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Haiti sacrifices inspire spouses’ faith journeys

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Jan. 12, 2011, Hotel Montana, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

The Rev. James Gulley participates in a candlelight memorial service for those who perished in the 2010 earthquake. The flames of the candles symbolize the lives of those who died. Photo courtesy of James Gulley.
The Rev. James Gulley participates in a candlelight memorial service for those who perished in the 2010 earthquake. The flames of the candles symbolize the lives of those who died. Photo courtesy of James Gulley. View in photo gallery

A bell rings 38 times at 4:53 p.m., the time the earthquake struck.

Nancy Gulley stands with her husband, Jim, underneath a large tree near where the Hotel Montana once stood. They are here for a memorial service with other survivors of the earthquake and family and friends of those who perished at the hotel.

Her husband, who was trapped with Rabb and Dixon under the Hotel Montana, has been back 10 times for mission work. But this is Nancy Gulley’s first trip to Haiti since the earthquake.

What runs through her mind on this, her third day in Haiti, is how slowly time must have passed for her husband and his two friends as they were trapped in the rubble, with little hope of rescue.

She cannot help but think of Suzanne Rabb and Cindy Dixon and their husbands, and the mystery of why Jim lived and the others died.

“I don’t know if God spared Jim. I don’t want to believe God didn’t spare Sam and Clint,” she says.

*** The rescue of the workers brings both celebration and mourning. The survivors, however, persevere in faith.***

As dusk approaches, the participants in the memorial service process down the hill to a memorial garden, carrying candles symbolizing the lives of those who died.

In turn, Nancy and Jim Gulley place their candles amid the plants and artwork and a piece of the original building at the memorial. They pray as white balloons are sent up into the sky.

For Nancy Gulley, it is as if Sam Dixon's and Clinton Rabb's spirits are soaring heavenward.

Jim Gulley also cannot help but sense the presence of his departed friends. “Their spirits are present with us,” he believes. “We are all connected in this world and the next.”

Like his friends who died, Gulley says, his life is “intertwined with the people of Haiti, and my being there is a part of that.” He will keep going back.

And whatever worries she and her family may have, Nancy Gulley knows she cannot keep her husband away from this suffering country.

“This is what he does,” she says. “This is his calling. This is his life. This is just Jim.”

Present day, Austin, Texas

Clinton Rabb, his legs crushed and his body in agony, asked rescuers when they reached him underneath the Hotel Montana to tell his wife that they would make it through this.

The Rev. Clinton Rabb and The Rev. Sam Dixon

The Rev. Clinton Rabb and The Rev. Sam Dixon

“And he did,” Suzanne Rabb says, more than a year after her husband’s death. “He’s still mine.”

Easter will never be the same. It is personal now.

When Suzanne Rabb thinks of Jesus on the cross, she thinks of Christ praying for the disciples even in his last moments, just as her husband thought of caring for her in his moments of greatest suffering.

And just like the disciples, she has to go out into the world in her grief, “because that’s all they had.”

Also like them, she is not alone.

The suffering, the longing for her husband to be at her side, is real and painful. But so is the presence of God, what she describes as “the Spirit of comfort and grief that says, ‘Come with me on this journey. In here, you will find Clint and you will find Christ.’”

While Clinton Rabb’s grave awaits a tombstone, a rock marks the spot that holds his ashes.

Yet his spirit, and the spirit of Sam Dixon, are alive in the church, say many of those who knew both men.

What is extraordinary about these ordinary human beings is that they lived out their baptismal calls until the end.

“That’s what we all hope in our life,” Suzanne Rabb says, “that we will live a life so that Christ can be seen.”

*Briggs is a former editor of United Methodist News Service and a freelance writer based in Connecticut.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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