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Families rejoice as mission leaders found, freed in Haiti

After the devastating earthquake in 
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, survivors rest in a makeshift shelter in the 
parking lot of the general hospital.
After the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, survivors rest in a makeshift shelter in the parking lot of the general hospital. UN Photo/Logan Abassi.

Editor's note: Updates with the Rev. Clinton Rabb freed, new details on UMCOR response in Haiti.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom and Kathy L. Gilbert*

Updated Jan. 16, 2010 | 10:00 am EST

The Rev. Clinton Rabb 
The Rev. Clinton Rabb

As relatives and friends rejoiced, rescue workers freed the last of three United Methodist officials trapped in the rubble of a hotel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, since the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Some 55 hours after the Hotel Montana collapsed, the Rev. Clinton Rabb, head of Mission Volunteers for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, was lifted out from under a concrete slab that fell on him following the quake.

Rabb was flown to a Florida hospital, where he was listed in critical condition today.

Two other church officials trapped at the hotel were rescued earlier. The Rev. Sam Dixon, top executive of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, was taken out of the debris Friday morning, hours after the Rev. James Gulley, an UMCOR consultant, was freed.

“Information coming out of Haiti is almost zero, so we don’t have any time frames about when the rescues occurred,” said the Rev. Chris Heckert, director of communications for the United Methodist agency. “We do know both Sam and Clint were trapped by debris on their legs and feet.”

Both apparently require medical attention, he said. Firm information about their injuries is not available.

Gulley received cuts and bruises. “Overall, he is feeling great and very fortunate,” said Aaron Gulley, his son.

Giving thanks

Jim Gulley 
The Rev. James Gulley

Still, relatives and friends of the three men were thankful they were alive. Just 24 hours earlier, hopes had dimmed that the three officials could have survived the collapse of the luxury hotel, where scores of bodies are believed to be buried.

“Oh my gosh! I mean, what went through my soul was just immediate, just absolute ecstasy,” said Rabb’s wife, the Rev. Suzanne Field Rabb. “I yelled ‘He’s alive!’ and I have five of the eight children here and everyone had gone to bed and gotten into bed with a bit of a heavy heart and wanting to stay hopeful. When I yelled that, I mean everybody popped out of their beds, came running in to where I was on the phone. … We were all just praising. We were just ecstatic.”

At one point in his ordeal, Rabb asked a Times of London reporter to pass on a message, the paper said.

"Tell my wife I deeply love her and we're going to survive this," he said. "And I'm praying for all those who did not survive."

Suzanne Field Rabb is ready with her own greeting:

“Oh my God. Oh Clint. Clint, I’m so happy you are alive. I’m so happy. I’m just so thankful. And I love you so much. And I’m just so glad. I can’t wait to see you!”

Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Board of Global Ministries, said, “We rejoice that all are alive. Like many, I had begun to prepare for their possible deaths. This is terrific news.”

Moving forward

The Rev. Sam Dixon 
The Rev. Sam Dixon

Meanwhile, the agency is moving forward with its response.

UMCOR is mobilizing staff to go to the Dominican Republic this weekend, Heckert said. Working with partners, Action by Churches Together, Church World Service, Global Medic, Muslim Aid and the Methodist Church, UMCOR is channeling its resources to respond effectively to the people most in need.

The agency is providing material resources and funding to Haiti, including a contingency grant to the Methodist Church of Haiti. Once nongovernmental organizations are allowed and the situation is safe, UMCOR staff will move quickly to begin offering direct support in cooperation with the church.

Humanitarian meeting

Dixon and Gulley flew to Haiti on Jan. 11 to attend meetings, and Rabb had joined them there on the day of the earthquake. They had arrived at the hotel just about 5 minutes before the earthquake struck at 4:53 p.m.

They were meeting at the hotel with three staff from IMA World Health -- Sarla Chand, a United Methodist who serves as vice president of international programs; Rick Santos, the agency’s president, and Ann Varghese, program officer for Haiti. The three IMA World Health workers were freed at the same time as Gulley. The four arrived in Miami in the late afternoon of Jan. 15.

Dixon and Rabb took longer to free because they were trapped under a concrete beam. A team of French firefighters with metal cutters carefully picked through the rubble to extricate the two men.

In an ABC TV report, Gulley, Santos and Chand, a former staff member of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, spoke of being trapped in a small space between two large pillars. They talked, sang hymns and shared a stick of chewing gum and a Tootsie Roll pop provided by Santos.

“For us not to die with that magnitude of an earthquake, to me, that is second life,” Chand said. Gulley added, “We’re very fortunate to be alive.”

Dixon has served at the Board of Global Ministries since 1998. As UMCOR’s chief executive, he oversees programs that range in scope from international development and peace building to long-term disaster recovery and special ministries to marginalized people. He also served 24 years in pastoral ministry and had special assignments in the denomination’s North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference.

Rabb, a clergy member of the Southwest Texas Conference, has served with the Mission Volunteer unit since July 2006 and has been on the agency staff since 1995. During a span of almost 20 years as a pastor and chaplain in Texas, Rabb was engaged in domestic and international Volunteers in Missions teams.

Gulley has extensive experience in sustainable agricultural work. As a missionary, he served from 1972 to 1979 in Nigeria and, starting in 2005, for 15 months in Cambodia, working on agriculture projects. He also worked for the U.S. Department for Agriculture for 10 years and led a sustainable agriculture project at the Board of Global Ministries.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York. Gilbert is a UMNS news writer in Nashville, Tenn. Barbara Dunlap-Berg and Susan Passi-Klaus contributed to this report.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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