July 2nd, 2010
08:36 AM ET

Hankering to serve in Gulf Coast, missionaries at a loss

Pastor Jack Kale leads a 'Worship at the Water' service organized last month by Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church in Pensacola, Florida.

The phone calls keep coming at the United Methodist Committee on Relief offices in Washington. National volunteers who turned out by the tens of thousands to help clean up and rebuild destroyed homes after Hurricane Katrina five years ago are desperate to lend a hand again in the face of the Gulf Coast oil spill.

But the problem with this oil disaster, explained the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, who directs UMCOR’s disaster response for the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean, is that his organization doesn't know what to tell the would-be missionaries.

“Our phones are ringing, people are wanting to do something, but there’s nothing for them to do,” said Hazelwood, who attended Wednesday’s Mississippi Gulf Coast Oil Spill Disaster Recovery Summit in Long Beach in search of answers.

Hazelwood’s wasn’t the only logoed shirt in the room that featured a cross. Other members of Christian groups, including representatives from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and pastors from regional churches came out to see how they might help.

“Our real opportunity, I guess, is to talk about creation care or caring for our world,” Hazelwood said. “We’re all talking about pollution – and this is a tangible, teachable moment.”

Rabbi Myrna Matsa, who was sent to the region by the New York Board of Rabbis and through a grant from the Jewish Federations of North America, agrees. She came to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and has been doing interfaith work in the area ever since.

“Faith-based groups really made a difference post-Katrina. Spiritually it feeds their sense of being purposeful,” to do a “good deed,” get their “feet in the mud” and assist in the rebuilding process, she said. “But what does it mean to roll up your sleeves? One of the invitations here (during the oil disaster) is to rethink or reframe what it means to help people.”

Perhaps, she suggested, it’s time for faith-based groups to get more involved in, say, environmental advocacy or other organized efforts that don’t fit the traditional definition of mission work.

Rather than doing what makes a volunteer feel good, it’s time to “be open to where the needs are,” she said.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Environment • Interfaith issues

soundoff (162 Responses)
  1. chefdugan

    Believe in God or not – it won't do you any good. If you believe in God do you really think he is involved in the nitty gritty of your everyday life? Or that your "prayers" even register with Him? He created the universe, including us, gave us free will and that was the end of that. If He really is God I certainly hope he doesn't stoop to concerning Himself with a hurricane, an oil spill or whether your little darling gets into Harvard.

    July 9, 2010 at 8:20 am |
    • David Johnson

      But, I feel Jesus in my heart! I have a personal relationship with him. Other denominations, other religions claim they can feel their god, but I'm the only one. LOL

      Good post man!

      July 9, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  2. Hoeech

    Don't like to get their hands dirty?! Are you losing it? By the end of the crusades and the inquisition, their hands were downright filthy. It was only when the slave trade kicked into high gear that they got other people to do the "dirty work" for them.

    July 8, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
  3. bob

    christianity reminds me of this oil spill. it gets spewed all over creatures that don't want it, makes them sick and can't fly or outright suffocates them, works its way inland relentlessly, and there's no end to it. but, sadly, we have no cleanup operations. if only someone could have put a 15 ton cement cap on Jesus when they had the chance.

    July 8, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
    • GodIsForImbeciles

      Good one!!

      July 10, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  4. GodIsForImbeciles

    Catastrophic environmental disaster strikes Gulf. Help desperately needed. Sky Fairy worshipers need not apply.

    July 8, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
    • David Johnson


      Someone commented that the missionaries could have found tasks to do in there own areas. Cheer up the old people, Food for the homeless, clean the streets and parks. The list is endless. But the list is not high-profile. They might of got a mention in their local paper, but certainly not on CNN. Verily I say, they have their reward!

      July 8, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  5. JR

    Theodore from IL,."Um.... I think Jesus would indeed "try to indoctrinate" them to Christianity. LOL"

    Christianity is the worship of Jesus also called The Christ, do you really believe that Jesus worshiped himself, wow, how about maybe there was NO Christianity in Jesus's time, just Judaism like HE was and other more pagan religions, but certainly NOT Christianity.

    July 8, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  6. relians

    get off your lazy butt and get to work cleaning if you want to help. you imaginary friend is useless...

    July 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  7. Ralf

    How about not voting for the party of big business next time? If Obama had a better majority it wouldn't be so hard to get the energy bill approved. Of course, the GOP prefers oil and coal over renewables.

    July 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • David Johnson


      I love you like a brother, man! What you speak of is so right. If he Republicans take over Congress, it will be a disaster. I pray that doesn't happen.

      July 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
  8. msgijoe

    GI John, It seems you are claiming to be God ...or his prophet. If you know that every thing David Johnson said was foolishness, what can you tell us that is not foolishness. It seems to me you are trying to use your spiritual powers to understand the natural world. If you can, please share with us your wisdom. Tell us ....or BP ... how to stop the oil spill.

    July 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  9. GI JOHN

    David Johnson
    If god is all knowing, he would know if you would be saved or damned even before you were conceived. He would be allowing you to be born, knowing you would be burned forever. Seems cruel to me.
    If god is all knowing, he can't be all powerful. The two qualities can't occur toghther. Think about it.

    Think about this Dave. You are trying to understand spiritual things with your own infintesimal human reasoning. Everything you say is absolute foolishness. In your attempts to make other people look foolish, you continue to show that you are the fool. It is very simple, God is going to destroy this world again. Everything we see happening are the birth pains of destruction. You can mock and make fun all you want. But it is coming. As other people have stated; man brought this on himself. You think your not wicked in the sight of God Dave? What do you do behind closed doors? Whats in your thoughts? Would you be proud to show everyone what you look like on the inside Dave? I'm sure you would not. You have a terminal disease called sin. So Dave, in the words of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the Apostle Paul, Repent! I suggest you stop mocking God . If you would spend as much time seeking God as you do mocking Him, you might find the truth to the questions you constantly repeat. Your like a broken record. Why? Why? Why? If? If? If?

    July 8, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • bob

      GI John, this "infinitesimal human reasoning" seems to uncover the falsity of your God's works time after time. maybe your infinitesimal human reasoning is a little less than dave's.

      July 8, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Yes, you believe that Jesus is packing a bag. Probably be back before supper. But, I doubt it. For the last 2000 years EACH generation has believed Christ would return before they themselves died. Each generation saw the signs. 2000 years is a long, long time.

      God didn't destroy this world the first time. During the time that the flood was supposed to have occurred, there were civilizations that were thriving. They made no mention of drowning. The flood was a local event. I know, I'm a fool for not believing 2 of every animal was first gathered, then cared for, and then dropped off around the world. I really don't want my children believing that this happened.

      What about that tower of Babel? You think god was concerned about men building it? You don't think god would have known that if they raised that tower too high, they would run out of oxygen? Note: Man has been in space. No sign of heaven. Yep, I'm the fool.

      Remember when Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world? Whoever composed this little ditty, didn't know the earth was round. But, I'm trying to understand spiritual things...

      I don't claim to be anything but a fool, but I refuse to suspend my critical thinking and begin believing stories that were concocted some 3500 years ago. There is tons of evidence for evolution. There is no evidence for talking snakes, or knowledge bearing fruit. If you take the creation out of the equation, where do you fit in original sin? If each of us isn't tainted by the sin of Adam, then why do we need a redeemer? Many christian denominations have already accepted evolution. Even the Catholics are okay with it. I think it has something to do with self-preservation. The Catholics have been burned by science before. The sun revolving around the earth thing. Do you feel the weight of reason Joe?

      Watch this: It doesn't matter if I'm the most evil man that ever lived. The fact I am a saint or a sinner would not alter the fact of whether there is a god or not. Consider: A beer is either cold or it is warm. My sins cannot alter the state of the beer.

      As far as being wicked in the sight of god... I don't believe in god. But, let's be honest. I'm evil in the sight of Joe.

      You know what else Joe? I'm pro-choice.

      God Bless!

      July 8, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • David Johnson

      one more thing Joe. Atheists/Agnostics are not immoral. I've seen fundies accuse atheists of this, but the facts don't bear this out. The prisons have WAY more Christian and Muslim inmates than ones who are atheists.

      Atheists usually determine what is "good" or "bad", based on its effect on society.

      July 8, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  10. sellman

    will the Christian God make the oil vanish before or after he makes all the Christians disappear to Heaven and then unleashes a painful slaugher upon the Earth as part of his great war with the Devil?

    July 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  11. alstefanelli

    Two hands praying accomplish nothing. Two hands working accomplish much. The act of praying gives the one offering prayers the illusion of actually doing something when, effectively, they are doing nothing but wasting time.

    July 8, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  12. Micky

    "Rather than doing what makes a volunteer feel good, it's time to be open to where the needs are."

    I completely agree with this statement. I also believe that is exactly what these missionaries are trying to do. I don't think it's anyone's idea of a feelgood activity to clean up nasty tar balls. If they wanted to "feel good" they would be sitting around in their church having a cute Bible study like "The Frazzled Female" after, of course, eating a meal together. "Feel good?" Give me a break.

    Thank God for missionaries.

    July 8, 2010 at 9:07 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      Is there no one in their home town who could use help? Do they only want a media blitz?
      Homeless or animal shelters would welcome their support. They can do their own habitat for humanity project.
      Why do they HAVE to be in a haz mat situation?

      July 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
    • Micky

      Now that, we can completely agree on. I've long been frustrated by ministry groups (from all over, and yes, even from my own church) who travel far and wide to help people while ignoring the needs of their own communities. That drives me crazy. (My church does provide ministry to our community. But we also go on trips. I'm not sure why we would ever need to travel hundreds of miles to meet the same needs people have at home.)

      July 8, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
    • David Johnson


      "Thank God for missionaries"

      Yep, especially photogenic ones. LOL! Come on, that was funny! And true.

      July 11, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  13. Cthulthu

    Why doesn't god just turn off the well? Maybe he hasn't noticed yet?

    July 8, 2010 at 8:59 am |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      Because he wants to punish those dirty liberals for their policies that forced BP to drill that far offshore. Or maybe it's because he wants to show those greedy conservatives that this is what they get for not being good stewards of the earth. Or maybe it's to punish America for not deporting gays & Muslims. Or maybe it's to punish those who WANT to deport gays and Muslims.

      I guess it depends on who you ask...

      July 9, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • David Johnson

      God even notices when a sparrow falls from the sky. Do I hear an AMEN?

      July 10, 2010 at 8:05 am |
  14. Susan Czarnecki

    It's a shame the discussion thread drifted away from the article about volunteers who want to help alleviate suffering of the creatures in the Gulf area. I'm not writing to try to change anyones mind about the presence or absence of God or gods. That is for the individual. To return to the article: Although Rabbi Matsa was sent to the Gulf to help coordinate interfaith relief efforts, I must disagree with her comment about the volunteers going to "feel good." The United Methodist's churches who sent teams that I know, went there not know what they would be doing and willing to take what ever job they were assigned. The first ones who went needed to be completly self sufficient for housing, food, toilets, & showers. Their leaders had received training at their own expense and many took their vacation time or unpaid leave to go. IThey either paid out of pocket for the expense of the trip or did fund-raising. t wasn't about feeling good, it was about seeing a need and responding to it. I believe that if there was a way for some of these same volunteers to be trained to cleanse the wildlife, they would take the training, buy what they need, and respond. Maybe not the same number of people but there would be a response. Some of the UM church have commited to returning to the Gulf area to rebuild house for 10+ years. Some have gone since Katrina hit so I find it hard to believe they go just to feel good. If they feel good coming home its a plus but not their primary motivation. Regardless if one is mucking out a house that is filled with mud and mold or cleansing a bird it is hot, messy, injury prone work but individuals want to help wherever and whatever the need.
    What is sad is that CNN chose to post a church sign next to an article about folks who believe in God doing work in the Gulf and the two are unrelated. Whether we evolved from another speceis or suddenly appeared at some point long ago is not the point of the article or my response. Humans are here and humans need help and humans help humans and would help other creatures we share this planet with, if allow to help.

    July 8, 2010 at 8:32 am |
    • Jeff

      AMEN! I am actually going to New Orleans the end of July with our youth group (their 2nd trip) to help with Katrina related damage. Yes, there is still much to be done from the hurricane. Taking vacation time and paying my own way to make the trip. Not to make myself feel good, but because I believe that is what God wants me to do (show his love and compassion and serve my neighbor.

      July 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  15. Goddles

    why don't they just ask their great God to clean up the mess?

    July 8, 2010 at 8:11 am |
    • David Johnson

      They did, he said, "No". Or maybe he just didn't answer. Hard to tell.

      July 8, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  16. David Johnson

    Concerning the Church Sign Photo:

    Ho, Ho! The fundies put one over on the Evolutionists once again. Well darn it, why are all the monkeys still here? Yep, you demonstrated how stupid evolution is to the kids one more time. Except, we did not evolve from monkeys. We evolved from a common ancestor. Consider the branches on a tree. The children of this country will need to compete with the rest of the world. You better give them the best education that you can.

    The fear is, if there was no creation, then there was no original sin. If there was no original sin, then there is no need of a redeemer. If the redeemer is not necessary, then what becomes of Christianity? Who will fill the collection plates? Oh, my!

    July 8, 2010 at 6:54 am |
  17. Benjamin Martin

    This is worse than loosing just oil!!!!!!!

    July 8, 2010 at 4:04 am |
  18. Jay Brooks.

    The reason theres a shortage of missionary volunteers is that when they got there they realized god wasn't going to do jack to help. Since real work would need to be done they went home and spread the word...

    July 7, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Yeah, but only after they got their pictures taken for Jesus's scrapbook.

      July 11, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
  19. TheRationale

    These group do a wonderful job in disasters. It's a shame it's so much of a no-op right now. However, the sense of proselytism cannot help but pervade their efforts. Think of a democratic/republican aid group instead of a religious one. Can't argue that it's lovely work, but...

    July 7, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  20. nOT Trash

    Another disaster, another group of religious belief spreaders to harvest more people from sin. Makes my heart glow with pride for humanity.


    July 7, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
    • Dr RatstaR

      Ambulance chasers.

      July 11, 2010 at 2:39 am |
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