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Haiti sacrifices inspire spouses’ faith journeys

 
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5:00 PM EST April 29, 2011


Participants in a Port-au-Prince memorial service for the Revs. Sam Dixon and Clinton Rabb pray as white balloons are released into the Haitian sky. Photo courtesy of James Gulley.
Participants in a Port-au-Prince memorial service for the Revs. Sam Dixon and Clinton Rabb pray as white balloons are released into the Haitian sky. Photo courtesy of James Gulley. View in photo gallery

July 22, Driftwood, Texas

Suzanne Rabb lifts the shovel and digs into the dirt on this warm midsummer day in a tiny cemetery northwest of Austin.

She keeps digging until half of the grave that will hold the ashes of her late husband, Clinton, is finished. Joel and Robert Rabb, Clinton’s brothers, dig the other half.

A headstone will come later to mark the final resting place of the United Methodist mission worker who died in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. It is enough now that family and friends sing and pray in this patch of grass and oak trees overlooking the hill country surrounding the small, wooden Driftwood United Methodist Church.

Six months earlier, the world and The United Methodist Church were transfixed by the massive natural disaster, and the unfolding drama of Rabb and five other church workers trapped for two days beneath a fallen hotel as rescue workers searched for them.

*** Pinned in the ruins of the Hotel Montana, the six church workers find their endurance pushed to the limit.***

Attention has shifted in the United States to a massive oil spill in the Gulf, debates over escalation of the Afghanistan war and a controversial Arizona immigration law. The length of actress Lindsay Lohan’s prison sentence and New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez’s pursuit of 600 home runs are pressing issues on talk shows.


The Rev. Suzanne Field Rabb (left) and Cindy Dixon share a moment following the 2010 memorial service for the Revs. Clinton Rabb and Samuel Dixon at The Riverside Church in New York. A UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin.
The Rev. Suzanne Field Rabb (left) and Cindy Dixon share a moment following the 2010 memorial service for the Revs. Clinton Rabb and Samuel Dixon at The Riverside Church in New York. A UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin. View in photo gallery

Yet the sacrifice of Rabb and the Rev. Sam Dixon, two United Methodist mission leaders who suffered and died alongside hundreds of thousands of Haitians after a lifetime traveling the world serving the poor, will not be forgotten.

Three women — Suzanne Rabb, Cindy Dixon and Nancy Gulley, the spouses of the two men who perished and of a third mission worker who survived the quake — are witnesses to a contemporary Easter journey.

Like Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, the women who waited by the tomb in the Gospel of Luke, they struggle in sorrow and hope for comfort and strength.

And like the women who encountered the risen Jesus, they have fresh stories to tell of the Resurrection that is at the center of their faith.

One day, Suzanne Rabb says, she will be buried alongside her husband in this rural cemetery.

Until then, she is discovering what it means to be blessed and broken.

“There is a mystery now that is unfolding,” she says.

Present day, Columbia, Ky.

The sacrifice of the two mission workers who perished on a mission of mercy for the Haitian people is becoming a source of inspiration to many.

Lindsey Wilson College, a United Methodist-affiliated school in Columbia, Ky., awarded a posthumous doctorate of humane letters to Rabb in honor of his example of service. The Texas Legislature opened a session with a prayer in Rabb's honor, and some of his ashes are at a health clinic in the nation of Colombia.

The North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference dedicated the chapel and large meeting room in its new headquarters to Dixon, remembered as “a tireless servant to Jesus Christ.” Churches in the Carolinas and Texas have begun taking up collections in memory of the two to continue their mission work.

For many, it is an Easter story.

The three United Methodist mission leaders, Rabb, Dixon and the Rev. James Gulley, were meeting in Haiti to discuss plans to aid the impoverished nation when the earthquake struck. For two days, they were buried, believed dead, under the rubble of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince.

*** Using song, prayer and humor, the trapped church workers struggle to keep their spirits up.***

On the third day, they were found. Gulley would go on to new life. Rabb and Dixon died from their injuries.

Today, her husband and his friend are with God in paradise, Cindy Dixon's faith tells her.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” she says. “Without a doubt.”

Jan. 15, 2011, dusk, Clinton, N.C.

No matter where he was in the world, Sam Dixon would talk to his wife every morning and sometimes throughout the day.

On the day of the earthquake, he was upbeat.

“The mountains are so beautiful this morning, Cindy, I wish you could see them,” he told her. Their last words were familiar: “Love you, Sam.” “I love you, too, Cindy.”


The Rev. James Gulley and his wife, Nancy, stand in a memorial garden in Port-au-Prince where a stone marker reads, IN MEMORIAM 12 JANVIER 2010. Photo courtesy of James Gulley.
The Rev. James Gulley and his wife, Nancy, stand in a memorial garden in Port-au-Prince where a stone marker reads, “IN MEMORIAM 12 JANVIER 2010.” Photo courtesy of James Gulley.
View in photo gallery

As she sits with her family on this winter day, eating barbecue and trading stories about her husband, Cindy Dixon has no regrets for the risks Sam took traveling throughout the world, no second thoughts about whether he should have gone to Haiti so many times.

“I learned early on in my marriage I was married to a gypsy. He needed to be moving, to be going and doing,” she says. “He believed God had called him to do exactly what he was doing.”

On this afternoon, Cindy feels called to celebrate her husband’s life the way he would have wanted. Friends and family are at their daughter Molly's home in the country, eating meat from Parker’s Barbecue, what Sam called the best barbecue in the world, and talking around the picnic table, listening to the birds and occasionally praising the University of North Carolina Tarheels basketball team.

These last few months have not been easy.

“The hope of the Resurrection, of new life, that’s what I really think of,” Cindy Dixon says. “He was raised from the dead. Because of that, we all have hope.”

And though she wouldn’t mind “definite and profound” signs of her husband’s presence, something along the lines of a burning bush, “I’ll take the subtle ways.”

Those ways include the comfort she takes when a solution presents itself to a problem, almost as if Sam was there offering her counsel. Or some days it can be in the simple act of getting out of bed in the morning: “Only by the grace of God have I gotten through each day.”

At dusk, a time when her late husband loved to watch the sun go down, Cindy Dixon and her family and friends find an opening amid the trees to send balloons up in the air with prayers and good wishes for Sam.

Each person says something to Sam before letting the balloon go.

“I love you,” Cindy Dixon says as the balloon leaves her hand.

In heaven, her heart tells her, “Sam was happy to see us all together.”

Continued on page two

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