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Volunteers return, prayers go on

This Christmas, volunteers from St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Bowie, Md., will quietly pray for families they met in Florida.

BY SUSAN KIM | BOWIE, Md. | December 6, 2004


"In each case the homeowner knew that somebody cared - somebody cared and came a long distance to help."

—Peter Saderholm


This Christmas, volunteers from St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Bowie, Md., will quietly pray for families they met in Florida.

After traveling to the hurricane-ravaged town of Arcadia for a week in November, team members said they would not forget the needs they saw - and the hurricane survivors they talked with.

"When you deal with several families or individuals a day and help them recover a little of their life back from a devastating storm, then pray with them for God's blessing and a return to a normal life, it has an impact on you personally," said Peter Saderholm, missions chair at St. Matthew's. Saderholm is also early response coordinator for his district.

He said some families in Arcadia were able to clean up debris, repair their homes, and return to a normal life. But many others, he said, have needs that will extend long beyond this winter.

The team cleared a lot of debris using chain saws, shovels, heavy rakes, wheelbarrows, tree pruners, handsaws and leaf blowers. But they also used their ears, Saderholm pointed out. "In each case the homeowner knew that somebody cared - somebody cared and came a long distance to help."

This holiday season, Saderholm urged people not to forget what it means to give to others by going on a mission trip. "When the chance occurs, go on a trip and experience the impact it will have on you," he said. "There certainly is an awful lot of work left to do."

Listening to disaster survivors' stories isn't always easy - and in many ways it's hard to return home and resume your own "normal" life after volunteering.

"It was very hard at times hearing the plight and pain," said Sandy Rowland, Volunteers In Mission coordinator for the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC). "Sometimes we would sit with the homeowners for 45 minutes or more just listening and then praying with them."

With Christmas just around the corner, Rowland said she couldn't stop thinking about the children in Florida. "This will be a very difficult time for many who are having a hard time dealing with the stress as Christmas approaches," she said. "I was told many are depressed and taking medication for depression. One mother said 'my kids won't have a Christmas this year.' "

Children, she said, have been traumatized over hurricane season. "Many are coping but when it rains and when the wind blows they get scared. Many will not have a Christmas."

After a heartfelt conversation with a caseworker in Florida, Saderholm was moved to do something for these children. She conducted a local fundraising drive, picked a church in Florida in a hard-hit community, and sent funds earmarked for children.

She started the campaign informally, sending a letter via e-mail "to friends and people I know who have a heart for kids."

She said she was shocked at the response. "As soon as I sent it out, people started responding: my cousin, my friends, a lady from a Bible study, and many others."

The Baltimore-Washington conference has sent three teams to Florida so far, with plans to send more, she said.

One volunteer sat down to write her reflections on her trip within an hour after she returned home. "It was truly an inspiring journey," she wrote to her friends...plus, "I learned how to use a chain saw!"


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