In the Name of Love

“In the name of Love. What more in the name of love.”
– U2

“You will always have what you gave to love.”
— David Wilcox and Beth Neilsen Chapman

“There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.”
— 1 John

Oh, the humanity…
Oh, the pain…

The earthquake in Haiti is one of the greatest human catastrophes in recent memory. The suffering will continue to grow in the coming weeks and months. Some of you already know my own personal connections to Haiti, and specifically my former connection the HPUMC, Dallas mission team that has been so much in the news this week. I was staff leader of that team for five trips, and I know and love some of those on the current trip as close colleagues and friends.

Many of you have heard of the yesterday’s death of Jean Arnwine, a member of the current HPUMC Haiti team, from complications due to injuries suffered in the collapse of the Petit Guave Eye Clinic during the initial quake on Tuesday.

And, literally as I write/edit this blog, news comes down the wire that Rev. Sam Dixon, the head of United Methodist Committee on Relief, has also been confirmed dead today. He was apparently trapped in the Hotel Montana, a hotel nestled on the side of the hill above Port au Prince, where many humanitarian-minded folks –including myself and our mission teams, on our last night “in country”– used to stay.

Update #2 (10.17.10)
We have now also learned that the Rev. Clint Rabb, the head of United Methodist “Volunteers in Mission,” has also died in a Florida hospital. Clint was also trapped in the rubble of Hotel Montana, but it was believed he had survived. What an incredible shock….this is now three United Methodist-related deaths in three days. And all three after reports that the deceased were injured, but alive…only to later determine that they had died.

These deaths are a great shock to everyone. It is the worst nightmare for anyone who has ever gone on a global mission trip, and especially for those of us who organize and shepherd such teams from any church anywhere.

However, the truth of the Gospel also teaches us that reaching out in love often involves great risk. While we rarely verbalize such thoughts, if we are honest, they are somewhere in our brains every single time we reach outside our comfort zones, and especially when we travel abroad in mission. On each and every one of my 30-some trips, these thoughts have been somewhere in the recesses of my brain. That is only human.

Although I never met Jean, I am aware that she made her love for this trip known and –quite literally, just minutes before the earthquake– expressed to others how powerful the trip was to her, and her desire to return next year.

Since I’ve been with them on previous trips to this very clinic, I’ve talked with several of the team since their return. And here’s what the three I’ve talked to have told me: even though they were trapped in the rubble of a collapsed structure in a rural Haitian town, they would still return again to do mission work there in the future. Such is their love for Haiti and their commitment to serve in Christ’s name, without fear.

In fact, I have now heard a little more about Dr. Gary Fish that illustrates this. Dr. Fish was the team member who carefully and painstakingly cared for Jean Arnwine, and stayed with her in the country, even as everyone else was evacuating. Knowing Gary, he did *everything* humanly possible to see that she had the best chance for survival.

After Jean was pronounced dead on the island of Guadaloupe, there was some time before her body and Dr. Fish could be transported back to the states. Gary, it is now known, suffered a broken sternum. So, you might imagine that he just took that time to rest in a hospital bed himself.

But, no. Injured himself, still coming to grips with the loss of his colleague, he got up and started treating the other wounded being evacuated to that island.

Those of us who know Gary are not surprised by this. That’s just the way he is. That’s the way many on this team are. If given the chance to be serving in Haiti right now, even those who were sick and injured themselves want to be there.

Although I never met Sam or Clint, I know the incredible work that UMCOR does in Haiti and around the globe, and I know the passion, commitment, and love that all those who work for this fine agency carry with them. I know what love it takes for anyone to go on a “Volunteer in Mission” trip (especially in countries like Haiti…) and have been inspired by VIM staff on all the many trips I’ve been a part of over the years.

I believe I am right that this now brings the American death toll to nine. And while this is completely dwarfed by the horrendous tragedy of hundreds of thousands of Haitian dead, I’m also struck that three of these were doing United Methodist mission work.

People like Jean, Sam, and Clint –like the rest of the HPUMC Eye Clinic team, and like all others in Haiti mission fields– love the missional work of the church with a passion that is hard to verbalize. It’s hard to verbalize, because it’s a love that is not expressed in words, but in action. They embody the ministry of “love your neighbor” in a tangible way.

And their deaths can teach us this powerful truth:

Perfect love casts out fear. Christ’s love can compel the heart to love others, no matter the cost; and comfort the heart, no matter the outcome.

Love –whether in the mission field, or of a newborn in a crib; whether across the globe, or across your breakfast table– always involves risk. It always involves the chance of being “hurt,” sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally.

The only complete and total safety in life is to shut down, emotionally and spiritually, and to not allow the world in. However, this invariably leads to death even more assuredly than any risk of love. And this kind of shutting down is clearly against the Gospel. We sometimes say, in worship, that there are “deaths” more dangerous that physical death. Tragedies like Haiti remind us, challenge us, and push us, to meditate on this truth.

It is not that we ever hold life cheaply, or intentionally and recklessly put ourselves in “harms way.” Far from it! Being careful is always a part of each act of love. But, as we’ve just said love inherently involves risk. Those risks are present in each act of love. Sometimes, those risks become painfully manifest.

The GOOD NEWS is that God accompanies us in our acts of love, no matter where they occur. God loves each of our acts of our loving others, no matter what the cost. And, should we ever be hurt, physically or spiritually, should even death come, God is still with us and loving us still.

It is perhaps even more poignant that this weekend is Martin Luther King weekend. It is extremely important to remember that Dr. King’s commitment to social justice and social change came from his commitment to Christ.

Last night, we put our daughter and three others from Northaven on a bus that is taking an historic MLK Weekend tour. The “Confirmation Civil Rights Bus Tour” is going to Little Rock, Memphis, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Selma, and 55 youth and adults are learning about the powerful connection between faith and action, as embodied by Dr. King.

His “strength to love” came from Jesus, and his ability to face even death came from the knowledge that no hate, no suffering, no sorrow, can ever finally erase the power of God’s love in the world.

We should certainly never forget that his life came to end as he sought to love others too. In fact, Chris Reed, our Youth Minister, tweeted this picture just a few moments ago, from outside the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. While these words applied first to Dr. King, it seems to me they also apply to all who die in the service of love to others.

Haiti reminds us, the legacy of Dr. King reminds us, that no act of love is ever lost. We always have, even in our time of physical death, each act of love that we have performed.

And God gathers up each of these acts of love for all of eternity.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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