Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Partnering in Disaster Response

(Left to right) Juan Salazar, president of Ministerio Social Methodista (MISOM), an ONEMI regional representative, Nancy Carmona, UMCOR’s translator, Melissa Crutchfield, assistant general secretary, UMCOR’s International Disaster Response, Tom Hazelwood, assistant general secretary, US Disaster Response, UMCOR and ONEMI Regional Director Guillermo de la Maza Ramirez.

I traveled to Chile recently and helped lead a disaster preparedness training for the Methodist Church of Chile’s “UMCOR”: Equipo Metodista de Acción Humanitaria (EMAH). The three-day workshop focused on the basics of disaster response and humanitarian standards, as well as networking with local partners.

A highlight of the trip for me was two days spent with Gobierno De Chile, Oficina Nacional De Emergencia, Ministerio Del Interior (ONEMI) or Chile’s National Office of Emergency, Department of the Interior which is their version of “FEMA.” We got an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at how ONEMI works on the national, regional and local levels.

We visited the Emergency Operations Center in Santiago, which runs 24/7 when there is an event anywhere in the country. The video screens, work stations, computers and phones are very much like any here in the U.S. In fact, their system is based on recommendations from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

In the coastal town of Valparaiso, under the guidance of Regional Director Guillermo de la Maza Ramirez, we visited many sites and departments that all fall under ONEMI. We met with teams responsible for monitoring tsunamis and pollution content in the ocean off the coast of Chile. It was amazing to see how they could take a sample of polluted ocean water and trace it back to a specific ocean-going vessel. We visited the Valparaiso Port Authority, where they briefed us on operations and plans underway which will make it a world-class port.

Unlike the U.S., emergency services, such as ambulances, police and fire service, also fall under the jurisdiction of ONEMI. We were privileged to visit the operation centers for each and meet the men and women who answer the call to protect and respond when emergencies happen, no matter the cause.

Our second day ended on a boat ride with the coast guard stationed in Valparaiso, and, as we crashed through the waves, I reflected on all that I had seen and experienced. To me, one of the most impressive aspects was the fact that Chile’s fire departments and coast guard are all volunteer. From the highest ranking officers to the newest beginner, all who risk their lives to fight fires and provide daring sea rescue are non-paid volunteers. When we spoke of the use of volunteers and their value to UMCOR’s ministry of disaster response, the people of Chile knew and understood perfectly. They know what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ when there is trouble.

I am excited about our emerging partnership between UMCOR and EMAH. Our brothers and sisters are eager to engage in the ministry of disaster response. The Methodist Church of Chile has tremendous capacity; it will be a great partner as together we respond to the needs of emergencies throughout Latin America.

By Tom Hazelwood, Assistant General Secretary for US Disaster Response, UMCOR

Friday, December 4, 2009

Save a Life

Patients in the UMCOR-supported Samuteb Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo rest under protective mosquito nets.

Barrett’s brother saved a life last week. Driving in a fierce rain storm, he saw a car hydroplane flip over and end up in a water-filled ditch. Stopping his truck, he ran to the turned-over car and found a young woman driver hanging upside-down by her seatbelt with her head under water. She was frantically trying to unclasp the seatbelt. Kicking out the window, he crawled into the car and held her up enough to ease the pressure on the clasp so that he could set her free. No one else stopped to help.

This week I was meeting with an interagency operations task force for Imagine No Malaria. We spent a good bit of time talking about the urgency of this effort. Children and other vulnerable people are dying at a fast rate from the bite of a mosquito. Malaria is a disease only for those who live in the developing world. The question we kept asking ourselves was “Does anybody care?” I think they do. I hope you do.

As I prepare my Christmas sermon I am considering two titles. “Have You Saved a Life Today?” Or maybe, “Save a Life Today!” When I think of Jesus, a child born on Christmas day, I realize again that we are in the life saving business in the narrowest and broadest sense of the term. Will you join me?

To save a life from malaria, contribute to UMCOR Advance 982009, Community Based Malaria Control Program.

By Sam Dixon, Deputy General Secretary, UMCOR

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wings of Hope Restored

Jacques Akasa Umembudi, a United Methodist missionary pilot for Wings of Caring Aviation, flies a plane over the Congo from Tunda to Kanaga. Image by: Paul Jeffrey

A few minutes into the flight the engine just stopped. The small Cessna piloted by Global Ministries missionary Jacques Akasa Umembudi did not have enough air speed or altitude to glide to a safe landing. Hitting a house and several trees, the plane finally came to a stop. The impact had forced open the small cargo door while wedging the other doors shut. Bleeding badly from a head wound which would require multiple stitches and a couple of weeks in a hospital, Jacques took stock of his four passengers and got them to out of the plane to safety. Although he left frightened, bruised and battered, God flew with Jacques that day.

The Wings of Caring aviation ministry of the Central Congo Conference provides hope and help to thousands of people. Serving as an air ambulance; transport for Bishop Yemba, missionaries, doctors and volunteers; and a supply line enabling emergency medicines, food and other items to be delivered where needed, the loss of the plane was devastating. It was painful to hear Jacques tell the story and show the pictures of that fateful day. It was difficult to imagine the many who would suffer from the loss of help the plane’s crash represented.

God is good. UMCOR, thanks to many donors, was able to direct $150,000 to providing a plane so that Jacques could fly again. A used airframe was purchased from the North Katanga Conference, a rebuilt engine was found, tires and new rubber all around will be purchased, other missionary and volunteer pilot/mechanics have offered their labor to build a “new” plane. Tools and upgrades to the hanger and workshop servicing the plane require additional donations, but God will provide what is needed through his faithful children. The Wings of Caring ministry will take wing once again. It has been an overwhelming experience for Jacques and those of us who know him well.

By Sam Dixon, Deputy General Secretary, UMCOR
Watch a video of Sam Dixon sharing a story about Aviation Ministries.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Making a Difference in the Darkness

Boxes of UMCOR relief supplies are ready for shipping to bring hope to those most in need.
With a small pin light attached to my key chain, I finally found the emergency lantern on a table in the middle of the Depot. It was a routine work day at the new UMCOR West Office in Salt Lake City. However, when the rain came on quickly, accompanied by a strong wind, the electricity was suddenly gone and we all stood in complete darkness; things were anything but routine.

After regrouping, and with lantern in hand, we made our way through the darkness to the volunteer space to take any early lunch. I didn’t see him do it, but one of the volunteers placed the lantern in the middle of the warehouse while we ate. When I walked out into what I knew would be utter darkness, I couldn’t help notice that the one little lantern had shed a light on the entire 22,000 square foot warehouse! The scriptures came alive. I was reminded of the opening of John’s Gospel, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” - John 3b-5

That afternoon became a powerful reminder to me of the invaluable work that takes place here at UMCOR West and at UMCOR Sager Brown. With overwhelming generosity and countless hours of work, volunteers assemble and ready much needed relief supplies which are sent to people in need of light in the midst of the darkness of disaster. Be it a tsunami in Samoa or a typhoon in the Philippines, UMCOR is there to bring the light of Jesus.

As a people of faith, I am convinced that we have been given the wondrous responsibility to continue to spread Christ’s light into the world. With places like UMCOR West and UMCOR Sager Brown, the people of the United Methodist Church are making a difference in the darkness. May God continue to bless us and our calling!

by Brian Diggs, Director UMCOR West Office and Depot, Salt Lake City, Utah

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Long Term Volunteers—Called to Serve

Volunteers at UMCOR Sager Brown prepare and sew material to make school bags.

Howard and I are from the New England Annual Conference and serve on the Board of the Northeast Jurisdiction Volunteers in Mission. We are members and Commissioned Missionaries of the Center Conway United Methodist Church in New Hampshire.
We arrived at UMCOR Sager-Brown on August 9th to begin our nine week stay as Long Term Volunteers. Howard and I settled into our efficiency apartment and unpacked. Monday at breakfast we renewed friendships with the staff and met the team we would be working with. Howard was assigned to work in Facilities – upkeep of the 11 buildings and 20 acre campus, while I was to work in the sewing room at the Depot. After breakfast we went over to the chapel for orientation and Safe Sanctuary training, then off to our work assignments.

This year while at the sewing room, I was responsible for cutting out school bags, making sure they were sewed properly and keeping the sewing machines in working order. In past years, we would cut and sew baby gowns and receiving blankets.

During the time here I have been able to interact with people from many churches and while working share stories of our faith and love of volunteering to help others. I’ve met so many wonderful people - all willing to give of their time and talents. Each week brought in another group of wonderful volunteers all eager to help. One lady at home made quilts for the Linus Project (quilts for children at the local Ronald McDonald home) and she asked if she could go thru my trash and pull out scraps of material so she could make quilts. After she left I received an email saying that because of the scrap material she was able to make an additional 12 quilts – what a wonderful way to recycle. The following week a lady asked if she could have the threads and end pieces from cutting and the scraps from the serger machines – she would use them as stuffing to make dog and cat pads for use at the local animal shelter. Another wonderful example of recycling from what would have been our trash.

Howard this year worked around the campus doing the many things that were needed to keep the buildings in working order – changing filters, light bulbs, painting and any other jobs assigned.

We have been serving here at Sager-Brown for the past 10 years. The people and the campus have a special place in our hearts and we are very happy to know that we have been invited back next year to serve again as Long Term Volunteers.

We are called to serve. When we look to serve, to make a difference in this world, lives are changed, including our own. The world listens with their eyes not their ears.

By Howard and Joan McGlauflin, North Conway, New Hampshire

Friday, October 9, 2009

Community Health

The parking lot outside of Christian Medical College Hospital becomes an overflowing waiting area as people wait to be seen by a doctor.

While visiting the Christian Medical College (CMC) Hospital in Vellore, India, I experienced many amazing things. The enormous numbers of people arriving daily for treatment and care, or to visit a relative by every conveyance possible was truly amazing. Standing in front of the emergency room entrance I was amazed at how orderly and peaceful it was as people waiting to be seen somehow knew where to go and what to do.

Over 5,000 people a day are seen at this facility. CMC Hospital serves as the base for an extensive outreach program that takes medicine to the people in over 300 local villages through a comprehensive program of community health education, prevention and treatment.

The philosophy behind the work of UMCOR Health is this same strategy. Education and prevention is much more efficient and effective than just letting nature take its course. UMCOR Health has embarked on a significant training program for community health workers and mid-wives to serve villages in Africa. Community health workers are recruited from their home villages, trained and re-trained to provide accurate public health knowledge, improve the immediate treatment of injuries, assist in the birthing process and recognize when a condition requires referral to a clinic or hospital. Community-based primary health care works.

Dr. Suranjan Bhattacharji,, the Director of the CMC Hospital, told this story of one way in which their community based primary health care system has enabled better treatment of patients in remote villages. The community health worker collects a specimen requiring laboratory analysis from a patient. The health worker gives it to a student trained to handle this responsibility who takes it with her to her school several kilometers away. She leaves it with the tea vendor outside the school. When the teachers break for tea, one who has come from the city picks up the specimen and carries it with him, dropping it off at the lab, when he returns to the city. The analysis is performed, the diagnosis made, a call is made to the community health worker, and medicine is sent by the reverse procedure, if necessary. In 24 hours, a patient in a remote village is ministered unto.

As UMCOR works in places near and far, new ways to serve those in need are being continuously discovered. God is sending United Methodists on an amazing journey as we learn new ways to help each other.

By the Rev. Sam Dixon, Deputy General Secretary, UMCOR

Friday, October 2, 2009

Spirit of Volunteerism

Weary survivors of Typoon Ketana find shelter.

Amidst the calamity, the spirit of volunteerism is very much alive in the Philippines. Many responded to the call of helping those affected by Typhoon Ketsana. Different organizations and civil society groups have come together to express their solidarity by donating goods and kinds to the survivors of Typhoon Ketsana. Many have offered their time in repacking goods in warehouses of sponsoring institutions. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines of which the United Methodist Church is member, also joined the relief efforts in the marginalized areas of the metropolis. Relief goods were distributed to Payatas in Quezon city.

Students from the Union Theological Seminary (UTS) have also come together to express their sympathy for survivors by voluntarily participating in the relief efforts spearheaded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Believing that human suffering should be alleviated, the seminarians and some of the members of the UTS community offered their time to participate in repacking of goods. According to Ms. Ciony Ayo-Eduarte, office manager of UMCOR Philippines, the response was overwhelming when she made an announcement for people to participate in the relief efforts during the chapel service. Around 30 people voluntarily went to UMCOR depot (office) to participate in the repacking of goods to be distributed in Pampanga, Laguna and Bulacan.

During the orientation at UMCOR depot (office), Ms. Eduarte reiterated the need for people to be prepared as another disaster is yet to come. "As long as there is a calamity, whether human made or natural, UMCOR will continue to respond with open hearts and open minds to all people,"she said.

By Nony Eduarte, husband of Ciony Ayo-Eduarte, office manager, UMCOR Philippines

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“The Woman Who Couldn’t Say No”

A parking lot becomes a waiting area for patients waiting to be seen by doctors at the Christian Medical College Emergency Room in Vellore, India

Dr. Suranjan Bhattacharji, director of the Christian Medical College Hospital in Vellore, India met the UMCOR team shortly after our arrival at the Guest House on the campus of the medical school. Dr. Cherian Thomas, the head of UMCOR Health and leader of the team that also included Dr. Peter Fasan, dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences at Africa University and Niels French from the Methodist Hospital System in Memphis had come to Vellore to discuss ways in which this mission hospital could assist the fruition of the dream to start a United Methodist Medical School at Africa University. A secondary outcome was to make a connection with various departments within the hospital to see if it was possible for the hospital to provide some additional training for doctor/nurse teams from Africa. The trip was very successful with much information shared and commitments made. Another step along the journey of significantly improving the United Methodist Church health care systems in Africa was taken.

As Dr. Suranjan welcomed us that night he reminded us of the beginnings of the Christian Medical College and the Hospital as he told the story of Dr. Ida Scudder, “the woman who couldn’t say no.” Ida Scudder was the daughter of an American missionary couple in Tindivanam, India. In school and in America, enjoying a full and active life filled with activities with her friends, Ida had no desire to spend her life as a missionary. Visiting her parents in India, Ida was busily writing letters to her friends back home when she was interrupted by a knock on the door.
A man had come to seek her help with his young wife who was experiencing a very difficult labor. Ida explained that she was not a doctor, her father was, and she didn’t know what to do. She urged the man to let her father come and attend to his wife. He refused her offer with great sadness as his culture would not permit his wife to be seen by a male doctor. In a little while, another man came pleading for help. Later, another man also came. Three visitors, three pleas for help, three refusals to allow her father to see their wives—three preventable deaths.

Ida began to hear the voice of God calling here to become a missionary doctor in India. She couldn’t say no. She had to serve the women of India. Graduating from medical school she moved to Vellore where she began her work in a one room clinic where she lived. With the determination that only comes from God, she met challenge after challenge and with God’s help overcame them all. Today, the CMC Hospital serves an average of 1,900 in patients and more than 5,000 outpatients a day. It is an incredible site as people come from all over the country to be treated at this great place. It shows what can be done when we don’t say “no” to God.

Dr. Scudder expressed the vision of the hospital like this: “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” For the CMC Hospital it is a true today as it was at its beginning. By sharing this vision, it becomes possible for we United Methodists to achieve our goal to significantly improve the health of the poor and the most vulnerable through the Global Health Initiative.

By the Rev. Sam Dixon, Deputy General Secretary for UMCOR

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What’s it Like to Host a Refugee Family?

The Bellou family, Ruth Egger, Pastor Pam Wagner and members of Spirit of Hope UMC.
In April, 2009, our pastor, Pam Wagner of Spirit of Hope United Methodist Church in Phoenix, Ariz., received an invitation to attend a refugee resettlement meeting. Two of us from our mission committee attended. That was the beginning of the most rewarding, difficult, and blessed project we had undertaken. We are a small church with about 150 members, but consider ourselves big warriors for Christ.

After approval from the congregation, a special work committee was formed to accomplish our goal of bringing a refugee family to the point of self-assurance and independence.

The family we assisted was the Bellou family of seven from the Ivory Coast who had spent the last seven years as refugees in Ghana. They ranged in age from two to 44 years of age. We were privileged to help celebrate the two year-old’s third birthday, his first in a country of freedom.

Our first task was to collect furnishings for a two bedroom apartment, as well as clothing and food. Our requests for assistance went beyond our church family to include our places of work and personal friends. What a profound sense of God’s presence through this part of the mission. The logistics of acquiring the necessities for seven people in a short time was daunting, but God provided. He opened doors we were unaware of. We received a donation toward a one bedroom apartment, plus substantial monetary gifts from unsuspected sources. Moving everything into the apartment and organizing furniture was a huge task, but thankfully, we had the assistance of many eager workers from inside and outside our church family.

The big day arrived. On May 14, 2009 the Bellou family arrived and our team joined to greet them at the airport. They were thrilled with their new ‘digs’ and relished their first meal that women from our committee had prepared for them. Two days later we took the entire family on an instructional bus ride. We went to a grocery store and a clothing store and had a grand time watching them take in and select from more than they had imagined possible. This gave us a better insight to the family and what they had been through. We were certainly humbled by the bounty present in our lives that we have taken for granted.

What was the high point of the day? It came when the Bellou family asked if they could attend our church on Sunday. For weeks thereafter, we provided two cars to pick them up for church and two more cars to take them home again. We had a welcoming Sunday where the family was greeted warmly by church members and received special prayers and blessings from Pastor Pam.

The following weeks were filled with lessons in shopping for food and clothing and staying within a budget. One of our duties was to teach them how to operate a stove, microwave, coffee maker, dishwasher, laundry appliances, TV, and all things electronic. Many times we heard them say ‘Everything is automatic here’! But with each new accomplishment we got to see their joy followed by profound gratitude. Over the weeks, we slowly withdrew from their lives, leaving them to be totally independent and able to experience that feeling of self satisfaction that comes with taking care of oneself. We are often asked some basic questions about our experience. What were some of the most difficult parts? I have to say it was the lack of experience on our part and the magnitude of the family size. I believe that more detailed instructions would have been helpful along with more preparation time. What was the easiest part? Our family had a good command of the English language, we’re well educated and devout Christians. We had strong support and encouragement from the team, and for that we are grateful.

At the end of this project we were asked to submit a report dealing what we had spent in dollars, what was donated and its value, how many people were involved along the way and for what purpose. This included man hours and mileage for all work. I would strongly advise any congregation taking on this type of mission to keep a log of time, people, material and receipts, and the purpose of each entry.

All of us were blessed by this work in helping those much less fortunate than ourselves. I believe we have a better grasp and understanding of the freedom of choice in our country. I have a deeper appreciation of the opportunity to worship when and where I choose without fear of persecution.

Would we do this again? Yes, absolutely! We’re wiser now and we crave the blessings that come form our Lord as we strive to help with His work. Would we recommend this to other churches? Of course! Your blessings will far out number whatever difficulties you might encounter. It is also awesome to experience how God works to help his servants. Our Lord is truly an awesome God.

Submitted by Ruth Egger, Chairman of the Mission Committee, Spirit of Hope United Methodist Church, Phoenix, Arizona

Friday, September 11, 2009

Seasons of Volunteers

Volunteers take a break during the loading of a shipment to Armenia.

Well, it’s official. Summer is over. That’s ok because I love fall. It’s my favorite season. The anticipation of both kids and parents as a new school year begins and what opportunities it might hold. The statistics and strategies of football teams begin to fill conversations. New and different activities begin.

Fall in the deep South has taken me a little time to get used to. There are no colors changing from shades of green to yellow, reds, and browns. Daytime temperatures don’t drop below seventy degrees until Christmas or beyond. In fact, shorts and flip-flops are a year round uniform for some folks down here.

Changes of seasons remind us that time is passing but also keep us looking forward to what future blessings may be in store for us. Although the climate of southern Louisiana doesn’t provide us with many clues to the changes of the seasons, the volunteers who come to Baldwin, La., do. After living here for four years, I’ve begun to see the changes in seasons through the volunteers who schedule their UMCOR Sager Brown mission trips to fit into their own routines and seasons.

The new year starts off with the month or so of winter we get in the deep south. Mission teams from Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and other northern states flock to Sager Brown during those first three months. Many of those northern volunteers have served here regularly for over 15 years. As we move into Spring, college teams accent the weeks as they choose to spend their spring breaks serving those in need. A regular team of college students from Shippensburg, PA, has spawned numerous new mission teams as the students have graduated, moved on to new communities, and inspired new volunteers.

Summer always brings the enthusiasm and energy of high school and middle school youth teams. I think the decibel level in the cafeteria goes up by about 50 points during June and July! The “No-Talent Talent Show”, an added event during the summer months, has become a favorite for many. Songs sung during Vespers often switch from familiar hymns to newer praise songs. Guitars during worship are the norm during the summer!

And that brings us to Fall. For some, Fall brings a bit of a slower schedule, a slower pace. That is far from fact at Sager Brown. August, with its heat and humidity and school schedule in the south, tends to be a little slower paced here. But September signals the resurgence of mostly adult teams again. This year, we will average 50 volunteers a week until mid-December.

One of the great things about living and serving at UMCOR Sager Brown is making new friends each week. But one of the things I really treasure is having the opportunity to be reunited with them as they become “old friends” and return each year. Just like the changes of seasons, I look forward to the blessings each team brings. With about 2,500 volunteers a year, my life is richly blessed!

By Kathy Kraiza, Executive Director, UMCOR Relief Supplies

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Real Disaster Response—Servants for the Ministry

North Shore Slidell Station hosted team of volunteers who helped rebuild homes following Hurricane Katrina.

In the recent Batman Dark Knight movie there is a scene where the Joker uses a quip we have all heard many times, he says, “I'm like a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught one.” To some extent, I feel like that is analogous to the situation we find ourselves in today in U.S. Disaster Response. For years, we in the voluntary sector and especially the faith-based disaster response organizations have chased after government dollars to help pay for the work that we do as partners in disaster mitigation, response, and recovery.

In the four years following Hurricane Katrina, we finally got some of what we have been chasing. What have we caught? The U.S. Government now funds a variety of programs that are intended to help the disaster survivor following disasters. Whether the money comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) or some other source, it has created a dilemma for the faith community.

At UMCOR, we are clear that our mission and ministry are to provide humanitarian assistance “without regard” to a person’s status. Yet, if we as an organization decide to receive money to implement one of the programs being funded by the government, we suddenly have to abide by the parameters that are set by the government as to who can be served. Therein lies the problem.

Do we accept money from the government and the inherent restrictions and reporting mechanisms that go with it? Or do we simply ignore the opportunity for government funds and just stick with doing what we can with the funds that are donated by those who support the ministry of UMCOR?

What are the options?

Okay, so one solution would be for UMCOR to expand its current non-governmental program, which works internationally, to include a domestic program. Thus UMCOR would create parallel programs, one that uses our private donor funds and one that is funded by the government. Oh, except there is a problem with that model. UMCOR believes fundamentally that all disasters are local. Therefore, the actual implementing of ministry programming (the REAL response and recovery) takes place at the annual conference and community level.

Well then, UMCOR could implement government-funded programs locally, and we could simply continue to provide the private United Methodist funding to annual conferences so they can implement their own response and recovery as they have in the past. We actually tried something similar to this approach after Hurricane Katrina when UMCOR created Katrina Aid Today (KAT) with a grant from FEMA, and while KAT itself was a very successful project, and the annual conference response and recovery, which is still ongoing today, was/is also successful, it did not make for good relationships between UMCOR and our annual conferences. There was always tension between the goals of the government-sponsored program and the UMC funded program. It felt like we were competing with ourselves.

Today, it appears that most government funding for response and recovery is going to be channeled through the states. What this means practically is that any application for government funds will have to be made by the annual conference. I openly ask the question, how many of our annual conferences have both the capacity and the desire and willingness to create parallel operations for disaster response and recovery if they have a disaster? My assessment is: “Not many.”

All this brings me back to my first metaphor. We, like the dog, have chased down the proverbial car. Now what?

I think we must remember who we are. We are called to be ministers for Jesus Christ. And for UMCOR, as a part of the general agency of the UMC called to serve Global Ministries, we have the charge to equip willing servants for the ministry of disaster response. I think we have to choose. Do we want to enable the ministry of the church, enable volunteers to participate in risk-taking mission and service, or do we want to implement government programs? Now don’t get me wrong here, I fully understand that BOTH are means of helping those who have survived disaster move toward wholeness and the new normal that comes following disaster. BOTH are well intentioned and serve a great purpose. But having observed UMCOR oversee one government grant I believe UMCOR’s place is to be the enabler of ministry. Like the pooch that chased down the car and got hit by the tire, I think it is better to stay home and be the friend and companion to our annual conferences and not chase cars any more. But perhaps you have an even better idea we have not considered. Send us a line. Let us know what you think!

By Tom Hazelwood, Assistant General Secretary, US Disaster Response, UMCOR

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Miracle of God Singers

Members of “Miracle of God Singers” have a reason to sing. They survived the 2004 Gatumba Massacre and now are safely residing in the US.

One DR Congo refugee said recently, “In the Congo we (the Banyamulenge Tribe) were not considered citizens of DR Congo even though our people had been in the Congo for 500 hundred years. Yet in the United States of America we can become citizens in 5 years.”

Two years ago the Meridian United Methodist Church in Meridian, Idaho welcomed 4 Banyamulenge Congolese families (4 months ago a 5th family) to the USA and into our congregation. The Collister (Boise) UMC also has 2 families in their congregation. They are looking forward to becoming US citizens. They will finally know what it feels like to ‘belong’ in a country.

As the Refugee and Immigration Coordinator (RIMcor) for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, I committed to co-sponsor a widowed, disabled father and 10 children that were coming to Boise, ID. Within 2 weeks we learned that his older brother, his wife, 3 children and a grandchild were also coming, along with his oldest son, his wife and 4 children. Then there were 4 orphaned teenagers from the same village (now living with a family in our congregation).

They all wanted to join our church right away because they had been UMC members in the DRC and Burundi (while they lived in the refugee camp). I taught an ELL SS class for several months, until the kids understood English well enough to follow directions in the regular classrooms.

All 30 were survivors of the Gatumba Massacre (August 13, 2004). When a Rebel Army from the Congo crossed the border into Burundi and entered the refugee camp singing Christian songs then pulled out their machine guns & knives. Our families lost many family members (wife, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, aunts, and many more relatives) that dark night. Many of them still suffer from injuries acquired during the massacre – bullet fragment in the brain, severe limp, loss of fingers on one hand, etc..

The 5th family (relatives of the first 3 families) consists of a father, mother and 2 beautiful daughters. Kiza (mom) lost the use of her right arm and they lost a son & daughter in the massacre.

We have been so blessed by having these families in our congregation. Shortly after they came we helped them form a gospel choir. Everyone can feel the spirit and their love of God when they sing. They chose to name the choir the “Miracle of God Singers” (they feel that it was a miracle of God that they survived the horrendous massacre).

We now have 32 of these delightful & grateful people in our congregation.

I wish that all UM Churches could experience the joy & love that we have felt during the process of helping these families get accustomed to our customs, laws, busy life style, language, driving a car, organizing all the “stuff” we give them, etc. This can happen by contacting the closest Refugee Resettlement Agency (Church World Service, SOAR, Agency for New Americans, etc.)

by Mary Lynne Ball, Refugee and Immigration Coordinator (RIMcor) for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference

Monday, August 31, 2009

“I was born to fish.”

UMCOR-donated bicycles and coolers allow the fishermen in Sri Lanka to take their catch directly to market.

At the end of the day on my last afternoon that I was in the field in Sri Lanka I was brought to meet a bunch of fishermen that UMCOR is helping. I’ll be honest, I was very tired and road weary and longing for my hotel room. But, I got in the UMCOR vehicle and we headed through town to meet the fishermen. It was worth the trip.

We bumped down a dirt path through a dense village that led right up to the Indian Ocean. This Batticaloa fishing village is a maze of tightly-packed houses that extends down towards the ocean, leaving a narrow margin of beach. It’s easy to see how the tsunami washed away everything in sight. A small Hindu temple protrudes at the end of the road leading to the beach. This is where the group of fishermen gathered to talk to me about their successes and challenges.

“I was born to fish,” says Konamalai. UMCOR is helping him and many others to not only do what they were born to do, but to earn more at the same time.

Many of those who made their living by the sea found themselves without livelihoods after the tsunami in December 2004. They were devastated by the tsunami and then again by conflict-related restrictions that prevented them from fishing.

“We had nothing,” Konamali told me of life after the tsunami. He is the president of this village’s fishing society. “We lost our houses and economically lost everything and therefore we had nothing to do.”

Now that the war is over, many have begun fishing again, but still lack the many supplies they lost after the tsunami. UMCOR is helping a several local fishing societies with supplies such as nets, bicycles and coolers to not only help them catch the fish, but also to bring them to market.

The UMCOR-donated bicycles and coolers allow the fishermen to take their catch directly to market. “Before I had to sell my fish for 50 rupees on the beach,” says one fisherman proudly standing next to his bike with the cooler strapped to the back. His profit doubles when he can take the fish to the market himself.

It feels good to see these men proud and able to provide for their families doing what they were “born to do.”

By Michelle Scott, UMCOR Consultant

Thursday, August 27, 2009

These ladies work at Kemapa village, one of the communities that Ganta United Methodist Hospital outreaches to through the Maternal Child Outreach Program supported by UMCOR.

I am a labor and delivery nurse and about two years ago at an employee recognition function one of the hospital security guards relayed his personal story to the group gathered. Perry came to the USA from Liberia a country struggling to rebuild after its 14 year civil war ended in 2004. He lives very modestly, sending home as much of his wages as he can, not only to help his family members, but also to support a small nonprofit organization that he started. He is trying to raise money to educate nurses, build a women’s clinic and a school. Why such great ambition? Perry stated it passionately to the group that stood spellbound by his story – he simply doesn’t want another woman to give birth in the dirt, with just the shade of a tree from the hot African sun, like his mother did.

Having been already engaged in participating and leading medical volunteer in mission teams through the United Methodist Church, I was aware of the struggles that resource poor settings present medical staff on the ground. The teams I lead partner with United Methodist missions on the ground that serves the least – the women and children. Our goal is to empower women through accessibility to healthcare, through learning life skills, and in the process ensuring they survive, thus preventing more children being orphaned embracing the vision of the Global Health Initiative of the United Methodist Church.

In this work, God has revealed to us a world crying out in need and a wonderful opportunity to be instrumental in making birthing kits one of the supply kits that UMCOR collects and sends out from its depots to places around the world. For so many of us there is little desire to travel to places as far away as Africa, however, there is a passionate desire to help. The birthing kit initiative gives everyone the opportunity to save lives. For the cost of a cup of coffee and treat from a local bakery the funds can be used to make a kit. Imagine something you have touched making such a difference to save the life of a baby and a mother.

As a nurse I appreciate having the tools readily available to get my job done. Traditional birthing attendants (TBA) and lay women from village communities are being trained on how to deliver babies using these life saving kits. At the same time, they are receiving further health education that ensures they are knowledgeable as to which women need care at the hospital. The TBAs are excited about the care they are now able to give, and also about their brothers and sisters so far away hearing the cries of the women and children in their community…and just think, one day no woman will give birth in the dirt, with just the shade of a tree from the hot African sun, like Perry’s mother.

By Julie Warren, RN, Ganta United Methodist Hospital, Liberia, and volunteer coordinator for the Central Texas Annual Conference.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ordinary to Extraordinary: Reflections on UMCOR West Office and Depot

Volunteers from Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, offered their help during UMCOR West Depot's official opening in June.

It is 8:30am on a Monday morning. Jamie and I pull up to the front of the new UMCOR West Office and Depot in Salt Lake City and hurriedly prepare the building for a new group of volunteers who will be arriving all the way from Emmett, Idaho. I always look forward to meeting new people and hearing their stories.

The Emmett group is wonderful and consists of one couple that has done extensive mission work in Africa, a pair of teenage brothers full of life, a second career pastor and her husband, and a woman who has been faithful to the Church for decades. They have come to make a difference!

For two and a half months now, UMCOR West Depot has been welcoming volunteers from all over the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. They have come to participate in UMCOR’s disaster relief ministry. While at the depot, volunteers have been busy putting together relief kits that will aid vulnerable people around the world.

Our volunteers are “ordinary” United Methodists who have heard the call of Jesus upon their lives and because of the grace of God, they are doing “extraordinary” things! The school bags they have created will soon find their way into the hands of children who would otherwise not have access to simple supplies like paper, pencils, crayons, and scissors. The health kits they have built will soon provide a measure of much needed relief for people who don’t have access to basic health care products like toothpaste, soap, and bandages. And, the cleaning buckets UMCOR West volunteers have built will go a long way in allowing folks to begin reconstructing their lives after a natural disaster. UMCOR West is a great place to be in service to the most vulnerable of people around the world.

In two days Jamie, our US-2 Young Adult Missionary, will be leaving to begin seminary and she will be missed. However, a new crop of long term volunteers will be coming in to take her place. They too have heard the call of Christ and will further the work of UMCOR. . . a car just pulled up. It is Marci and Virginia from southern California. I’ve been expecting them. They are elderly women who have just driven 13 hours to bring several boxes of sewing kits and to see the new Depot in Utah. They stay for a while to tour the facility, ask a few questions about how their churches might get even more involved, and to leave us with a check for our ministry. Then it is back in the car to head home.

The faithfulness of ordinary people like Marci, Virginia, the group from Emmett, and Jamie is so amazing. Together, and by the grace of God, we can become an “extraordinary” people.

By Brian Diggs, director UMCOR West Office and Depot

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

UMCOR Bireuen, Indonesia: A Community in Mission

Nearly five years after the tsunami and earthquake in the Aceh region of Indonesia, the outpouring of the world’s generosity is visibly evident. New homes, school hygiene projects, irrigation systems, fishing boats and sustainable income generating programs supported by relief agencies like UMCOR Indonesia are integrated into communities that were destroyed in the 2005 disaster.

The UMCOR staff in Bireuen is a testament to the passion and strength of the Aceh people. While UMCOR Indonesia has three field offices, the office in Bireuen was the first site established. Most of the staff are from the region and have worked there since the office first opened in October 2006. Some are Christian and some and some are Muslim, and most lost numerous family members to the tsunami and to the 30 year conflict preceding it.

About twice a month, many take the overnight bus journey to visit their spouses and children in Medan. Most of their time however is in Bireuen. They work long hours, dedicated to empowering communities and creating sustainable programs that they hope will contribute to a lasting peace.

Spending time with them felt like being with a tightly knit family. In the office, I noticed a shelf lined with soccer balls. When I inquired, I was quickly shown the nets they use as goals in the parking lot and the schedule of futbol games for their league. In addition to the league, they play friendly matches with beneficiaries and staff from other agencies. It turns out the UMCOR team is often listed in the newspaper as the winning team.

Food seems to be another team building tradition in the UMCOR Bireuen office. When we first arrived, we were invited to join some of the staff at a local restaurant. They were so friendly and easy to be with in a way that you don’t often find among coworkers. Every day, the staff cook prepares a wonderful lunch for them and they make it a point to return from the field to break bread together. Our last night there we were treated to a barbeque at the office. The feast was a fun and memorable way for us to complete our trip before heading back to the US. They prepared three kinds of fish on the grill, a huge pot of rice, fruit punch made with about every imaginable tropical fruit chopped into it, two different sauces and fresh vegetables. I was told that even the poorest people in Aceh do not go hungry because there is always fish.

It was a joy for me to experience the beloved community in the Bireuen office. In addition to all they have lost, they continue to sacrifice to support each other in mission and rebuild the land that they love.

Melissa Hinnen, UMCOR Staff Writer

Monday, August 17, 2009

Philippines: Children Living in Urban Poverty

Following the opening of the new UMCOR Philippines office, I traveled throughout the Philippines as part of UMCOR’s Ministry with the Poor initiative. In my travels, I met dozens of children. As a mother who recognizes the opportunities that grace has brought into my life and the life of my daughter, I have a special place in my heart for children living in poverty.

300 families are living in a community along the railroad on the rubble of their recently demolished homes. In the chaos of displacement, children have stopped going to school and there is no potable water or health care.

In another community, temporary shacks were built on compacted trash in a garbage dump. The area is prone to flash flooding from the nearby river and the kids walk through the filthy flood water to go to school. Many children had numerous sores all over their little bodies.

While many parents work, the jobs barely provide enough money for food. I heard of one family with five children who each had a day of the week that they would eat. Can you imagine having to choose which of your children will eat today?

Hope and Possibility for all Children
While my heart aches, I am encouraged that in spite of extreme circumstances, the children still have hopes and dreams shared by all children. The communities are filled with laughter and kids running around climbing trees and poles. They loved having their pictures taken and were not shy about taking my hand and leading me through their neighborhoods.

Like all parents, those I spoke with in urban settlements want their children to have a better life. When we asked children what they want to be when they grow up, the answers are typical of children everywhere, “doctor, nurse, teacher, PRESIDENT.” What potential is being lost under the weight of extreme poverty? What gifts to society are we missing because children are not given the tools to fully realize them? As long as they have dreams and the will to achieve, don’t we have the responsibility to give them the opportunities? Child by child and family by family, I am certain is within our means to transform lives.

We met with potential partners in Manila who are already doing great work to give families the foundation to lift themselves out of poverty. Gilead is providing shelter, educational scholarships and life skills for 33 children who were living in extreme poverty. The Inner City Development Cooperative is helping families build businesses and savings accounts. Central UMC has a weekly feeding program for children and provides scholarships. The Task Force on Urban Conscientization is empowering families to follow up on resettlement packages and create a path out of poverty.

I am thankful to have met these families and those seeking justice for them. My colleagues who are responsible for program development were quick to identify ways that UMCOR can join the response to urban poverty in the Philippines. The term “Be there . . . Be hope. . .” took on a deeper meaning to me. UMCOR leverages hope into action to strengthen communities, empower those who are oppressed and help every child of God reach full potential.

Melissa Hinnen, UMCOR Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Letter from a Sager Brown Volunteer

Pictured above is a Short Term Volunteer Team that volunteered at UMCOR Sager Brown during the week of July 12, 2009 from St. Paul’s UMC in Melbourne Florida. During their stay at Sager Brown, they worked in the Community doing home repair, in the Depot making kits and sewing school bags, and at a battered women’s shelter, assisting as needed. This was a first time experience at Sager Brown for all the team members.

Diana Lyle (fourth from the left), wrote a letter to the Sager Brown staff that we would like to share with you.

Dear Staff of Sager Brown,

We came here not knowing what to expect—only that we had that itching desire in our feet, hands, and heart to serve and give to those who have nothing. And yet we were a bit anxious-where will we sleep? Will there be air conditioning? Mosquitoes? Bed bugs? Will we have enough clothes or the right clothes? Will we be hungry? Will the food be good?

But our Father knew we needed all these things and prepared a place for us out of the abundance of His love.

He gave us everything we needed for our physical needs and gave us laughter and joy and the embrace of His Spirit. It’s better than gems and pearls and gold.

We wanted to work and we did, and we are blessed to feel we have given to those in need, but we are the ones who have been ministered to and cared for.

Like worker bees making honey that will be taken away to be given to the hungry, we are happy. We got to work in a beautiful nourishing garden.

Thank You Thank You Thank You

Dianna Lyle

Learn more about UMCOR Sager Brown and how to volunteer there at

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cedar Rapids: Ministry in the Midst of Recovery

I visited Cedar Rapids, Iowa last week and was moved to see the way God is at work. A little more than a year ago, Cedar Rapids and many other areas of Iowa were inundated with water. Pretty much the whole downtown went under when the Cedar River crested at 31.12 feet. One of the places I visited in downtown was Salem United Methodist Church which, despite the sandbagging efforts of the congregation, had received more than 10 feet of water throughout all its buildings.

The rushing water of the river had pushed a 40-foot semi trailer up against one part of the building and the moving water created severe damage to many parts of the building. On July 6, 2008, I worshiped with Salem in the church building of Lovely Lane UMC. On that Sunday Salem received a new pastor. Rev. John Louk who told the congregation that together with God’s help they would move forward seeking to find where God was already working and joining the path with Christ.

And now, Pastor Louk invited me to come speak to Salem a little more than a year later. I am once again moved by the spirit of this congregation. They are now worshiping at Kenwood Park UMC and have a variety of ministry options that are open to them. Just a few days before I arrived, the trustees of Salem had signed a document that gives the church an option to be bought out because the building in downtown is in a flood plain.

The church has property outside of town where it might build. There are other options for purchasing buildings where the congregation might relocate. But with all these ministry options regarding buildings and locations going on, I am impressed that Salem is still strongly engaged in mission. They are helping families who were flooded try to find “a new normal.” In the worship service there was an announcement about a group making school bags. They sent a volunteer team this year, as they have for several years, to UMCOR Sager Brown, they support UMCOR Zimbabwe, raised money for Nothing but Nets, as well as supporting other African missions.

Locally they support an office for UMCOR’s Justice for our Neighbors and are helping several African families. They volunteer and help fund Mission of Hope which is a local shelter and before the flood, they housed a ministry to the poor for Cedar Rapids called Matthew 25, and they remain a primary supporter of that ministry today.

What I saw and experienced in my visit with Salem, UMC can be repeated time and time again. Just this week, the “Block by Block” neighborhood rehabilitation program was announced in Cedar Rapids. Funding which has come from private sources has been made available and now with that, together with volunteer labor, many homes in the flooded area will be repaired.

UMCOR is in the midst of all the work in Iowa. We have provided funding and training so that there is a skilled volunteer coordinator and recovery director helping connect the United Methodist Church to those who are hurting because of the floods. I am so grateful for all the United Methodists who give of themselves to volunteer or give of their resources to help fund recoveries such as this one in Iowa. Cedar Rapids in general and Salem UMC specifically has a long road ahead to recovery. Thanks be to God that they do not walk that road alone.
Rev. Tom Hazelwood, Assistant General Secretary, UMCOR US Disaster Response

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

UMCOR Office Opens in Philippines

Ciony Eduarte and Bishops Tangonan Soriano and Juan cut the ribbon at the UMCOR Philippines opening celebration in late July.

It was a great day. Red and white “UMCOR” balloons were everywhere. Food was being prepared. People were arriving by Jeepney, bicycle, car and on foot. At 10:15 we moved into the largest of the rooms in the newly renovated UMCOR office space on the campus of Union Theological Seminary for the service of dedication. Songs were sung, prayers offered, symbolic gifts placed on the altar and remarks made. In many ways, the highlight of the event was the presentation of Mr. Alito. Mr. Alito is an elderly man who rides his bicycle around the campus everyday selling ice cream or produce to the students and faculty. He is a fixture on campus, and yet to many unknown. For this event and for evermore he represents the vulnerable people UMCOR is called to serve.

It is to those who are often labeled in the Bible and in society as “the least, the lost and the last.” I prefer to think of them as those whom God will sit at God’s head table during a heavenly banquet. Working with those who move among us often unseen by many of us is at the very essence of the teaching of Jesus Christ. It was those on the fringes of society that Jesus offered the gospel. The rich, powerful and visible were offered it too, but in a different way. In a way that called into question the ways in which they lived their lives, made decisions and sometimes profited unfairly from others. Jesus called us to give ourselves generously in service, frequently in prayer and often by “washing feet.” It continues to be the UMCOR way.

The UMCOR office in the Philippines will help the whole church better engage in a ministry with the poor, improving health and responding to the many natural and human-made disasters that plague this large nation of 7,000 islands. In the future it will serve as a gateway for UMCOR’s work in other places in the Pacific, Southeast Asia and South Asia. There is much that can be done and an important first step has now been made.
by Sam Dixon, Deputy General Secretary for UMCOR

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Gully Sucker

Sam Dixon, deputy general secretary for UMCOR and Bharat Pathak, head of mission for UMCOR Sri Lanka stand before one of two "Gully Suckers" donated by UMCOR to the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services

Visiting the UMCOR NGO field office in Sri Lanka in late July, it was inspiring to experience the work of this amazing team of national and ex-patriot staff. The office was opened following the tsunami and has grown into one of UMCOR’s largest as it has engaged in rebuilding homes and restoring livelihoods for thousands of survivors who lost homes, family members and the means to make a living. As this work comes to a close, the need and likelihood for UMCOR to remain in the country continues. The end of the recent war with the Tamil LTTE forces challenges the government with the need to rebuild destroyed and damaged infrastructure, help internally displace people return to their communities and manage the refugee camps that are now housing almost 300,000 people.

One such camp is located at Menik Farms where 230,000 people are now living. One of the big challenges facing a suddenly formed “city” of such tremendous size is sanitation. Keeping latrines cleaned out and in service is a daily challenge. Recently UMCOR donated two large capacity Gully Suckers to the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, Rishad Bathiudeen for use at Menik Farms. The Gully Sucker, as it is called locally, is a familiar sight to many of us who have lived in rural areas where septic tanks are the norm. It is an interesting name and I expect many of you will remember your own favorite name for such a vehicle. Without it, in a refugee camp, cholera and other related diseases would soon likely become a mammoth challenge.

Clean water and adequate sanitation are important keys to good health. These daily necessities are at the top of the agenda for places where UMCOR is at work all around the world.

By Sam Dixon, Deputy General Secretary for UMCOR

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How a Home Helps

A woman and her grandchild stand on the porch of their newly-built UMCOR house.

Today as I sit behind my desk in the UMCOR home office in New York City, I find it hard to believe that just last week I was traveling through the lush but often troubled country side of Sri Lanka. A nation ravaged by a decades-long civil war and by the 2004 tsunami, Sri Lanka is taking fragile steps to peace and stability.

As we drive down dusty roads and cross waterways by ferry I am amazed at the beauty and resources of this island nation. UMCOR began working there in 2005 to help tsunami survivors recover and then we extended our scope to help people affected by the war, too. I spoke to people now living in permanent houses built by UMCOR and the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka who had been displaced by the war ten or more times in the last 15 years. They are so grateful for peace and for a permanent place to call home.

In many cases the home they now have is one they never would have dared to dream for. Shabbdhin, a man who lost his family’s home to war, tells me how the UMCOR house helped them. Before they lived in a thatched home and the maintenance of the thatch walls and roof actually cost him more than to maintain a house. The thatch home actually kept them in poverty because it prevented this shopkeeper’s family from being able to save enough to build a permanent house.

"We are very happy to be here," Shabbdhin says. "My children have stability and a study place." They’ve used their savings to purchase household goods, send their children to school and even purchase a TV which gives them a link to the outside world.

I never cease to be amazed at the simple things that keep people in poverty and the simple solutions that can help them to move beyond it.

By Michelle Scott, Executive Secretary for UMCOR Communications

Friday, July 17, 2009

UMCOR Supplies and Volunteers Give Hope to Migrants

Nogales, Mexico—The temperature was nearing 105 degrees, as we crossed on foot along the the Arizona-Mexico border in Nogales. We were a group of 5 including Max Cisneros, of Desert Ministries, friend Alvaro, volunteer Harry Smith, Natalie Sue Brown, intern for Global Ministries and myself. Harry pulled a cart of supplies as we trudged up the hill to El Comedor, a place of respite for immigrants who may have walked for miles in the desert several days prior. The smell of beans and tortillas was in the air.

We milled about the center and listened to migrants. We washed blistered feet and applied Neosporin and gauze to help heal the open wounds. The supplies, sent by UMCOR to Max Cisnerso of Desert Ministries were essential to a healthy recovery. UMCOR has been a supplier of ointment, gauze, and other dressing supplies for over three years as this ministry now spans over 20 points along the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona border.

Patricia Magyar, Executive Secretary for UMCOR Health

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cheers for Pencils!

While most of my friends and family were enjoying hotdogs and fireworks this 4th of July, I was helping to pass out school kits to over 400 children in the rural Mutumbami area of eastern Zimbabwe. I had already been in the country about a week to follow up on a variety of UMCOR relief activities, and finally had the opportunity to accompany a pastor from the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe to distribute the UMCOR school kits to children who lacked these necessary supplies. Driving several hours outside of Mutare along dirt roads, passing a few baboons and countless small villages along the way, we bumped along in a pickup truck carry dozens of boxes of the highly-prized commodity.

Currently recovering from one of the worst economic crises in history, Zimbabwe’s inflation had spiraled out of control, and resources had become scarce and expensive, particularly for those in more remote areas. This left many of the most vulnerable communities without access to basic necessities such as food or clean water, much less the “luxury” of such items as paper or a ruler. Often seen as a privilege, access to education and educational materials is highly valued and much appreciated by all, providing a foundation of hope for the future.

When we finally arrived to find several communities assembled in anticipation of the exciting distribution event, my Zimbabwean counterpart began to describe the contents of the kit to the crowd: notebooks (smiles, clapping), scissors (smiles, clapping), an eraser, a ruler, crayons (more smiles and clapping), pencils (LOUD CHEERS!!!!!!!), and a pencil sharpener (back to smiles and clapping). Never have I seen such excitement about 6 pencils!! In that moment, I suddenly and humbly realized that something most Americans consider so commonplace was valued so highly in this place… it actually brought tears to my eyes to know that I am part of an organization that is responsible for bringing so much joy and optimism into people’s lives.

While part of me may have missed eating hotdogs or seeing fireworks, I can’t say I was sorry to be away from home… because I got to spend America’s birthday by giving the gift of hope.

By Melissa Crutchfield, Assistant General Secretary for International Disaster Response, UMCOR