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Faith Facing Tragedy

Collectively this has been a hard week. News of the tragic terrorist bombing at the Boston marathon was joined last night by the massive explosion here at home in West, Texas. While Boston may be distant, we still reach out instinctively with our prayer and our care. The town of West is  in the heart of our Conference. This tragedy is close to home and touches our lives much more intimately. Here too we reach out with the love and care of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I was on the phone last night with Rev. Don Scott, the District Superintendent of West UMC. West United Methodist Church is pastored by Rev. Jimmy Samson. At the time of writing this blog (Thursday morning, April 18, 2013), Rev. Laraine Waughtal, Disaster Relief Coordinator for the Central Texas Conference of the UMC, is in West working with Pastor Samson on how we might best respond. Rev. Kyland Dobbins and Dr. Randy Wild from our Conference Center for Mission Support are coordinating our response. We are aware of four church members whose homes are demolished and many others who have suffered damage. Three families of West UMC are currently unaccounted for. A number of churches in the Central District of the Conference are open as emergency shelters as needed. Officials from The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR – a part of our connectional worldwide mission to places experiencing disasters and one arm of The General Board of Global Ministries) has already been in touch with the offer of an emergency grant to help in relief efforts. As is being widely reported, the community of West currently has all the emergency help they need. Officials in West are asking people to stay away until further assessment is done and specific help is requested. How should we as a people of faith face these and other tragedies? First, foremost and always, let us be a people who place our lives and the lives of our loved ones before God in trusting prayer. Remember the promise of God. “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Second, let us be a people of patience. We give thanks for first responders and other early responders who are immediately engaged. This is a time to commit in faith for the long haul. After the cameras have been turned off and the news reports stilled, we will remain in service and love to the community of West. In the ensuing days, weeks and months, needs will emerge that call for our action. Third, let us be a people of hope. In the upcoming days we will have an opportunity to live out our faith-based hope through generosity of spirit, time and resources including financial resources. We are calling on the churches of the Central Texas Conference to receive a special offering for disaster relief in West. Checks should be made out to The Central Texas Conference Disaster Response. Please note in the note section “The City of West.” Other ways to offer support are through UMCOR and The Red Cross. As the full scope of the need unfolds the Central Texas Conference will response with further specific calls for help as needed. I urge you to watch our conference website, ctcumc.org, for updates as they become available. Prayer, Patience, and Hope frame faith facing tragedy. Dr. Randy Wild recently reminded us of one of St. Augustine’s prayers: “God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies gray and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage. Flood the path with light, we beseech Thee; turn our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road to life, to Thy honor and glory. –Amen” (Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa (354-430 A.D.) As quoted in “All Will be Well: A Gathering of Healing Prayers) May we face these and other tragedies with faith, hope and love. God is with us in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit!