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United Methodists help Hurricane Katrina evacuees

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by B. C. Elser

The May Day pier in Daphne, Ala. was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Aug. 31. 2005

A UMNS Report
By Ciona Rouse*

United Methodists found opportunities to be in ministry with hurricane evacuees before volunteer teams were allowed to enter communities torn by Hurricane Katrina’s fierce winds.

Volunteers were asked to stay away from areas affected by the hurricane until the completion of all rescue and assessment, but displaced residents of Louisiana and Mississippi found shelter and community with United Methodists.

Bishop Robert E. Hayes of the United Methodist Church’s Oklahoma Area joined First United Methodist Church of Marshall, Texas, as members welcomed evacuees of New Orleans into shelter at the Marshall Civic Center.

The bishop said seeing United Methodists working together in response to the evacuees was one of his “proudest moments.”

Hayes was preaching a revival at First Church when the congregation received news about the shelter opening for evacuees. The church immediately responded to whatever needs the shelter had, providing towels, food, water bottles and human assistance.

After meeting and praying with people in the shelter, Hayes sent a letter to his annual conferences encouraging their active participation in relief efforts.

“We know from Oklahoma what disaster’s all about,” he said, referring to tornadoes and a bombing that have affected his state. “When we’ve experienced disaster, the church — the United Methodist Church — has been there, and we intend to be there for the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. That’s the connection at its finest!”

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Courtesy of James Nielsen/AFP/Getty

Residents wade through a street in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city.
Mark Smith, a volunteer at the shelter and First Church member, has spent each day at the shelter since it opened.

“The longer people are there, you can tell they’re anxious. They’re nervous. They’re scared,” he said. “Some of them walk around in a state of shock. It reminds you of a hospital waiting room because everyone’s glued to the television and uncertain of the future.”

Smith, who is experienced in grief counseling, believed it most important to be a listener as he worked with the evacuees. Several times, he witnessed people responding to the television newscasts.

“They’re seeing their street signs and the water’s up to the street sign, and they’re saying, ‘My God! I don’t have a house!’” he said.

In Memphis, Tenn., a ministry known as Service Over Self opened its door with free housing and meals for hurricane evacuees.

“SOS has taken on a new venture today — short-term disaster relief,” said SOS Director Eric Basye in an e-mail to donors. “As a response to this natural disaster, SOS has opened up our doors to house families who are in need, free of charge. … This raises some logistical issues that we are yet to figure out, but we know this is right, it is what we are supposed to do and that it will all work out in the end.”

Members of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis—which launched SOS— as well as Germantown United Methodist Church and other area congregations responded to the call.

As of noon Aug. 31, the SOS building was near capacity with about 100 evacuees.

A sign on Christ Church’s front lawn reads, “Help Katrina Victims Here in Memphis: log on to” This page on the church Web site includes the list of needed items for SOS and details on how to make donations to the church’s efforts and to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Courtesy of Nicolas Britto/FEMA

Strong winds and rain from Hurricane Katrina buffeted trees in Pensacola, Fla.
UMCOR’s disaster response is a three-stage process. The emergency stage is expected to last up to 10 days. That’s followed by the relief phase, in which the agency helps homeowners who need to “muck out,” assess damage, receive emotional and spiritual care, and begin the long road to recovery.

The third phase, long-term recovery, includes taking a holistic approach to people who have suffered losses. It entails seeking them out in their neighborhoods and providing information and advocacy about their federal and state assistance rights. In coordination with other religious and community service agencies, UMCOR participates in repairing and rebuilding homes and providing assistance with living expenses.

“This is an anxious time for all of us because we are awaiting word from those we care about,” said UMCOR executive Kristin Sachen. “But we wait with hope in our hearts and with our hands and minds engaged in preparation for the right time for us to act on the scene.”

UMCOR is committed to the most vulnerable people affected by the hurricane, including those yet to be visited by what is now Tropical Storm Katrina. “We will bring our years or experience, our capable volunteers and our creativity to the rebuilding of these communities,” Sachen said.

The Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent agency, also has received information on several United Methodist facilities in the Gulf Coast area, as of midday Aug. 31:
  • The Dumas Wesley Community Center and its Cybil Smith Family Village in Mobile, Ala., reportedly sustained minor damage to the roof and siding, and trees were also damaged. It also had no power, according to Director Claire Ester.
  • The Wesley Community Center in Meridian, Miss., suffered severe flooding, partly caused by a tree crashing into the side of the building, according to Director Nell Grisson. Skylights were blown out, and she feared that computers and equipment in a clinic might have been destroyed. There was no electrical power.
  • The staff, children and facilities of the MacDonnell Child Care Services in Houma, La., were all right.
  • The Bethlehem Center in Jackson, Miss., was without power.
  • Waveland, Miss., home to historic Gulfside Assembly, was hit hard by the hurricane. On-sight inspection of Gulfside Assembly has not been possible, but Director Marian Moore was safe in Hattiesburg, Miss. ABC News reported widespread destruction of property in and around the town of Waveland.

Also, students at United Methodist-related Dillard University in New Orleans were evacuated to another church-related school, Centenary College in Shreveport, La., or received shelter at local churches.

To volunteer or to donate online to UMCOR’s relief efforts, visit

Besides the Web site, donations to UMCOR’s relief efforts can be made through local churches or sent directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Designate checks to UMCOR for Advance No. 982523 and “Hurricanes 2005 Global.” Credit-card donations may be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

*Rouse is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn. Deborah White, associate editor of Interpreter magazine, contributed to this report.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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