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The Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR leader, dies in Haiti

The Rev. Sam Dixon speaks at the opening of 
the new UMCOR office in the Philippines in this 2009 file photo. Dixon 
died before he could be rescued from the rubble of a hotel in Haiti 
destroyed by a Jan. 12 earthquake. A UMNS photo courtesy of GBGM.
The Rev. Sam Dixon speaks at the opening of the new UMCOR office in the Philippines in this 2009 file photo. Dixon died before he could be rescued from the rubble of a hotel in Haiti destroyed by a Jan. 12 earthquake. A UMNS photo courtesy of GBGM.

 Editor’s note: Updates throughout with details on Dixon’s life and work, responses from colleagues and friends.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Updated Jan. 16, 2010 | 5:30 pm EST

The Rev. Sam Dixon shows a digital picture to children in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, in this 2007 file photo. A UMNS photo by Ginny Underwood.

The Rev. Sam Dixon came to Haiti to make life better for the poor and afflicted.

As the leader of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Dixon traveled the world assisting Indonesians whose homes were washed away by the tsunami, Africans whose crops had withered under unrelenting drought and Americans needing shelter after tornadoes destroyed their neighborhoods.

So it came as a shock Jan. 16 when, after four days when hopes dimmed and were raised again with reports of his survival, church workers learned that Dixon died of injuries received after being buried in the rubble of a collapsed hotel following the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.

“He lived his life following the commandments of Jesus to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and love the least of these—all over the world,” said United Methodist Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Houston, UMCOR’s president.

Dixon was attending meetings in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck Haiti. He was one of six staff from two different relief agencies who were at the Montana Hotel when it collapsed. Four people in that group were rescued from the rubble of the hotel late on Jan. 14.

Dixon died before rescuers could free him, contrary to earlier reports from church leaders that he was pulled out of the wreckage alive. Another United Methodist colleague who was with him, the Rev. Clinton Rabb, was in critical but stable condition in a Florida hospital.

“Sam Dixon was a tireless servant of the church of Jesus Christ on behalf of all of us,” said Bishop Joel N. Martinez, interim top executive of the Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent agency. “His death is an incalculable loss to Global Ministries, UMCOR and our worldwide ministry of relief to God’s most vulnerable children. Our directors and staff extend their condolences to Sam’s wife, Cindy, their children, and their wider circle of friends and colleagues.”

Pastor and mission leader

A native of North Carolina, where he served for 24 years as a pastor, Dixon had worked at the Board of Global Ministries since 1998. He became UMCOR’s top executive in 2007, where he oversaw programs of emergency relief, long-term disaster recovery, economic development, health services and peace building.

The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, who worked closely with Dixon at the relief agency, thought of him more as a brother than a boss. “He treated me like a colleague and always valued anything I had to say. He did that for everybody.”

In fact, Dixon’s emphasis on building relationships is a model for Hazelwood’s own ministry.

“He understood better than anyone I know the value of relationships,” he explained. “Sam had lots of relationships on all levels. That’s what made him so good at what he did. He was able to bridge gaps.”

Roland Fernandes, the board’s treasurer, said Dixon enabled and encouraged others to do their very best. Dixon offered significant leadership during periods of transition at the mission agency in recent years, he added.

The Rev. Edith Gleaves, another board colleague, also knew him as a devoted husband and father to his wife, Cindy, and four daughters. As a fellow North Carolinian, they would playfully spar over football rivalries during board cabinet meetings. “He was a Carolina fan, I’m a Duke fan,” she explained.

Ecumenical leader

Longtime colleagues in ecumenical relief work said Dixon was an effective advocate for the poor and disenfranchised who went about his work with a sense of joy.

“Sam, throughout all the years that I’ve known him, was completely devoted to the work of the church and really labored tirelessly, especially on behalf of the poor and afflicted,” said the Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist pastor who leads Church World Service. “He will truly, truly be missed.

The Rev. Ray Buchanan, who runs Stop Hunger Now, is a longtime friend and clergy member of the United Methodist Virginia Annual (regional) Conference.

“Sam was a man whose heart was as big as he was,” Buchanan said. “He was always open to new projects and to reaching out. He had a sense of ‘mission vision’ that went beyond the norm.”

UMCOR has provided support to Stop Hunger Now for various projects, including funding meal distribution in Haiti.  Buchanan said Dixon was always open to new opportunities for mission.

“He was a realist,” he added.”He knew what needed to be done and he wasn’t afraid to step out and do it.”

Roberta Evans, a North Carolina friend whose husband, Cashar Evans, was with Dixon’s family, said she knew him best as a pastor.

“He was really quite remarkable,” she recalled. “He was kind to everyone—taxi drivers, other ministers, children—it didn’t really matter. Sam saw only humanity.”

In addition to his wife and children, Dixon is survived by two grandchildren, his mother and three sisters.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

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


WRAL: Family remembers selflessness of minister

MSNBC: Heartbreak in Haiti: Faith remembered

The Rev. Sam Dixon speaking at 2008 General Conference: 
“The mission field is endless. God did not send us to just one place. He sent us to all places.”


Photos from team in Haiti

Related Articles

Remembering the Lives of Dixon and Rabb

Dixon: Man of Faith and Compassion


GBGM Press Release

The Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR leader, dies in Haiti (Korean Translation)


UMCOR Emergency

Earthquake in Haiti: The Church Responds

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