By Rick Wolcott*
A team from the East Ohio Conference is safe following a terrorist attack at the Brussels Airport in Belgium, where they were changing planes on Tuesday, March 22.
“Thank you everyone for your prayers,” said Aaron Phillips of The Nehemiah Mission of Cleveland (North Coast District). “I experienced only the confusion of evacuation and police resolution. It’s very weird.”
Phillips was part of a five-person team returning from a 10-day mission trip to Ganta, Liberia in West Africa. He and Paula Shaw of Hudson UMC (Canal District) were through security and near the departure gate when the deadly explosion occurred at the ticketing counter of the airport.
The two are currently “safe in Leuven looking for a new way home,” Phillips said.
They were taken to the suburb of Brussels by kind strangers who offered to house them when the airport was evacuated.
Karen Christ of Macedonia UMC (Canal District), Becky Trout of The Nehemiah Mission of Cleveland (North Coast District) and Karl Stone of Strongsville UMC (North Coast District) were on a different flight from Brussels. Their plane departed the airport 25 minutes before the explosion.
“I am thankful to God for the safety of our team,” said Bishop John Hopkins, resident bishop of the East Ohio Conference. “I am praying for the people of Brussels as they recover from this terrible terrorist act.”
Mechanical issues in Monrovia delayed the group’s original return to the U.S. by one day. Then, a lack of available seats on the rescheduled flight led to the five not being on the same flight home.
The team was returning from the inaugural trip for the Ganta Initiative, which grew from a close relationship that the staff of The Nehemiah Mission has with Liberian families who live in Cleveland.
“This trip had three components to it: medical, educational, and construction,” said Executive Director Jim Szakacs.
“Paula is an RN and Karen is an EMT – and both were making their second trip to Ganta,” he said. “On this trip, Paula trained operating room nurses and Karen trained emergency room nurses at Ganta Hospital.
“Aaron, Becky, and Karl did construction/repair projects similar to those that teams do in Cleveland when they come to Nehemiah during the year,” he said. “Becky also helped the hospital to start putting patient records onto a computer.”
The returning team, as well as those impacted by the deadly terror attack, have been surrounded in prayer by family and friends both here at home, and around the world.
“I am thankful that these persons are safe,” said Bishop Patrick Streiff, resident bishop of the Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area. “As those who follow Jesus, the crucified and resurrected One, we need to continue in doing good as much as we can, in building respectful community, in working for peace and justice, in being agents of reconciliation and never give up despite blind violence, hatred or paralyzing fear, wherever we live.”
“Bishop John Innis has been encouraging church members here in Liberia to pray,” said Dekontee Tarr, director for the Volunteer in Mission (VIM) program in Liberia.
A United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team of 11 people is scheduled to leave for Liberia on Thursday, March 25. The group – with members from East Ohio, West Ohio, Illinois Great Rivers, Arizona, and North Carolina – will stay at the Camphor Mission Station in Liberia, where they will continue the work of transforming lives in the name of Jesus Christ.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.