By Kathy L. Gilbert
United Methodist News Service
HOUSTON — Hurricane Ike's arrival was bad timing.
Even though the Sept. 13 storm left behind miles of demolished homes, businesses and churches along the Texas Gulf Coast, the Wall Street debacle and presidential debates stole its thunder in the national spotlight.
Hurricane Ike damaged more than 200 United Methodist structures in the Texas Annual Conference, making it the biggest disaster the conference has faced to date.
"For communities recovering from Hurricane Rita just three years ago, Ike's blow threatens to overwhelm their sense of confidence in the future," said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie. "In addition, the economic uncertainty in our nation and world is eliciting anxiety in almost everyone."
Media attention quickly turned away, added the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, United Methodist Committee on Relief's domestic relief director. "Media coverage is important. It keeps the disaster in front of the public.
"All my colleagues in the Red Cross, United Way, Southern Baptists — everyone is hurting (from lack of donations)," he said.
"It is still too early to have a good number, but I fully expect our donations will be down," Huie said. "Folk outside of Houston/Galveston/Beaumont are wondering, 'What hurricane?' I'm preparing for the worst, working for the best and hoping for at least somewhere in between."
United Methodists are no different from the rest of the nation, according to Hazelwood. Everyone is suffering from the bad economic news. "However, our normal supporters of UMCOR will still be there, but the amount they are able to send may change," he explained.
Hazelwood doesn't believe in "donor fatigue. People still believe in the mission of UMCOR, and that is encouraging."
Appeal for help
In a Sept. 29 e-mail letter appealing for help, Huie asked pastors across the United Methodist Church to take a special offering for Hurricane Ike recovery. She made a similar appeal a week earlier.
"We need your generous financial support to deal with catastrophic expenses in communities and congregations," she said.
"We have learned a great deal in the last three years," she said in the letter. "For example, we have learned that volunteer hours double every dollar given to recovery. We know that the early response of The United Methodist Church invites other groups to engage with us and stay committed to long-term recovery. Whatever you give in time and money is multiplied many times over."
Hazelwood said the conference and churches are working on DVDs and other ways to get the message of Ike's destruction before congregations.
The Rev. Cynthia Harvey, director of missional excellence for the Texas Conference, said 83 teams have registered online to work on recovery efforts. More than 60 churches from the conference have engaged in relief efforts such as serving as Red Cross shelters, putting together flood buckets and hosting and sending work teams.
"Truckloads of water, food and other supplies have appeared on our doorstep, thanks to the extravagant generosity of United Methodists across the country," Harvey said. "Many teams are now registering to be in the area over spring break, and we are working on a spring break package."
How to give
Huie wrote, "To another church facing suffering, hardship and even persecution, the Apostle Paul wrote, 'Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints. Extend hospitality to strangers.' (Romans 12:12-13)
"I am confident that your joy, patience, prayer, hospitality and generosity in response to this disaster will change lives and re-shape futures for Jesus Christ."
To aid in Hurricane Ike disaster relief in Texas and Louisiana, give online (http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/umcor/donate.cfm?code=3019695&id=3019695), drop checks in United Methodist church offering plates or send them to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, with "Advance No. 3019695, Hurricanes 2008" on the memo line.