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. christophorm

    This is the vision A.A. allen seen in the 60's ...of the staue of liberty standing in the gulf of mexico,when a huge hand took her torch and gave her a cup to drink.refuseing to drink, the hand forced it down her throat as she falls into the water.no prayers will stop this judgement.hurricanes next.

    July 10, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
  2. mike

    despite what the christians (liars) say, this country was NOT founded on christian principles. in fact there aren't any countries founded on christian principles; not even the European ones, of which some are secular, and all the rest modeled on the monarchical court of Louis XIV (France), which was in turn modeled on the courts of the Byzantine empire, which was in turn modeled on the courts of Near Eastern Asia. NONE of which had anything to do with recreating some supposed administration of the christian God, but originally the king as some god himself- centuries before there were christians and when the Jewish god Yaweh was still of no account to anybody except Jews themselves. IF there were countries founded on "christian principles", they would look like any other muslim-ruled middle eastern or african country.

    July 10, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
    • David Johnson

      You are 100% correct, Mike. But the religious right is trying very hard to convince people the founding fathers never meant to have a division between church and state. Watch Glenn Beck. If you can't stand Beck, watch Keith Olbermann. He has a lot of segments on what Beck and the religious right are up to.

      I see no difference in the Religious Right and the Taliban. Both want to rule with a bible in one hand and a gun in the other.

      I have no wish to live under the rule of either.

      July 11, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  3. bob

    detroit needs it

    July 10, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  4. David Johnson

    @Paul L.

    Just curious, didn't Jesus say something about entering your closet to pray? Or was it pray for the News Media Cameras? I'm just saying...

    July 10, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  5. David Johnson

    @Paul L.

    Point 1:
    Google "How many people have been killed by Christians since biblical times?"
    Also I guess we should add in the flood. Probably somewhere around a billion served?
    And maybe all the other people killed by the Desert War God.

    It's history folks. Get over it..if you can.

    Point 2:
    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. New Orleans is -still- not rebuilt. They still need help in Louisiana and Mississippi so get back down there! If you're bored with the Gulf Coast, head up to Detroit, they could use a hand there, too.

    The problem with all these areas where "good works" could have been performed, was that they lacked News Cameras. Waiting to pray once the cameras were trained on you, was a nice touch.

    I don't have the figures in front of me, but I bet most of the fundie money went to fundie colleges.

    Point 3:

    The fundies have joined with the Republicans to force your religion on the rest of the country. There is an effort to convince people that the founding fathers were born again evangelicals who didn't really mean separation of church and state. You continually try to get creationism taught in the schools. You want Christian prayers allowed in class.

    Hazmat suits have been asked for since people started arriving for cleanup. BP will not furnish. But you have god and he will protect you. Just pray about it and start bailing. Right?

    July 10, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
    • Daishi

      We're still working in New Orleans. We never left. We're still making yearly trips to New Orleans. We've torn down walls, rebuilt them, we've done food drives. We've slept in warehouses without air conditioning along with hundreds of others and lived without showers. We've worn breathing filters and been up to our elbows in toxic water. We've done food drives and gotten together clothes.

      You can be angry at Christianity all you want, but you're foolish if you think we're only out there to do some sort of secret evangelical work. We give our testimonies about how our lives have been changed and why we believe that Christ can change other people's lives, and that's not going to change. But we don't work for these people then suddenly turn around and say, "Now it's time for us to preach to you." You get offered a crack deal on the corner of where you're living at two in the morning, and you turn it down, I don't think it's awful to offer an alternative way of getting by in life. When people came to our houses and robbed them of the food we'd had for others, we just raised more food. When we had people coming to us and talking about their drug addictions and how bad they wanted off, we knew where to refer them and how to help. We didn't paint houses for rewards, there were no television cameras to catch us praying, nobody was there to feed us when we swept those city streets. We didn't come home and just do nothing, we kept contributing. This Saturday we'll be doing for the homeless here in my town what we would have done for anyone in New Orleans.

      And you know what David, end of the day, me and you are going to be dead, at some point or another. Nobody is going to care about us or lament our passing in a century, there will be nobody to care about what we posted to a CNN blog, and when I close this page most likely I'll never see it again. But I have no shame in what motivates me to help others – that being love – while willingly confessing I am as screwed up a person as anyone else, but I'm trying, I am glad for my faith, and I'm glad for the work I've done. If I provided hope, whether spiritual or just hope in people's fellow human beings, then that might have been enough to get a person by.

      July 12, 2010 at 2:30 am |
  6. Paul L.

    Two points:

    1. For those who "believe" that religion poisons everything, I "think" you may be somewhat delusional. The Soviet Union, the PRC and the National Socialists were humanistic movements that crushed faith and tried to live by their own sense of humanistic righteousness. Good luck defending that. As for those who are rightfully upset by the Crusades, you ever wonder how those parts of the world that BEFORE the Crusades change from one faith to another? It's history, folks–get over it. Either that, or get equally worked up over Manzikert, for instance.

    2. Instead, may I suggest that in this fragile world of ours, there is more than enough room for people of faith to contribute to the clean-up of an oil spill, even if you mistakenly hate us. By the way, per capita Christians give FAR MORE than any other group–especially liberal humanists of somewhat "higher" edumacation. And in gross terms, as well. But hey, what's a few facts to soil one's view of the world, eh?

    I actually think that providing hazmat suits and some necessary training would be an excellent force multiplier for the resources we currently have, in light of the scope of the work ahead of us. But hey, I'm just a fundie, so what do I know?

    July 10, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • David Johnson

      You said," For those who "believe" that religion poisons everything, I "think" you may be somewhat delusional."

      Let's see: Delusional – a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary.

      Well, you are the ones who believe in talking snakes, fruit that conveys knowledge, towers to heaven, virgin births, people rising from the dead and prayer. You are the poster children for delusional.

      July 12, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  7. George B

    Tell them to back down to New Orleans and the surrounding area and continue the rebuilding effort. Contrary to popular misconception and the media's short attention span, after five years New Orleans is -still- not rebuilt. They still need help in Louisiana and Mississippi so get back down there! If you're bored with the Gulf Coast, head up to Detroit, they could use a hand there, too.

    July 10, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
    • David Johnson

      As you say the media has a short attention span. There aren't any cameras, except in the Gulf. Jesus likes his flock to get some publicity while they do their good works. Lots of moms will be watching CNN. Thats my Billy cleaning that rock!

      July 10, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  8. Daniel

    What can they do to help? Use less energy. Oppose offshore drilling or exploitation of fragile wilderness areas for oil. What every person can and must do is set the good of others – of our Living Earth, of generations yet to come – ahead of their own convenience, vanity or greed. I don't see that many Evangelicals lining up to do that.

    July 10, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • David Johnson

      It's even more scarey than that. Some fundies take the Genesis passage from the King James very seriously. They believe Jesus will come back and renew the earth. Makes you not care how bad you mess your room up, if you know Mom is gonna clean it.
      I guess this would be okay, if we REALLY knew that Jesus would be back before the earth was so depleated and toxic that it could not sustain us. I don't have that much faith. I'm an atheist.

      And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

      July 11, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  9. David Johnson


    If they didn't like dirty hands they would never volunteer to work in 3rd world countries....I have relatives (Christians)who just got back from Africa where they helped feed – clothe & teach small children...playing with them and creating a bond with them. Have relatives and friends who are at this time headed to another 3rd world country to minister to more people.....Christians are the most giving and loving people in this vile and evil world....what are you doing to help others ????

    And I bet they didn't try to witness to or convert any of these people right? Christians always have an ulterior motive. They want to preach the word to all the world so Jesus can come back.

    If I drop a fiver in the food bank kettle once a week, without cameras and without preaching to anyone, I'm doing a good deed. If the evangelicals trade desperately needed food and and clothes and other help, for the chance to preach the gospel where does
    all that giving and loving come in?

    Get real. The missionaries aren't all that altruistic.

    July 10, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  10. racnem

    Gary, you didn't personally turn your back on God, but our first parents did and have passed sin and death to all of us.

    July 10, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  11. David Johnson

    sarjosemike – How are these people doing real good? I agree with Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything.

    Why didn't they clean up old people's yards in their own town? Because, there were no cameras from CNN.

    Why didn't the group pray before they got on the bus to go to the gulf? You don't think it's because it made a good photo do you?

    I hate to slam a fellow atheist, but you can't play on both teams. Watch atheist interviews on Fox News (Youtube has some). Atheists are hated. Atheists want to maintain the separation of church and state. Fundies do not. Watch Genn Beck. The fundies and their Republican puppets want to rewrite history. They want to make it appear the founding fathers were born again evangelicals. There are state laws that forbid an atheist from holding office. The Christians aren't content to worship their god in their own houses and churches. They are demanding that everyone live by their rules.

    If the bible belt had their way, evolution woud be stricken from their biology books. A picture of children petting a dinosaur would replace the chapter.

    The Christian fundies would once again install prayer in school. The Muslims and kids trained in other faiths, would probably be allowed to put their heads on their desk, while the one true god was prayed to .

    Have you noticed all the religious shows on Satellite? Do you know all those shows are funded by viewer contributions? How much good would that money do for cancer research? Instead, its going for extravagant life styles of these scam artists.

    The fundies don't want you or any other atheist to grow, they want to convert you or make you a total outcast.

    July 9, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
  12. sanjosemike

    As an atheist, it is "rather easy" to get on my "high horse" and arrogantly criticize religious workers. But that would disingenuous. In fact these people are doing real good, and they should be appreciated. Even though I am an atheist, I often criticize fellow atheists for not doing enough to help. We may not believe in god or gods, but that certainly does not make us "perfect." We have a need to grow as well. We must listen to reasonable criticism. sanjosemike

    July 9, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
    • David Johnson

      So, quit the atheist club and become a born again fundie.

      July 9, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  13. Hulamama51

    If they didn't like dirty hands they would never volunteer to work in 3rd world countries....I have relatives (Christians)who just got back from Africa where they helped feed – clothe & teach small children...playing with them and creating a bond with them. Have relatives and friends who are at this time headed to another 3rd world country to minister to more people.....Christians are the most giving and loving people in this vile and evil world....what are you doing to help others ????

    July 9, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  14. Julli

    They are dumping the oil waste in Mississippi land fills??? Can't they find a way to use this waste?? I can't believe this company is so negligent!!

    July 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  15. Mary

    if they are missionaries why are they 'at a loss' they should simply have faith and move to a place where they can actually do good.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Obviously, because they want the publicity of working to clean up the Gulf. They wanted lots of juicy pics of them washing a rock for Jesus. Lots better than washing dishes at a soup kitchen without photogrophers.

      July 9, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  16. Leah (TXanimal)

    If you feel the need to pray for the oil spill, do it with a shovel or soup ladle in your hand.

    July 9, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  17. racnem

    to David Johnson: If each of us were not tainted by original sin, then we wouldn't be dying. There is no scientific reason for why we die. But the very thought it brings most to tears. Sadly, you've been very mislead by false religous teached and are bitter. God's kingdom is comin gsoon and will fix all.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:57 am |
    • David Johnson

      racnem – I'm not bitter.

      Nobody wants to die. But, dying is part of nature. The life cycle is: Birth, Growth, Reproduction and then Death. This cycle is so, for every living organism. The most important thing for an organism, is to have "children". To keep, their species and their personal genes going.

      I don't want to die. But I have been fortunate enough to have children and even grandchildren. I will live on through them. We all will live on through our children. We die, to make room for the next generation. Think of how crowded it would be, if no one died.

      July 9, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • Gary

      racnem, natural aging and death is completely explained by science. Man turning his back on God? As an agnostic I have never turned my back on God. I have never met,seen or heard from God. I dont consider religious texts written by humans hundreds of years ago words of a God. Your posts make no sense to me and can not be backed up by scientifc evidence.

      July 9, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  18. GI JOHN


    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.

    msgijoe...never claimed to be God. You are another of the foolish people putting words into someones mouth. I speak the truth. Stopping the destruction of this world is not going to happen. People repenting and being saved from Gods wrath and the destruction of this world can happen. That is my main concern, not how to stop an oil spill.
    As for Dave , he continues to make himself look foolish. Yeah Dave, you were there when God flooded the Earth and destroyed every living thing in it. You were there to know people and civilizations were thriving. Where do you get your information? A mortal man in a white lab coat? Dave you are one of two things; one of satans demons or just a foolish man. We will find out on Judgment Day. I pray you find the truth before that day. God bless you Dave.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:53 am |
    • David Johnson


      Google the following article. Scroll down to to the contents and click on "Historical Evidence".

      Facts & Fictions Regarding Noah's Flood
      Charles A. Weisman

      The whole article is a hoot, but the historical evidence section concerns civilizations that endured the flood that was not global.

      During biblical times, plants weren't considered to be alive. At least not in the sense that animals were. No mention is made of god making provisions for the plant life. If the flood occurred, salt water would have destroyed all the plants. The bible never mentions God replenishing the plant life after the flood. What did the animals eat once Noah dropped them off?

      I don't want to keep arguing about this. Incidently, Satan's demons don't exist. Nor do unicorns, satyrs, fiery serpents, or dragons. These are all written about in your King James as if they really existed. Yep, you can learn a lot from that 'ol bible.

      Don't be afraid to use your intellect. That nasty old Desert War God isn't really hiding under your bed.

      God Bless!

      July 11, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  19. racnem

    Man has turned their back on God. Way back in Eden man decided we don't want Him in our affairs. So he has allowed us to run things without him. But not forever. He will return his attention to us at the appropriate time. Rev. 11:18 says that God will bring to ruin those ruining the earth. "those" may mean more of us than we can imagine.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  20. Tom

    Christians don't like dirty hands? Did yo talk to them? There are about 1 billion of them on earth. Do you like dirty hands?

    July 9, 2010 at 9:26 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.