A Service Honoring Those Who Served

December 03, 2015

On January 12, 2010 a 7.0 earthquake rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti that sent shock waves around the world. The earthquake caused major damage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and initially displaced 1.5 million people. 230,000 were killed (some estimates are higher) and among these were 122 Americans. Two of these Americans were men whose ministries impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands; the Revs. Samuel Dixon and Clinton Rabb.

I remember writing an article about them back in 2010 because Dixon was the head of UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee On Relief) and Rabb the Executive General Secretary of Mission Volunteers at the General Board of Global Ministries. I serve a church that is part of the United Methodist connection in Lakeport and was grieved to share the news of their deaths. They were ours. They were ours and their ministries inspired us to live into a better version of ourselves. As my former District Superintendent Bruce Ough (now Bishop) said at Rabb’s memorial service "Clint never waited for the world to come to him. He went to the world. He channeled the talents and equipped thousands of other United Methodists to go to the world (to be) a mighty river of grace, mercy and transformation."

You may be wondering what this has to do with Lake County, a rural community in Northern California. As Californians we each live with some degree of fear, or expectation, of “The Big One” an earthquake in similar magnitude to that which devastated Haiti.

A major disaster has hit, though it was not the anticipated earthquake. At the height of the Valley Fire it is estimated that as many as 20,000 people were impacted or evacuated and we now know that roughly 1,300 homes were lost to the fire, the winter rains and mudslides may take more. Our recovery from this, and other fires this summer, will take years. It will be what is called in the Disaster World a “Long Term Recovery.”

As one of the worst fires in California recorded history, most of us don’t have a lot of experience in this scale of recovery work. I do know that UMCOR does however and they were among the first agencies to offer help. In addition to sending immediate aid that enabled our local United Methodist churches to give gas cards to evacuees we were able to offer thousands of dollars in support for other unmet needs, as well as open day shelters at both ends of the lake.   When I was invited to attend UMCOR’s Disaster Response Academy this week I jumped at the chance. When I learned it would be in Louisiana I felt the call all the more – the first two Mission Trips I ever lead were to Louisiana following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

On the two hour drive from the New Orleans airport to the Sager Brown Campus I looked for signs of the destruction.  Though I know the community is not 100% recovered the landscape was radically different from my 2006 recovery trips and I saw nothing but beauty. I look forward to the day when the same can be said of my hurting and burned Lake County.

As we arrived on campus we were given our room assignments. I would be in Dixon Rabb Hall. I would be in the first group of people ever to stay in this dorm built to house volunteers from all over the county; not just those who come for training on how to bring recovery to disaster torn areas, but those rebuilding after fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and even those human created traumas such as Domestic Violence. I would be staying in the house that Rev. Samuel Dixon and Rev. Clinton Rabb built. They didn’t build it literally, of course, but it was their ministry that is being honored, and their commitment to leading others to find their mission and ministry. On November 17th I was privileged to be present at the consecration and dedication of Dixon Rabb Hall. During the service we prayed, “that their lives of service will live on especially through those who come to this place.”  It was a service to honor those who served, but it was also a dedication of the work we commit to in long term recovery. Consecrated and dedicated may we go forward, a mighty river of grace, mercy and transformation. Together, let us work hand in hand, side by side, to heal our land and people.

Rev. Shannon Kimbell-Auth is the Pastor of United Christian Parish, a congregation of the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She is also on the Chair of the Volunteer Committee for Team Lake County, a group of non-profit agencies, partners and churches committed to community building community in the wake of this summer of fire.