Thursday, September 27, 2007

Youth give 1 million pennies to Africa University

Youth members of Birmingham (Mich.) First United Methodist Church present a check to James Salley (center), development officer for United Methodist-related Africa University. The funds from the church's Penny Project will support the university's response to Africa's HIV/AIDS pandemic. UMNS photos courtesy of Birmingham (Mich.) First United Methodist Church.

A UMNS Feature by Ciona D. Rouse*

Youth in Birmingham, Mich., hope a penny saved is a life saved through their donation of 1 million pennies to Africa University's Faculty of Health Sciences.

The Penny Project, an interfaith effort to collect one penny for each of the 23 million Africans living with HIV/AIDS, was created by the youth of First United Methodist Church, Birmingham, who decided to try making a difference in Africa's HIV/AIDS pandemic.

"We call it the day God showed up in the dining room," said youth pastor Jeff Nelson, referring to a brainstorming lunch meeting the day the idea was born.

Since summer 2005, the youth have sponsored a penne pasta supper, a World AIDS Day dance, a "Cent-O" de Mayo celebration and other events. Additionally, the youth and their parents collect pennies in plastic cups. Other churches and organizations partner with the group.

"It's been incredible to see the way people have latched onto the idea," said the Rev. Jack Harnish, First Church pastor. "It started with the (youth), but very quickly it became a passion of the whole congregation."

Parents have taken plastic cups to work to collect pennies in the community. The youth say they've collected pennies at school in Pringle's potato chip containers.

"We tell all of our friends about it. They think it's cool that we're doing something like this and are enthusiastic about giving whatever spare change they have," said church youth member Kathleen Perry.

The Penny Project has raised 6 million pennies, or $60,000.

"The first time I heard '23 million,' I thought, 'we're never going to raise this money.' But we're already a quarter of the way there," Perry said.

The million pennies ($10,000) already given to Africa University support comprehensive HIV/AIDS efforts, including work with orphans in Zimbabwe, a country with nearly 1.3 million children orphaned by AIDS.

The idea for collecting the pennies came when a teen noted that pennies are sometimes forgotten coins, often seen as having little value, Nelson said. The young people compared the coin to how people sometimes forget and devalue the people in Africa living with HIV/AIDS.

Perry said she has been changed by the experience of connecting to people in Africa. "We really are brothers and sisters, and we need to help (the people in Africa) just as much as we would help someone in our neighborhood."

The young people have spent time learning about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and also educating the church community about the importance of serving the AIDS community in Africa and in their neighborhood.

Perry and Allen Bower visited Ghana in June, along with seven other youth, to spend time with people who are HIV-positive. "The AIDS crisis is huge, and I didn't know much about AIDS before we started this," Bower said. "It's become really important to me because now we've met people (who have the disease)."

The youth have donated to other organizations as well. Learn more about participating in the Penny Project at

*Rouse is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.

Friday, September 21, 2007

United Methodists Over Halfway to Nothing But Nets Goal--More Than $1.75 Million Raised for Mosquito Nets

Houston: The people of The United Methodist Church have passed the halfway mark toward the denomination’s $3 million fundraising goal for the Nothing But Nets malaria prevention campaign, Bishop Thomas Bickerton announced today during a faith leaders’ luncheon at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston.

“The “Send a net. Save a life.” message has gained momentum across the United Methodist connection, with churches, youth groups, and individuals employing creative approaches to raise more than $1.75 million dollars between November and August,” said Bickerton. “It’s been absolutely phenomenal to watch the groundswell of support and the outpouring of generosity.”

The Nothing But Nets campaign received a challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in January, matching funds raised through the campaign dollar for dollar up to $3 million. On August 20, a $615,000 check to Nothing But Nets representing funds raised through The United Methodist Church not only put the denomination over the halfway mark towards the fundraising goal, it also put Nothing But Nets over $3 million raised since January, thereby fulfilling the matching grant from the Gates Foundation more than a year early.

Bishop Bickerton is in Houston as part of a year-long multi-city tour to raise malaria awareness through a series of events aimed at engaging students, faith communities, business leaders, athletes, and sports fans in the Nothing But Nets effort. The tour travels to Detroit in October and Minneapolis in November.

Today’s event was hosted by the Texas Annual Conference. Bishop Janice Riggle Huie said that Nothing But Nets is a key focus of a new ministry partnership between United Methodists in Texas and Cote d’Ivoire. “We pray through our partnership that God will bring about the next generation of healthy children. We, too, pray that we will be part of a partnership that acts on Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves,” said Bishop Huie.

“Our involvement in Nothing But Nets is just part of a larger commitment to combating diseases of poverty,” said Bickerton. “We are in the early stages of creating a major global health initiative to raise awareness and understanding of health issues and expand the denomination’s health ministries. Our success with Nothing But Nets has shown us the value of non-traditional partnerships, as well as how we can engage congregations at a grassroots level to make a real difference in the lives of others around the world.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Friendship, Hope on a Plane: Medical Airlift Arrives in Georgia

Donated medical supplies are unloaded at the airport in Tbilisi, Georgia. The airlift was sponsored by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Project Hope and the U.S. State Department and will help more than 90,000 patients in the Caucasus region. UMNS photos by Gia Chkhatarashvili, UMCOR.

TBILISI, GEORGIA, Sept. 15, 2007—The United Methodist Committee on Relief and Project Hope airlift with millions of dollars in donated medical supplies arrived Friday, Sept. 14, in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia. The former Soviet republic is a country of great economic need in the mountains separating Europe and Asia.

The flight was the 912th sponsored by Project Hope and the US Department of State, since 1992. The shipment means a healthier life for more than 90,000 vulnerable patients in the Caucasus region.

The C-17 cargo plane carried 20 representatives of several international nongovernmental organizations, including the Rev. R. Randy Day, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR's parent organization, and Marc. S. Maxi, executive director of field operations for the relief agency. Sandra Roelofs, First Lady of Georgia, one of the officials on hand to welcome the plane, said the flight represented “not only friendship but development.”

$11 Million in Hope
An estimated $11 million in drug, health supplies, and hygiene and school kits were on board. Distribution of the supplies and training in the use of medicines and equipment, to be managed by the UMCOR Georgia office, began on Saturday at Iashvili Children’s Central Hospital in Tbilisi. The hospital is Georgia’s major pediatric inpatient institution. UMCOR has supplied pharmaceuticals there since 1993.

This is the second medical airlift into Georgia sponsored by UMCOR and Project Hope. The first was in 2001. Project Hope is an international relief agency known for its work in health aid and education. This year’s airlift celebrates the organization’s 50th anniversary.

The medicines and other supplies were given by a variety of organizations, ranging from pharmaceutical companies to private donors. Interchurch Medical Assistance, another long-time UMCOR partner, assembled the containers.

UMCOR in Georgia
UMCOR has a long record of work in Georgia. UMCOR began humanitarian operations in 1993 to address the needs of children and women by providing essential medicines and treatment practices, aimed at combating their most common and preventable illnesses.

Today some 200,000 vulnerable children receive assistance from UMCOR’s Georgia workers. Davit Tkeshelashvili, minister of health, termed the shipment another step toward modernization and reform of Georgia’s health care system. “Our objective is to ensure this cargo gets to its true address, the beneficiaries as designed,” he said.

Georgia is today an independent Eurasian country of 4.6 million people. Like other parts of the former Soviet Union, it is striving to achieve a stable economy. Sustainable health care advances in Georgia are a priority for both UMCOR and Project Hope.

“UMCOR celebrates its collaborations over the years with Project Hope,” said Rev. Day. “We share a common goal, that of promoting international peace and cooperation as we respond to human need.”

Both organizations help alleviate human suffering caused by war, poverty, conflict and natural disasters. UMCOR is active in 81 countries, contributing $91 million in aid and direct relief to disaster, war, and conflict-ridden areas of the world in 2006. Project Hope’s influence is felt across 31 of the world’s most vulnerable countries, especially in the areas of health education and disease prevention for children and women and support for health facilities.

How You Can Help
UMCOR’s ongoing work in Georgia benefits from donations to UMCOR Advance #250305, Georgia Emergency. Checks may be mailed to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Give online at, or by credit card by calling 1-800-554-8583.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New hurricane season brings need for donations

Hurricane Felix struck northern Nicaragua and southern Honduras on Sept. 4. The United Methodist Committee on Relief seeks donations to help survivors of this year's hurricane season. A UMNS photo courtesy of NASA.

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - As reports begin filtering in from Nicaragua and Honduras about damage from Hurricane Felix, the United Methodist Committee on Relief is preparing to respond.
But donations are needed to provide relief both for victims of Felix and others needing assistance during the 2007 hurricane season, according to the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's domestic disaster coordinator.

Hurricane Felix pummeled the coastlines of northern Nicaragua and southern Honduras Sept. 4 with 160 mph winds and drenching rains. Indigenous people in the area, many unable to evacuate, were expected to be heavily affected by hurricane and resulting rains and mudslides.

As of Sept. 7, Central American officials had put the death toll at close to 100.

"Our church has responded so generously to the big hurricanes like Katrina … sometimes we forget that the people of Honduras and Nicaragua were devastated by this (Felix)," said Hazelwood in a Sept. 7 telephone interview after attending a summit in New Orleans on Katrina recovery.

The scope of the damage from Felix isn't yet known, although Hazelwood added that UMCOR has received communications from United Methodist Bishop Elias Galvan in Honduras and from missionaries there and in Nicaragua.

Both countries were devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which took the same path as Felix, although Felix was smaller in scope and moved faster. However, he pointed out, "The mudslides and the rain are causing serious problems there."

Giving donations now to UMCOR's Hurricanes 2007 fund will allow for a more effective response, according to Hazelwood. "With Katrina, the church began to respond before we even knew all the details," he said. "The need is going to be there (for Felix)."

Two Category 5 storms
Hurricanes Felix and Dean marked a serious beginning for the current hurricane season. "This is the first time in history you've had two Category 5 hurricanes make landfall in the same season," Hazelwood explained.

"September is the most active hurricane month … who knows what we'll have to respond to even yet," he added.

UMCOR provided a major response in Central America after Hurricane Mitch. More recently, in 2005, the agency provided relief when several tropical storms and hurricanes ravaged indigenous communities in Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador.

Giving to UMCOR
Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma were among the storms that made the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season the most active in recorded history and supplied UMCOR with a record amount of donations for relief work.

A recent report, "Serving Survivors," which can be found on the agency's Web site, summarizes the denomination's response so far to damage caused by those hurricanes.

Nearly 60,000 individuals, for example, had received United Methodist assistance as of June 30, during long-term recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast. Total giving was more than $66 million - the highest ever given to an UMCOR Advance.

Checks for Hurricanes 2007 can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write "UMCOR Advance #982511, Hurricanes 2007," on the memo line of the check. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or be clicking on any of the "Give Now" links at online.

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

Gulf Coast thanks, celebrates Katrina volunteers

Bishop Alfred L. Norris dances to "When the Saints Come Marching In" at the United Methodist Katrina Summit in New Orleans. The Sept. 6-7 event celebrated Hurricane Katrina relief workers and encouraged continued support to rebuild ministries in the Gulf Coast. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)-United Methodist volunteers from across the United States were welcomed, thanked and challenged to keep coming to the Gulf Coast during a Katrina Summit to honor the work and workers of the past two years.

"It is a miracle what you have done," said Bishop William B. Oden, chairman of the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal.

More than 63,000 United Methodist volunteers from 42 states, two foreign countries and 60 annual (regional) conferences have come to the aid of the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore on Aug. 29, 2005.

The Sept. 6-7 summit was organized to thank and recruit more volunteers, find new church partnerships and encourage more donations to the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal, a special fund established by the United Methodist Council of Bishops to help rebuild churches, pay salaries and restore other ministries.

Storm-tossed people Annual conferences from Alaska to Arkansas sent more than 200 representatives from volunteer mission teams to the event hosted by Gulf Coast bishops William Hutchinson, Louisiana; Hope Morgan Ward, Mississippi and Larry M. Goodpaster, Alabama-West Florida.

The summit included a bus tour of three restored New Orleans churches, a dinner and a report on work that still needs to be done.

"As storm-tossed people, we thank you from the depths of our hearts because you have been here from the very first days," Ward said. "Has it been two years, two days or 20 years since Aug. 29, 2005? We continue to live in chaos but we have never felt alone."

Hutchinson added his thanks and said, "I don't know where we would be without the church. Governments have had their problems, but the church didn't wait to get the OK from anyone. You just came and began to do the work."

United Methodists worldwide have given more than $66.4 million for recovery from Katrina and a series of other ferocious hurricanes that hit the United States in 2005, according to the Rev. Tom Hazelwood of the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

The money has gone to help more than 60,000 people and to build or restore more than 25,000 homes, he said.

Because UMCOR funds are restricted to helping people rebuild their homes and other necessities after disasters, the Council of Bishops established the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal to help with additional ministry needs in the wake of Katrina, Oden explained.

Using Hebrews 10, Goodpaster talked about tired Christians with "compassion fatigue" and said people on the Gulf Coast can relate.

"I'm tired too," he said. "I'm tired of watching the Weather Channel, of mucking houses, wearing masks and worrying about water surges."

Goodpaster said the Hebrews writer urged Christians to address their fatigue by approaching God, holding fast to the confidence of Jesus Christ and helping one another.

"Thank you brothers and sisters who have shared our burden," he said.

More work to be done
Leaders of the Louisiana and Mississippi conferences outlined projects that need to be completed through 2008 at a cost of about $6.5 million.

"Go back to your conferences and say the need still goes on," Goodpaster said. "You have come as disciples; now we need you to go back as apostles."

In Mississippi, more than 70,000 homes were destroyed and 31,000 people still live in FEMA trailers, said the Rev. Bill McAlilly, superintendent of the Seashore district.

Pascagoula First, St. Rock, Mississippi City, Seashore Mission, Leggett and Pearlington United Methodist churches still need money and volunteers to rebuild their sanctuaries.

The conference also wants to start two new Hispanic/Latino congregations and finish construction on multipurpose buildings used as warehouses and dormitories for Katrina recovery and future disasters.

In Louisiana, the Methodist Home for Children in New Orleans will move to a new, safer facility, and funds are needed to provide beds and other needs as well as to hire a director and staff.

The conference will open Luke's House in November in New Orleans. The free clinic will provide basic health care for those who have lost vital care due to the closure of several hospitals and clinics in the city.

New Orleans has seen a great increase of Hispanic workers due to the storms, and the conference needs to provide Hispanic/Latino ministries for the growing population.

Churches in New Orleans within designated mission zones need funds to provide for salaries, health insurance, housing and pensions for 29 pastors and salaries for five support staff. The mission zone ministries also need funding to advertise their ministries, purchase a mini-bus and provide a child care center at People's United Methodist Church.

Four Louisiana United Methodist churches still need restoring or expanding.

Both Mississippi and Louisiana need help to offset the high cost of insurance premiums that have been skyrocketing since Katrina.

For more information on how to help, contact the Louisiana and Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference offices. To contribute to United Methodist Katrina recovery efforts, give online or through local church offerings to the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal #818-001. Information about how to donate online is available at

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

Friday, September 07, 2007

Faith-Based Disaster Response Training -- Bring a team from your church, and be prepared to respond to local, regional, national disasters

Leader for the day

Christy Tate Smith is a native Kentuckian, transplanted to Tennessee by circumstance and education. She considers herself a full-fledged citizen of her adopted state.

A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, she worked briefly in the publishing industry before marrying. She lived three years in Japan where she taught English to Japanese high school students, as well as math and English to American Army personnel who wished to pass the GED and receive high school equivalency certification. While living there, she also worked as education advisor to American soldiers wounded in Vietnam who had been transferred to hospitals in Japan.

From1985 until 2001, she was editor of the Brownsville States-Graphic newspaper.

After the destructive May 2003 tornadoes in West Tennessee, she was executive director of Disaster Recovery Services of the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Disaster Recovery Services coordinated the volunteer response for tornado survivors and partnered with storm survivors in West Tennessee who had long-term unmet needs. “This introduction to direct ministry with disaster survivors was a wonderful personal blessing,” she says. “Seeing lives and homes made whole by God’s people bringing God’s love to courageous people in great need was an incredible, joyful, spirit-filled adventure.”*

Since 2004, Smith has worked as a disaster consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, traveling to Methodist conferences to provide disaster preparation and post-disaster consultation.

“UMCOR is the church on feet,” she says. “The greatest blessings come from everyday moments when we get to be the visible presence of God’s love to someone in need.”

Native American community rebuilds after storms

Homeowner Mathilda Verrett and daughters Ivie and Hannah stand in front of their Dulac, La., home, which was flooded by Hurricane Rita in September 2005. Volunteers from around the country have been working to restore her home and others in the mostly Native American community. UMNS photos by Betty Backstrom.

By Betty Backstrom*

DULAC, La. (UMNS) - Mathilda Verrett enjoys the sounds of music amid the banging of hammers coming from her new kitchen each day.

A volunteer work team from Christ Community Church in Illinois sings a cappella while installing cabinets for Verrett's home, which was flooded during Hurricane Rita in September 2005.

"We'll break out into four-part harmony while we're working. It's fun," says high school senior Kevin Pittman. He has enjoyed serving storm victims in southwest Louisiana, he says.

"It's really different down here. It's like another world. We took a fan boat ride yesterday, which was one of the coolest experiences of my life," he adds.

Pittman's group is one of more than 50 teams that have served through the Dulac Substation, part of the United Methodist Committee On Relief-sponsored Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Recovery Ministry.

"The volunteers are doing a good job," Verrett says. "This was my grandpa's house. We got four feet of water during Rita."

Rosalyn Dean, whose house was severely damaged by two and a half feet of water, also lives in a family home, located in this marshy area of southwest Louisiana.

"This house belonged to my mom and dad," she says. "After the storm, we were trying to make all the repairs by ourselves. The Methodists were visiting people in the area and asked us if we needed help. So we took them up on their offer."

'We'll keep coming'
Jodi Smith, a volunteer from First United Methodist Church in Ottawa, Kan., gets to use her skills as a professional painter as she puts a fresh coat of paint on apartment walls. The apartment building is part of the Dulac Community Center complex, which is a ministry of The United Methodist Church's Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference.

"We'll keep coming so people can get their life back," Smith says. "We've had five or six teams that have come to Louisiana so far. Our church also has a team back in Kansas right now, helping with the tornado disaster."

The Dulac Station, a substation of the Abbeville Disaster Recovery Station, was opened in November 2006. "Since that time, close to 200 families in need have been identified for assistance. Of these cases, UMCOR volunteers have already completed seven rebuilds and are currently working on 25 homes," says John Paul McGuire, station manager.

A new community center building, paid for with UMCOR funding, houses volunteers such as Jodi Smith who travel to this small, primarily Native American community to help them rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Rita.

"Dulac is the first line of defense when storms come," says the Rev. Kirby Verrett, pastor of Clanton Chapel United Methodist Church, just a few hundred feet from the Dulac Community Center. "We are just south of Houma, La., which would flood if this land weren't here."

Dulac is home
Verrett, a member of the Houma Indian Nation (and not related to Mathilda Verrett), praises the tenacity of the people who have lived in this small fishing town for generations.

"We have weathered many hurricanes. People wonder why anyone would want to go through this rebuilding process over and over. The bottom line is, Dulac is home for them. This is their land, and people don't want to give up what they have."

Verrett adds that Clanton Chapel is doing well, even through there has been some loss of population after Hurricane Rita.

"Although some have moved as far up as Houma, they still come to church here on Sundays. It's interesting that the Baptists rebuilt a church further north, and a few others moved up. But Clanton Chapel survived the storm, and we're staying right here."

*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church's Louisiana Annual Conference.

Symbols of hope endure in post-Hurricane Rita recovery

A house in Mauriceville, Texas, is crushed by a tree felled by Hurricane Rita's high winds. The Rita Recovery office of the United Methodist Texas Annual Conference has helped 1,771 families in their long-term recovery since the September 2005 storm struck the Texas-Louisiana border. A UMNS photo by Bob McMillan, Federal Emergency Management Agency.

By Susan J. Meister*

BEAUMONT, Texas (UMNS) - Two large trees of hope constantly encourage the volunteer staff in the Rita Recovery office in the Wesley United Methodist Church.

Two wall displays illustrate the long-term recovery work that continues after one of the costliest storms in U.S. history: Hurricane Rita, which struck the Texas-Louisiana border in September 2005.

On one side is the "Tree of Recovery," where a leaf is added every time home repair work is completed. On the opposite wall is "Helping Hands," made of cut-out hand prints representing each of the volunteer teams in the rebuilding effort.

"We have a goal of 400 homes to be completed by the end of August," said Executive Director Angela Baker. As of July, there were 343 "leaves" on the Tree of Recovery toward that goal.

The Helping Hands tree currently celebrates 388 volunteer teams from 28 states, representing more than 168,000 hours of labor. In June, 170 volunteers from 12 different churches in the Missouri Conference added their helping hands to the community effort.

Desperate need
The United Methodist Committee On Relief has been hard at work helping the denomination's Texas and Louisiana Annual (regional) Conferences design and implement long-term recovery plans.

The Rita Recovery office, which covers Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, Texas, as well as surrounding communities, has helped 1,771 families with long-term recovery. And the work continues, as recent heavy rains in Texas have penetrated already-damaged roofs and caused ceilings to collapse.

"We are seeing people who desperately need help," explained Stephanie Lundgreen, a supervisor at the Rita Recovery office. "One elderly gentleman tried to patch his own roof and stuffed clothes in the holes to keep the rain water out."

Most of the clients are elderly or handicapped, or single parents, who have little or no insurance to cover damages. Many have been on a waiting list for almost two years. But, there's hope.

Baker and her staff are promoting a "Rita Recovery Blitz Build" Sept. 9-29 to help those who are waiting for rebuilding assistance.

For more information on the work in southeast Texas and to volunteer, go to the Rita Recovery web site at

*Meister is the United Methodist Committee on Relief's Gulf Coast communications consultant.

Texas church helps community prepare for storms

Barbara Farris (right) talks with Mary Stafford during a seminar on hurricane preparedness at First United Methodist Church in Groves, Texas. Farris is the parish nurse and has led two training sessions to help area residents develop a storm plan, with an emphasis on helping those with special needs. UMNS photos by John Gordon.

by John Gordon*

GROVES, Texas (UMNS) - Each new weather report of a tropical storm that could move into the Gulf of Mexico puts residents of the upper Texas coast on edge, still mindful of how Hurricane Rita devastated the area two years ago.

"I do get concerned about it. We all do down here; it's a natural thing," says Herb Stafford, 81.
Stafford's church, First United Methodist of Groves, is leading a community effort to make sure residents - especially those with special needs - are better prepared for the next big storm.

The Rev. Alan Van Hooser started the ministry after briefly losing contact with some members in Rita's aftermath and also seeing residents struggle to evacuate due to medical needs or financial problems.

"Hurricane preparations are more than just buying canned tuna and bottled water," says Van Hooser. "We saw lives shortened from the stress of evacuation. We simply cannot have another hurricane come ashore in the Port Arthur-Beaumont area and be as ill-prepared as we were last time."

The church's parish nurse, Barbara Farris, has led two seminars on hurricane preparations, with an emphasis on helping those with special needs. Without advance planning, Farris says they might have difficulty making arrangements or get left behind during an evacuation.

"I think it will save lives," Farris says of the ministry. "If they know the plan's in place, it's going to decrease their anxiety level. And by decreasing their anxiety level, that's going to help them physically to cope with the crisis situation."

Church members are encouraged to help identify those in the community with special needs. Van Hooser, who was appointed to the Groves church shortly before Rita hit, also serves on a Texas Annual (regional) Conference committee that is preparing a disaster-response plan.

"This preparation will certainly save physical lives by allowing smoother exits, smoother evacuations," Van Hooser says. "But I think it will also help people to cope, emotionally and spiritually."

Carol Carpenter, a member of the Groves church, says it's time to acknowledge that hurricane systems are all part of life near the coast. "Rita was terrible," she says. "Can't change it; might as well get used to it."

Planning for emergencies
Rita's marks can still be seen on homes near the church. Blue tarps cover damaged roofs, and some residents still live in trailers while they wait for home repairs.

The Rita Recovery Office, sponsored by the Texas Annual Conference in partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, continues helping uninsured and under-insured homeowners. Volunteer teams have completed repairs to more than 350 homes. Another 600 houses are on a waiting list.

"For those who may be elderly and alone, or (if) they do have special needs, there needs to be a special plan for them," says Angela Baker, director of the recovery office based at Wesley United Methodist Church in Beaumont.

"So I think what the Groves church is doing is great and I think they're an example for other churches, so that those who are in need know that they have someone they can count on."

The Texas Annual Conference is encouraging other churches to develop disaster-preparedness and response plans. United Methodist churches in Louisiana and Mississippi are also looking to improve their emergency plans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"Preparedness is still a major, major issue because most families just don't do what they need to do to be prepared," says the Rev. Richard Goodrich, assistant to Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who leads the conference.

"They wait until the storm is close and then get in line like everyone else."

Not if, but when
The Rev. Freddie Henderson, director for disaster preparedness for the Louisiana Annual Conference, says a disaster coordinator has been appointed for each of the jurisdiction's seven districts and additional training is planned in local areas. "We try to get people to think in terms of not if, but when," Henderson says. "We talk about hurricanes and talk about being prepared for three days of survival."

About 300 United Methodist churches are in hurricane-prone areas in Louisiana, according to Henderson. Information on disaster planning and recovery efforts is also posted on the conference Web site at

Training in disaster preparedness is also under way in Mississippi, according to Gwen Green, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Annual Conference.

*Gordon is a freelance producer in Marshall, Texas.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Katrina project to memorialize slain Virginia Tech students

By Betty Backstrom*

Virginia Tech student Ryan Clark guts a hurricane-damaged house in November 2005 in New Orleans through a United Methodist ministry. Clark and Leslie Sherman, who also served in New Orleans, were among Virginia Tech students killed during last spring's campus shooting spree. UMNS file photos courtesy of theLouisiana Annual Conference.

NEW ORLEANS (UMNS) - Montreal Farve, an 80-year-old native of New Orleans, soon will live in a special house known as the "Virginia Tech House."

The house was ruined by Hurricane Katrina and is being rebuilt in memory of two slain Virginia Tech students who served in New Orleans through the United Methodist Louisiana Disaster Recovery Ministry.

Ryan Clark and Leslie Sherman were among the 33 Virginia Tech students who died in last spring's shooting spree on their Blacksburg, Va., campus.

"Those two kids came here to help people like me. It's terrible that their lives were cut off so quickly," said Farve, a retired nurse and former Peace Corps volunteer.

Clark worked on a Virginia Tech volunteer team that came to New Orleans during Thanksgiving of 2005. Sherman came the following Thanksgiving.

When both were shot and killed by a mentally disturbed student on April 16, 2007, staff members of the Katrina recovery ministry were devastated.

Student volunteer Leslie Sherman helps make dinner for a Virginia Tech workteam during Thanksgiving week of 2006.

"When the shooting happened, we e-mailed Sandy Wirt, who coordinated the Virginia Tech trips. We just wanted to let her know that we were thinking about the school in the wake of the tragedy," said Jake McGlothin, one of the ministry's coordinators in New Orleans.

Staff members began to discuss possible ways to memorialize the two students. "Building a house in their name was the perfect thing to do," said McGlothin.

Answered prayers
Farve's rebuild project was chosen as a fitting memorial.

"One of the reasons we picked Miss Monty was because of the fact that she, like Leslie Sherman, had an interest in the Peace Corps," said McGlothin. "Leslie told me that she was thinking about joining after college."

The Virginia Tech House is expected to be completed this fall, with a dedication set for Thanksgiving.

Until then, Farve is living in a FEMA trailer in her yard. Farve, whose husband died four months prior to Katrina, has lived in the neighborhood since 1955.

"After Katrina, I wound up in California with one of my sons for eight months. While I was there, I found out about the work that the Methodists were doing in Louisiana from a list they had at the governor's office. There were other names, but I decided that I would go with the Christian organization at a time like this," she said.

The assistance from the disaster recovery ministry was essential for Farve, who like many homeowners did not have flood insurance.

"Our plan was always to complete Miss Monty's house, but this memorial rebuild helped us move her up on the schedule because we now have funding," said Abby McMurry, case manager for the Westbank Recovery Station.

Financial assistance has come from individual donations to the Virginia Tech House and a Church World Service grant.

"After they first gutted my home, teams kept coming doing things like adding a new roof," recalls Farve. "But the day that Jake and Abby came to tell me that they wanted to rebuild my house in honor of those students, it was an answered prayer."

Rebuilding community
Teams serving as volunteers for the memorial rebuild have been honored to be part of the project.

"The fact that they (Ryan and Leslie) were here shows what kind of people they were. From everything I have heard about Ryan, he was such an outstanding young man. He could've been president of the United States," said Leslie Deane, a former student at Virginia Tech, who worked on the house during the summer with other members of New Life United Methodist Church in Virginia.

Virginia Tech's motto is Ut Prosium, which means "that I may serve."

"What a better way to honor Ryan's and Leslie's service than by serving in their name," said McGlothin. "And Miss Monty knows what service is. She was a nurse, served in the Peace Corps and raised five children. I can't think of a more worthy recipient."

*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church's Louisiana Annual Conference.