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UMCOR recipients pay it forward

For more than 50 years, United Methodist congregations have participated in a special UMCOR Sunday (formerly One Great Hour of Sharing) offering, laying the foundation for the ministry of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. There's a difference the denomination's relief arm has made. "UMCOR is us," says one flood survivor turned relief leader.  

Five years ago, a fertilizer blast flattened West, Texas, a rural community of 2,800, killing 15 people and destroying hundreds of houses. The home of Joey and Rose Kolar and their two children was severely damaged in the explosion.

"Insurance denied their claim," said Nikki Leaverton, disaster recovery director for the Rio Texas Annual Conference. "They couldn't afford to build a new house because they still owed on the old house. After participating in United Methodist Committee on Relief case management as a client, they were taken to the unmet needs committee and awarded a grant. Some of that funding was from UMCOR. The house was demolished, and a new house was built in its place."

The Kolars told Leaverton that "if and when they ever decide to move, they want to give that house to someone else — to bless someone else with the house that was such a blessing to them."

Rebecca "Becky" and Ron Holten are surrounded by their children Beth (left), John (middle), and Janet (right). Image courtesy of Becky Holten..

Blessed to be a blessing. Rebecca "Becky" and Ron Holten, survivors of the Grand Forks, North Dakota, flood 20 years ago understand that concept well.

In the spring of 1997, a deadly combination of abundant snowfall and extreme temperatures forced the Red River over its banks, drenching the Red River Valley. In Grand Forks, floodwaters extended more than three miles inland. More than 50,000 people — most of the city's population — evacuated. At the same time, a huge fire downtown blazed through 11 buildings and 60 apartment units.

Although the Holten home was spared, the family of five had to evacuate. "The flood was a great equalizer in many ways," Becky said. "It treated everyone the same. We were all in the same situation."

UMCOR sprang into action. The family's church, Zion United Methodist, and its parking lot became the city's UMCOR headquarters. Becky coordinated the church's volunteers.

Amid a bad situation, much good emerged. People shared cleaning supplies and tools from the first stage of mucking out sludge to the final step of rebuilding homes. "Volunteers from all over used our church to stay in and to cook meals," Becky recalled. A trailer became a temporary child-care center.

"Until you have experienced a disaster, you have no clue what the disruption is like," she said. "Where do you find water to drink or your meals? How do you get your mail? How do you find child care? What happens when it is time to file your income tax and all of your documents have been destroyed? How do you grieve and cope with the loss of valuable memories?

"UMCOR is there to work in partnership with the community to see how needs can be met. UMCOR is there through the process of case management, walking with people on the journey."

Barbara Dunlap-Berg, United Methodist Communications retiree, freelance writer and editor living in Carbondale, Illinois.

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, UMCOR Sunday calls United Methodists to share the goodness of life with those who hurt. Your gifts to UMCOR Sunday lay the foundation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to share God's love with communities everywhere. The special offering underwrites UMCOR's "costs of doing business." This helps UMCOR to keep the promise that 100 percent of any gift to a specific UMCOR project will go toward that project, not administrative costs.

When you give generously on UMCOR Sunday, you make a difference in the lives of people who hurt. Give now.