North Georgia Team Spends Week Before Christmas Serving in Southwest Georgia


VIDEO: Message from Bishop Sue in Southwest Georgia


The sounds of buzzing chainsaws and raking debris replaced the typical sounds of the season for a team of 20 volunteers from the North Georgia Conference, including Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson and Atlanta-Marietta District Superintendent Rev. Terry Walton, who spent four days serving our neighbors in Southwest Georgia this week. 

Despite (or perhaps because of) it being the week before Christmas, churches across the AMAR District responded that they'd send team members when their DS asked for volunteers for this trip. Members of County Line UMC, Acworth UMC, Canton UMC, Mt. Zion UMC Marietta, Bethany UMC, Smyrna First UMC, along with volunteers from Oak Grove UMC and Mount Pisgah UMC plus Conference staff trekked south on Sunday. 

They returned Thursday with blisters on their hands, sore muscles, and full hearts. Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson who started the week "toting limbs" was one of several who came home with chainsaw certification! 

Major Damage in Southwest Georgia

The communities of Donalsonville, Colquitt, and Lake Seminole where our teams served are just 9-weeks out from Hurricane Michael, a Category 3 storm that slowly tracked over the area damaging homes, businesses, farm land, equipment, and churches. 

North Georgia's mission team was hosted by Friendship UMC in Donaldsonville and its pastor Rev. Nate Lehman, and was joined each day by volunteer teams from the South Georgia Conference.

They started the week with Rev. Scott Stanfill, pastor of Colquitt UMC, who gave them a tour of the heavily damaged church building. Battered by winds of more than 100 miles per hour, shingles and felt were blown from the roof of the church and the roof decking was raised enough for water to pour into the building. Every single room in the church sustained water damage. It will be a year or more before the repairs and rebuilding are complete. 

"The affects are ongoing," said Stanfill. "It's not just the visible damage, but the mental damage too. Everybody is going through a grieving process."

While church members are hurting, they're also looking ahead to what could be. 

They can't use their building, but the church hasn't missed a Sunday worship, a Wednesday night dinner, or its monthly Food Bank ministry since the storm. They are worshiping in Colquitt First Baptist Church just down the street and holding Wednesday night dinner in a space on the town square. The food pantry ministry is happening in the church parking lot. 

There isn't a church member or person in the community who doesn't have damage to their home, their property, or their business. There was plenty of work for our team to tackle. 

The work ranged from removing downed full-size trees with chainsaws, to raking and picking up limbs. 

"We need toters," said Bishop Sue. "One limb we pick up is one less limb a family has to worry about. This would be a great project for our campus ministries, youth groups, UMW circles."

Walton encouraged all churches to consider sending a team.

"This isn't going away tomorrow," he said. "There are months more of work to do and plenty of times for groups to schedule a trip." 

Why We Serve

A highlight of the trip was when a homeowner in Colquitt arrived after work to a nearly cleared yard. Without even changing clothes, she grabbed a pair of gloves and joined the team. Others bonded over college football and shared their faith. 

Rev. Pam McCurdy and Rev. Chip Wilson made the four-hour drive to Southwest Georgia after their Longest Night service at Bethany UMC on Sunday. The two had to hustle to prepare to be out of pocket the week before Christmas, but were glad they did. 

"I have experienced Christmas this week," said McCurdy. "We receive the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love, but we cannot keep them to ourselves. They are meant to be given away. This is the Spirit of Christmas and may it convict and encourage us to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ everyday."

Rev. Debra Stewart, associate pastor at Mt. Zion Marietta, agreed. 

"It's hard to go on like 'all is well' when all is not well with our neighbors," Stewart said. "I tell you, I will not forget this Christmas." 

Nearly every district in North Georgia is organizing a team to serve in Southwest Georgia next year. If your church would like to send a team or learn more about Disaster Response ministry, visit for information.