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