Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Children’s Blessing

Volunteers and staff set up the church’s gym with tables loaded with washcloths, toothbrushes, combs and various other supplies needed for the health kits. Photo: Jo Swayne.

By Jo Swayne*

October 14, 2014—Since January of this year, the children of First United Methodist Church (FUMC) in Hays, Kansas, have been “Feeding the Fish” during offertory. Their donated change was designated to help purchase supplies for health kits for UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). On August 24, all their faithful giving paid off!

Volunteers and staff set up the church’s gym with tables loaded with washcloths, toothbrushes, combs and various other supplies needed for the health kits. Because FUMC has sent members on several mission trips to UMCOR Sager Brown Depot, there were volunteers present who had firsthand knowledge of how to assemble the kits. UMCOR Sager Brown is one of UMCOR’s two relief-supply depots, and one of eight in the United Methodist relief-supply system.

Since January, the children of First United Methodist Church in Hays, Kansas, have been “Feeding the Fish” during offertory. Photo: Jo Swayne. 

In all, 28 children, who range in age from kindergarten through sixth grade, listened to LaVaughn Hull and Ruth Mullen, FUMC members and UMCOR volunteers, as they talked about their mission team’s trips from Hays to Baldwin, Louisiana. They shared that the team traveled more than 1,000 miles to get to UMCOR Sager Brown Depot, showed the kids pictures of the kit-assembly process, and talked about how the kits are packaged and shipped all over the world. 

LaVaughn and Ruth went into detail, explaining how precise the contents of each of the health kits need to be to ensure that the correct number of every item is properly included. Then 15 adult volunteers, half of whom had been to UMCOR Sager Brown Depot, supervised the children as they each made a health kit. After wrapping the towel carefully around all the supplies and putting them into a gallon-size baggie, the kids learned that leaning on the baggie lets out as much air as possible!

In the end, when all the towels were folded and Band-aids counted, we had assembled 60 health kits!

During the worship service, children who had been seated throughout the sanctuary were invited to come forward and place their health kit on the altar for a special blessing.  It was a very moving experience for everyone!

*Jo Swayne is the Children’s Ministry director at First United Methodist Church in Hays, Kansas. You can learn more about how relief-supply kits help provide care for the most vulnerable people during times of crisis by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Prayer for New College Bird Rededication

New College Bird is a 175-year-old Methodist academic institution that was severely damaged during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It has been rebuilt and today, September 9, 2014, it is being rededicated. The Rev. James Gulley, an UMCOR and Global Ministries consultant, offers a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!
Today we remember with thanks those who came to Haiti in your mission and shared the vision of education for a newly liberated people!

When African people were captured, sold and enslaved in Hispaniola for 300 years, you, O Lord, suffered with them.
When your African people rose up and cast off the shackles of their enslavement, you, O Lord, empowered them to cry out: "Enough!"  
When your African people struggled to understand each other, you gave them the Creole language.

When your Haitian people strove for knowledge, you provided the first missionary teachers, Catts and Brown.
When your people needed schools, you sent them Rev. Mark Bird and other teachers to found the first Methodist College.
For more than 175 years, (New) College Bird has been a beacon of light, providing education to thousands.

Withstanding the constant onslaught of seasonal storms,
(New) College Bird has risen twice from the ashes of two destructive fires,
and now rises again from an earthquake which shattered its structures
but did not snuff out the desire for learning.
Once again you have enlivened the spirit, imagination and determination of your Methodist people in Haiti and their partners to rebuild.

As New College Bird is rededicated once again,
may your Spirit of Truth continue to bring light and hope
to students, teachers, administrators and all
who work to bring knowledge, skill and wisdom to those who must build Haiti anew.

As you continue to walk with your people in Haiti, together we proclaim:
“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!”

James L. Gulley
September 10, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Young Children Raise UMCOR Awareness

Children at The Chapel’s KaBoom Camp raised $1,000 to purchase UMCOR cleaning buckets.

By Anne Bosarge*

This summer, children at The Chapel’s KaBoom Camp Vacation Bible School are exploring Jesus’ love through science and raising awareness about the disaster relief efforts of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) around the globe.

During this four-day adventure, the children focus on how high, deep, long, and wide is Christ’s love for us, while exploring science concepts like explosions, light, wild weather, and chemical transformation. Each night they heard how UMCOR expresses that love to others by responding to national and international disasters as they watched a video that explored UMCOR’s cleanup and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, the Oklahoma tornados, Hurricane Sandy, and the earthquake in Haiti.

So far this summer, the children at the elementary camp have raised $1,000 to purchase cleaning buckets for disaster survivors, and later this month, the preschoolers will have another chance to raise even more! The children were also excited to see five-gallon buckets line the stage as they displayed one bucket for every $55 raised—the cost of filling one bucket with cleanup supplies.

*Anne Bosarge is the Director of Discipleship at The Chapel.

The Chapel is a growing United Methodist Congregation in Brunswick, Georgia. Under the leadership of Jay Hanson, Senior Pastor, The Chapel seeks to provide environments where people can encounter God and fall in love with Jesus. They do this through innovative and creative programs like KaBoom Camp Vacation Bible School. Visit The Chapel’s resource page for more information.  

If you’d like to learn how you can do KaBoom Camp Vacation Bible School at your church, contact anne@thechapelbrunswick.com for curriculum and implementation instructions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Green shoots, deep roots

Six months after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, areas in Leyte Province are much greener, showing signs of hope. Photo: Jack Amick

By Rev. Jack Amick*
On my recent visit to the Yolanda-affected area of Leyte, Philippines, I couldn’t help but notice how green things had become. It was green when I visited in January, but not this green. Such a contrast to the landscape that met me in November, 10 days after Typhoon Haiyan (locally called Typhoon Yolanda) made landfall. Then, everything was brown and dark. Brown, with most of the vegetation killed from the salt-water assault of the storm surge and the strong winds that flung the deadly brew of mud, salt, flotsam and jetsam far up the hills; dark, from the pervasive lack of electricity.

Now, six months later, green is the dominant color. Gone are many of the truncated coconut palm trees, cut down and milled using chainsaws. This fresh “coco” lumber, not the best suited for construction, is, nonetheless, often used to build temporary structures. Remaining, are live coconut trees, not as many as before, certainly, but topped with healthy, if not completely full crowns of palm fronds. In one area, the grass had come back so tenaciously, that a young man was wielding a gas-powered weed whip to cut the plants back from three feet to three inches. In other fields, rice plants, green but clearly topped with abundant heads of grain, danced in the gentle breeze. Teams of people were harvesting rice and spreading their bounty on the road to dry in the hot sun.

There was another type of greening happening, in American parlance. Just about everywhere, in the towns and villages and along many roads, people were selling things. My colleague, UMCOR manager of international disaster response activities, Francesco Paganini, noted that “the human being is a deeply capitalist creature. People outside a refugee camp will cut bars of soap into four pieces and sell them at the edge of the camp within a week of its establishment.” But the enterprise that we saw in and around Tacloban and Tanauan was much more far-reaching than slicing up soap. Everything from gasoline to comic books to mangoes to plastic housewares was available at the roadside.

The mayor of Tanauan, Pel Tecson, is a former regional executive of a multinational corporation, and it is not surprising that the entrepreneurial spirit trickles down in this area. UMCOR has engaged in a new partnership with this municipality to bring durable housing to the barangay (or community) of Cologcog. We have taken the time to work with the municipal and barangay leadership to account for issues of equity, durability, economics and community resilience.

As a child, I remember the Easter hymn that begins “Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain….” There are certainly “green shoots” of hope rising in UMCOR’s work in the wake of the Yolanda disaster. Six months later, those closest to the work in this area—myself and Francesco Paganini, providing managerial oversight from New York; Malaya Conejas, our on-the-ground program officer in Calogcog; Toots Modesto, the barangay captain; and Mayor Tecson and the city engineers, have seen the following “green shoots”:

Green Shoots, Deep Roots
• After important discussions between the Tanauan Municipal Council and UMCOR staff, the Mayor of Tanauan and the Calogcog Barangay Captain signed a Memorandum of Agreement with UMCOR on April 29, 2014. This historic partnership between UMCOR and the local municipality allows UMCOR to proceed with the building of the first of more than 200 houses that we expect to build in this community. This green shoot was preceded by months of listening to the needs of the community and local leadership alike.

• Using a model plan of a core house designed to withstand both wind and water, Tanauan City engineers have begun tailoring that design to the individual property of 10 Yolanda survivors who lost their homes. More designs will follow soon on the heels of these 10. These houses are intended to be core homes, to which the homeowner can easily make improvements when they are able to do so and have the necessary additional resources.

• An UMCOR project office (a tent, actually, like those in the old TV series “MASH”) was established right in the barangay of Calogcog, affording the program officer easy access to the 200-plus families living in this community, and vice-versa. The citizens of Calogcog have had lots of questions, and our staff is readily available to answer them. The program officer makes regular visits to people in their temporary homes (tents, tarps and the like) to gather project-related information, but also to build relationships with the beneficiaries. Several meetings have been held with the community to share concerns, discuss next steps, and keep moving forward together.
The Rev. Jack Amick examines the cement blocks produced through partner GlobalMedic. Photo courtesy of Jack Amick

• UMCOR has identified international partner GlobalMedic as a logistics coordinator for the project. UMCOR has partnered with GlobalMedic around the world and found them to be very skilled at expediting shipments of disaster response materials. GlobalMedic has established production of cement blocks in a nearby village which will supply the Calogcog project with high quality press blocks. At the same time, this activity will result in some income generation.

• Also, in partnership with GlobalMedic, UMCOR has distributed Rainfresh water purifiers and provided training on their safe operation and maintenance to the community of Calogcog. Together, we will be providing water purifiers to other communities in the region.

• UMCOR has completed intake interviews with approximately a third of the families in Calogcog. It is our goal that everyone in the community whose home was destroyed will receive a core house. Those who have more income will pay for skilled labor for their house and the house of another beneficiary.• Improvements are being made to a nearby warehouse, so that it will be ready to receive building supplies in the near future.

When Francesco and I visited with Rev. Lelito “Lito” Luana, the pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in nearby Tacloban, I noted how green everything looked to me and that there were now “green shoots” with our shelter project, too. Francesco reminded me that those “green shoots” were the results of “deep roots”—of listening, planning and hard work by many, many people. These “green shoots” are signs of the resurrection in the community of Calogcog. They came by taking the time to plant “deep roots” of partnership in the last several months. We know that our presence will not be permanent—our office is a tent, and our staff is light—but we want the project to be nonetheless rooted in relationships of trust.

In addition to food aid, UMCOR has responded to the disaster with strategies that would result in permanent healing, not just band-aids; sustainable solutions, not temporary fixes. UMCOR’s strategy in Calogcog might be called “durable disaster response.” Where water was needed, UMCOR provided purifiers that, with proper maintenance, would last at least five years. Where shelter was required, UMCOR skipped the temporary strategy employed by so many humanitarian agencies of providing tarps and tents and “kits” of building supplies, and opted to take the time to “build back better.” We chose to work with everyone who lost a home, not just the worst off.

We realize that this strategy can’t be applied everywhere, not even to every community affected by Yolanda. We know we can’t fix everything. There is much work to be done and many local and international partners ready to do the work. But we believe that we can fix one community and, in that community, we can work together with disaster survivors and local officials to “build back better”—not just houses but lives.

It is my hope that, in a year, we will clearly see the fruit of these labors. But, for now, it is the Easter season in Calogcog and, now, the green shoots of hope are rising.

*Rev. Jack Amick is UMCOR assistant general secretary for International Disaster Response. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Zimbabwe: Empowering Communities to Fight Malaria

Communities learn what they can do to fight malaria, with support from UMCOR and Imagine No Malaria. Photo credit: Margot Bokanga

By Margot Bokanga*

Against the backdrop of the green hills of Manicaland province, three villages of Ward 22 gathered recently to receive mosquito repellent to protect their loved ones from the current outbreak of malaria in Chimanimani District. This distribution happened during my first field visit to UMCOR’s country office in Zimbabwe. After formal introductions and welcomes by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and UMCOR staff, a prayer was said to bless the day.The prayer is a customary gesture to ask for protection upon the community, only after which the distribution began, headed by community health workers and supported by the Ward 22 Muchadziya Clinic staff.

These communities are currently above the malaria threshold set by the Ministry of Health, which indicates that there is an outbreak of malaria. The communities are aware of the exposure times and risks that malaria poses to their environment, to their ability to earn a living, and to their families’ health. Through conversations, they acknowledged the precautions they are taking. They demonstrated their understanding of how to apply the repellant in order to avoid health concerns, such as eye problems, and to maximize protection against mosquitos. This knowledge check before each distribution is critical as Manicaland is a malaria-burdened province. The anti-malaria lotion, MozLotion, provided by UMCOR is coupled with insecticide-treated bed nets to help families protect themselves both indoors and outdoors.

Mosquito repellant, together with insecticide-treated bed nets, help families ward off malaria. Photo credit: Margot Bokanga

I approached a young mother carrying a boy no older than five and asked if she was present during the UMCOR distribution last September, prior to the most recent outbreak. She said she was and that she had been using the MozLotion, which lasts a family of five about three months. “We diligently used the lotion, and no one in our household has fallen ill by malaria since September,” she said in the Shona language.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of dedicated community members, more than 100, who were present, some of them arriving at the very last minutes of the distribution to pick up the repellent for neighbors, friends, and the elderly. UMCOR Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani team had successfully mobilized the communities, relying on schools, clinics, and ward leaders to get the word out about the time and location of the distribution.

Since 2011, UMCOR Zimbabwe has worked in close partnership with local and community stakeholders to design programs that complement those of the Zimbabwe National Malaria Control Program. The aim is to eradicate the disease here by 2015. Through the training of community health workers, doctors, and nurses in district clinics, distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and repellent such as MozLotion, UMCOR is targeting communities burdened by malaria.

Margot Bokanga poses with a little child during a recent Zimbabwe field visit. Photo credit: James Rollins

This is where, in my humble observation, lies a key element of UMCOR’s malaria strategy in Chimanimani: share knowledge with the communities and support them through social marketing, which allows them to purchase mosquito repellant at low cost.

On this particular day, the community showed up in large numbers for the general distribution funded by Imagine No Malaria. As the rainy season will continue until the end of April, UMCOR, too, will continue to be present for these communities and to offer support to the clinics in the district.

*Margot Bokanga is UMCOR program manager covering Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New Hope and Life

Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan receive food packages from the United Methodist Committee on Relief during a distribution in Tacloban, Philippines. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

By Rev. J. Denise Honeycutt
Deputy General Secretary, United Methodist Committe on Relief (UMCOR)

As an international humanitarian relief and development agency, “UMCOR works to strengthen and transform people and communities.” I love our vision statement. And the way we do it is by being with people in the midst of their suffering, in the midst of their crisis, in the midst of their finding themselves on the margins, for whatever reason. We seek to walk alongside those persons, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, because we know that what Jesus often did was to bring healing and hope. What we see in the very symbol of what it means to be Christian—the symbol of the cross—is that out of death and destruction, God brings life and new hope. And that’s what we seek—to partner with God in that new hope and life for people.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Blessing for the People of Chile

A view of a waterfall in Chile. Photo: Linda Unger
When the ground shakes and the seas crash around you,

May you find firm footing in God’s strong love;

When the world wiggles and wobbles around you,

May you regain your balance through your care for others;

When the rumble and crash of disaster echoes in your ears,
May you listen and hear the still small voice of God.

When you start to rebuild your life,

May you know the presence of God,

In ways that are surprising, new, and real.

And, through the present and tangible love of others,

May you never forget that

Absolutely nothing,

Can separate you from

The love of God.

Rev. Jack Amick, Assistant General Secretary, International Disaster Response,
United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)