Joel Rabb: Serving a God Who Dwells with the Suffering
By: Sherri Gragg
On the morning of January 10, 2010, the Hotel Montana sat overlooking Pétion-Ville, Haiti like a pristine jewel. Tall Palm trees cast cool shadows across the graceful path that led down to the swimming pool. Elegant white walls reflected the rising sun as guests from all over the world sipped strong, sweet cups of Haitian coffee from the comfort of shaded verandas.
The Hotel Montana was an oasis, a cool retreat nestled into the hills above the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince. Her guests included diplomats and celebrities, but more often her rooms were filled with men and women who were drawn to serve the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Service teams. Aid Workers. Missionaries. The Rev. Clinton Rabb was one of these.
The Day the Earth Shook
Rabb’s trip to Haiti to attend a meeting with Methodist aid workers was just one leg of a life-long journey in which he shared the love of Christ all over the world as a representative of the General Board of Global Missions. After a long day spent bumping along pothole-ridden streets i of Port-au-Prince searching for ways to improve the healthcare system in Haiti, Rabb returned to the solace of Hotel Montana.
As he stepped into the foyer, the earth began to heave and roll, flattening the Hotel Montana like a vengeful child destroying the block tower of a friend. Rabb lay in the ruins for three days. He was still conscious when rescue teams pulled him from the rubble, and placed him on a Navy helicopter to the United States. He later succumbed to his injuries in a Florida hospital.
His family, including brother Joel Rabb, were left to grieve his loss.
A Tragedy Redeemed
“When he died we were grieving,” Rabb said. “My wife and I had gone to visit my mother-in-law in a United Methodist retirement center and she told us that a Haitian woman cleaned her room. She thought that perhaps, this woman had lost someone too. I found her in the hallway…”
I lost someone I loved in Haiti. Have you?
Yes, two uncles. Two nieces. Our whole family is now homeless.
And in the rubble of Haiti, Joel Rabb found his mission.
Before January 10, 2010, Clinton Rabb traveled the world, while his brother Joel was content to warm the pew in his local United Methodist church. But from the dust and rubble of Haiti’s destruction, God breathed new life and purpose into the brother who had stayed at home. “I realized that God doesn’t call us to stay in our comfort zone,” Rabb said, “People who make a difference are outside of their comfort zone because God doesn’t dwell in a pew. He dwells in a hurting world.”
Ministry to Laos
Today, eight years later, Rabb remains a faithful layperson at Lynworth, UMC in Columbus, Ohio, but he is also the Mission Together Coordinator for the General Board of Global Ministries. His role is to lead mission teams to Laos. Rabb has been on mission trips all over the world, but Laos holds a special place in his heart. It was a country his brother, Clinton, dearly loved. “When Clinton died, I needed to go to Laos,” Rabb said, “I needed to discover what he loved about the country. I also figured there were people there who loved him, and I needed to discover what he meant to them.”
Rabb has undertaken the grueling 25 hours of travel to Laos eight times, including accompanying Bishop Scott Jones on his first trip to the country. (In addition to his role as Bishop of the Texas Annual Conference, Jones also serves as the Bishop of the United Methodist mission in Laos and Thailand.) As Rabb leads teams to Laos, he does so as part of the In Mission Together 50/50 Partnership-Covenant program which seeks to approach ministry as a partnership between United Methodists and Laotians in order to empower long-term success. The approach not only encourages accountability and responsibility on the part of Laotians, it fosters an invaluable sense of dignity and hope to a people struggling to survive with scant resources.
“We can come in and give short-term aide, but at the end of the day the people are responsible,” Rabb said. “Our first response to ‘want to give’ easy. It is harder to spend time with people and figure out how to have a relationship so that everyone involved learns and grows.”
Rabb will work closely with Bishop Jones to continue to build relationships between United Methodists in the United States and their Laotian brothers and sisters. As Rabb travels throughout the tiny, landlocked Asian country his brother, Clinton, so loved, God has been kind to allow him to discover his brother over and over again. “As many times as I have been there,” Rabb reflects, “I will go to some remote area and meet someone who says, ‘Oh, I knew your brother.’”
“Then he or she will pull out a photo, and there he is.”
Texas Conference UMC Lao Mission Trip September 2 to 15, 2018
Purpose of the Trip – To engage mission leaders in the Texas Conference UMC congregations who want to know the Lao Methodists and their work. To develop a long-lasting connection between churches in the Texas Conference and Lao Methodist.
Who Can Go – Methodist Clergy or Lay Members who are willing to be a leader in promoting the connection between the Texas Conference and Lao Congregations and institutions.
When Will We Go – From the evening of Sunday September 2 to Saturday September 14.
What Will We Do – We will meet with Lao Church Leaders, learn about the life in the Lao Methodist Church, explore mission projects in Laos, visit local congregations, and explore potential connection with Lao Medical and Educational Institutions. Explore the culture and travel to the major cities of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Xiangkhouang. Local travel will be by van.
Cost of the Mission Trip – The cost for all expenses is $3,200. This will pay for air fare, local travel, hotels, food and miscellaneous expenses like visas. Local congregations are encouraged to assist travelers who don’t have the financial means for the entire cost.
Health and Safety – Contact your physician and review the vaccination recommendations of the Center for Disease Control at https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/laos In Laos threats to personal safety are low. Nevertheless, it is important to travel with companions and secure valuables. When traveling in the van the roads are curvy and some people use Dramamine to avoid motion sickness.
Who Will Lead the Trip – Joel Rabb, a Lao – In Mission Together Consultant for Global Ministries will lead the trip.
Last Day to Make Trip Payment – We must have received payment for the trip and a copy of your passport by July 6th.
Lao History and Culture – A brief history of Laos can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laos
Methodists in Laos – Even in the face of great challenges, the churches in Laos are growing at a steady rate. Led by 69 committed pastors and lay leaders, the mission has a well-organized national council, or governing structure, which effectively coordinates and administers the mission. The Laos Mission Initiative hopes to be officially registered with the government and develop in all 17 Laotian provinces by 2020, and establish 100 churches and other faith communities by 2017. The mission currently has a significant presence in eight provinces and has 48 churches and 24 faith communities.
The mission focuses on congregational development, economic development, educational ministries, and leadership development. This includes training for church planters and equipping leaders and pastors for effective leadership in spiritual development and church administration, and rural and community leadership. Leadership development also includes providing scholarships to young people to acquire secondary, vocational, or college education in various fields of study. Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Texas Conference UMC provides episcopal oversight for the mission.