Last week, March 20-24, volunteers from the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church (NGC) were busy in Lumberton making the noises that Early Response Teams make: clanging, banging, and dragging. Ten people from the NGC were on the scene, including cabinet and connectional ministries team members. Scott Parrish, mission specialist for the NGC, served as team leader.
This was the NGC’s first work trip to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina. When Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson visited Robeson County in December 2016, the devastation was clear – as was the role the North Georgia Conference felt led to play in the recovery.
“North Georgia really is the only annual conference in the Southeastern Jurisdiction unaffected by natural disaster,” she reflected. “We realize that we are the hub of what could be a great potential for ministry.”
The NGC planned the trip in conjunction with their participation in the Praying Our Way Forward initiative launched New Year’s Day 2017. The initiative invites each annual conference to offer intentional prayer for one week for the mission of The United Methodist Church and for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. In all, annual conferences around the world will offer 75 weeks of focused prayer.
Last week, as members of the NGC prayed for their church and its mission, they also reached out with hands and feet to serve God’s hurting people. Reverend Herzen Andone, NGC’s director of connectional ministries, stressed the need “to be focused on the work of the church as well — in the trenches, in the moments of need.”
Herzen had certainly heard the news from Robeson County – the flood waters, the devastation, the misery. But when he met Steve Taylor, director of connectional ministries for the NC Conference and a resident of Lumberton, the news, said Herzen, became “personal.” As the two got to know each other last year at UMC gatherings, Herzen felt Steve’s “deep anguish for the community” and determined that Lumberton was where NGC staff needed to be. And so here they were: working in a house on Woodlawn Street – capping utility boxes, tearing out sheetrock, removing wet insulation, and scraping linoleum off floors.
The faithful work of those who have responded to the disaster and set mighty work in motion did not go unnoticed by the NGC team. Debby Fox and Tonya Lawrence, both associate directors of connectional ministries at NGC, spoke of the warmth and friendliness that had embraced them during their time in Lumberton. Debby spoke of the generosity “of those who have been so faithful in responding to the disaster that’s happened here – who have come, who have stayed, who have invited others to come and give their time.”
Visiting the Robeson County Church and Community Center and speaking with Kelly Barr, assistant to the district superintendent in the Gateway district, made a deep impression on Herzen. “The amount of work that’s been done to get that up and running again – to see all the space that’s been rehabbed and the optimism that Kelly expresses is inspiring.” Herzen wants the NGC to tell that story to their churches to encourage them to send teams as well. “The presence of Christ,” he says, “beckons us to remember our brothers and sisters who have still not all recovered from Hurricane Matthew.” By week’s end, the NGC had begun discussion about the date to return, bringing more conference staff along with local church members.
Lumberton residents are grateful for the NGC’s help, as well as for the hundreds of others who have traveled to the flood-ravaged areas of North Carolina. For Steve Taylor and other residents whose lives and homes were directly affected by Hurricane Matthew, this is personal – and the gratitude is deep.
“I’d just like to offer up a deep word of thanks,” says Steve, “for all the brothers and sisters who have come here, from those who are here on this day from the North Georgia Conference, from the many others who have come from so many places – from close and afar – who have brought your hands of hope, your voice of proclamation, and your eyes and face of Jesus Christ into this place and shared your deep generosity with us.”
The North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, located in Atlanta, encompasses 12 districts in and around the Atlanta area. Currently, it is the largest United Methodist Conference in the United States.
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