Who dat making a super effort to build health kits for Haiti?

United Methodist churches in Louisiana and Indiana, dat’s who!

Two congregations, one from Indianapolis and another just outside of New Orleans, harnessed the energy surrounding Super Bowl XLIV with a friendly challenge: Which church can assemble the largest number of health kits for Haiti?

The New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts in the big game Feb. 7. But the competition is not over for Roberts Park United Methodist Church in downtown Indianapolis and First United Methodist Church in Slidell, just 10 miles from New Orleans.

“We thought this would be a creative way to increase the number of health kits generated by our church. We’re grateful that First UMC in Slidell was willing to play along with us,” said the Rev. Howard Boles, senior pastor of the Roberts Park church.

The Louisiana congregation had begun collecting items for health kits, but the challenge ramped up excitement for the project.

“Kits have been pouring in, and we expect many more before the challenge cutoff date of Feb. 12,” said the Rev. Wybra Price, senior pastor for First Church, Slidell.

Huge stakes

The pastors are encouraging their congregations to do their best with donations because there are “serious consequences” for the church that falls in second place.

“If Roberts Park wins the challenge, then Wybra and I must wear Colts T-shirts and caps during worship on Feb. 14,” said the Rev. Pattye Hewitt, associate pastor for the Louisiana church.

If First Slidell wins, then the Indiana pastors must wear Saints items.

Boles is no stranger to initiating these competitions. When the Colts played the Chicago Bears in the 2007 Super Bowl, the Roberts Park church challenged a Chicago-area church with a food drive that followed the same guidelines. “We collected a lot of food for distribution that year,” Boles said.

Price pointed out that the Slidell congregation is always ready to help during emergencies.

Receiving and giving

“This church is great about responding,” Price said. “After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, we were recipients of health kits, too. Mission teams from throughout the country came to help us rebuild our church.”

He explains that the church was flooded during the 2005 storm. “This is another opportunity to give back – to give to the people of Haiti.”

Boles remembers a time that a mission team from Roberts Park served at the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La., “We actually packed some of the health kits and got to see the facility from which these kits are sent all over the world to help those in need.”

The Indianapolis pastor explains that his children were with him on that mission trip. “They were probably around 10 or 8 years old. I remember that shortly after we got back home, a national disaster was being covered on the news. My son said, ‘Look, Dad. That’s where our health kits are going!’

“I was happy that he was able to make that connection. The work through UMCOR is a powerful and important ministry,” added Boles.

Special stoles

Both congregations were invited to wear their respective team colors during worship services Feb. 7. “My wife Judy even made special stoles for Pattye and me to wear. They were gold with black fleur de lis designs on them,” Price said.

By early the next day, the church in Louisiana had assembled close to 1,000 kits. The Indiana church has about 450, but expects several hundred more by the end of the challenge.

This is one contest where everybody wins.

“The joy surrounding the game is serving as an instrument to help us help those in need,” Price said. “The challenge is not about a football game, it’s about people living on the streets. It’s about our brothers and sisters in Haiti.”

Betty Backstrom serves as director of communications for the Louisiana Conference.

A UMNS photo courtesy
of Heather Harmeyer

Beverly Thurston from Roberts Park United Methodist smiles while packing health kits for Haiti.

“The joy surrounding the game is serving as an instrument to help us help those in need.”

– Wybra Price

A UMNS photo by Betty Backstrom.

New Orleans Saints fans show support for their team at a service on Super Bowl Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Slidell, La.