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