The Revs. Rodney Steele and Stephen Coburn are more than just clergy members who serve the Arkansas Annual Conference office as District Superintendents; they’re also skilled photographers who capture the beauty of nature and God’s creation in stunning still images.
Steele — who retired this year and previously served as the Southwest District Superintendent — and Coburn — who is currently the Northwest District Superintendent — have been good friends for years. Their photography has mainly been more of a hobby than a way of making a living.
But recently, the two decided to put their photo skills to good use, and have been holding photo exhibitions in Rogers, Arkansas, raising money for various causes through the sale of their prints.
One of their big projects has been raising money for 200,000 Reasons, a ministry of the Arkansas Annual Conference dedicated to reducing and eventually ending the number of hungry children in Arkansas.
Coburn has so far held three shows at Hark and Herald Co. in downtown Rogers. Through these three shows, he has been able to raise about $2,500 for 200,000 Reasons.
At this year’s Annual Conference, Steele and Coburn setup a booth where they sold prints of their photos as well as signed the photos for those who wanted them to be autographed.
“We raised just over $2,000 during conference,” Coburn said. He said his personal goal is to raise $6,000 for 200,000 Reasons in 2019.
The money raised for 200,000 Reasons will be used to provide meals for hungry children in Arkansas.
Steele has also used his breathtaking photos of Arkansas landscapes and U.S. National Park scenes to gather donations for 200,000 Reasons, but he is also raising money for a passion project that is close to his heart.
“I’ve raised $6,000 towards the $9,000 needed for a freshwater well in the North Katanga Annual Conference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Steele said. “While in retirement, I hope to raise the remaining $3,000 needed for a freshwater well as well as continue raising money for 200,000 Reasons.”
Coburn’s next show will be from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 27 at the Arkansas United Methodist Foundation Building in Little Rock, Arkansas. Steele will be showcasing his work the weekend of Nov. 15 at Hark and Herald Co. in Rogers, Arkansas.
You can check out some of Coburn and Steele’s work below. Click on an image to zoom in.
Cedar Creek Falls at Petit Jean State Park. Photo by Rodney Steele
Devil’s Den State Park in Northwest Arkansas. Photo by Stephen Coburn
A man and a young boy sit on a city bench at Times Square in New York City. Photo by Stephen Coburn
Petit Jean State Park during the February Cabinet retreat. Photo by Stephen Coburn
Early morning sunrise on top of Petit Jean Mountain. Photo by Stephen Coburn
Sunrise at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Photo by Rodney Steele
Long Lake in Colorado. Photo by Rodney Steele
Petit Jean Spillway. Photo by Rodney Steele
Reflection of sticks on Lake Norfork. Photo by Rodney Steele
Paul told his disciples to sew the seed and let God take it from there. That’s the drive behind Russ Terwilliger and Bud Leach’s Adona and Wye Mountain United Methodist Parish Home Repair Mission.
Leach and Terwilliger assist the community by building wheelchair ramps and laying down hardwood floors in trailers.
“We don’t do it for any kind of specific gain or purpose in that sense, other than to show His love and give some indication that God has not forgotten about them,” Terwilliger said. “We want to them to know that there is someone out there who really cares about you.
“Coming to church is not necessarily the only response to our mission. A lot of people who live in the places we have to help are pretty self-sufficient and alone, and I think sometimes they like the idea of being alone.”
Terwilliger said he doesn’t think he is called to bring people to church but instead is called to express God’s love and leave it at that.
“I feel called to do this,” Leach said. “I told my pastor, I feel kind of guilty because I get something out of it also. I don’t know if I’m doing it for the right reasons, because I love the carpentry work – so I guess we all win.
“I love to help people. The people we work for really need it and can’t afford it. We’ve got two small churches involved in this, and they finance us pretty well if a person can’t do it themselves.”
Leach said they never charge for labor or anything like that, “We just go out and have fun doing it; that’s what we do.”
Terwilliger said while they are filling a practical need, they are also serving a spiritual need.
“We are meeting with people, praying with them and talking to them,” Terwilliger said. “For most people, they are in a place where family or their church have not been helping them, and they are in a place they need to know somebody cares about them.
“Seeing them respond to somebody helping them is really touching. In essence, we are encouraged, and I think this happens in this situation a lot; our hearts are encouraged a lot more because it is just a great experience.”
Richard Gifford, the pastor at both Adona and Wye UMC, said there are four pragmatic ingredients to its fruitfulness and they are grounded in prayerful guidance of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit.
“First, the churches in the Horizons Parish are increasingly growing into an identity and culture of class-meeting-based mission stations,” Gifford said. “Our campuses are not destinations for the community. They are launching points for watching over one another in love beyond the parking lot. They are catapults for the mission to our neighbors.”
Second, Gifford said he is increasingly focused on meeting the real needs of real people who live in their mission field.
“We are the only county in the district experiencing a net population decline, and we are the only county in the district with widespread rural poverty,” Gifford said. “Real people who really live in our mission field live in unsafe homes that adversely affect their health, education, vocational opportunities, and overall well-being.”
Third, Gifford said the women, the men and the students who are making the Horizons Parish home are increasingly embracing the Christ-like virtues of generosity, loving and serving.
“We are blessed with a community of women, men, and students, like Russ, who aren’t afraid to get sweaty and dirty,” Gifford said. “Because people are willing to invest themselves in our mission, our staffing expenses are low.”
A wheelchair ramp built for Mark’s Chapel UMC in West Little Rock shown to the left is similar to the ramps that Russ Terwilliger and Bud Leach build for the Adona and Wye Mountain United Methodist Parish Home Repair Mission. || Photo provided by Richard Gifford
Fourth, Gifford said in addition to generosity with time and expertise, the folks who compose the Parish generously invest material in our mission.
“Many of our Parish households don’t exceed the median income for Arkansas, however they are good stewards of what they have and are generous with it,” he said. “That makes it possible for us to really love Perry County in ways that many churches our size only aspire to.
“Great people genuinely committed to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, bent to the guidance of the Holy Spirit; that’s what allows the home restoration mission to Perry County to bear fruit.”
Prior to working with Leach, Terwilliger worked with a guy in Russellville for the Help Network. He said it was an organization that paid people’s utilities and helped them find jobs.
“There were also a lot of people that needed practical help, and that’s where I started, and I did that for 10 years,” Terwilliger said. “When I came here, and found out that Bud wanted to do the same thing, we just talked about what our vision was, and it was pretty close to the same thing.”
Terwilliger said he is not much of a carpenter, but most of the stuff that they do is basic. He said they mostly tear out floors and put in new floors – nothing highly skilled.
“I’m a big ol’ guy, and my knees are worn out,” Leach said. “But even though (Russ) is a little older, he is in fantastic shape. He can get down to the cracks and crevices, and he’s a lot better on the PR side of it.
“I love people, but I’m not a real big talker. He’s really good talking to the people. But don’t get me wrong, he’s also good at helping me.”
Leach said recently they replaced 90% of the floor in the trailer of this one woman’s house. He said she had no way of repairing it, so she appreciated it big time.
“She was so sincere and grateful that it just sort of got to me,” Leach said. “That one probably stands out to me as much as any we have done.”
Terwilliger said that even though it is not required, he likes to ask people to donate to the church.
“We don’t make it a priority, but we really recommended a donation or something, because unfortunately, if people get something free, they tend to think it’s worthless,” Terwilliger said. “… Materials of a typical job cost about $300, and we don’t use anything but treated wood, because it lasts longer than the trailer or whatever we are working on.”
Leach, who was a builder for more than 20 years, said they will always use treated lumber that will not rot, even if it gets wet. “That way, they don’t have to deal with it again for 15 or 20 years,” he said.
“The fruit we see in changed lives, both our neighbors and our own, is encouraging,” Gifford said. “My Parish pastor partner, Bill Nowell, and I often muse with one another how blessed we are to serve a loving, generous, mission-minded people who have made reaching our mission field a passion.”
In late May 2019, the Arkansas River rose to historically high levels due to heavy rainfall and the release of swollen reservoirs upstream in neighboring Kansas and Oklahoma.
In many parts of the state, decades-old river records were broken, including a 1945 record set in Van Buren, and a Morrilton record from 1927.
The Arkansas River at Fort Smith crested at nearly 41 feet, almost 10 feet above flood stage, displacing families and businesses along the Arkansas River Valley. Nearly 500 homes were flooded in Fort Smith alone, and even more homes were affected in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, and further downstream in Pendleton, Arkansas.
The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church’s Disaster Response team worked with local emergency response officials to find people who were in need of help, and work to “muck out” the damaged portions of their homes.
In total, more than 250 volunteers have signed up to assist families and individuals with “mucking out” their homes. Mucking out is the process of tearing out carpeting, sheetrock and other parts of a home damaged by water that has entered a building.
Disaster Response volunteers in Fort Smith. From left to right, Les Oliver, Alan Yount, Gary Reigel, Jane Oliver, Judith Vining, Rob Vining, Shelley Lee, Roy Lee, Ken Savells, George Graham, and homeowner Keith Reese. Not pictured: Amy Bradshaw, Don Bradshaw, and Linda Ray.
Even though turnout has been good, Byron Mann, Arkansas Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, said they are needing additional volunteers to sign up for training days and help muck out the hundreds of homes still in need of clean up. To sign up to volunteer, visit www.eiseverywhere.com/volunteersignup.
They are also hoping to continue raising money that will be used to assist people in rebuilding their lives once the cleanup process is complete. The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church has raised $15,000 in donations since late May. Mann hopes to continue receiving donations to reach their goal of $100,000.
Volunteers with the Arkansas Conference Disaster Response team “muck out” the home of Keith Reeves in Fort Smith. The carpet, as well as soggy portions of the sheet rock, must be torn out and thrown away before repairs can occur. || Photo by Christina Choh
“This is a long-term process and by the end of it, we hope to have touched hundreds of lives by assisting in the cleanup process,” Mann said.
To donate online, visit bit.ly/arumc-donate and select the first box, “Arkansas Disaster Relief,” to give to families affected by the Arkansas River flood.
In 2018, Helena First United Methodist Church celebrated 200 years of “worship, faith, and evangelizing.” This past June, they held a celebration ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the church’s founding in 1818.
According to an announcement sent out by the church, Helena First was founded in 1818 after William Harrison Bailey of Kentucky came to the Helena area and began holding prayer meetings in his home with other early settlers to the Arkansas territory.
Eventually, those prayer meetings became an organized congregation and was the first congregation of the Methodist Society west of the Mississippi River, marking the start of Methodism in Arkansas.
From left to right: Rev. Deborah Head, Rev. Melissa Maskell, Rev. Larry Dodgen, Bishop Gary Mueller, District Superintendent Mark Norman, Rev. Rockey Starnes, and Rev. Joe Head. || Photo provided by Helena First UMC
Helena First held a full weekend of events from June 7 – 9. There were sessions going over the history of the church, prayer breakfasts and dinners, an organ recital by Adam Savacool, a recreation of an old-time tent revival led by Southeast District Superintendent Mark Norman, and a formal worship service on Sunday night with a sermon delivered by Bishop Gary Mueller.
Bishop Mueller also dedicated and blessed a new addition to the church property; a historical marker that tells the history of Helena First United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Deborah Head, senior pastor of Helena First UMC, said she is grateful for Bishop Mueller and Southeast District Superintendent Rev. Mark Norman’s presence at the celebration.
“Helena First United Methodist Church was blessed to celebrate 200 years of Methodist ministry in Eastern Arkansas,” Head said. “Brother Mark preached a fiery Saturday evening sermon and on Sunday, Bishop Mueller brought the Word and Scripture and presented us with a challenge of staying faithful for our next 200 years. It was a wonderful weekend of celebration.”
Vacation Bible School season is in full swing, and United Methodist Church’s across Arkansas are hosting fun-filled weeks of games, crafts, songs, and learning about the love of Christ.
This year, many churches chose the Roar VBS program, which is described as an “epic African adventure engages the whole herd. At Roar, kids explore God’s goodness and celebrate a ferocious faith that powers them through this wild life.”
Many other churches chose to do the Cokesbury VBS, whose theme this year is “To Mars and Beyond.” This theme will help kids explore the wonders of God’s universe. According to Cokesbury, “They’ll become Voyagers on a journey through space, exploring where God’s power can take them.”
“This year was Argenta’s second Vacation Bible School! We hosted a family style VBS where parents attend WITH their kids. We explored scriptures that describe God as a Mother Hen and the Good Shepherd,” said Jessie Teegarden, Children’s Ministry Coordinator at Argenta UMC in North Little Rock. “This year we partnered with Heifer Project to raise money for flocks of chicks and sheep. Argenta Kids gave $153 in offering to buy two flocks of chicks and one sheep for families in need.”
Melinda Shunk, Arkansas Conference Children’s Ministry Coordinator, is excited about VBS continuing throughout the summer.
“Arkansas Children’s Ministers and Volunteers have been hosting VBS across the state since the week after Annual Conference and will continue through the end of July! You will notice themes such as outer space, video games, Africa and Biblical times” Shunk said. “No matter the VBS theme kids were shown and taught the love of God!”
Check out the photos below of Vacation Bible Schools around the Conference.