United Methodists offer prayers, assistance in Kansas


(UMNS) As President Bush surveyed tornado damage in Greensburg, Kan., on May 9, United Methodists responded to the storms across Kansas with prayers and humanitarian aid.

Bishop Scott J. Jones, who visited the town the day before Bush, expressed sadness and offered prayers for those affected by the weekend tornados or flooding associated with the storms.

United Methodist pastors helped plan a community-wide ecumenical service in Greensburg, which lies about 108 miles west of Wichita.

The town of 1,400 people was basically destroyed by a May 4 twister. All residents now have been accounted for, according to local fire officials. The overall death toll across Kansas stands at 12.

Alexander Giles, a member of Byers (Kan.) United Methodist Church, was among the dead and was remembered during a funeral service May 9. Giles, 84, and his wife, Bunny, 82, had taken refuge in the basement of their rural Hopewell home, which was destroyed. Mrs. Giles, who was hospitalized, told The Wichita Eagle she heard him call her name three times and then fall silent as two fallen trees trapped them in the basement. They would have celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary on May 16.

"A Christian's response to natural disaster is to focus on the love of God from which nothing can separate us. We live by hope and faith in God," Jones said in a statement. "It's our calling in times like these to bear witness to that hope in word and deed. Toward that end, we are already at work in these communities to be bearers of God's love in times of trouble.

"We are grateful for the outpouring of prayers and financial support from our United Methodist sisters and brothers around the country," he added. "Our connectional church allows for God to work quickly and effectively to accomplish God's mission through us."

The United Methodist Committee on Relief, working in cooperation with the denomination's Kansas East and Kansas West annual conferences, will provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by the storms.

A storm recovery center will be established at the United Methodist Church in Haviland. Many storm victims are staying with relatives or at shelters in Haviland and Mullinsville.

Greenburg itself has been closed to outsiders, but the denomination plans to provide volunteer teams for cleanup in the town and to serve meals through a "hot foods" trailer.

The United Methodist Church in Greensburg, which was insured, was destroyed May 4, and the United Methodist Church in Truesdale was heavily damaged by a tornado on May 5. The conference has since received word that the Truesdale building is structurally unsound.

Other communities affected by the weekend tornados include Maxwell, St. John, Ellinwood, Stafford, Bennington, Longford, Mizpah and Osborne.

When a tornado struck the Liberal, Kan., area four years ago, Greensburg was one of two United Methodist churches that sent volunteer teams to the area, according to the Rev. Ken Hathaway, pastor of the Liberal First United Methodist Church.

"They sent two teams that came and re-roofed a home, repainted houses, repaired houses and helped in many ways," he explained. "They not only supplied labor but brought equipment and supplies as well. They were a god-send to us, and we were so thankful.

"I want to let others know of the generous spirit that the people of Greensburg have," Hathway said. "This is our opportunity to give back to them."

Volunteers will be needed for the recovery effort. A temporary volunteer coordination office has been set up in Wichita. Contact Bev Weber at (800) 745-2350.

To contribute financially, drop checks in local United Methodist church offering plates with "UMCOR Advance #901680, Midwest Tornado Emergencies, Greensburg" written in the memo line or made payable to UMCOR and sent to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Contributions also may be made by calling (800) 554-8583.