Special to the Advocate
A concentrated effort geared toward service has helped the United Methodist Men of Columbus First United Methodist Church see rapid growth since 2000.
Cooking plays a large part in the fellowship and service to the church and community. The men were given by James and Edith Reeves a 5,500-pound smoker which can smoke up to 80 pork shoulders. The men purchased a grill large enough to cook up to 70 steaks per turn and have been given a 24-foot trailer which contains a fryer large enough to handle up to 16 turkeys per batch and no telling how many catfish and fixin’s
Dale and Debbie Tate gave UMM the trailer which will be outfitted with a sink, hot water heater, new countertops, cabinets and a large gas grill. This will eventually be deployed to places such as the Mississippi Gulf Coast to allow the men to feed and care for those in adversely affected areas.
“The area in which we have found the most abundant blessings is through our service to the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Andy Tentoni, president of the Columbus First UM Men. “We teamed up with the Starkville District United Methodist Committee on Relief director, Lee Burdine, and have made five trips to the coast to feed people, at least a dozen trips to deliver additional supplies and one trip to perform heavy equipment operation and manual labor.”
The “hit and run,” one-day feeding trips are the most sought after. The men made their first trip on Labor Day, right after Katrina hit. They put their heads together and thought of what they could cook that would require the least amount of trouble (utensils, paper, waste, etc.).
They decided on pork chops. The cooks prepared Cajun-boiled corn on the cob, chips and canned soft drinks.
The men first visited Trinity UMC in Gulfport. It was a terrible sight for all of them. Trees, homes, vehicles, clothes and other kinds of scattered debris were everywhere.
When they arrived, they set up the grill, fired it up and began to deliver the supplies hauled down on UMCOR’s Disaster Relief trailer. Items included baby formula, diapers, cleaning supplies, bug spray, tarps, blankets, fuel containers, water, canned and other prepared foods, paper products, clothing, shoes and hundreds of pounds of similar supplies.
Within minutes, Tentoni said, people caught the scent of the chops on a hot grill. People walked up in varying degrees of dress, some with no shoes or shirt. Nearly everyone had only the clothes on their backs. People would come up and sneak a peek around the side of the grill to see what was cooking. Many cried because hardly anyone had eaten meat in nearly a week. Some even asked if they could have some, not realizing the men were there for them.
An elderly couple walked up and expressed grief over the fact that their grandchildren had a birthday during the week and they have noting to offer them. The Lord provided through the last minute gifts from Norman and Celia Ford, who sent toy cars for boys and baby dolls for girls to be given away. The grandmother clutched the toys as if they were the most precious thing in the world.
A young lady was distraught that she couldn’t find her mother after searching all week. Columbus First youth pastor, the Rev. Chad Kingsbury consoled and counseled to help her regain composure. As he led her and her husband into the dining area at Trinity, she found her mother there enjoying a hot meal.
The Rev. Tony Proctor came up with the idea of a Sunday dinner on the grounds following the first church services since Katrina in Bay St. Louis. The UM Men set up at Main Street UMC and fed it congregation as well as those from the Baptist and Catholic churches. Many other towns’ people came as well. The UM Men served around 1,000 meals that day.
Since the storm hit, the Columbus First UM Men have been to Gulfport twice, Waveland, Bay St. Louis twice and Pass Christian. They have served more than 6,000 pork chops, an equal number of corn cobs, chips and more than 8,000 canned soft drinks.
The next trip was planned for Pearlington, where people are sleeping on blankets in tents six months after the hurricane. The Columbus men planned to feed college work crews, local workers and the townspeople.
The UM Men also serve as cooks for the Fifth Sunday Potluck lunches at First UMC. UMM prepares the meat and the church family brings the rest. This is a great way for the entire family to keep connected on a regular basis.
Columbus First UM Men sponsored a fall concert series each of the last three years with guests such as Kim Hill, Todd Agnew and, in 2005, Big Daddy Weave. The 2006 artist has not yet been signed.
Proceeds from the events go towards local mission efforts as well as improvements to the church. Recently, the men renovated a little-used room with new reclining chairs and a 36-inch Sony Wega television. This has been an added reason for men to gather and fellowship.
The men donated approximately 250 feet of privacy fence for the church’s Early Learning Center so the children would have added safety and security on the south lawn of the church. The men spearheaded a drive to purchase another church van. They helped renovate the new youth area in the Margaret Tennille Family Life Center.
As a result of the cooking team’s service, Columbus First UM Men have been swamped with equipment and supplies for not only coast trips, but local cooking, too. This has resulted in the refurbishing of a storage area into a supply hut where they will store the smoker, grill, coolers, etc. as a new cooking area. All the material, supplies and labor have been furnished by the UM Men. On April 30, the men plan to dedicate the building in memory of their first cook team captain, Ralph “Chicken” Webb. It will now be known as the “Chicken Coop.”
“I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the generosity of my fellow First Church members,” said Tentoni. “Their tremendous financial support, as well as prayers, are what enable us to make these and future trips. Each of these trips cost a great deal and add in all the in-kind gifts of time, personal transportation and use of personal materials, it adds up. But this is not about the cost, it is about the harvest. Every dollar given has gone directly to the people in need. Every thank you and smile is the sweetest fruit borne of that seed.”
Tentoni praised several people for their support and work, including the Columbus First UMC pastor, the Rev. Sam Morris. Others playing key roles include Paul “Corn Cob” Brady, Dicky “Kiss the Cook” Rambo, Jimmy Autrey, Jim Leist, Gilbert Spencer III, Rusty Funk and Chris Glenn.
“We work for the blessings of others unselfishly and without condition. We do not know of a place where God’s love cannot conquer and flourish. We only pray to be able to facilitate His desire for everyone to know and come to Him,” said Tentoni.