By Woody Woodrick
When the Rev. Gary Thompson travels to Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday and Wednesday, he will go as a representative of the Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church, but he will carry a personal message.
“They’ve been sending people from their conference to our church since about two weeks since (Hurricane Katrina) I was just falling apart and didn’t know which way to go,” said Thompson, pastor at Biloxi First United Methodist Church.
Thompson is one of seven people from Mississippi traveling to other UM annual conference meetings with message of thanks for the assistance provided following Hurricane Katrina.
Thompson established a relationship with St. James UMC in Little Rock, Ark. He said one of the church’s first acts of assistance was to help provide for salaries of church staff. Since then, St. James and the Arkansas Conference have sent a steady stream of workers to Biloxi.
“I can’t say what they have meant to the church, community and me personally,” Thompson said. ”What I often share with the groups coming in is that when I get down and frustrated, I walk in and see volunteers filled with enthusiasm and love, it lifts me. I see Christ sitting in chairs while they eat, the faces just change each week. Christ looks a little different every week.”
It is significant that Thompson visit Arkansas. His wife Robin is a native of Stuttgart, Ark. In addition, Thompson’s daughter evacuated to Little Rock and spent a semester attending the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
Thompson said he’s eager to share his gratitude, and the gratitude of all those in Biloxi, with the Arkansas Conference.
“We all like to feel we’ve been appreciated. One of the things the volunteers have shared with me over and over is how much they observed the people here expressing their appreciation,” he said. “They’ll be working on a house and need to run get something. They’ll be recognized at Wal-Mart as volunteers, and people come up and thank them for being here.”
Others making trips this summer and the dates of the conferences:
Rev. Elijah Henry, Missouri Conference, June 9-12
Rev. Ed Moses, Chicago, June 7-10
Ed Blakeslee, Western Pennsylvania Conference, June 15-18
Robert Sharp, California-Nevada Conference, June 13-17
Revs. Chris and Sheila Cumbest, California-Pacific Conference, June 20-25
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, New Mexico Conference, May 31-June 3; Louisiana Conference, June 4-7; North Texas Conference, June 4-7; and the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, June 22-23.
In addition to offering personal thanks, each visitor is taking a DVD produced by Gwen Green, Mississippi Conference coordinator of communications, about the storm and recovery. The DVDs will be shown at each annual conference.
“We give thanks for the partnership of the United Methodist connection, and we are delighted to travel to deliver gratitude in person,” Ward said. “The personal thank you is our way of connecting back with those who have loved us so well through the past months.
“It is also a wonderful opportunity to encourage continued partnership. Wherever I have been, people say one after the other, ‘We are headed to the Gulf Coast this summer!’”