I’ve heard many people mention they are glad to say goodbye to 2016; it was a rough year. At the same time, some aren’t looking too happy about 2017.
Putting aside politics and personal problems, perhaps we can take away a few lessons from the ministries of Coal City United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Bradley Shumaker arrived at the United Methodist Church in Coal City just four days after the 2015 tornado.
The church stood ready with their own disaster relief team, having been through a similar storm just two years before.
Their church became a relief center to those who had no home to return to and a center to accept donations of food, paper goods, cleaning products and more from nearby communities and all over the nation.
In four weeks after the 2015 tornado, Coal City United Methodist Church provided 25,000 meals to tornado victims, volunteers and workers.
Shumaker knew to jump right in with his new congregation. In 2003 he had gone to Juarez, Mexico, with a group of other pastors to help build homes.
“I caught a real passion for it,” Shumaker said.
And now the congregation of the Coal City church has caught that same passion. This year they will send a group of 20 adults to build two cinder block homes in one week.
Juarez is a border town near El Paso of 1.5 million people – many are the poorest of the poor, Shumaker said.
Families trying to escape the poverty of southern Mexico would make it to Juarez only to find they couldn’t get to the U.S. They settled in makeshift towns, using cardboard and dried wood to construct homes.
Since his first trip, groups of United Methodist churches have gone to Juarez to build homes. So far they’ve constructed 36. While it doesn’t sound like a dent in a huge population, they are making progress, Shumaker said.
Juarez is a scary place, once considered the murder capital of Mexico. For three years, starting in 2009, Shumaker and his other congregation were the only ones who went to continue the mission.
“We never felt unsafe,” he said, “because the mission is bigger than fear and love is bigger than fear.”
This year, six United Methodist churches will be assisting with rebuilding, and creating a future for many young children who live there.
“In the aftermath [of the violence in Juarez] we worked hard to rebuild our mission,” Shumaker said.
“It’s amazing how hardworking [the people] are and how committed they are to their families,” he said. “It’s a beautiful culture that often gets overlooked.”
In 2016, Shumaker also led his Coal City congregation on a mission to central Kentucky to build homes. This year the number of youth from the church will double to 20 high school students, along with the adults.
“It’s a transformation for a lot of these kids to see how others live and to learn about themselves,” Shumaker said.
Even closer to home, the United Methodist Women of Coal City participate in a ministry at Cunningham Children’s Home in Urbana by raising funds, making quilts and sitting on the board of directors. It’s one of many things the group does, Shumaker said.
Helping to rebuild lives, whether home in Coal City, across the state in Urbana or across the continent in Mexico, is what makes us human. As Shumaker puts is, “love is bigger than fear.”
• Kris Stadalsky writes about people and issues in areas southwest of Joliet. Reach her at email@example.com.