Think about those times you hurt someone, acted selfishly or turned away from God. And yet somewhere along the way, you experienced forgiveness. Well, guess what? God not only is ready to forgive you, God wants to give you a brand new beginning – over and over and over again if need be. While you’ll still have to deal with the consequences of your actions, God can’t wait to wipe away the past, transform you and help you experience a brand new beginning. And best of all – God wants to do it starting right now.
From Conference Disaster Relief Coordinator Janice Mann…
Florence update per UMCOR: As the water recedes damage assessments in North and South Carolina have begun. Many areas are still no access due to high water. Affected Conferences are managing their responses locally and will make requests for materials and response teams as they continue their assessments. ERTs in North Carolina are assessing and responding to needs. ERTs in South Carolina started clean up this morning in areas where the water has receded. We ask that those wishing to assist please do not self-deploy or donate unsolicited items.
A reminder that the best way to assist is to donate to UMCOR so that the affected conferences will have access to funds to purchase what is needed when it is needed and materials and supplies and other relief and recovery necessities can be available now and for the long haul.
By Caleb Hennington
Digital Content Editor
Shortly after 4 p.m. on April 13, 2018 – Friday the 13th, as it happened to be – a devastating storm barreled through Western Arkansas, hitting parts of Crawford County. The majority of the storm’s damage – and what was later discovered to be an EF-2 tornado with peak winds of up to 120 mph – devastated the small Ozark Mountains town of Mountainburg.
The tornado cut a path through almost 12 miles of Crawford County, uprooting trees, snapping power lines, flipping cars and trapping residents inside of their homes. In total, the tornado damaged dozens of homes and injured four residents of Mountainburg in the process.
But for one resident of Mountainburg, the tornado did more than just damage his home; it completely destroyed it, leaving him without a place to call his own.
Jay Dollard – a Mountainburg resident whose home was destroyed by the April 13 tornado – was unsure of his future after that fateful spring day. Left to pick up the pieces, Dollard was forced to move in with a gracious friend while he figured out what to do next.
At the same time that Dollard was contemplating his future, another group of people was contemplating how to help the people of Mountainburg in any way that they could.
Janice and Byron Mann, who oversee the operations of the United Methodist Church’s Volunteers in Mission and Disaster Response groups of the Arkansas Conference, were immediately aware of the need for help in Mountainburg the day after the damaging storm came through.
Whenever an emergency happens, they get notified through Emergency Management, Red Cross, and other emergency response partners. Once they are aware of a disaster need, they can then try to connect with a community through a local church in the area.
“When a local Methodist Church opens its doors and steps out and responds to a disaster in their community, then that opens the doors for us as the Conference to come in and bring resources,” Janice said.
Mountainburg, however, was a bit different for VIM and Disaster Response, because there was no local United Methodist Church in the town. But the group was able to show up to Mountainburg on the Saturday after the storm and connect with a local non-denominational church in town, as well as city officials, in order to begin the process of delivering aid to those in need.
In a typical situation, VIM and Disaster Response work like this: in order to help with emergency relief, they first need to know where their services are needed. Byron hits the road in his Disaster Response vehicle and scouts out locations that are in need of help. Then, he gathers basic information from people in the affected community to find out their immediate needs. Once that information is gathered, VIM and Disaster Response go back and reconnect with people through case management to figure out what those in need can do for themselves to recover and what VIM and Disaster Response can do to help them further. The needs can range in scale anywhere from basic necessities — like food, clothing, and medicine — to major projects, like a brand new home.
A new home was exactly what Dollard needed; once the Manns found out about Dollard’s situation, they set to work figuring out a way to make a new home happen for him.
Separate Projects, Same Idea
While overseeing a separate project called ECHO Village to build homes for the homeless and low-income in the small town of Eureka Springs, Byron and Janice found exactly the group they needed to get the Mountainburg project off the ground and running.
Help Build Hope – a program of Crossroads Missions – dedicates their time and resources to training volunteer workers how to build wooden frames for new homes. They provide the training staff, instructions and tools for volunteer events and then teach people how to accomplish the hard work of building a home.
According to their website, Help Build Hope is about “Building Partnerships, Building Relationships, Building Community and Building Homes.” Since 1999, the group has worked to build more than 900 homes for people all over the United States. And they do it all with the help of selfless volunteers who are dedicated to giving their time, effort, and resources to helping others.
This was the gift from Heaven that the Manns were looking for, and Byron quickly worked to set up a volunteer weekend in Northwest Arkansas to build Dollard a new home.
Done In A Day
After presenting the idea of rebuilding Dollard’s home to the Northwest District, three churches in the area – Bentonville First UMC, Rogers First UMC, and Central United Methodist Church – jumped at the opportunity to help Dollard out.
The weekend of Aug. 10 and 11, a group of volunteers consisting of those original three churches – plus Eureka Springs First United Methodist Church and Harrison FUMC – arrived at Central United Methodist Church in Rogers to help build the framework of the new house.
The fundraising for building the house was an ecumenical effort by a variety of groups in Arkansas, including Arkansas Episcopal Disaster Relief, Arkansas United Methodist Disaster Response/UMCOR, Christian Aid Ministries, Presbytery of Arkansas/PDA, and The Salvation Army of Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Building supplies were provided by a number of local businesses, including Brian McCain Construction, Hugg & Hall, Meadors Lumber, Mid Continent Concrete, Mountainburg Outreach Tornado Relief, Ridout Lumber of Rogers, Robert Berry, Ronnie Stout and Company and the Backroads Band, Shane Parker Plumbing, and Sunrise Truss.
In total, there were more than 80 volunteers that showed in the parking lot at CUMC to rebuild Dollard’s home. Women, men, children and the elderly all worked together – following the carefully laid out instructions provided by Help Build Hope – to put together all of the interior and exterior walls for Dollard’s new home.
Amazingly, the group was able to finish 40 frames and load them into the Disaster Response truck in fewer than 3 hours. The frames were then driven down to the build site in Mountainburg and unloaded by another team of volunteers.
A few weeks later, once the concrete foundation of the new house was poured, another group of volunteers stood the frames up in preparation for the next steps in the homebuilding process.
All-in-all, the house being built for Dollard will be a two bedroom, one bath house that is around 940 square feet.
As of the publication of this article, the concrete foundation, walls, and metal roofing of the house had been completed.
More Than Just A Project
It wasn’t just Dollard that received a blessing from a new house being built for him, although it certainly was the main focus of the project.
Although Dollard was humbled and amazed at the people who showed up for the building project, he saw something else in the volunteers that day.
“The way a lot of people have talked that I’ve met, they feel like they’re receiving a blessing by helping me and it makes them feel good as well,” Dollard said.
Janice echoes Dollard’s feelings of a higher spiritual benefit from doing volunteer work.
“Right along with the Conference trajectory, these folks out here are doing activities that are creating relationships with each other, creating relationships with the homeowner, creating relationships with the folks that are coordinating this, and working together – which is exactly what Jesus wants us to do as disciples,” Janice said. “And if there’s anyone out there that doesn’t know Jesus personally, this could very well be the place that they meet him.”
Byron also believes in the spiritual power of volunteering.
“I’ve always said that we’re blessing the people that we’re doing this for, but folks that are doing the work – the ones that are putting their hands on the work and meeting the affected families – it just shows Christ love in a real way,” Byron said. “They aren’t expecting a blessing, they are being one, by being the hands and feet of Christ.”
But Janice stressed that they don’t do these projects to convert non-believers or those of a different faith to believe in the teachings of the United Methodist Church. However, going out and volunteering to help those who are less fortunate opens the door for conversations about faith and spirituality.
For Disaster Response and VIM, the work is never truly done. There’s always a house to rebuild, concrete to be poured, clothing and food supplies to be delivered, or someone who just needs a little help getting through the hard times in life.
Right now, Disaster Response is in the process supplying help to a few other families in Mountainburg besides Dollard. They have replaced a couple of mobile homes in Mountainburg that were damaged by the storm, but they are still needing volunteers to come out and help build the steps, porches, and a wheelchair ramp. They are also finishing up projects in Northeast Arkansas – in the Pocahontas area – that were affected by the 2017 Black River flooding.
ECHO Village, an ongoing project for many years in Eureka Springs, is also being assisted by Volunteers in Mission and Disaster Response.
And of course, the group is always ready to assist when a disaster hits anywhere in the state.
“Our goal is, when we have these small storms all around Arkansas that cause damage and are not FEMA declared as disaster areas, that we can pull these efforts together in other locations,” Byron said.
As the work for the day came to a close, Dollard stood watching it all, in awe of the many people who devoted their time to helping him have a new home.
“I’m really just trying to absorb all of this right now. It’s amazing,” Dollard said.
It was no surprise to Janice, however; the labor they had done together that day, in a church parking lot in the middle of the sweltering summer sun, was evidence of a higher power at work.
“When we see that everything has fallen into place – like it has with this project – then we know that God has had a hand in it,” Janice said.
Take time to travel the road that takes a little longer, and be delighted by the beauty of God’s creation. Spend a few extra minutes with a friend, and experience joyful moments that renew you. Drink an extra cup of coffee while having a conversation with God, and be filled with grace. God doesn’t just want you to get as much done as quickly as you can. God wants you to wander, explore and savor so you’ll be in awe of your life – again and again and again.
By Caleb Hennington
Digital Content Editor
Buried deep within the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas sits Eureka Springs — a town of just over 2,000 citizens – where the intersection of faith and art meet in endlessly unique ways.
There’s the famous Great Passion Play, a weekly event that takes place from May through October of each year and retells the story of Jesus Christ’s last days on earth.
There’s the Eureka Springs Art Colony, which sits at the base of the road leading up to the Great Passion Play, and is a place where artists from all over the country live and work together with other artists to display their artwork through various mediums.
And there’s also the town of Eureka Springs itself, a beautiful Victorian-era spa town which many consider to be the most LGBT-friendly town in Arkansas, and — perhaps — the most LGBT-friendly small town in America (an anomaly in a typically conservative state in the South).
All of these different cultures and lifestyles intersect in the town to create a community where uniqueness is celebrated, diversity is welcomed, and “weirdness” is the norm.
But it isn’t just Eureka Springs dedication to being different that makes it a fascinating place to live; it’s also the dedication of its citizens to make the town a better place for all, no matter what a person’s living situation happens to be.
That’s where ECHO Village comes into the picture. ECHO Village is the brainchild of Suzie Bell and her husband, Dr. Dan Bell.
ECHO Village is a living community for individuals who are homeless, low income, or in need of financial assistance in some form (single mothers, people recovering from drug addiction, former prisoners, etc.)
The idea for the community sprung from conversations that Suzie and her husband were having while working and managing ECHO clinic – which stands for Eureka Christian Health Outreach – a faith-based free medical clinic for uninsured, low-income individuals who are at or below the federal poverty level.
The Bells founded ECHO together in 2005 through conversations they had at their local United Methodist Church’s Bible study. They realized there was a need in the town for a health clinic for those who were unable to pay for medical care on their own.
The clinic provides medical, dental, optometry care, physical therapy, counseling, pharmaceutical needs, and other services, and is staffed completely with volunteer doctors and physicians. Its mission is to “joyfully provide the best healthcare possible to individuals in need so that all feel God’s love through the experience.”
Over the years, ECHO clinic has seen people of all backgrounds and needs come through its doors. An astounding number of clinic patients – more than 40 percent, according to Suzie – are housing insecure, meaning they are either homeless or living with a friend or family.
“We realized that when we’re treating patients – let’s say someone who has bipolar disorder, for example – and we’re giving them the help they need, but then sending them back out into the world without a healthy environment to live, then we’re really not solving the problem,” Suzie said. “That’s why we decided that we had to do something more to give them some assistance.”
As a simple solution, ECHO was putting people up in motel rooms, but a motel room is only a temporary fix for someone who is living without a permanent home. Something more needed to be done.
So, Suzie set out to find a way to solve the problem of homelessness in the town. She wrote a grant application to receive funding for a mental health home, with the intention of providing a place that could serve as a stepping stone for people to pull themselves out of whatever dire situation they may be in at the time.
After receiving their grant money for the first home, the Bells purchased 10 acres of land on Passion Play Road, and have dedicated the land for as many as 26 small homes to be built on it.
The houses will be built in phases, with phase 1 consisting of the first eight homes that will make up the inaugural ECHO Village community.
These are not “tiny homes,” however – they are full-size residencies for families. The smallest of the homes is 450 square feet but the largest homes can be as large as 1,400 square feet. The homes will come furnished with necessary appliances, including a washer and dryer.
The task of building the homes in ECHO Village is being completed by volunteers from various church groups around Arkansas, and even some outside of Arkansas. They also partnered with World Mission Builders – a group that normally builds churches around the country – and in a few short days, a group of 66 volunteers had the framework of the first eight houses up and set into the foundation.
First United Methodist Church Eureka Springs has also been a huge asset for the work of completing the homes in the Village. They have volunteered time and money to sponsor the building of a 2-bedroom home in the Village, and once residents have moved into the Village, church volunteers will also be offering their time to teach free classes at the Village. These classes will cover topics such as how to balance a checkbook, how to budget your money, how to write a resume and other courses that will help residents make a better life for themselves.
As far as requirements for applying to live in ECHO Village, residents will need to agree to follow the covenant of the Village in cooperating with one another and helping each other when a need arises.
“If you’re a single mom living there, and you need someone to watch your child until you get off work at 5, then maybe it will be the elderly neighbor next door who provides childcare for you while you are away. You have to agree to work together and share the gifts that you have with others in the community,” Suzie said.
Rent fees required to live in ECHO Village will be based on the residents’ incomes and will be adjusted to a fair rate based on higher or lower income.
Residents are also required to undergo a police background check. No violent offenders or sexual predators will be allowed to live in ECHO Village, in order to ensure the safety of all residents.
Those who are homeless – with no source of income – would either qualify for a transitional residency in the Village until they can provide for themselves, or ECHO will work with individuals to get them HUD qualified, meaning 100% of their rent would be paid by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Suzie expects the first eight homes to be finished sometime this fall, with residents moving in soon after if all goes according to plan.
“There’s going to be pride in this. We hope that we can get these people in these homes soon” Suzie said. “They aren’t going to be fancy, but they’re going to be nice and it’s going to be something that we hope will give them great pride in themselves.”