Cal-Nevada Ministry Staff New Orleans UMVIM Project Revisited

March 14, 2008

In January, 2007 Bishop Beverly J. Shamana led the Ministry Staff and district superintendents of the California-Nevada Conference to New Orleans to work as an UMVIM team, gutting and renovating the home of CJ Probst and his mother. The house, in the Gentilly neighborhood of Orleans Parish, was flooded with almost six feet of water when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005.


“Without the faith community almost nothing would be done,” Probst said at the time. When the Cal-Nevada team arrived, more than 16 months after Katrina, the majority of his neighborhood was still in ruins. Homes stood empty – either stripped to the joists or waterlogged and mold-infested.


“I watched my father and uncle build this house in the 1940s. He built it from scraps, literally board by board,” the retired University of New Orleans biology professor told the team. “It hurts to see it like this.”


Insurance money was insufficient and Probst, in his 70s and with health problems, was unable to do the work on the house himself. Over and over he thanked the team for coming and Bishop Shamana, working alongside the others, responded to his gratitude. “What better way to use our time. When you know the needs and you know how much people need to see us, what better way could there be to respond to our calling from Jesus. That is why we are here.”


Today another group, from First UMC in Reno, is back in New Orleans – the latest in a series of Cal-Nevada UMVIM teams to faithfully show up to do the work of rebuilding that city.


The Rev. Deborah Grundman, Executive Assistant to Bishop Shamana, is on that team and in preparation for the trip called CJ Probst for an update. She told Instant Connection:


“He was eager to tell about his year and so I will give you the story here.


“At the end of November he suffered a major heart attack. He said his diabetes had finally caught up with him even though for the past several years he had tried to do better with intention to bolster his health. He was laid up for some time and there has been a fair amount of damage to his heart.


“His mother still lives in Nashville in a nursing home (her other son, CJ’s brother, lives nearby) but she too suffered another stroke and is very sick. He goes up to see her every month.


“Meanwhile, the state of the house is this: he and the family have decided to sell it and it is going to be in good hands. Not much more work has been done since we left, he said, but I will check on that too when I am there.


“On his block, the two houses to the right of his house (as you face his house) have been restored and the families are back. The one immediately next door houses a couple who had looked after CJ’s mother: ‘They have been so nice. We used to trade vegetables over the back fence.’ Their daughter and fiancé have an interest in buying CJ’s house. So with the ‘Road Home’ money, they are working on doing that. ‘They’ll have a lot of fixing up to do, but it’s wonderful they can be there, back in the neighborhood, and right next to their folks,’ CJ said.


“The next house down is owned by a very well-known Catholic priest who lives there with his parents. The duplexes across the street are getting fixed up and more folks are moving in. The houses on the left side are still unrepaired. 


“CJ mentioned that the developments in each neighborhood vary greatly. One street may have 70% of folks back in place, while the very next street may look untouched.


“I look forward to calling him when I’m there.”


Cal-Nevada UMVIM Coordinator Dr. Sue King says she is “thankful for Debbi reconnecting with CJ and giving us an update on his mom and himself. It was such a meaningful part of our Ministry Staff UMVIM experience there, to hear him speak about the home that his father and his uncle and grandfather had built when he was a young boy. We realized how right the Uptown Stations volunteer manager was when he said, ‘It isn’t a project, it’s a ministry.’”


Grundman said the Reno, First group was receptive to the idea of being a part of a re-connection story. Interestingly, only one of the 20 team members has done mission work before and none had been to New Orleansand the church itself had never before formed and sponsored an UMVIM team. King says for that reason she “was really excited” to be asked to do a team leader training for the congregation there.


“Team leader Richard Drath and Pastor John Auer were both at the training and were so enthusiastic in sharing about how they were getting their entire congregation involved in some aspect of the mission trip. I could tell that they had the right ‘mission mind’ from the very beginning. Since it is Reno, I don’t think they’d mind if I said I’d bet money on it being the first of many UMVIM missions from their church!


“Our Board of Missions and UMVIM Board were able to award some Hurricane Recovery scholarships to support them, too, since they had a willingness to share their mission story with others in our Conference.”


King says Drath told her that it was hearing Rev. Marva Mitchell speak at Annual Conference Session last year that sparked his interest and ultimately led to formation of an UMVIM team.


The team was commissioned in Reno on Sunday, March 2 and left March 8 for New Orleans.


King reports that her office has scheduled 49 Hurricane Recovery teams since last January’s Ministry Staff trip, with 23 of those teams serving in Louisiana last year.