Mission Leaders who Died in Haiti Remembered
by Linda Unger
February 11, 2010 — Amid numerous calls to embrace with renewed vigor the baptismal commitment to mission, hundreds of colleagues, friends, ecumenical partners and family members celebrated the lives of Rev. Samuel W. Dixon, Jr., and Rev. Clinton C. Rabb in a memorial service this afternoon at Riverside Church in New York City.
Dixon, who was the top executive of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Rabb, leader of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), died of injuries they sustained during the January 12 earthquake in Haiti.
Rev. Robert Coleman, a United Methodist clergyman and chief program minister of Riverside Church, welcomed the gathering “not as a passive representative” of the 80-year-old interdenominational church but “as a brother, who shares both the grief and celebration” of the occasion.
Bishop Joel Martinez, interim general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), the mission arm of the United Methodist Church, began the service with an invitation to the assembled to give thanks for Dixon’s and Rabb’s life and service and “renew our commitment to be signs of Christ’s holy love in the world.”
Participants in the service included three other bishops, GBGM staff, the widows of the two clergymen, and two of the four people who had been trapped with Dixon and Rabb under the rubble of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince. Another 1,300 people from 42 states and 20 countries watched the service via web cast.
Although Bishop Bruce Ough, president of GBGM, was snowbound in his West Ohio Conference by a storm that raced across the country the day before, his reflection on the tragedy in Haiti and the lives of Dixon and Rabb was read by Bishop Martinez.
In his remarks, Ough greeted the gathering “in the name and spirit of the Risen Christ. The same Christ whose promise of resurrected life we lay claim to this very day,” and then he acknowledged the pain the two men’s colleagues, friends and families endured.
“The United Methodist Church has lost two of its strongest and fearless advocates for the least, the poor, the vulnerable, the forgotten,” he said.
The tragedy in Haiti, Ough said, “reminds those who share the Christian faith of what we can, and cannot, count upon. We can count on God’s abiding grace… But, we cannot count on being here tomorrow to do the things we have been called to do.”
“Don’t hesitate,” he exhorted the gathering, “don’t postpone, don’t neglect your calling, and don’t delay finding the new song that gives you peace like a river in your soul.”
Throughout the service, the call to continue the mission of Rabb and Dixon by renewing each one’s own baptismal commitment was punctuated with readings and prayers by GBGM staff in Spanish, English and Korean, as well as with music and dance. Readers included June Kim and Raisa Herrera, both of the UMCOR staff; Barbara Stone, a consultant with the Volunteers in Mission office, and the Rev. Edith Gleaves, a deputy general secretary, who gave the opening prayer, substituting for Dr. Maggie Jackson, chair of the agency’s personnel committee, who could not be present because of bad weather in Ohio.
Bishop Jeremiah Park of the New York Area offered prayer and Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of the Greater New Jersey Area read the gospel lesson.
Gail Blache-Gill offered a solo performance of “If I Can Help Somebody,” and Judith Santiago, an UMCOR staff person and professional dancer, choreographed and performed a liturgical dance to the resurrection song “I Will Rise.”
Thomas Kemper, incoming general secretary, and members of the staff of GBGM symbolized the ongoing commitment to mission with the presentation of “signs of common ministry”: a Bible, a jug of water, a chalice, a hymnal, a basin and towel, a liturgical stole and a globe, which were laid on a table covered in a white cloth with a green drape.
“Through these symbols we recognize that we continue the work and ministry shared with Sam and Clint, and we pledge that they will not be forgotten,” Kemper said. “We are immensely grateful for their lives and will keep their legacies alive at the General Board of Global Ministries as we announce God’s love in word and deed and make disciples for the transformation of the world.”
Rev. James Gulley, an UMCOR consultant, and Dr. Sarla Chand, an executive with Interchurch Medical Assistance (IMA), both recounted the long, dark hours they and two other colleagues, Rick Santos and Ann Varghese of IMA, spent “under a canopy of concrete,” in Gulley’s words, waiting to be rescued.
“We may not be able to answer the question why [some survived and some did not], but there is a more important question,” said Gulley. “What shall be our response to this event that happened to me and the others and nine million Haitians?”
In his closing benediction, Bishop Larry Goodpaster, of Western North Carolina, made a final exhortation. Sam Dixon and Clint Rabb, he said, “went out to the world to share the good news of hope and healing… So may we.”
Donations may be made in memory of the mission leaders:
In Memory of Rev. Dr. Samuel W. Dixon, Jr.:
In Memory of Rev. Clinton Rabb:
Linda Unger is staff writer for UMCOR
Date posted: Feb 12, 2010