Transformation Through Mission
By Susan J. Meister, Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent
April 25, 2008—Brother John Bowie volunteered in New Orleans for a week in February, 2008, and came home a transformed man, proud to be a part of The United Methodist Church.
"During this trip, I felt the deep and intimate presence and power of the Holy Spirit like never before," he wrote recently in an "Open Letter of Testimony."
"I want to express how proud I am to be affiliated with The United Methodist Church," Bowie continued. "I saw first hand the tremendous organization, dedication and commitment of UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief).
"I believe every member of United Methodism should be equally proud and honored to know that United Methodist donated dollars are being spent wisely and in a spirit of Christian stewardship," he said. "...dollars are being invested in rebuilding existing housing with the goal of maintaining and rebuilding communities."
Churches Partner for Ministry and Learn from Each Other
Bowie traveled to New Orleans in February 2008 with fellow United Methodists from Cookman UMC in north Philadelphia and St. Luke UMC in nearby Bryn Mawr. The mission trip was a continuation of a partnership forged between friends and pastors Donna Jones and David Tatgenhurst, and represented the "next step" in their continuing partnership. Cookman is an urban church, with mostly African-American membership in a lower economic area, and St. Luke is a suburban church, with mostly Caucasian members.
"Donna and I have been involved in anti-racism efforts in the conference (Eastern Pennsylvania Conference) for years," Tatgenhorst explained. "Our churches decided to partner, not based on giving and receiving, but on working together."
Rebuilding Work a Transforming Experience
The team from Cookman and St. Luke coordinated their ministry through the Southeast Recovery Center of the Louisiana United Methodist Disaster Recovery Ministry. Curtiss Eden, retired United Methodist pastor and staff member at the Center, presents an orientation session to volunteer teams.
"I warn them," she laughs. "I tell them, 'You will be changed.' In fact, your family and friends might not understand."
Bowie is among those who felt transformed, and called his recent mission trip a "most awesome and rewarding spiritual experience.
"I feel like I traveled to New Orleans to minister to and help the survivors of Katrina rebuild the broken pieces of their lives, and I myself was ministered to and helped in a profound spiritual manner," he exclaimed.
"I left New Orleans a changed man with respect to my own spiritual journey. The degree of cooperation and interaction amongst the members of the various work teams was truly amazing. We all ministered to each other the entire week, not only concerning issues of Katrina relief, but openly sharing and discussing our own personal spiritual obstacles, struggles and celebrations in a way that I shall never forget."
Trip Fuels Desire to Continue Local Ministry
The mission trip was planned by Cookman and St. Luke lay leaders Wilhelmina Young Catherine Clarke. In late March, church members gathered at Cookman to receive personal reports on the mission trip by the 18 member team.
"(During our mission trip) we continued working on being in authentic partnership," Young emphasized. "The trip was such a rich experience for us! There are almost no words to explain it."
"We know we want to do more," continued Young. "We are asking, 'What can we do in Philadelphia? 'We want to stay connected and work locally."
UMCOR Continues Working Through Local PartnersBowie and the others on the team are representative of thousands of volunteers who have traveled to New Orleans and other destinations along the Gulf Coast in the past two and a half years, helping to rebuild from the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. UMCOR chronicles the work of its local partners in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida as they work to rebuild the lives of individuals and families. For more stories about rebuilding lives and hope, go to the Bright Spots newsletter.