Monday, August 10, 2009

Cedar Rapids: Ministry in the Midst of Recovery

I visited Cedar Rapids, Iowa last week and was moved to see the way God is at work. A little more than a year ago, Cedar Rapids and many other areas of Iowa were inundated with water. Pretty much the whole downtown went under when the Cedar River crested at 31.12 feet. One of the places I visited in downtown was Salem United Methodist Church which, despite the sandbagging efforts of the congregation, had received more than 10 feet of water throughout all its buildings.

The rushing water of the river had pushed a 40-foot semi trailer up against one part of the building and the moving water created severe damage to many parts of the building. On July 6, 2008, I worshiped with Salem in the church building of Lovely Lane UMC. On that Sunday Salem received a new pastor. Rev. John Louk who told the congregation that together with God’s help they would move forward seeking to find where God was already working and joining the path with Christ.

And now, Pastor Louk invited me to come speak to Salem a little more than a year later. I am once again moved by the spirit of this congregation. They are now worshiping at Kenwood Park UMC and have a variety of ministry options that are open to them. Just a few days before I arrived, the trustees of Salem had signed a document that gives the church an option to be bought out because the building in downtown is in a flood plain.

The church has property outside of town where it might build. There are other options for purchasing buildings where the congregation might relocate. But with all these ministry options regarding buildings and locations going on, I am impressed that Salem is still strongly engaged in mission. They are helping families who were flooded try to find “a new normal.” In the worship service there was an announcement about a group making school bags. They sent a volunteer team this year, as they have for several years, to UMCOR Sager Brown, they support UMCOR Zimbabwe, raised money for Nothing but Nets, as well as supporting other African missions.

Locally they support an office for UMCOR’s Justice for our Neighbors and are helping several African families. They volunteer and help fund Mission of Hope which is a local shelter and before the flood, they housed a ministry to the poor for Cedar Rapids called Matthew 25, and they remain a primary supporter of that ministry today.

What I saw and experienced in my visit with Salem, UMC can be repeated time and time again. Just this week, the “Block by Block” neighborhood rehabilitation program was announced in Cedar Rapids. Funding which has come from private sources has been made available and now with that, together with volunteer labor, many homes in the flooded area will be repaired.

UMCOR is in the midst of all the work in Iowa. We have provided funding and training so that there is a skilled volunteer coordinator and recovery director helping connect the United Methodist Church to those who are hurting because of the floods. I am so grateful for all the United Methodists who give of themselves to volunteer or give of their resources to help fund recoveries such as this one in Iowa. Cedar Rapids in general and Salem UMC specifically has a long road ahead to recovery. Thanks be to God that they do not walk that road alone.
Rev. Tom Hazelwood, Assistant General Secretary, UMCOR US Disaster Response

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