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Pastor helps hurricane victims rebuild

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Ann Fiore
January 20, 2008
— From the ruins of a hurricane, the Rev. George Calhoun unearthed something precious.

It was a lesson as old as the Bible, but it came with new understanding and a fresh urgency for the Milton pastor: If you love God, you must love your neighbor.


“You can talk to them about God, but they won’t know until you show it. Talk is cheap,” Calhoun said thoughtfully as he reflected on Katrina, the deadly hurricane that tore up Louisiana and Mississippi in August 2005.


“Living out your faith is much more than going to church,” he said.


As senior pastor at Seventh Day Baptist Church, Calhoun always believed that. But did he always act on it?


“Probably not,” he admitted.


Katrina reinforced that lesson in a big way.


About three weeks after the hurricane, some church women approached Calhoun with an idea: Stoughton Trailers would donate a trailer if the congregation would gather items for hurricane victims. Calhoun got a list from the nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse, and residents stuffed the trailer top to bottom.


Samaritan’s Purse persisted. Would Seventh Day Baptist send a group to unload trucks? Could it spare volunteers to help gut homes?


Well, sure.


That was six trips ago. In February, church volunteers will travel again to Kiln, Miss.—Packers quarterback Brett Favre’s hometown—to help with rebuilding.


Since that first trip south, Calhoun has been on a mission in his own community.


He restarted the Rock County chaplains program, which provides clergy assistance to first responders and victims of tragedies. Last February, he and other church members kicked off a new ministry—Hands of God—to help local folks with home repairs.


“We tried to bring what we learned in Mississippi, bring it north,” Calhoun said. “We have hurricane victims here; it’s just that they’re less visible.”


Volunteerism is expected at Calhoun’s church, and he estimates that 80 percent to 90 percent of his 300-member congregation helps in some way. That free labor runs a community food pantry, kids’ ministries and a shut-in visitation program. Programs for young parents and caregivers are in the works.


Helping the hurricane victims opened a lot of people’s eyes.


“They learned more being down there for a week than in three years of me preaching and teaching to them,” Calhoun said.


Love God. Love your neighbor.


“When you go out and do it, all of a sudden it makes sense.”


Tom Gilland, Milton’s recently retired police chief, has known Calhoun for years, but they’ve grown closer through the local police chaplaincy program. Calhoun provides a calming presence at crime scenes and has offered counsel to drug addicts and people who have attempted suicide.


He’s compassionate, thorough and decisive, Gilland said.


“Anything, everything we’ve ever needed from him, he’s come through 110 percent,” he said.


Calhoun, who coaches soccer in his spare time, sees himself as a coach of people. Rather than enabling folks who are down, he wants to teach them how to help themselves and use their talents to the fullest.


It’s a team effort, he insists.


Calhoun hopes to organize a gathering of community leaders to discuss local needs and how to meet them. After his experience with Hurricane Katrina, he believes most people want to help others.


“They just don’t have an avenue.”


THE REV. GEORGE CALHOUN
Age: 50.
Community: Milton.
Occupation: Senior pastor at Seventh Day Baptist Church, Milton. Calhoun has been with the church for 18 years. He was ordained in 1987 but has been involved in ministry since 1981.
Family: Wife, Lannette; sons, Ben, 26, and Joshua, 23, both of Elgin, Ill.; and daughter, Sarah, 25, of Madison.
In his spare time: He coaches junior varsity soccer, runs marathons (nine so far), offers an athletic conditioning program at Milton High School and is finishing his doctoral studies in church and community leadership at Denver Seminary. His thesis focuses on how loving God and loving your neighbor helps one grow as a person.
Four things that are most important: “Honoring God in all I do. That’s No. 1. Family. Staying healthy—mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. And caring for others, helping others.”

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