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The Texas Conference: Providing Relief and Sanctuary

by Mary Beth Coudal

“You and I have an opportunity to practice radical hospitality and extravagant generosity in a situation which, God willing, comes only once in a lifetime,” Bishop Janice Riggle Huie wrote to Texas United Methodists in an episcopal letter on Sunday, September 4.

Four days later, Ms. Kathie Mann, director of Partners in Mission, the Texas Conference’s Volunteers in Mission program, says that United Methodists have seized that opportunity and that the relief effort is going “unbelievably well!”

Volunteers Serve at Shelters

Texas United Methodists are serving a fluctuating number of approximately 25,000 people at three shelters in and around the Reliant Center in Houston.

Update on Evacuee Situation in Houston

As of September 9, the three shelters in the Reliant Complex were being consolidated into two as people move out into other temporary housing. There were 200, mostly elderly people, needing medical care in one area. There were a total of 7,000 to 8,000 people remaining in the shelters. Food service had been moved from outside trailers to facilities into the George R. Brown Center and being served lunchroom style. There were 1,300 people in that center but 4,000 were served. People placed in nearby hotels come there to eat.

“The United Methodists are leading the material resources effort in those three shelters. It’s a huge undertaking,” stated Tom Hazelwood, domestic disaster response executive, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Trained by UMCOR, volunteers from each of the 12 districts of the Texas Annual Conference are pitching in. On any given day from Sept. 14th to the 20th, as many as 750 United Methodists from all over Texas will be at work at the three Reliant shelters and the George R. Brown Convention Center. (The Texas Conference includes eastern Texas; there are five other annual conferences in the state.)

Forty volunteers per shift, supervised by five or six disaster relief members, will staff each of the six feeding trailers. From each trailer, 20,000 meals can be served, according to information posted on the Texas Annual Conference web page (

A History of Rapid Responses

According to Mann, the volunteers from Texas Annual Conference were given the responsibility to oversee the donations of goods at the three Reliant shelters because of the United Methodists’ rapid and effective response to Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001.

“In retrospect that was a very small disaster,” she said. “But we had that history to motivate, to activate, and to organize volunteers throughout our whole conference.”

In addition, the Texas Conference draws upon the experienced case and relief workers who served in El Salvador after the January 2001 earthquake. (UMCOR provided relief and training for both the Allison and the El Salvador disasters as well.)

Those who are responding to the lives devastated by Katrina’s disaster are not only the experienced or specially trained workers, but they are the volunteers from churches, large and small, rural and urban, who are rallying to lend a hand.

Mann said she thinks that every single church in the Texas Conference is involved in the relief effort in some way, whether by providing a room, clothing, food, transportation, or medical care.

Shelters from the Storm

The volunteer coordinator shared a poignant story from her visit to the Reliant Center on September 7. Beside the center, she saw a cordoned off area with a large placard that read “Lost Kids.” Several dozen young children were confined in a relatively small area as they awaited a reunion with their parents.

“One of the pastors was talking to a four year old - the boy could give his first name, but he didn’t know his last name,” Mann recalled. “The United Methodist home in Waco can handle these children; it’s a home for children in crisis, not an orphanage, so we’re working on arranging that now.”

Lakeview Conference Center, a United Methodist campground in Palestine, Texas, has become a shelter for approximately 150 people with special needs from Louisiana Volunteers of America group homes. Many of these individuals have feeding tubes, severe handicaps, or are on ventilators. Their caregivers reside with them, helping to navigate the journey from cabin to dining hall.

In addition, 20 to 30 people with special needs are currently residing at Christ United Methodist Church in College Station, Texas.

At least two churches are housing Hondurans dislocated from New Orleans. They are the First Methodist Church of Pearland and Wesley United Methodist Church in Beaumont.

“Radical Hospitality”

While thousands of people from Louisiana get settled in temporary residences, Texas United Methodists prepare for the long haul. Quite soon, Mann suggests, there will be room for volunteers to arrive from other states and cities. Until then, every spare room, hotel room, and residence is full with individuals battered from the storm.

Many credit Bishop Huie’s immediate call to action and organization as the primary mobilizing force for the Texas Annual Conference response. Indeed, the Bishop’s commitment to raise one million dollars for the relief effort, which seemed an “extravagant generosity” at the time, is now well within reach. As is the Bishop’s call to “radical hospitality.”

Around the Texas Conference offices lately, there is a saying about the relief efforts: “This is not a sprint--it’s a marathon.” It appears that this Texas marathon has many thousands of runners planning to cross the finish line.

Giving to UMCOR Advance #982523, Hurricanes 2005 Global, will help those affected by Hurricane Katrina. You can give online at, at your church, over the phone at 1 800 554 8583, or by mailing a check directly to: UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087 9068. Checks should be written to UMCOR with the Advance number and name written on the memo line of your check. If you would prefer that your funds go to recovery in a specific region, please note that on your donation.

*Mary Beth Coudal is a Staff Writer at the General Board of Global Ministries.


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Date posted: Sep 09, 2005