Dream on Hold
Larry and Karen Fite have felt God’s call to help Native Americans since their teens. As young people dating during the 1970s, they dreamed of traveling and working with missions to Native American people in the U.S. After their marriage in 1975, they were faced with needing to care for disabled and ill family members, so they put their dreams on hold for a time. In their church, Gandy’s Cove United Methodist Church, in Falkville, Alabama, they became involved with the missions activities.
Years passed, and then about ten years ago, while delivering UMCOR kits put together by the UMW at Gandy’s Cove to the Disaster Warehouse in Decatur, Alabama, the Fites met Director Ray Crump. Ray encouraged them to stay and help in the Warehouse that day.
“Ray was always encouraging and eager for us to help in spite of whatever physical problems we may have,” Karen remembers. This encouragement was particularly meaningful to the Fites since Larry Fite has Parkinson’s disease.
“Ray has a talent for seeing past the
disabilities and seeing where our talents are and where we can best be used by God,” Karen said. The first time they stayed to help, Ray asked Larry to help with identifying donated medications and labeling them for appropriate use. As Larry is a retired Medical doctor, the task fit his abilities perfectly.
A UMW friend asked if the Fites would be interested in going on an Appalachia mission in 2015. Larry knew this was one he could be a part of, in spite of his disability.
“We traveled to the Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville, N.C. with a team of volunteers, and helped with a painting project,” Karen said. Larry worked hard and met the challenges that arose with dignity.
In 2016, Karen and Larry began talking again about the dreams they had of helping Native Americans in their younger days 40 years prior. They decided they weren't getting any younger and if they were going to make those dreams come true, the time was now.
So Karen contacted the Volunteers in Mission (VIM) office of the United Methodist Church and asked if there were any mission opportunities for older adults -- one with a disability – who were called to work with Native Americans.
Of the three mission possibilities Karen received from VIM, the first to respond to her query was Linda Garriott, the director of the Tree of Life Mission on Rosebud Reservation located in Mission, South Dakota.
“We felt an immediate connection with
Linda and we knew this was the mission God was calling us to be part of,” Karen said.
“We began gathering items to send to the Garriotts at the Tree of Life Mission in February, 2016. In March, we realized the outpouring of donations was far greater than we could afford to mail by
USPS, so we called Ray for advice.”
As a result, volunteers from Gandy’s Cove UMC in Falkville, and Southside Baptist
Church Women on Mission group from Decatur worked at least once a week through March and April to prepare the donations at the Warehouse.
Once the word was out about the project, many other churches made donations, including Hamby’s Chapel UMC, Eva UMC, Falkville First UMC, First UMC in Decatur, Asbury UMC in Madison, Madison UMC,
First Baptist in Decatur, Calvary Church in Chattanooga, Tenn, First Baptist Church in Clinton, Tenn, Eva Senior Center and many other volunteers from churches visiting the UMCOR warehouse on the days packing was taking place.
The shipment from the Warehouse included UMCOR health kits and school kits, along with shoes, clothing, toys and many other items from the Warehouse. The shipment arrived in South Dakota while the group of volunteers from Gandy’s Cove was there on a mission trip. They were able to see the needs first-hand and experience the gratitude of the Lakota Sioux Reservation staff and Tree of Life Mission.