Byron and Janice Mann

How did you two get started volunteering with Disaster Response and Volunteers in Mission?

Our local church. Two things led us down the VIM/DR path: A mission trip to Mexico (where we got hooked on missions) and our church becoming a Red Cross shelter (where we got hooked on disaster response). Both of these happened in the late 1990s, early 2000s. We also connected with Don Weeks who was the VIM Coordinator at the time. We happened upon an announcement of an UMCOR Academy taking place in Mississippi, but we had to have a recommendation from Don to attend. He gave us the OK and gave us some classes he wanted us to attend while we were there. When we came back, we got wind of a new Disaster Response Committee forming at the conference level. We asked Don if we could sit in on that committee meeting. We left that meeting as Southwest District DR Coordinators. In 2011, the DR Coordinator and Chair of that conference committee had to step down and he and Don recommended us for the conference position. When Don retired in 2012, Byron applied for the VIM position, so now we do both. We absolutely love this ministry!

What is the purpose behind the Conference having a Disaster Response and VIM ministry?

Disaster Response is a direct ministry to persons in need to “alleviate suffering and be a source of help and hope.” When disaster strikes, those affected need help fast AND for the long haul. Disaster Response Ministries provides relief, response, and recovery assistance to individuals, families, and communities affected by a disaster. We lean heavily on UMCOR for training, consultation, and funding and on our other partners for sharing of information and resources. This ministry provides ongoing opportunity to serve and is a means to train and equip volunteers, teams and local churches for disaster response ministry.

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission’s goal is “to promote, encourage, and enable Christians to exemplify Christian Love in Action through short-term mission service locally, nationally and internationally.” This is done through consultation and training for teams and team leaders, by matching volunteers with mission opportunities, and by mobilizing volunteers when needs are identified.

Thinking back to when you first began volunteering, do you have an estimate of how many people you’ve been able to help assist through this ministry?

Oh my, no idea! Byron’s heart is in local missions. He has led so many local (within the state) mission journeys. Any church we have attended or pastored, he brings that passion. Wheelchair ramps, minor home repairs, and those types of projects – we have no idea how many he’s done. Then, add to that, the consultation and training he provides to teams serving out of state and in foreign missions; how would we even begin to number those assisted? In disaster response, starting with that local church opening a shelter during an ice storm, through the 2014 Central Arkansas tornado to the current recovery effort after the Arkansas River flood and flash flooding around the state – we lost count way back.
Who is someone that inspires you in your daily life, and why?

Both of our thoughts went to UMCOR. The staff and consultants and their dedication to local communities and conferences who have been affected by disasters. They not only support us in what we do but they also inspire us in our work, and the friendships we have developed mean the world to us. Our counterparts in other conferences are right there also as are our core team members here in Arkansas.

What are your most essential needs at this time to help your ministry succeed?

For Disaster Response, we need volunteers, local church involvement in disaster response ministry, and engagement when disaster strikes. We hope that every local church will consider disaster response as an ongoing ministry of their church.

For VIM – sharing your stories of mission: local, domestic, international – there’s a place on our website to do so (https://arumc.org/our-ministries/vim-and-dr/volunteers-in-mission/resources/). Your stories inspire others and provide ideas and potential opportunities for others to serve and for more needs to be met.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned through this ministry?

In Disaster Response, the importance and blessing of partners – partners being volunteers, local churches, the conference staff, our counterparts in other conferences, UMCOR, and other response organizations and government on the local and state levels. Those who have been around us know the biggest blessing we get is seeing all the walls come down and everyone there doing the same thing for the same reason after disaster strikes.

Also, the reality that we can’t do everything for everyone affected. We’ve also learned how to be good stewards of the resources we have by prioritizing, vetting, and seeking out the most vulnerable when providing assistance – the last the least and the lost.