers will be immersed in a cross-cultural setting and encouraged to build new relationships across generations, among people from other racial groups, and with those from other denominations. They will truly experience the richness and diversity of God's kingdom.

After each day's work is done, volunteers will experience a true Louisiana-style celebration, followed by a time for reflection and worship. Designed with the hope of transforming hearts and minds, the TARP experience will not only change the lives of hurricane victims, but also the lives of those who serve.

TARP volunteers will be hosted in the Terrebonne area and will work at one of several work sites recommended by Louisiana Conference Disaster Response, Inc. TARP will run for seven weeks this summer, beginning June 14, 2009. The cost is $225 per participant and includes all meals and drinks, lodging, shower access, and construction materials.

TARP is now accepting applications from interested youth groups. For more information, please visit

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Disaster Recovery Ministry Responds to Damage From Four Hurricanes in Dulac and Surrounding Areas

By Susan J. Meister, Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent
From UMCOR Bright Spots, January 2009

“We thought Rita was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ storm,” said Miss Barbara. Damage to her home in Dulac, La., had been repaired by volunteers and the Louisiana Conference disaster recovery ministry, an UMCOR partner. “We were all done except the gutter,” she sighed.

Miss Barbara’s home. Miss Barbara’s home, repaired after Rita, suffered additional damage from Hurricane Ike. Photo by Susan J. Meister

When Hurricane Ike roared in last fall, its tidal surge was 18 inches higher than Rita. A ramp, floors, and more in Miss Barbara’s home needed to be repaired again. A student volunteer group from Union College, New York, was busy with the work as Mr. Darryl Guy, construction supervisor, checked in. “The flooding was higher than Rita,” he confirmed. “Even properties elevated after the 2005 hurricane were not high enough. Now people in Houma (La.) are getting their feet wet.”

For many, Gustav is the storm that missed New Orleans, and Ike is the storm that hit Galveston, Tex. But for residents of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes southwest of New Orleans, the storms didn’t miss anyone. High winds from Gustav took their toll and Hurricane Ike pushed flood waters over levees in the Louisiana parishes.

Dulac Community Center at Hub of Multi-storm Recovery Effort

Dulac Community Center is one of 103 National Mission Institutions of the General Board of Global Ministries. It has a long history of improving the quality of life for area residents. In 2006, the Louisiana Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry expanded operations into the parish. That summer, new volunteer housing was made possible through a grant issued by UMCOR.

Volunteers from around the country have traveled to Dulac to help with the Rita rebuilding effort. In 2009, that effort continues to respond to new needs.

Students from Union College Students from Union College, New York, cut new paneling underneath a home in Dulac, raised ten feet from ground level. Photo by Susan J. Meister

Mr. John Paul McGuire, volunteer and former disaster recovery staff member, traveled to Dulac shortly after Gustav to assess the damage and was there when Ike stormed through the state. “It was just heartbreaking,” Mr. McGuire said. “Some of the homes had escaped damage from Gustav and with their owners, I celebrated their good fortune. Then they were caught by Ike.”

Under the leadership of Executive Director Ms. Jaime Billiot, the Community Center opened shortly after Gustav. But it took longer to clean up after Ike, which pushed five feet of water and mud into the gymnasium building. Even the disaster recovery ministry was affected. Three shipping containers of rebuilding supplies stored on the property were ruined by flood waters.

Conference Ministry Realigns to Address Needs

Louisiana disaster recovery leadership is realigning its ministry to continue Katrina and Rita recovery work, and address the new damage caused by Gustav and Ike throughout the conference.

Raised homes Homes along the bayou in Terrebone Parish are raised to reduce the effects of flooding. Photo by Susan J. Meister

“The Louisiana Family Recovery Corps (LFRC) has granted us $1 million to help repair homes in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes,” reports the Rev. Amy Mercer, deputy director. The response in the area will be administered through the southeast station, headed by Mr. Dale Kimball, while the southwest station shifts its focus to Cameron Parish and the surrounding area hit by Rita and Ike.

The Rev. Curtis Eden, who serves the southeast station as hospitality coordinator, is hard at work in Houma and Thibodaux (north of Dulac) to set up case management and volunteer housing to respond to needs in those communities. She has already trained eight volunteers to do assessments. Rev. Eden is also seeking to hire a case manager who, she adds, must be fluent in French to speak to the residents. “We already have fifty applications,” she said, “and we’re just getting started!”

Long term volunteers Wayne and Regan Wooley returned to Dulac in early January to begin construction and case management services. Mr. Wooley had been helping Mr. Maquire with assessments after Gustav.

“My first response was also heartbreak,” he said. “What turned me around was talking to the families – they were disappointed, but upbeat. They were determined to continue with their lives in the area they know and love.”

For more information about the ongoing Louisiana Conference disaster response ministry, go to the LA Storm Center web site. Volunteers are needed for 2009 and beyond. Financial gifts to Hurricanes 2008, UMCOR Advance #3019695 will help meet the needs for materials and for the rebuilding effort along the whole Gulf Coast.

LA Storm Center

Hurricanes 2008, UMCOR Advance #3019695

UMCOR Still “On The Ground” Along Gulf Coast

As rebuilding and recovery continues, signs along the Gulf Coast celebrated faith in God and the work of God’s people. Photo by Susan J. Meister/UMCOR

Through the generosity of United Methodist donors and volunteers, UMCOR has been rebuilding the homes and lives of thousands of survivors of seven major hurricanes since 2004. In cooperation with the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama-West Florida and Florida Annual Conferences, UMCOR has offered case management and construction services, hosting tens of thousands of volunteers.

“It has been an unprecedented response,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR executive. “Seven storms – Dennis, Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Gustav, Ike. Some residents suffered damage from more than one storm, or were nearly finished with rebuilding when another storm hit. But UMCOR and its partners have been there to offer help and hope.”

Since mid-2006, Bright Spots has featured just a few of the thousands of stories of hope and courage of storm survivors, as well as the compassion and generosity of the people of The United Methodist Church. Volunteers and staff have truly been the hands and feet of Jesus, forging powerful relationships with homeowners and each other.

Stories Celebrate Survival and Hope

Mr. Edward, who survived Katrina by holding onto a bus outside his home in Pearlington, Miss., on August 29, 2005, celebrated with smiles and tears at the dedication of his new home in May, 2008. His home was rebuilt with the help of Mississippi United Methodist Disaster Response. “Everybody did a beautiful job!” he cried. “God bless everybody.”

Miss Montreal’s rebuilt home in Gentilly District of Orleans Parish was dedicated during Thanksgiving, 2007, to the memories of the late Virginia Tech students Ryan Lark and Leslie Sherman. Lark and Sherman were part of the volunteer teams in New Orleans, who worked with the Louisiana Conference Disaster Response Ministry. Miss Hattie celebrated the angels who helped clean up and rebuild from Rita in Delcambre, La. “Strangers walked into our lives and when they left they were friends,” she said.

In Port Arthur, Texas, volunteers repaired roof and floor damage in Miss Deloris’ home. “It can get tense,” she said, “but as time goes on, you see movement, you see people coming to help. We must stay faithful.” Staff and volunteers in Port Arthur, Orange and Beaumont worked at the direction of the Rita Recovery office.

The Alabama-West Florida Conference was already in the disaster response business in 2005. Ivan and Dennis did extensive damage in 2004, only to be followed by Katrina. Clyde Pressley, executive director of the ministry, gives God the glory for all the work that’s been accomplished. “There have been so many miracles,” he said. “God sent the people we needed and our church has been exceedingly generous.

By the end of the 2005 hurricane season, a weary nation watched Hurricane Wilma blow over southern Florida on October 24. In cooperation with UMCOR, the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry partnered with ministries across the state to bring help to residents. Trish Adams, executive director of long term recovery organization CREW (Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce), noted that volunteers do more than construction. “While working on homes, many volunteers have also ministered to the souls of our hurting clients, and provided emotional and spiritual support to our staff as well.”

New Challenges Face Disaster Recovery Ministries

In September 2008, two new hurricanes, Gustav and Ike, made landfall in Louisiana and Texas. The existing disaster recovery organizations stepped up to do early response and are positioning themselves for long term recovery. In a number of cases, they are continuing Katrina and Rita recovery work.

“Our commitment is that we stay until the work is done,” continued Rev. Hazelwood. “In light of fewer donations to the Hurricanes 2008 Advance special, our partners are thinking creatively to pursue additional funding to support rebuilding. In the meantime, we are confident that the exceptional volunteer response we saw to the 2004 and 2005 storms will continue for Gustav and Ike.”

Financial gifts to Hurricanes 2008, UMCOR Advance #3019695 will help meet the needs for materials for the rebuilding effort along the whole Gulf Coast. Go to the Conference web sites for more information on how to volunteer, or contact your Jurisdictional Volunteer in Mission Coordinator.

Texas Conference / Disaster Recovery

Louisiana Conference
Mississippi Conference
Alabama-West Florida Conference
Florida Conference

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An alternative Christmas gift that honors family and friends by feeding the hungry

National Advance hunger-relief ministry
unveils its 2008 alternative Christmas card

Increasingly, people are searching for meaningful, alternative ways to share the celebration of the birth of Christ with their family and friends. The chaos that has become Christmas in the secular world is so “loud” it nearly drowns out the true meaning of this holy season.

Helping to provide food for some of the 35 million Americans who don’t get enough to eat is a perfect way to put Christ back into Christmas, since it is He who commands us to feed “the least of these.” And in today’s climate of financial uncertainty, the need is even greater for those who are forced to rely on critical service agencies to feed their families.

The Society of St. Andrew, a national hunger relief ministry and Advance #801600, offers an alternative way to share the true meaning of Christmas, not just with people you know, but with thousands you will never meet but whom you can help feed. For a minimum donation of $12 per card, you can send their custom-designed alternative Christmas card to those you wish to honor with a donation to feed the hungry, or you can have the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) send the cards for you.

This year’s card is the fourteenth in a series designed exclusively for SoSA by Virginia liturgical artist Annis McCabe. The 7 inch by 5 inch card features original full color artwork both inside and outside plus an inspirational message. This one-of-a-kind card announces your generous gift to feed the hungry in the name of your honorees; you will also receive the card as a thank you and confirmation of your order.

The Society of St. Andrew saves perfectly good, nutritious, excess fresh produce that will go to waste for various marketing reasons and gets it distributed to service agencies across the country that feed the hungry, at no cost to the agencies or those they feed. The $12 minimum gift donation for each card will provide about 800 servings of nourishing food to the hungry through SoSA’s fresh food salvage programs: Gleaning Network, Potato & Produce Project, Harvest of Hope, and Hunger Relief Advocate Initiative.

“The extraordinary popularity of this program continues to grow,” said Carol Breitinger, communications director for the Society of St. Andrew, “providing more and more servings of fresh food to the hungry each year. Last year over $105,000 was raised, providing more than six million servings of food nationwide! This year the need is even greater.

“This alternative Christmas card, which has a wonderfully meaningful message presented through a moving poem and illustrative art, is the perfect gift for someone who has everything,” offered Breitinger. “It’s a super stocking stuffer, too. No other gift can do so much for so many with so little! And you can finish your gift shopping and greeting card lists in just a few minutes.”

The Society of St. Andrew’s Christmas Gift Donation Cards can be ordered by mail, phone, fax, or online: 800-333-4597; fax at 434-299-5949; email to; online at To guarantee delivery by Christmas please order by December 1. SoSA will make every effort to expedite late order.

SoSA also has available order flier and church bulletin insert masters, both in color and B&W. Call or email Carol Breitinger at 800-333-4597 or to receive these digital files.

For more information about the Society of St. Andrew and its hunger-relief ministry or Christmas Gift Donation Cards call 800-333-4597, email or go to SoSA’s website at

Sunday, November 23, 2008

“They Know What They’re Doin’!”

By Susan J. Meister, Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent

Homeowner Mr. Woodson chills gar fish fillets before cooking for the volunteer team working on his Port Arthur home. Photo by Susan J. Meister

Mr. Woodson and his friend were cleaning gar fish in the back yard so that he could prepare lunch for the three volunteers working on his Port Arthur home.

“They do good work,” he grinned. “They know what they’re doin’!”

Volunteers Jack Aulick, Roger Sweny and Bryan Garrison were three of a team of 47 persons from Lakewood United Methodist Church, Houston, scheduled to work on several houses in the Texas community still awaiting repair after Hurricane Rita.

“It’s a pretty typical repair job,” Aulick said. “We’ve rewired, fixed the utility room, put carpet in, installed gutters, and repaired the bathrooms. The second bath hasn’t worked since Rita.” The front and side porches were rebuilt by earlier volunteer teams.

Rita, Now Ike
Nathan Cain, construction supervisor for Rita Recovery in Port Arthur, explained that Mr. Woodson’s house is one of about 60 still needing repair from the 2005 hurricane. “And now, we’re taking applications from Ike,” he sighed.

Hurricane Ike stormed through southeast Texas on September 13, almost three years after Rita did extensive damage. Just down the street from Mr. Woodson’s home, several blue tarped roofs were visible.

But Cain did have some positive news. “Alan (Miller) and I checked on all our houses after Ike,” he said. “All the Rita roofs we installed held up!” Miller, the former construction supervisor in the area, is now working to set up long-term construction in Galveston County.

Cain is taking a year off between undergraduate school and medical school to work with the Rita Recovery (now Disaster Recovery) team. He used to work on roofing for a summer job. His mother traveled to the area from Ohio on a mission team and urged him to come to the area to apply for an internship. Now full-time, Cain stays with volunteer teams at the satellite office at St. John’s UMC, Port Arthur.

“Pictures – even video – can’t describe what it’s like,” Thompson said.

Volunteers Give God the Glory
Aulick, retired from the oil industry, was on his fourth trip to the area. Sweny is a home inspector and Garrison works in information technology. “Don’t give us any credit,” he smiled. “Give God the glory.”

Angela Baker reports that teams are scheduled through August 2009 to do Rita Recovery. With the addition of Ike recovery, even more money, materials and volunteers are needed.

To learn more about disaster recovery in Texas and to volunteer go to the web sites of the Texas Annual Conference or Disaster Recovery (formerly “Rita Recovery”). You can help with the recovery from the 2008 Hurricanes with a donation to Advance No. 3019695, online or by check to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spring break of hope: An alternative spring break

“Spring Break” is that greatly anticipated time in spring semester when college students flock to beaches, vacation spots, or home for a week of relaxation and putting down the books. Recently, though, there has been a movement among these young folks to do something more meaningful on their spring breaks. The phenomenon of an alternative spring break has students trading beach towels for hammers, paintbrushes, and a servant’s spirit. The idea is to spend the week doing volunteer work instead of vacationing. The result is a much more fulfilling week and an experience that stays with them for the rest of their lives.

Prompted by events such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, students have been rising up to answer the call for help and seeking to make a difference. With this growing trend in mind, the Society of St. Andrew’s mission outreach program, Harvest of Hope, is going on “Spring Break!” The Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) feeds our nation’s hungry with excess produce gleaned by volunteers from fields and orchards and distributed to critical feeding agencies. Using this concept, the Harvest of Hope Alternative Spring Break will be an opportunity for college students to use their time off to learn about hunger and actually do something about it, as well.

“I love the idea,” said Zach Baker, a former Harvest of Hope summer intern who has already signed up for the Harvest of Hope Alternative Spring Break. “This gives college kids, especially kids like me who aren’t big fans of the party scene, a chance to do something for spring break that’s fun and a good way to worship God. I think it will be a wonderful trip.”

The Harvest of Hope Alternative Spring Break will be held March 8-14, 2009 in Jacksonville, FL. The location was chosen for its appeal as a popular spring break location. Also, in addition to the weather being warm and comfortable, gleaning opportunities are plentiful there that time of year. The Urban Mission Experience, whose goal is to make a positive impact on the lives of the homeless and low-income in Jacksonville, will host the spring breakers. The Urban Mission Experience fulfills its mission by making opportunities for youth and adults to put their faith into action by serving local agencies with volunteer support. They will provide the dorm-style facilities and some of the meals. This beautiful location is also conveniently situated close to three popular beaches, which students will have the opportunity to take advantage of at the end of the week.

Andrew Hudgins, who has been doing Harvest of Hope events for five years and has attended several other alternative spring break mission trips, said of those experiences, “It’s so much fun! You are doing good and at the same time getting so much out of it – so much more than if you were just watching TV the whole week of spring break.”

The week will be similar to other week-long Harvest of Hope events with some slight changes to programming: Participants should arrive on Sunday for dinner, Monday-Thursday will be gleaning days in local orchards and farm fields, and Friday will be a “fun day” spent on the beach. When they are not lending their hands to gleaning food for the hungry, these college students will be studying about hunger and poverty issues in their neighborhoods, this country, and the world. A more in-depth conversation about hunger issues can be expected and fueled through these socially conscious students.

Offering a Harvest of Hope Alternative Spring Break to college students will harness their energy and eagerness to help while also providing them a venue for spiritual renewal. Brandon Robbins, who will be the worship leader for the event and is the youth leader at Chester UMC in Virginia, said he hopes that as a result of this experience the participants will “have a more deeply embedded passion to end hunger; understanding how God is working through this (SoSA) ministry and how it’s affecting the lives of people.”

Alternative spring breaks are now offered by colleges and universities through student outreach organizations and campus ministries, through local civic organizations and non-profits.

Alternative spring breaks can involve international travel, advocacy, evangelism, community building, or strictly hands on labor. The value of an alternative spring break reaches far beyond the week-long experience. When students go back to their campuses they take with them a new perspective on social issues and a rooted interest in service; they realize the importance of social action at home, which can be life changing.

Join the Society of St. Andrew’s Harvest of Hope Alternative Spring Break! All students whose spring break coincides with this trip are encouraged to join in on the fun. Participants will be responsible for their own travel to the facility. The deadline for applying and making a deposit to reserve a spot is January 30, 2009. However, space will be limited so applications should be sent as soon as possible. Tuition is $150/person; scholarships are available as needed. Contact Sarah Nagy at the Society of St. Andrew with any questions or for more information – email her at, or all 800-333-4597.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mountain T.O.P. Seeks Volunteers for 2009

ALTAMONT, Tenn. -- Mountain T.O.P. (Tennessee Outreach Project) is now accepting applications for its SpringBREAKOUTreach, Youth Summer Ministry (YSM) and Adults In Ministry (AIM) programs for 2009.

AIM will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2009.

The programs allow volunteers to make a difference in the lives of families from the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee, either through home repair or youth programming.

Mountain T.O.P.'s 2009 camp season will begin with SpringBREAKOUTreach, which offers college-age students or church youth groups (or any other group of willing volunteers) the opportunity to spend their spring break in ministry. This flexible program includes two days of work for Cumberland Mountain families and two days of work on Mountain T.O.P. camp facilities. The program is less structured than Mountain T.O.P.'s youth and adult ministries, and can even include optional activities like caving, hiking or the low ropes challenge course located at Mountain T.O.P.'s base camp.

Steve Frankenfeld first attended SpringBREAKOUTreach while a freshman at Messiah College.

"I believe that the staff at Mountain T.O.P. did a great job of facilitating that and helping us have an enjoyable experience," said Frankenfeld. "In four days of work, we put a tin roof on a building that was approximately 25 feet by 40 feet, we got about halfway done a smaller tin roof, we framed up a wall, finished some more tin roofing, put in our windows, hung one small room of drywall, puttied and sanded that room.”

"We basically kicked butt."

Frankenfeld had such a positive experience that he later returned to Mountain T.O.P. as a summer staff member.

"I also am planning on leading a trip from Messiah to Mountain T.O.P. this coming spring," he said. "Hopefully, I can help others have the same incredible experience that I did."

SpringBREAKOUTreach camps will be offered between Feb. 15 and April 18.

During the summer of 2009, the Youth Summer Ministry and Adults In Ministry programs will take place.

In the Youth Summer Ministry (YSM) program, volunteers, in small work teams, participate in minor home repair projects for mountain families in need or conduct day camp activities for children from isolated mountain communities. In the evenings, they gather for worship and to share the good news about what took place at their individual work sites during the day.

Bryan Bliss is the youth director at Grace United Methodist Church in Jackson, Tenn. He brought youth from his church to Mountain T.O.P. for the first time in 2008.

“As youth leader, I’ve been on a number of mission trips,” he said. “As a first-timer at Mountain T.O.P., I was thrilled to see God in the staff, feel His presence in the worship, and to serve as the hands and feet of his Son during our week. Like I said, I’ve been on lots of mission trips, but Mountain T.O.P. gave me and my youth group something more – an experience where God came close.”

The AIM program places adults on major home repair work teams, or as volunteers in one of two children's programs: Kaleidoscope, an arts camp for special needs children, and Summer Plus, an enrichment camp for teenagers from the mountains. Volunteers of both genders and all skill levels, from novice to expert, are needed in each of the three programs. Anyone and everyone is welcome.

Julie Reeves of City Road Chapel United Methodist in Madison, Tenn., participated in a fall AIM weekend in 2008.

"My experience at AIM was unbelievable," she wrote in her church newsletter. "I had never been on a mission trip before; never been to Mountain T.O.P. before; never used a power saw before. Honestly, I was a little scared to go. I had always made excuses in the past why I couldn't go, but after hearing so many people say how wonderful it was, I had to try. And I am glad I did.

"I saw God [that] weekend. He was in the eyes of a 3-year-old girl, who, 10 seconds after meeting me, jumped into my arms and hugged me. He was in the smile of an 8-year-old girl, who grinned for two whole days and told me she loved me, a complete stranger."

Two week-long AIM events will be held in 2009: June 21-27 (home repair and Summer Plus) and July 5-11 (home repair and Kaleidoscope). Weekend AIM home repair events will also be held during the fall.

Mountain T.O.P., established in 1975, is an interdenominational ministry affiliated with the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. Volunteers in 2008 came from 100 different churches and 11 different denominations; the United Methodist volunteers alone represented 25 different Annual Conferences.

More information about the SpringBREAKoutreach, YSM and AIM programs, as well as applications for 2009 camp events, can be found on the Mountain T.O.P. web site,, by e-mailing or by calling (931) 692-3999.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Advent devotions program with a mission emphasis

Finding Christ in Christmas turns our hearts to those in need

Finding Christ in the chaos of Christmas can be daunting. The Society of St. Andrew (Advance #801600) offers an Advent devotional program that will help you navigate the secular maze that envelops this holy holiday so that you and your family can find and put Christ in the center of the season.

Through the scriptures, daily devotions and prayers presented in the Society of St. Andrew’s (SoSA) Advent booklet, readers discover new ways to bring Christ to the center of their lives as well as reflect on and share in the work and mission of the baby in the manger, who is Emmanuel … “God with us.”

From the differing perspectives of contributing clergy and laity, this year’s theme, “Finding CHRISTmas,” focuses on ways to nourish your spirit. The program also provides an opportunity to feed your hungry neighbors, as directed by Jesus, himself. As Christians, we know that God gives us His best and calls us to give our best to Him … “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40.

The Society of St. Andrew is a national nonprofit hunger-relief ministry that saves 20-30 million pounds of fresh, nutritious, excess produce each year that will go to waste for various marketing reasons. This food is then distributed to critical service agencies across the country at no cost to the agencies or the hungry people they serve.

During the season of Advent, SoSA asks participants to prayerfully reflect on the scriptures and devotions and then join in their ministry of feeding America’s hungry by making a financial donation. Last year donations made through SoSA’s Advent devotional program provided more than 1.2 million servings of food to the hungry. This year the need is even greater because the economic difficulties we all face affect those who have the least far worse, hurting their families at the most basic level – food for nourishment and life itself.

This year, as you celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, use “Finding CHRISTmas” to nourish your spirit during Advent as you feed your hungry neighbors in response to God’s command, “You give them something to eat.”

All materials for this Advent devotional program are free from the Society of St. Andrew. For a church sample kit or a personal packet, order online:; by phone: 800-333-4597; or by email:

More information about the Society of St. Andrew and its hunger-relief programs – Gleaning Network, Potato & Produce Project, Harvest of Hope and Hunger Relief Advocate Initiative – is available online at or by email at

Fairly traded chocolate is sweet treat for Halloween

By United Methodist News Service*
Fair Trade Certified mini chocolate bars can be ordered for Halloween through the Equal Exchange Interfaith Store. UMNS photos courtesy of Equal Exchange.

Fairly traded chocolate is all treat and no trick for United Methodists wanting to put their faith into action this Halloween.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society are partnering with Equal Exchange, a Massachusetts-based cooperative based on fair trade practices, to raise awareness about the topic this Oct. 31.

Fairly traded products provide small-scale farmers a fair living wage and an opportunity to break out of the cycle of poverty.

The three organizations have created a Halloween resource to increase awareness about the Equal Exchange Interfaith Program, UMCOR Coffee Project and the need to advocate with "wallets and voices" for better working conditions and prices for cocoa farmers throughout the world.

This Halloween, with orders of fairly traded mini chocolates and trick-or-treat bags from the Equal Exchange Interfaith Store, customers receive 300 postcards with educational information about cocoa and ways to make an impact on the chocolate industry. Orders should be placed by Oct. 17 to guarantee delivery by Halloween.

"Chocolate should be a source of joy for all children, including those where chocolate's main ingredient, cocoa, is grown," the postcard reads. "Yet, it isn't."

Calling chocolate "a tricky treat," the cards note that the United States imports 50 percent of its cocoa from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, where thousands of children as young as age 5 have been trafficked into slavery to work on cocoa farms.

Reuseable trick-or-treat bags with a message are available for $3 each.

"Most children of the world's 2 million cocoa farmers are trapped in poverty. Regrettably, the corporations who control the chocolate market are doing little about this," the card says.

The resource outlines easy steps to encourage change, including buying chocolate or cocoa with the Fair Trade Certified seal, asking stores to carry Fair Trade Certified products, encouraging churches to join the Equal Exchange Interfaith Program and introducing fairly traded chocolate to local schools.

Susan Burton, director of the United Methodist seminar program at the Board of Church and Society, became interested in the alternatives while trick-or-treating last year with her 3-year-old. While sorting through her daughter's candy, Burton found a postcard encouraging the purchase of Fair Trade Certified chocolate.

“I realized that was another way that I could put my faith into action, and I wanted to make this opportunity available to United Methodists," she said.

Fair Trade Certified cocoa is monitored—from the farmers to the store shelf—by independent nonprofit certifying organizations. FLO International and TransFair USA guarantee that no child labor or forced labor was used in the production of cocoa. They also make sure the cocoa was bought directly from a democratically controlled cooperative of small-scale farmers and that the farmers are paid enough money to support their families with food, education and other essentials.

Organizers say the partnership offers United Methodists an opportunity to address systems that contribute to global poverty. Ministry with the poor has been identified as one of the denomination's four areas of ministry focus.

People can support cocoa farmers, their families and children by purchasing fairly traded chocolate through UMCOR’s 100-Ton Challenge. The 12-month campaign began in May and encourages United Methodists to support purchase of fairly traded products from Equal Exchange through the UMCOR Coffee Project.

Michelle Brooks, director of digital communications for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, provided information for this report.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's been a while . . .

by Abraham "Abe" McIntyre

KP, Andre, myself, and the whole Patmos group (28 strong) left Inagua last Friday, October 3rd after another very hard and very hot week of serving the families of Inagua. We left Emily Bagwell, our long term volunteer, in charge and there to keep things rolling with our other volunteers.

Our BMH staff flew back to Nassau for the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church’s new church year celebration (our parent ministry of which we are one of five outreach ministries of). We were blessed with a Friday night and a Saturday morning seminar on Servant Leadership, a Saturday night grand celebration of our outgoing BCMC conference executives and a beautiful consecration and installation service of our new conference staff. During the new President’s, Rev. Bill Higgs, inaugural address, he recognized and thanked BMH publically for all the work that we have been able to accomplish and the lives we have changed…I now pass his thanks and remarks on to you for the parts that each of you have played in BMH’s history and most recently in the response to Hurricane Ike.

I ended up being in Nassau all week because of meetings, flight schedules, broken avionics on the Royal Bahamas Defense Force plane and a leadership class I have begun but here is the week in review.

Chet Lowe, Thomas Cartwright and the Patmos crew rebuilding Mr. Cartwright's home.

Sunday: The Men of Faith crew from Eleuthera and Ormond Beach, FL finished re-shingling the Methodist Church roof. I am told it looks outstanding. Angel Flights dropped off volunteers Josh Shapiro and Herman Small.

Monday: Men of Faith team left and Freddie Ferguson arrived from James’ Cistern (JC), EL. He is the Congregational Board Chairperson at the BMH home church, JC Wesley Methodist Church. Emily, Bryan, Josh and Herman begin work on the oldest person’s home in Inagua, Mrs. Inez Faulquerson. She was in her home for the storm but has been in Freeport since, and is now making her plans to come back home because after three days of hot work on her roof, it is now safe to come home. Her son George, who had been helping, said that if his daddy, “walked down the hill from his grave he wouldn’t even recognize the street because of the damage” but his momma will be, “ecstatic when she arrives home to see her roof looking so good”.

Work begins by Men of Faith at the Methodist Church.

We had a meeting Monday with Commander Stephen Russell to thank him for all his good work at directing NEMA and we gave him some suggestions so that BMH can partner with them more effectively in the future. It was a very positive meeting.

Tuesday: Work continued on Mrs. Faulquerson’s home, which by the way is 94 years young.

Wednesday: KP and Andre returned to Inagua from Nassau and immediately began working on Gloria Scavellia’s home that, until they arrived, still had not been touched even though almost half her roof had been blown off.

Thursday: The Patmos group began Thomas Cartwright’s roof last week, Men of Faith felted it last Thursday, and BMH finished it off today at sunset! True teamwork!

Friday: Freddie headed back to EL and work continued on all homes. I was scheduled to fly down to Inagua on the Defense Force plane and was all loaded up and ready to go shoot a TV segment but the avionics didn’t want to work so the trip was postponed; as was my delivery of 45 lbs. of fresh fruit and vegetables, a case of Vita Malt and barrel of KFC. But God worked a miracle and I was able to get them shipped down on Bahamas Air, and it all arrived! A true miracle…well they still haven’t seen the KFC but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

Saturday: Walter Penn’s home was finalized by KP and Andre as well as they lent a helping hand at Matthew Town’s CBC, Chris Pinder’s home. Josh and Herman got their tour of the island complete with flamingos and lots of shells. Josh celebrated his birthday by blowing out a lit match in a homemade piece of bread. Happy Birthday Josh!

Sunday: Andre is on call to preach tomorrow, Bill Shivers, Angel Flights Coordinator and Bahamas Habitat Board Member will be flying Josh and Herman out and delivering two more Georgia peaches Traci and Barbara, and rest will be had by all to get ready for our last week in Inagua.

Our Last Week and Future Plans:
This is it, one more week in Matthew Town, Inagua. We will be flying out next Friday, October 17th to move back to Eleuthera. We will then host a volunteer group from Macedonia UMC, Cary, NC at Camp Symonette and get ready for our next Hurricane Relief mission to Grand Turk.

If you would like to join us in Turks and Caicos it is not too late. Our tentative plan is to fly down on Sunday, November 2nd and begin work Monday. We do not have an established time frame yet, we are waiting to hear back from their government, but we are hoping for at least three weeks of volunteers and possibly more.

Please let us know asap if you or your crew are willing to come serve with us.

Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement! The blessings continue to flow!

Peace and Love.

To donate to the Bahamas Methodist Habitat and its relief work click on the following address:

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Local church kids find no mission impossible

Members of Mission Possible Kids at Custer Road United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, collect items for flood buckets. From left are Courtney Slay, 10; Zoe Pitts, 7; and Taylor Myers, 7. UMNS photos by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
Oct. 8, 2008

They’re kids on a mission, packing flood buckets for victims of recent hurricanes and making blankets for wounded soldiers.

“It’s really fun because you get to help people,” says Zoe Pitts, 7.

Mission Possible Kids are proving children can make a difference, addressing problems in their own neighborhoods and around the world. The program started at Christ United Methodist Church in the Dallas suburb of Plano and now includes chapters in 17 states.

“There are so many different spy things and movies, and the kids just all love to pretend that they’re spies. The concept with this is they get to be special agents doing God’s work,” explains Kathy Meadows, founder and executive director of Mission Possible Kids.

“God has missions that he wants these kids to go on to help other people,” she says. “So we give them those missions to go on.”

Meadows, a member of Christ United Methodist Church, started the program in 2003 as a hands-on experience for kids—and was surprised when 160 showed up for the first meeting.
“We knew, immediately, we had struck a nerve, for something that parents and kids alike were looking for,” she says.

Kathy Meadows, a member of Christ United Methodist Church in Dallas, started the mission program in 2003.

Meadows started a nonprofit organization to help other churches and organizations set up Mission Possible Kids programs.

Reaching Antarctica
Some missions are close to home, such as collecting donations for local food banks, volunteering at hospitals and making blankets for animal shelters.

Other projects span the globe, such as making “bandana buddy” toys for orphans in Guatemala and collecting eyeglasses for children in Cameroon.

Scientists at a remote base in Antarctica, accessible by air only once a year, are among the estimated 120,000 people touched so far by Mission Possible Kids’ projects.

“We worked out a way, during that one time a year, to fly in a jar of warm wishes to them,” says Meadows. “The kids packed this jar with tons of warm wishes. They could pull out one every day of the year and know the kids were thinking about them.”

Kids feel different
As more chapters are launched, Meadows expects her “secret agents” will reach a milestone of helping 500,000 people by the middle of 2009. The program is aimed at kids in kindergarten through the sixth grade, though older children also participate as mentors.

“It makes me feel like I’m being a good person,” says Alex Paul, 9, a member of Custer Road United Methodist Church in Plano. “No matter what age we are, we can still contribute.”
His mother, Lynn Paul, notices a difference.

Children launch balloons to kick off a new year of mission projects.

“It’s just been a real surprise to me about how much Alexander loves to come and be part of this, and he thinks a lot more about others,” she says. “It starts the conversations at home about the other people in the world who need things.”

Brayden Bishop, 11, enjoys helping others and spending time with his friends working on Mission Possible Kids’ projects.

“We raised money for people in Mexico to build homes,” he says. “Not only do we get to help people all the time, but we get to help people while doing it with our friends. And it just makes it that much more special.”

Every church needs one
The young agents do “some amazing things,” says the Rev. Don Underwood, pastor at Christ United Methodist.

“They’re really learning a philosophy of life that will sustain them through the years,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, every (United) Methodist church in the country would be stronger if they had a Mission Possible Kids chapter.”

Meadows sees no limits to the work of Mission Possible Kids. She hopes to continue expanding the program in the United States and organize chapters in other countries.

“There’s just many different ways that these kids learn and open their eyes to the needs of the world,” she says. “They’re changing themselves, they’re changing their families—and we fully believe that these kids are going to change the world in the process.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas

Monday, October 06, 2008

Lack of donations poses problem for Hurricane Ike recovery

Janie Montellano cleans out storm-driven mud and debris from the home of a neighbor in Surfside Beach, Texas, following Hurricane Ike. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

HOUSTON (UMNS) - Hurricane Ike's arrival was bad timing.

Even though the Sept. 13 storm left behind miles of demolished homes, businesses and churches along the Texas Gulf Coast, the Wall Street debacle and presidential debates stole its thunder in the national spotlight.

Hurricane Ike damaged more than 200 United Methodist structures in the Texas Annual Conference, making it the biggest disaster the conference has faced to date.

"For communities recovering from Hurricane Rita just three years ago, Ike's blow threatens to overwhelm their sense of confidence in the future," said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie. "In addition, the economic uncertainty in our nation and world is eliciting anxiety in almost everyone."

Media attention quickly turned away, added the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, United Methodist Committee on Relief's domestic relief director. "Media coverage is important. It keeps the disaster in front of the public.

"All my colleagues in the Red Cross, United Way, Southern Baptists-everyone is hurting (from lack of donations)," he said.

"It is still too early to have a good number, but I fully expect our donations will be down," Huie said. "Folk outside of Houston/Galveston/Beaumont are wondering, 'What hurricane?' I'm preparing for the worst, working for the best and hoping for at least somewhere in between."

United Methodists are no different from the rest of the nation, according to Hazelwood.

Everyone is suffering from the bad economic news. "However, our normal supporters of UMCOR will still be there, but the amount they are able to send may change," he explained.

Hazelwood doesn't believe in "donor fatigue. People still believe in the mission of UMCOR, and that is encouraging."

Appeal for help
In a Sept. 29 e-mail letter appealing for help, Huie is asking pastors across the United Methodist Church to take a special offering for Hurricane Ike recovery on Oct. 5. She made a similar appeal a week earlier.

"We need your generous financial support to deal with catastrophic expenses in communities and congregations," she said.

"We have learned a great deal in the last three years," she said in the letter. "For example, we have learned that volunteer hours double every dollar given to recovery. We know that the early response of The United Methodist Church invites other groups to engage with us and stay committed to long-term recovery. Whatever you give in time and money is multiplied many times over."

Hazelwood said the conference and churches are working on DVDs and other ways to get the message of Ike's destruction before congregations.

The Rev. Cynthia Harvey, director of missional excellence for the Texas Conference, said 83 teams have registered online to work on recovery efforts. More than 60 churches from the conference have engaged in relief efforts such as serving as Red Cross shelters, putting together flood buckets and hosting and sending work teams.

"Truckloads of water, food and other supplies have appeared on our doorstep, thanks to the extravagant generosity of United Methodists across the country," Harvey said. "Many teams are now registering to be in the area over spring break, and we are working on a spring break package."

How to give
Huie wrote, "To another church facing suffering, hardship and even persecution, the Apostle Paul wrote, 'Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints. Extend hospitality to strangers.' (Romans 12:12-13)

"I am confident that your joy, patience, prayer, hospitality and generosity in response to this disaster will change lives and re-shape futures for Jesus Christ."

To aid in Hurricane Ike disaster relief in Texas and Louisiana, give online (, drop checks in United Methodist church offering plates or send them to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, with "Advance No. 3019695, Hurricanes 2008" on the memo line.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

Pastor stayed behind in hurricane to minister to flock

The Rev. Marty Boddie, pastor of St. Matthews United Methodist Church in High Island, Texas, says he felt called to remain behind with area residents who chose not to evacuate during Hurricane Ike. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

HIGH ISLAND, Texas (UMNS) - The hurricane winds howled constantly, like "a woman screaming bloody murder," and the waters rose all around them, but the Rev. Marty Boddie, with his wife Nicole, felt at peace inside St. Matthews United Methodist Church.

As Hurricane Ike approached, officials warned residents that if they decided to ride out the storm in this small coastal town, they should write their Social Security numbers on their arms so their bodies could be identified later.

Boddie knew many in his congregation and many in his community would not leave. He felt called to stay with them. "It gave me a great opportunity to minister to strangers and they also minister to us," he said. "I knew there would be a need for pastoral help after the storm."

Hurricane Ike barreled into the Texas Gulf Coast around 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 13. Water started rising in High Island the day before, on Friday morning, and by early afternoon it was already over five feet. "By Friday, all you could see was miles of water," Boddie said.

The Boddies went door to door in the community, checking on people before and after the storm. In the town of 500, more than 100 choose to stay on the island.

"High Island has never flooded before," he explained. "We are 20 to 30 feet above sea level, so many people felt safe."

Trapped at home
On his rounds through town on Friday, Boddie found an elderly couple trapped in their home. The woman lived in an assisted living facility in Winnie, a town 18 miles inland from High Island. When Winnie was evacuated, her husband brought her home to the island.

"They wouldn't have survived," he said. The couple was airlifted from the church's parking lot by a U.S. Army helicopter after Boddie called for help. Another 60 people were also rescued from the parking lot that day.

"One of the town constables was trying to rescue people in his dump truck," Boddie said. "The wind and water knocked the truck on its side and all the people were dumped into the raging water. They were scared and soaking wet."

For three days after the storm, the island was completely cut off. Game wardens, the National Guard and members of the Rita Recovery Team for the United Methodist Texas Annual Conference were the first to bring in water and MREs-ready-to-eat meals. "I called Angela Baker (director of Rita Recovery) and they had supplies out to us right away," he said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency did not respond for six days, he added.

Mrs. Boddie provided a taxi service for rescue workers, transporting them back and forth from the church in the back of her truck for meals. The Red Cross and Salvation Army still bring hot meals to the church every day.

"Our families begged us to evacuate," she said.

Hard-hit district
The Rev. Richard Burnham, superintendent of the southeast district of the Texas Conference, visited with the Boddies as part of a tour through portions of his district hit hardest by the hurricane.

Bay Vue United Methodist Church and the parsonage a few miles down the coast in Crystal Beach are destroyed. Canoes and surfboards from a business down the road are lodged in two of the church's front windows.

Boddie salvages family china at the church parsonage home of the Rev. Jeff and Sandy Craft at Bay Vue United Methodist Church in nearby Crystal Beach.

"This is the third parsonage I have seen where the pastors have lost everything," Burnham said, as he carefully picked up some china from the toxic black mud to bring to the couple. "I am numb and so very, very sad."

Thirty percent of the houses around Orange, Texas, were flooded, including about two-thirds of the homes of United Methodist congregation members. In Bridge City, 95 percent of homes were flooded.

During a worship service in Bridge City after the hurricane, Burnham asked the congregation of 150 how many had flooded homes. "Only two had homes that didn't flood," he recalled.

Waiting in his white pickup truck outside the historic African-American St. Paul United Methodist Church, trustee Modesto "Butch" White was happy to report to Burnham that the 138-year-old church survived intact.

"My grandmother helped build this church," he said. The roof is missing a few shingles and a couple of the stained glass windows were broken.

Smiling, White said, "My life is saved, my house is saved, I'm fine."

To aid in Hurricane Ike disaster relief in Texas and Louisiana, give to the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Give online (, drop checks in United Methodist church offering plates or send donations to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, with "Advance No. 3019695, Hurricanes 2008" on the memo line.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service writer based in Nashville, Tenn.