By BISHOP ROBERT HAYES Jr.
Stepping away from my daily job, I embarked upon my sabbatical leave in July to seek renewal and rest. I was excited and did some things that I’ve always wanted to do. Near the end of my time away, I began to dread the mountain of emails, calls, letters, and meetings that awaited my return.
But there, in the pile of paperwork on my desk, was a letter that inspired and moved me to tears. It is a letter of triumph and tragedy, joy and pain.
And within the lines, there is the work of the Church, strong and resilient. I share here parts of that letter, so you also can understand how God works through our United Methodist connection to accomplish the work of the Kingdom.
Dear Bishop Hayes:
Several weeks ago, members of my congregation here in Mogadore (Ohio) asked to speak to me and shared the tragic story of their adult son who had been in trouble with the law and incarcerated there in Oklahoma for most of 35 years — since the age of 19. It was a shocking and overwhelming story of love and loss.
Their son had been paroled about 14 months earlier and had throughout all the years stayed in regular contact with his parents. However, they had not heard from him for about six weeks and could not find any information from their contacts in Oklahoma. They knew from their son that he had on several occasions reached out to United Methodist churches and pastors for help and had been taken "under wing" by a couple of pastors. They even knew that, from time to time, their son had given his testimony of faith to other inmates. His spiritual life compelled him to reach out to God’s people for help, even in the midst of the worst times.
The parents asked if I might know how to be in touch with the Church in Oklahoma, to see whether anyone might have any helpful information about their son. Only 16 months earlier, I had taken a (Volunteers In Mission) team to Moore to help with tornado relief, and I immediately remembered several names I might contact.
That evening I sent email to Karen Mangano, volunteer coordinator for Disaster Relief; to District Superintendents Greg Tener and Rockford Johnson of the districts closest to Oklahoma City; and to the pastors of the two churches I had met — Wickline and Moore-First.
Within 24 hours, Karen Mangano responded with grim news that the son had been murdered six weeks earlier. And shortly thereafter, Superintendent Tener advised that he had forwarded my request to those working in prison ministries there and was able also to confirm the bad news of the man’s death, BUT that he had been ministered to by Stan Basler, retired pastor and someone who had known this man for some time, reaching out in mercy and faith to him.
You might imagine the awful pain of delivering such tragic news to the parents and their terrible pain in receiving it. But can you imagine the blessing of hearing that their son — whose body lay in the morgue "unclaimed" for six weeks — had received the blessing of a memorial service by Rev. Bassler, with many speaking on his behalf? Can you imagine their relief knowing that they could bring their son’s remains home? This would not have been possible without The United Methodist Church!
Bishop Hayes, I wanted to write to share this with you because I have been feeling so overwhelmed by the blessing of how "the connection" worked for this family in this awful situation, and to express my deep gratitude for the quick response of those whom I contacted and for the commitment to ministries of compassion and justice that allow such an ending to what could have been an even more devastating story.
Please express my deepest gratitude to all! I am grateful beyond words, and so is the family here in little Mogadore!
In constant hope,
Rev. Pamela Gable
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