4:30 P.M. EST April 29, 2010 | NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)
Karen Allen, third from left, stands in a prayer circle with the team
from First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville, Md. UMNS photos by
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For four years, mission volunteers from First United Methodist
Church, Hyattsville, have traveled from Maryland to assist victims of
And, still, the special moments of grace continue.
Like on a recent Wednesday evening when the homeowner they were
helping, Karen Allen, led evening prayer.
“Thank you, Lord. I’m so grateful that your blessings rain down on
me, on all of us,” she said tearfully in a sweet, lilting voice. “I’m a
living witness that with God all things are possible.”
After being pushed out of her home by invading floodwaters when
Hurricane Katrina struck her city in August 2005, Allen finally moved
back in October 2006. But she did not move into her modest peach-colored
house, surrounded by colorful flowers and plants. She lives in a plain,
white, tiny, cramped Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer parked
in the front yard.
So close but so far from being truly back home.
“But I’m thankful just to have a trailer, and I take nothing for
granted,” Allen said. “It’s a blessing that I can stay on my property. I
know people who are paying $1,000 a month in rent and still trying to
rebuild their homes.”
Ready to dance
Allen and her son, Donald, gutted the flood-damaged house themselves,
removing everything—molded walls, ceiling, doors—and leaving only the
interior, wooden framework. They paid for electrical and plumbing work,
got rid of termite infestation and made other preparations for
rebuilding to begin.
Karen Allen, her son, Donald, and the Rev. Joan Carter-Rimbach have
worked and prayed together during the rebuilding work
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But with their limited funds depleted, they had to rely on volunteer
labor to do the rebuilding.
That’s where the 27-member First Church Volunteer-in-Mission team
came in, with coordination and supplies provided by the United Methodist
Committee on Relief recovery operation.
When the team entered the house on Monday, there was just framework
with insulation in the walls. They installed drywall on the interior.
More teams from other churches will follow to finish the rebuilding
project. But the Maryland volunteers left Allen with new joy and hope.
“It feels sweet to see such progress,” she told the First Church team
amid smiles, photographs and tearful hugs. “I’ve waited so long to see
some new walls in my home, and now they’re here, thanks to you. I can’t
wait to move back in here and do my dance.”
Feel the joy
The happiness is mutual.
Each day’s heartfelt devotions and testimonies, savory meals, lively
fellowship, collaboration and cohabitation bonded team members closer to
one another. They shared music and memories, wit and wisdom, deep faith
and diverse feelings across the spectrum of their varied lives.
“It feels so good to see our men and women living, working and
fellowshipping together, helping and teaching each other, all for a
common purpose given by God,” said mission coordinator Sharon Milton.
She noted that the 13 men on this eighth visit to New Orleans were the
From left, volunteers Janis Pressley, Mfon Umoren and
prepare a piece of drywall for installation.
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While most team members have come before, there were more than a
half-dozen first-timers, and several members from other churches.
“From our first time down here four years ago, the work we’ve done
has deeply affected not only those who have come down, but our
congregation as well because of the stories we share when we return,”
said the Rev. Joan Carter-Rimbach, First Church pastor. “Our experiences
have brought new people into this mission, and this has been life
changing for us and for the people whose homes we’ve worked on.”
UMCOR is winding down its New Orleans recovery operations this year,
including coordination of visiting mission teams like those from First
Church. But, according to their pastor, First Church members have caught
the spirit of mission and are looking forward to future expeditions.
“Now people are asking, ‘When are we going to Haiti?’ They’re
beginning to think in a different way,” Carter-Rimbach said. “As a
pastor, it’s humbling to see how much this has changed people’s lives.
It’s more than I could have imagined.”
*Coleman is a freelance writer based in Washington.
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