Oklahoma United Methodists respond to wildfires
Jan. 18, 2006
|File photo by John C. Goodwin
Rev. David Wilson is superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary
Conference, which is helping families recover from the wildfires.
By Holly McCray*
OKLAHOMA CITY (UMNS) — The readiness to help has hurdled faith lines in the response to the wildfires crisscrossing Oklahoma.
United Methodists are standing at high alert alongside other faith
groups as a drought lengthens and the state’s infamous winds swirl. The
response of Oklahoma Annual Conference churches at Davis and Seminole as
well as by the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference provides insight
into what it means to be good neighbors in a time of danger and extreme
The chain of fires has killed two people, destroyed 250 homes and
consumed more than 400,000 acres since Dec. 26, and wildfires also have
raged in Texas and New Mexico.
Seminole and its surrounding areas were devastated by major wildfires
that have been sweeping across the state since Christmas. Interfaith
Social Ministries is providing help to the victims. The alliance’s
primary partners are Baptist, United Methodist and Catholic.
“Most of the work that’s done here is the community working
together,” said Gary Wilburn, pastor of Seminole United Methodist
Church. “I went to the pastor of First Baptist and said, ?Do you realize
what it would do for the community to see you and me working together?’
We had already started doing that when the fires came.”
After the fires, Lions International donated $7,000 to be distributed
as $150 vouchers for clothing, food, or medicine through three local
Lions clubs, Wilburn said. Seminole United Methodist Church members also
volunteer on the board of the local food bank.
“We have not had a home lost among our church members, but we have
had several of our ranchers who lost their pastures and their hay, and
one lost some vehicles. Some animals died in the fires or had to be put
down,” Wilburn said.
The Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference’s disaster response program
has been helping two families recover after wildfires devastated their
lives the day after Christmas, said the Rev. David Wilson, conference
The Rev. Kelly Tiger, 69, pastor of Hilltop Indian Presbyterian
Church in Wewoka and a well-known personality in the Oklahoma Indian
Missionary Conference, died after suffering burns sustained when fires
broke out near his home in Holdenville. The blazes destroyed the home,
and nothing was saved, Wilson said.
Betty Tiger — a cousin of Kelly Tiger’s — lost her home and
belongings in the same fire. She is a member of Salt Creek Indian
“Our conference has been impacted by the wildfires, especially by the
loss of the Rev. Kelly Tiger and the loss of two homes by two of our
Methodist Church families,” Wilson said. “While Tiger was a Presbyterian
minister, he was well-known in the conference, and we are pleased that
we can play a role in helping the families get back a sense of
Assistance to the families is also coming from the Muscogee Creek
Nation and Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. They are working together to
rebuild the houses, and construction has already started on both homes,
Wilson said. The conference will furnish the homes and help with other
needs that the tribes and the Federal Emergency Management Agency won’t
cover. Norean Tiger, Kelly Tiger’s wife, is Creek, and Kelly was Creek
“The families lost everything and will be in need of all kinds of
items to begin their lives in their new homes,” said Phillis McCarty,
director of the conference’s disaster response program. “We want to help
them in any way possible.” The disaster response program provided a
limited amount of funding immediately after the fires to members to help
with immediate needs.
“We are thankful for our disaster response program because it helps serve its purpose in times like these,” Wilson said.
The conference has also been assured assistance from the United
Methodist Committee on Relief if needed. It “feel(s) good to see that
United Methodist officials so far away respond to our needs before we
ask,” Wilson said. “It is great to feel a part of this connection that
is the United Methodist Church.”
More work lies ahead for the churches in both the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary conferences.
“In the sermon Sunday (Jan. 8), I talked about rain,” Wilburn said.
“One of the church marquees in town says: Pray for rain. We did pray for
rain, honoring the governor’s request, and we did get a little moisture
the next day. We are being ever vigilant.”
Wilburn said the faith community expects to be called on to do even more. About 50 families were left destitute.
“The community realizes these 50 families are going to need help for
some time, and we have committed to do that until they come up for air,”
In southern Oklahoma, the Rev. Wayne Loftin leads Davis United
Methodist Church. Traffic along nearby Interstate 35 has sparked
numerous wildfires in the area, where rainfall is 12 inches below
normal, he said.
“The community really depends on one another and uses the churches as
a hinge point for relief efforts,” Loftin said. “Churches have the
facilities and kitchens and all that kind of thing.”
The Davis church recently provided meals for volunteer firefighters. Don Oxford is the church mission coordinator.
“Two times, he smoked brisket and coordinated the food collection for
the meal. All of it is taken to the fire department, and the auxiliary
handles getting the food to the firefighters,” Loftin explained.
The pastor praised Oxford’s leadership: “One of our goals is to stay
ahead of the game, and he’s very good at that. For example, we had 144
health kits ready ahead of Hurricane Katrina.
“We didn’t do anything heroic. We just do whatever we need to do.”
*McCray is director of communications for the Oklahoma Annual
Conference. Linda Green of United Methodist News Service contributed to
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.