Volunteers define connection


By the Advocate

A common United Methodist word has taken on much deeper meaning for those at Caledonia United Methodist Church, including the pastor.


“I always thought about the word ‘connected’ in a mechanical sense, as in ‘plugged in,’ or in a very negative political sense,” said the Rev. Ron McDougald. “On Jan. 10, I began to see ‘connected’ in a spiritual sense that has given it new meaning.  It has come through our United Methodist connection since the devastating tornado that struck Caledonia that day.”

The church and parsonage were among buildings in the Lowndes County town that were damaged by a tornado on Jan. 10. While both buildings sustained roof damage and had windows blown out, no injuries were reported at either site. Meanwhile, Caledonia School, a grades 1-12 school where students were attending classes, was among the more heavily damaged buildings. Many homes on Caledonia-Vernon Road were also damaged.

Dozens of injuries and at least two related traffic fatalities were reported as the storm front raced across more than 100 miles of central Mississippi. Damage was reported in Holmes and Attala counties. Earlier in the week, storm damage was reported in Simpson County in south central Mississippi.


“One church member put it best,” McDougald said. “She said ‘I lost 46 years of memories in a few seconds on Thursday, and that really hurts. But in a few hours on Saturday I gained new memories and friends who I will be connected to for the rest of my life.’”


The Rev. C.J. Caufield of Kosciusko, conference coordinator for United Methodist Committee on Relief, called the Mississippi Conference response to the storm “incredible.”


“I was overwhelmed,” he said “I’m always proud to be Methodist, but at times like this the connectional system is really inspiring.”


Caufield said he received a call from Lee Burdine of Columbus, the Starkville District disaster response coordinator, about the damage in Caledonia at about 5 p.m. on Jan. 10.


Caufield, who had a tornado that didn’t touch down pass over his own home, called McDougald to see what was needed that night. He also made contact with the Rev. Robert McCoy of Baldwyn, the conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission coordinator. McCoy began calling teams.


Caufield said the first volunteers on the scene were Barry Rushing, his wife Audrey and sons Andrew and Barry Jr. from Walthall in nearby Webster County. The Rushings brought a large, diesel-powered generator and lights that “lit up the whole neighborhood,” Caufield said. Caufield said most of the work done Thursday would not have been possible without the lights. He said the Rushings were back on the sight by 7 a.m. Saturday.


Meanwhile, McCoy and New Albany District disaster coordinator the Rev. Wayne Napier of Iuka quickly had teams on the way to Lowndes County. They included workers from Iuka Harmony UMC and Booneville Grace UMC. Also, New Albany District Superintendent the Rev. Jerry Beam and Starkville District Superintendent the Rev. Bob Rambo arrived, along with the Rev. Gary Glazier.


Volunteers also worked Saturday, including a group of Wesley Foundation students from Mississippi State University and Mississippi University for Women led by Hugh and Gail Griffith.

On Sunday, the church held a service of thanksgiving. Following the service, a team from Columbus First UMC cooked lunch for all of those who attended.


“As always in life, the story is not really the storm, but what happens after,” McDougald said. “It is how the ‘connection’ worked in so many lives as a means of grace in this community.”

Caufield said Jan. 14 that work on the Caledonia church and parsonage is waiting on a report from the insurance company. He said some teams have already expressed interest in helping with the repair work.


What’s Needed
Conference UMCOR Coordinator the Rev. C.J. Caufield said the two biggest needs are:
• Constructions teams to do work over the next couple of months in Caledonia. Those interested can contact UMVIM Coordinator the Rev. Robert McCoy at 662-365-5815 or robert@baldwynfumc.org
• Training opportunities. Caufield said many are interested in helping, but need training, which he said the conference seeks to address.