Tommy Webster felt it was God’s calling to move from Virginia to Springfield United Methodist Church to accept the music and worship leader position in July 2007. He and his fiancée, Katie, also a minister, looked forward to serving the well-established multi-generational congregation.
But the married couple now believes God had a different reason for their call — to bless them with the love and support they would need when their infant daughter, Olive, was born prematurely in June with a heart condition.
“Springfield United Methodist understands community and family,” Katie said. “We thought we were here to minister to the congregation, but they are ministering to us.”
That support has come in the form of love and encouragement from church members eager to help one of their own. But it also comes as financial support from the church’s local mission committee to help pay for uncovered medical bills and traveling expenses to Egleston’s Children Hospital in Atlanta, where Olive stayed for the first six weeks of her life. Church and community interest prompted the mission board to form “Team Olive” to handle the large outpouring of donations and fundraisers offered to the young ministers.
“At first, everyone was going in different directions,” said Mike Frew, ‘Team Olive’ committee chairman. “Then, Brother Ben (Martin, the pastor) asked us to organize all support events under one umbrella.”
Frew, a relatively new member of SUMC, said the congregation’s enthusiasm and willingness to help has been impressive.
“Our retired members took charge of the garage sale,” he said, referring to the Sept. 27 event held at the church’s Family Life Center that yielded over $6,000 for support. Volunteers worked for weeks in advance, collecting, organizing and marking saleable items. “Everyone did something,” Frew said. “Some made calls to request donations; others baked raisin bread, cakes, and all kind of homemade items to sell.”
Volunteers also prepared more than 800 chicken dinners sold after the garage sale that brought in $5,600 to be used for Olive.
“Everyone gives to something like this,” said Bubba Harrelson, a SUMC member who has cooked chicken for church and community events for several years. Along with an experienced team of volunteers, Harrelson said he cooked the 800 chicken halves for the “Team Olive” luncheon.
“It’s all about doing what we can do to help that baby,” he said.
The Websters appreciate all the work performed by volunteers that has yielded monetary support for their daughter. But more than money, they appreciate the love from church members and friends that continue to help them through the rough times since Olive’s birth — especially since their families are not local.
“There were many lonely nights in the ICU and the Ronald McDonald House,” said Tommy, who drove back and forth from Springfield to Egleston the last four weeks of Olive’s stay, even though Martin did not expect him to work during Olive’s recuperation.
But Tommy wanted to work. He found that the music ministry at SUMC helped him during those emotionally draining times. Besides a sense of normalcy, the ministry gave him the chance to be “a good steward” and give back some of his time and talent. But he is quick to point out that his greatest concern during Olive’s hospitalization was to be available if his wife and baby daughter needed him.
“If Katie called, I’d drop everything and leave,” he said, expressing his affection and sense of duty toward his family. The couple believes their devotion to each other and Christ’s devotion to them will sustain their daughter’s future — the way it has sustained her since birth.
Born prematurely at Memorial University Health Center, Olive was flown by helicopter to Egleston within hours of her birth for her first heart surgery. Doctors replaced the missing artery that runs from her heart to her lungs, and also repaired two holes in her heart.
A shunt was inserted into Olive’s tiny heart to keep the holes open and blood flowing from her heart through her body. The shunt, or temporary patch, hopefully will sustain her until she’s big enough to handle bypass surgery to correct her two conditions, at about six to nine months. Oct. 9, Olive underwent a heart catheterization to show the status of the shunt.
“She’ll have more bypass surgeries around the ages of 5, 12 and 17,” said Katie, adding she will have at least five additional surgeries throughout her life.
“The money is helpful but it’s not the best part,” said Katie. “Growing up in a loving church family, that’s what matters the most.”
Katie said it will be interesting to watch “God’s hand on Olive,” adding, she feels no anger about her heart condition.
“We live in a world where bad things happen to everyone,” Katie said. “Tommy and I have a remarkable peace that God is in control. We believe that Olive is blessed — she’s the child we wanted and the child God wants for us.”