Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Names, Not Just Numbers

The Rev. Donald Messer visits with AIDS orphans in Malawi at a center supported by the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund of which he is chair. Photo by Rev. Donald E. Messer

The following is an excerpt from the Rev. Donald E. Messer’s latest book "Names, Not Just Numbers: Facing Global AIDS and World Hunger"

The level of pain and suffering that women and children face due to the HIV and AIDS pandemic is almost unimaginable.

Children around the world are becoming the heads of households as their parents die or are too sick to care for their families. Outside Mzuzu, Malawi, I met a little nine-year old girl, Anna. Beside her was her six-year-old sister. In a nearby mud hut with a leaky ceiling, her mother was dying from AIDS, a small baby snuggled beside her. Anna was struggling to care for all four of them. Early every morning, Anna walked two miles and carried back on her head a container of fresh water. Daily she scrambled to find food from neighbors as she battled for survival.

In every small village in Malawi, I was surrounded by multitudes of orphans and vulnerable children. Near Mzuzu, my friends tried to organize an art project, but it failed because there was no room on the dirt floor for the children to put the paper down so they could draw on it.   Furthermore, the children were so hungry that they nibble on the crayons.

Impoverished women experience a high rate of illiteracy in the world. Their options for making a living are incredibly limited. If a woman’s husband dies from AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis she often has no resources to feed her family except to sell her body by doing commercial sex work. The amount she earns is a pittance, and daily she risks violence, disease, police harassment, and public degradation.

Several times I have met with groups of these women in India, and they yeam for freedom from sexual slavery and for economic empowerment so they can feed themselves and their kids. One program the Center for the church and Global AIDS supports has helped a number of women escape to a better life. A simple sewing machine, costing less than $100, has enabled a woman named Sudha to earn extra money to start her own business. In another case, I helped deliver monthly nutritional supplements to Harshini and her daughter-just enough to stabilize her health and keep her in paying job so she would not have to revert to “survival sex” work.

Too often in Africa, women seeking to be self-sustaining are forced to choose between making beads for sale or selling own bodies. The marketing of trinket like jewelry is limited, so many females have no real choice, needed are humanitarian entrepreneurs who will help create social businesses for women living wit HIV. In Kenya I saw HIV-positive creating malaria bed nets. A major market exists for this product. This one small group of women in the past three years has made and sold 21,427 nets.

The Rev. Don Messer is executive director of the Center for the Church and Global AIDS and chair of the UMCOR-supported United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to discern between charity and justice

Bishop Peggy Johnson is Episcopal leader of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. A UMNS photo.

November 10, 2010

Means and ends are not the same

“I will tell you, O human, what is good and what the Lord demands of you. To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”  (Micah 6:8)

Charity is an act of kindness. There are times when charity can be an appropriate and necessary response to people in crisis. It can become a lifeline to people on the verge of drowning.

There are also limitations, however, associated with the giving of charity: Limitations that must not be ignored; limitations that challenge us to move beyond Charity to Justice.

What are these limitations?

- With charity the life of the receiver does not change for the long term. Charity gives a momentary reprieve but it does not provide a lasting solution to the problems of life. 

- Charity is seductive: It makes the giver feel good about helping someone in need. This “high” can actually help preserve the unjust system that makes the giving of charity necessary.

- Charity can also cause shame. This results as receivers find themselves in a vulnerable situation, dependent on others for help.

- Charity also leads to fatigue in the giver. After responding a few times with help, people are often eager to help someone else. This is why food closets often have a limit to how much and how often they will help one individual. When they have used up their services from us, then they will have to go without.

- With charity the giver feels good, relieved of guilt, but the recipient soon feels the same old hunger pains. In fact, the giving of charity can actually makes a bad situation worse as the root cause continues to exist but the motivation to solve the problem is alleviated.

Charity not enough

Surely, there has to be a better way! Charity is not enough. Where charity addresses the symptoms of life problems, justice digs down to deal with the sins that are the root causes of injustice in the world. Justice calls for systemic change in society itself, and such change does not come without a real battle.

Someone has to say: ‘Enough! This has to stop!’

John Wesley caused riots with his preaching against the slave trade in Bristol, England. People were becoming rich through the forced servitude of others. It took fervent political action to bring about a change. Laws had to be passed. Someone had to speak out for change. This is the cry of justice. Someone has to say: “Enough! This has to stop!”

Is this not what we celebrate as we remember the courage of the prophets, women and men called by God, unafraid to speak truth in the halls of power? The work of justice requires a commitment to solidarity, to join our voices to the cries of the exploited, the abused, the neglected, the disenfranchised, the tortured and the invisible.

Not behind closed doors

This is why Methodism worked for prohibition, child labor laws, and the right to unionize. This is why Methodists have boycotted lettuce, baby formula, Taco Bell and FedEx. This is why Methodists marched against Jim Crow laws, integrated their churches, and registered people to vote.

This is why Methodists provide sanctuary to the undocumented people and march on Washington for humane, comprehensive immigration reform. Justice does not work behind closed doors. Justice opens up the doors so all the world can see the dirty little secrets that dehumanize the lives of so many. Justice tells the truth and refuses to be ignored.

The difference between charity and justice could be seen in the example of someone helping a blind person across the street. The person who is helping the blind person is giving an act of charity.

Justice, though, would involve asking deeper questions. How did the person become blind? Perhaps it was River Blindness? There is a lot of this in Africa. It is a disease caused by a virus that comes from exposure to a particular insect. With a simple medication it can be prevented, but the medicines are expensive and the distribution system is difficult. Justice would call us to find ways to make this medicine affordable and available to the many people now being stricken by horrible illness.

Another question would be: “What is wrong with the street lights?” The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that street signs have “blind-friendly” pedestrian talking features that tell when it is safe to cross. Justice would call us to require the state to install these signs as the federal law requires.

How about the educational background of the blind person? Was he or she given an opportunity to learn mobility and the use of a cane? Has he or she been given the benefit of rehabilitation training that teaches the blind how to cross a street safely without requiring help? Justice would call upon the state to provide these services. Charity, without justice, leaves the blind person dependent on more and more charity. Justice, on the other hand, makes it possible for them to move beyond dependency to self sufficiency.

Dependency vs. liberation

While charity creates dependency, justice restores and liberates.
What then does justice look like? 

- Justice is relational, it takes personal involvement.
- Justice is not done by writing a check — even though a check may be written.
- Justice takes personal interaction, not only with those who are struggling, but also with those you are struggling against. They have to see your face. They need to witness your commitment and feel your passion. They need to know that you care and that you will not stop until change happens.
The doing of justice means you will make new friends and establish new enemies. It means the “mountains are brought low and the valleys are raised up”; there is a leveling of life, and equality is established for everyone, no exceptions.
- Justice is transformative, it changes lives. It is a process of education and revelation. It brings about new understandings and changes how we look at the world. What once was accepted is now unthinkable. What was once unthinkable, is now becoming the only way forward.
- Justice changes the heart as well as the mind. When a vision of God’s justice takes hold in our hearts there is no turning back, no matter the cost.
- Justice is restorative, it changes lives. It builds bridges between people, creating new understandings. It frees people from hatred and bitterness, and fosters forgiveness, opening doors to a new way forward. In South Africa justice meant telling the truth.

As long as lines continue to be drawn and divisions made, justice will not happen and peace will not come.

- Justice is revolutionary, it changes society. Rights are protected. People are set free and their dignity is recognized and affirmed.

The goal of justice is not for me to win and for you to lose, but for us to find a way forward together. The goal of justice is not to continue to punish yourself or others, but to find a new freedom that energizes all of life. 

Charity is nice. It makes us feel good, but in the long run it accomplishes little: It is a Band-Aid.

Justice, on the other hand, is the real deal: the radical surgery that creates real healing. It demands our total involvement. And God is using it every day to change the world.

Bishop Peggy Johnson is Episcopal leader of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. This article, posted on General Board of Church and Society, is based on her remarks last month at “United Methodists Uniting: Pennsylvania Anti-Poverty Summit” in Harrisburg, Pa., sponsored by “United Methodist Advocacy PA” (formerly “UM Witness”). All three of the Pennsylvania annual conferences participated in the summit..

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I am Jesus. Have you seen me today?

Each year, more than 15 million children worldwide lose one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.  Photo: Judith Santiago
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
(Mathew 25:40)

I can’t tell you how many times in this hustle and bustle of a city (New York) that I have rushed to get to work, rushed to attend a class, or rushed to catch a bus. When I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, I miss seeing the people around me. I don’t mean physically seeing them, but taking intentional notice of them—who they are or what they may stand in need of—like prayer, a meal, a ride.

Some time ago, I asked a homeless man on the street if he was hungry, because I had a sandwich to share. He graciously accepted and we spoke for several moments. After the pleasant exchange, he walked away. As I watched him walk away, I felt extremely blessed to have met him. It was as if the presence of God came down upon me. Immediately, Hebrews Chapter 13 came to mind. The second verse reads: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Could it be that I encountered an angel? I don’t know, but I’ll never forget him or how I felt after meeting him. Humbled by the experience, I started to keep my eyes open to those in need around me. Over time, however, as life pressures and distractions came, my eyesight grew dull.

At the recent Lighten the Burden III HIV/AIDS conference in Dallas, a conference sponsored by the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR, and several UM agencies, I was reminded to open to my eyes again and remember that the mission field begins right outside my door.

Dr. Musa Dube, a United Methodist theologian from the University of Botswana and HIV/AIDS activist, led a bible study on “Entering Bodies and Crossing Boundaries.” She invited participants one by one to stand up and recite the prepared statements on hand-outs provided for us. Some statements read:

I am Jesus. I am the sick person. Have you visited me today?
I am Jesus. I am the hungry person. Will you feed me today?
I am a woman with children in your country and without food.
I am HIV positive, hiding my status. I am in a socially-imposed prison.
I am Jesus. I am HIV positive. I am the imprisoned person. Have you visited me today?

How often have we missed a Jesus encounter because our eyes have become too dull to see? Dube shared that when someone was sick or in prison, Jesus did not ask the person how they got sick, or why they were in prison. Rather, Jesus identified himself with the person and offered healing and hope. The woman with the issue of blood, considered unclean and an outcast was welcomed by Jesus into the family. He called her daughter and encouraged her faith.

"Christians can’t be the church of Christ if we do not identify ourselves with those who are HIV positive in the church,” said Dube. “The church that knows the call to be effective in its response to HIV/AIDS will become a church that heals through action.” The action is ours to take. I chose to share a simple sandwich with a stranger. The momentary experience changed me and left a lasting impression.

Whatever the “blood issue”—HIV, cancer, or drug addiction—the church, like Jesus must cross cultural, gender and social boundaries to bring healing and acceptance into God’s kingdom. In this way, the church as one body stays connected—on all issues and on all fronts. Our encounters with the “least of these” will bring about change – in us and in the world around us.

It’s a call to identify with: those infected and affected by HIV, the homeless, the refugee, the widow, the orphan, or an ill-bound person. It’s a call to leave our comfort zones, our worlds, and our distractions, so we can move in power across boundaries and into unknown territory. It’s a call that involves becoming vulnerable and accessible to a hurting world. The result will be healing and solidarity. 

I am Jesus. Have you seen me today?

By Judith Santiago, project manager for UMCOR Communications

Monday, September 13, 2010

Journey Measured in Hope

My recent travels through West Africa—Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone—have left me at an a typical loss for words to describe the depth of the experience.

In Cote d’Ivoire, I visited schools in rural communities where there is no water. Fetching water, a responsibility of the young girls in a family, is a task that can take hours each day. When the family is faced with the choice of having water or sending a daughter to school, the decision is simple: the family needs water. A well can make all the difference.

In Liberia, I saw the amazing work of the Camphor and Ganta missions, where health care is being delivered in the most limited circumstances. I had the privilege of meeting the traditional birth attendants (TBA) at the Camphor mission. Mothers-to-be in rural villages entrust their prenatal care to the TBAs, and each day, they deliver their babies into the hands of these dedicated women. The incidence of problematic deliveries has been reduced in the villages thanks to the TBAs.

In Guinea, I visited a small clinic supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) that is the only hope for those who suffer from malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases of poverty. Similarly, in Sierra Leone’s Kissee Hospital and the Manjama clinic, life-giving care is provided to the people of a war-ravaged country.

It is difficult to find words to adequately respond to the sight of a baby gasping for breath as she struggles with malaria and pneumonia. Or of the child lying in bed whose life is being cut so short by tuberculosis. Or of the man in a wheelchair who lost his leg to leprosy. It is hard to find words….

But in each of the places I visited, I knew I was a privileged witness to hope. I could see that through our partners, UMCOR is bringing hope to the mother cradling a sick child. When UMCOR helps build a well in Cote d’Ivoire, we not only provide clean water for a community but we also give a young girl the opportunity to attend school and create a future for herself. When a young mother delivers her baby into the hands of a TBA, two lives are saved.

My trip to West Africa was a long one, but I measure it in more than distance or days; I measure it in hope. As I held the baby gasping for breath and prayed for the young boy dying from tuberculosis, it became clear to me that this was a spiritual journey. It was a journey of love and of possibilities for a new future. It was a journey of hope.

I hope you are as proud as I am of the work UMCOR is doing through our committed brothers and sisters in places like Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and elsewhere.

*The Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey is head of UMCOR.

Friday, September 10, 2010

UMCOR Forms Relief Supply Network

Bright and early this morning, a truck from Florida rolled into the Sager Brown Depot of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). As we began unloading buckets, bags, and bundles of joy, I paused to give thanks to God not only for the donations we received but for the connections within our church that allow us to respond to those suffering during disasters. 

To fortify those connections, UMCOR has formed a Relief Supply Network, currently comprised of six depots. Collaboration among network depots provides congregations with different places throughout the United States where they can send or drop off their kits and supplies, assured that their donations will be accounted for and distributed by UMCOR. The network also offers a means to respond to disasters from depots located close to the affected area.

In I Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul reminds us that the body does not consist of one member but of many. “If all were a single member, where would the body be?” he says. The Relief Supply Network is a wonderful example of many members, but one body. Each mission site in the network is unique in its mission opportunities and projects, but they all come together as one to answer the cry of the needy. 

UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, LA, is one of two depots owned and operated by UMCOR. Officially dedicated in 1996, the Sager Brown Depot is the original site for the collection and distribution of kits in UMCOR's kit ministry. UMCOR West Depot, located in Salt Lake City, UT, is the network’s only depot in the western half of the United States. 

Terrell, NC, is the home of Mission Response Center, the depot owned and operated by the Western North Carolina Conference. Midwest Mission Distribution Center, in Chatam, IL, is owned and operated by the North Central Jurisdiction. 

Eastbrook Mission Barn is a developing mission site located in New Castle, PA, and is operated by the Western Pennsylvania Conference. And, MERCI Center, owned and operated by the North Carolina Conference, is located in Goldsboro, NC.

During the second week of August, delegates from all of the cooperating depots in the network as well as representatives from two potential future sites came together in southern Louisiana to brainstorm ways we could work together. Some of the facilities have been in operation for many years while others are relatively new. During the meeting, we shared different shipping methods and new avenues for the purchase of supplies. The love of God was evident on every face as we sang, worshipped, and discussed.

Disasters in recent months have proven the effectiveness of the Relief Supply Network. Kits and buckets have gone to survivors of disasters in Tennessee, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Armenia, Haiti, Republic of Georgia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe. 

After the Haiti earthquake, love poured out from churches in the form of health kits. So many health kits, in fact, that no one facility could gather and prepare them all for distribution. It took the cooperation of all within the Relief Supply Network to ensure the quickest possible response. And, that response continues collectively.

By Kathy Kraiza, Executive Director of UMCOR Relief Supplies

Monday, August 30, 2010

Five Years of Hurricane Katrina Response

Rev. Tom Hazelwood is UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for disaster response in the United States.
We United Methodists can be proud of our work following Hurricane Katrina. From around the country and around the world, United Methodists responded during these last five years to the emergency on the Gulf Coast. More than $60 million in donations to UMCOR were multiplied by the work of volunteers, in-kind contributions, and the simple hard labor of local United Methodist churches along the Gulf Coast. It was the local congregations that made up the first wave of response to the disaster, as fearless pastors and church members did everything they could to help their neighbors.

As the emergency unfolded, Katrina Aid Today was developed as another important part of UMCOR’s response. I remember so vividly the meetings in Mississippi and Washington, DC, when we worked with FEMA to find a way to reach out to the families that had fled New Orleans and dispersed across the United States. Katrina Aid Today was the result of the hard work of a team of dedicated people at UMCOR. Paul Dirdak, Kristin Sachen, Jim Cox, Warren Harrity, Linda Beher, and I labored for hours to pull together a proposal, fine tune it, and then defend it against myriad other proposals for funds contributed to the US government from foreign governments. In the end, UMCOR received $66 million from FEMA and created a consortium of nine organizations. The funds swelled to more than $200 million when the contributions of the consortium were added in, and we helped more than 183,000

Today, UMCOR is focused on providing local churches with the tools they need to be ready to respond to any disaster, connecting them with their annual conferences and communities through our Connecting Neighbors training program.

Earlier this year, the last of the donations to UMCOR for Hurricane Katrina relief was disbursed to the Mississippi and Louisiana annual conferences, and the rebuilding of homes and lives continues a little while longer. Within the next year, however, the funds will be exhausted, and UMCOR’s work along the Gulf Coast will end. Yet the need persists.

Looking back over the past five years on the Gulf Coast, I feel UMCOR has been faithful to our constituents and good stewards of the donations they entrusted to us. We made every dollar stretch. Lives of both those who received assistance and those who volunteered were touched, and, I pray, God was glorified.

Rev. Tom Hazelwood is UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for disaster response in the United States.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Before I left my home in the U.S. for an UMCOR trip to Cote d’Ivoire, I made sure to have my BlackBerry charged, my new iPad loaded with the Kindle app , my noise-cancellation head phones , my laptop, and my camera. I also brought a book (the real kind, with paper pages) in case all of my technological accoutrements failed. I wanted to be certain I remained “connected.”

As the plane taxied to the gate upon arrival in Abidjan, I turned on my cell phone as I always do—no signal! I removed and replaced the battery, manually turned the phone off and on and—still no signal! When I arrived at the home of my Ivorian sister and her family, I learned she had installed wireless internet since my last visit. “I am saved,” I thought to myself. I unloaded my laptop from my very heavy backpack, which held all my technological wonders, turned the computer on and, after several attempts, it did not boot up. I began to panic again.                                     

Photo: Michelle Scott
Then I looked around the room and saw the joy in my hosts’ faces. They made me realize that while I may have been offline, at that moment I was as connected as I ever could be. It was not my first visit to Cote d’Ivoire nor the first time I’ve stayed with this family.

They had greeted me like one of their own when I arrived and carried my things to “Cynthia’s room.” I was connected to them through our shared experiences in a country that has faced great challenges. And we were connected in Christ, a connection that needs no wireless server, charged battery, or cellular tower.

Early this morning my cell phone began to receive service, and my laptop is working beautifully tonight. I wonder if the things I thought would keep me connected stopped working just for a moment so that I might see the joy in real, person-to-person connection.

Once I was reconnected to the internet and email, I read updates about the floods in Pakistan and UMCOR’s response. I retrieved notes from a meeting on our recovery work in Haiti. I reconnected to the world. Grateful as I am to receive all this information through technological connections, I am reminded that our real connection is with people around the world and that it is important to stay connected as we respond to, and serve, one another.

After I leave Cote d’Ivoire, my next stop will be Liberia, where I will explore UMCOR’s connection with the people there through our many health-related projects. The final stop on my “West Africa Tour” will be Sierra Leone, where, in December, UMCOR will be part of a massive mosquito-net delivery, thanks to the generosity of the many contributors to Imagine No Malaria.

There is no doubt that this trip will continue to connect me with people in very powerful ways. I hope that today you, too, will experience new and profound connections with others.

Cynthia F. Harvey

Reverend Cynthia Fierro Harvey is the Deputy General Secretary for UMCOR.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A memorable return trip to Haiti—By Gil Hanke

Gil Hanke (with pick axe) digs a trench for the foundation of a security wall for a church and school in Mellier, Haiti.  Photo by Kurtis Kraus

July 8th, 2010

This was unlike any of my earlier 30 overseas mission trips, but it is one that I will treasure in a special way.  I volunteered to lead a Haiti mission team from the Texas Annual Conference (Houston Episcopal Area).

Each member of the 10-member team agreed to lead a team back to the island nation within a year.

The dates and the location of our work were selected by the UM Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in cooperation with the Methodist Church of Haiti. The highest priority at this time is to reopen the Methodist elementary schools, and to remove the rubble from church and school sites.

We worked in Mellier, near Leogone, the epicenter of the January 12th earthquake. I had been to Leogone on my first trip to Haiti in 1989, and I traveled through that area many times on the way to a school in Jacmel.

The magnitude and randomness of the destruction is difficult to comprehend or describe. Almost every building in Haiti is made of concrete blocks, with a solid, flat, concrete ceiling/roof. That roof becomes the floor for the next story when it is built.

Those heavy roofs work well during hurricanes and tropical storms, but they are deadly during an earthquake. Imagine a three-story parking garage that loses all its supports and pancakes everything inside; that is what this area looks like today.

I did see the site of St. Vincent’s School for Handicapped Children where I have worked on each trip since 1989. There is nothing left of the three-story school and hospital clinic.


We arrived on Saturday June 26th and spent that night at the Methodist Guest House in Petion-Ville. Early Sunday morning we traveled to Mellier, arriving in the middle of a two-hour worship service.

After the service, we set up tents and cots and began to organize what we had brought for the children, the school and the worksite. We had cooks on site, and the food was great. We had one toilet that worked most of the time, and our shower was a bucket and a small bowl.

Monday through Friday we worked tearing down the security wall in front of the compound (we pushed it over) and digging a new foundation for the new wall. We also made additions to the inside of a wooden temporary building that will be shared by the school and the church.

Since the quake, the Haitians hope to rebuild with wood, but they are so used to building with concrete that they have yet to master the skill of working with wood. They welcome most of our suggestions as we work in partnership. We had one translator, who did a great job and was often called in three directions at once.

Matching funds

The team/conference contributed $3,500 as project money, an amount matched by UMCOR. Those funds paid for materials, but more importantly the funds paid the Haitians who worked beside us and took care of us.

The following weeks there will be other teams, with another $7,000 that will be injected into the local area. The employment of the Haitians brings some stability to the communities, and frankly, the job is too big and conditions too hot for US teams to make an impact on their own. As is the case with many Volunteer in Mission projects, we were there to work for them, and to complete projects as the Haitians directed.

School was in session each day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students met in a UNICEF tent in the middle of the compound and under a nearby tree. When school was out and during their breaks during the day, we had fun with the children.

One of the pastors on the team brought Lego kits contributed by his church’s Vacation Bible School. We also made paper airplanes, colored, played soccer, blew bubbles, jumped rope and sang songs. Many of the children stayed in the compound until we ate dinner. They were beautiful and loving.

Heat takes its toll

By Thursday afternoon, the heat and the conditions took their toll, and our work level was reduced from earlier in the week.

Friday we worked until lunch, took a ride to the beach and began to pack for the trip back to the Guest House on Saturday and an early flight home on Sunday morning.

Haitians always speak with passion. Like any worksite, there were arguments that were usually quickly resolved. One day, however, arguments got to a boiling point. I asked the translator what had them so upset. He smiled and said, “Brazil is losing in the World Cup.”

Several days later when we returned to the Guest House, the community had a funeral procession to morn Argentina’s loss.

Lows and highs

I had the name and phone number of a lead teacher who worked with me in the Hope of Hearing program, but was unable to reach him. It is frustrating not to know if my friends survived the quake.

But I did get some “light” during the trip. While at Mellier, a team member said a young deaf woman was in the compound, and she was asking questions. I spoke with her via sign language, and discovered she had been a student at a school outside Port au Prince. She remembered that I had worked there with the hearing aid team. What a special blessing. It came at the right time. For now, that is enough.
 The UMCOR staff is looking for my friends, and I hope to see them on my return trip to that nation.

Please support Haiti mission teams from your annual conferences and give generously to UMCOR. I would guess that only 1 percent of the clean up has been completed. This will require many years of mission trips, but well worth the continuing journeys.

Gil Hanke is the top staff executive of the General Commission on United Methodist Men.

Read more United Methodist Men blogs here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I have a small plaque on my desk that reads, “courage, strength and hope live in our hearts.” As I reflect on my first two full months as the new leader of UMCOR, those words have grown in meaning. I have listened to our staff share stories of their work around the world and not only has the work required courage, strength and hope on their part but the stories of the people impacted by their work have been filled with courage, strength and hope. I am constantly amazed by the extraordinary resilience of people. In Haiti, in Tennessee, in Sudan, in Chile, throughout the continent of Africa – people are resilient and exemplify courage, strength and hope.

The small plaque in my office was a gift to my sister. I gave it to her as she battled end-stage liver disease. It hung by her bedside and each and every morning she awakened to those words. When she died, that tiny plaque became part of my life. Now, as I sit at my desk my heart is strengthened by those same words. My sister taught me a new meaning for these words and now the people I encounter, who share their countless stories of survival in times of disaster, has once again renewed the meaning of courage, strength and hope.

I suppose it is only appropriate that UMCOR too lives by similar words—Be There. Be Hope. It is because we know that hope lives in our hearts that we respond, that we are there. It is because of the extravagant generosity of the people of the United Methodist Church around the world that hearts unite and hearts respond to Be There and to Be Hope.

One of my favorite writers is Macrina Wiederkehr and in her book “Seasons of Your Heart” she says, “Hope is a small seed that grows wildly when it is nurtured.“

We at UMCOR and I have a hunch many of you throughout our world encounter those for whom hope might not even be a dream. It is difficult to see hope in the midst of life’s challenges. I believe our call is to help those who cannot see hope perhaps just catch a glimpse of her as she walks by. It is up to us to nurture the seeds of hope that they may grow wildly. That kind of seed-tending requires a kind of courage and strength that can only come from the heart.

Today, as you go about your day, my prayer is that you have the courage and strength to look around your own community and look for places and people where you might see some seeds of hope and nurture them that they may grow wildly! Courage, strength and hope live in our hearts! 

Grace and Peace,

Cynthia F. Harvey

Reverend Cynthia Fierro Harvey is the Deputy General Secretary for UMCOR.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Be there. Be hope. The Football Factor

A child plays soccer in front of a damaged government building in Haiti.
An UMCOR photo by Mike Dubose/UMNS

As we drove through town from the airport, it was impossible to ignore the ever-present Brazilian flags –flying from cars, hanging outside homes and businesses, being sold by street vendors, young men wearing the team jerseys of their heroes Kaká, Robinho, Maicon, fruit carts adorned with the same names – even an entire city block painted green and yellow!

For a moment I wondered – was I in Rio? Did I somehow board the wrong flight and end up in South America?

Nope. I had just arrived in Port-au-Prince. Haiti. As it turns out, Haitians are huge fans of Brazilian football. A right many like Argentina, too. And the World Cup is going on. So the Haitians are paying very close attention to their teams. Then they’re watching all the other matches when their favorite teams aren’t playing. This is important stuff.

Have I mentioned that I also love football? Not the quarterback-linebacker-touchdown-homecoming kind of football. Although don’t get me wrong, I like that, too. But I mean Football. Le Foot. Fuβball. Fútbol. As in “GOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLL!” Soccer, if you will… But since the rest of the world calls it football, I will too. And that’s exactly why I love it. Football is a genuinely international sport. It permeates every culture, society, political party, race, religion and socio-economic community across the globe. It is something we can all agree on, all understand, all root for. It is the great equalizer. And that makes it a very beautiful thing.

Like many American youth, I played soccer football when I was a kid. Yet the most lasting memories I have of playing the sport entail searching for four-leaf clovers while “playing goalie” when the rest of the players were on the other end of the field. That or eating orange quarters at half time.

But once I started traveling internationally, I really started noticing – and following – this great sport. I can trace the moment when I became a true fan, while living in Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer. After countless afternoons of letting my students out of English class early to watch or play matches (if I hadn’t their attention would have waned and nothing would have been accomplished anyway), witnessing the zeal with which children in my neighborhood would kick around anything resembling a ball, and organizing a summer football tournament for youth in my village, I realized that football means a lot more than orange slices or clover. It gives people joy, takes their minds off problems they may have, gives them something to look forward to. Perhaps most importantly, it gives people hope.

Children who are talented in the game actually had a chance of qualifying for their local, regional or national teams. In fact, few stars of the game come from privilege – the vast majority rise up from more humble beginnings. Football is a real chance to make a better life for yourself and those around you—to be a part of something that gives others joy and hope; to continue the inspiring cycle. In America, we talk about the “American Dream” where anything is possible. In most other countries, football is the path towards that dream.

So after 2 years of living in my village alongside my Cameroonian friends and colleagues, the national team won the African Cup of Nations. When the final whistle blew, the victory secured, there was nothing to distinguish me from my compatriots, although the paths that led us to that place could not have been more divergent. In that moment, we were equal in our happiness and celebration that OUR team had prevailed. We were hugging each other, crying, laughing, singing together. For the first time in two years, I really felt like I belonged. Despite our obvious differences, this shared celebration brought us together as equals. I was hooked. Football was my new, favorite thing.

Since that time, I have traveled across the world and witnessed firsthand the phenomenon that is the global adoration of the sport. No matter where I go, if ever at a loss for a way to connect with my hosts in Côte d’Ivoire, Bolivia, Chile, France, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, or South Africa – football is the key. There is always something to talk about, an instant common ground.

Yet seeing the way the Haitians embrace the sport, especially in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake of January 12, has done more to affirm my own appreciation of football than anything else. Within days of the quake, children playing football in the streets amidst the rubble was among the first signs of hope that life was going to carry on, that the Haitian resilience and refusal to despair was on display for all to see.

I have to think that the timing of this year’s FIFA World Cup is also good for Haiti. The happiness and inspiration they feel in following the competition and rooting for their favorite teams is palpable. Flags hanging from damaged and destroyed buildings, or perched atop tents in the transitional settlements across the city are symbols of enthusiasm and optimism. Normally impassable traffic literally disappears when Brazil or Argentina are playing. Also, the undeniable awareness that when the local radio stations weren’t broadcasting live matches, they were playing Shakira’s World Cup song over and over and over. And over. And over. Again. And…. Again.

Everyone in Haiti can forget for 90 minutes at a time the destruction and devastation that they still face daily, and focus instead on the excitement, fervor, joy and HOPE that watching or playing football brings.

I’ve appreciated football for its global appeal for some time. But witnessing the inspiration and healing power that it brings to Haiti on its long road to recovery should be enough to make anyone a fan for life.

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Serving in Haiti Reflection

Children in Haiti express themselves through drawings.
Photo by Beth Guy
The boys turned to Mike and asked if they could color with me again. I led them over to my house and got out the stencils, crayons, and paper again. The boys really like the stencils because they can ask Mike and I what the objects are in English. Mike and I spend most of our time labeling their various drawings. One boy, McKinley, came over to Mike tonight and asked him to write down certain phrases he wanted to know how to say. Since Mike knows a significant amount of Kreyol and is (obviously) fluent in English he was a good person to ask. Halfway through writing these phrases, though, he turns to me and says, "Beth, if you want to really know what life is like here... you just gotta read the phrases that McKinley wants to know how to say."

At the top of the paper were simple things like "How are you?" and "What is your name?" Halfway down the sheet, though, you see:

My house is blue.

My house fell down.

I live in a tent.

My cousin died.

My aunt died.

My teacher died.

Wow. You know, you're in the midst of playing and laughing with these kids and then moments like this hit you... when you realize that they have seen more in their few years of life than most have in much longer lifetimes. They've had to endure some extreme heartache and hardships. I am awed and inspired by these kids and their ability to find such happiness in the midst of such struggle.

By Beth Guy

Beth Guy has been working with UMCOR staff in Haiti, coordinating United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams.

Read more about Beth's experiences in Haiti here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Destruction and Deliverance

A rope-shaped tornado in Reno, Oak.
Image by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear... "-- Psalm 46:1-2

Thirty tornadoes touched down on Saturday, with a swath of destruction across our state from Yazoo City to Ackerman. Seven adults and three children died in the terrible storms.

There has been an immediate response by loving and concerned communities. Volunteers worked after the storms until dark, removing debris and tarping roofs.

Wayne Napier, Mississippi Disaster Response leader, and Steve Casteel, Director of Connectional Ministries, are working with impacted communities to assess damage and to identify places for our recovery ministries. District teams are at work in the areas of impact to prepare for volunteers to work effectively and efficiently over the weeks to come.

We have requested start-up funding from the United Methodist Committee on Relief. This funding was approved immediately, and UMCOR staff are present in Mississippi immediately to help us in organizing our response to this tragedy in our midst.

We will send updates to you this week so that you will know ways to respond most helpfully. Thank you for activating your disaster response volunteers. Many hands and hearts are needed to bring comfort and help across our state.

We pray for those who have lost loved ones in the storms, for all who have lost their homes and possessions, for all whose livelihood is impacted by loss of businesses, and for all who will be helping in the recovery and rebuilding efforts across Mississippi.

Even in times like these, we follow God's word to us:

"Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth."
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge."
-- Psalm 46:10-11

By Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church

Please help UMCOR's response with a gift to Advance #901670 US Disaster Response.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Music and Nets in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Community health volunteer Madelene Mwainga hangs a mosquito net in the home of Serge Tshibal during a training event in Lubumbashi, DRC.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose 
With all of the really hard and challenging news we hear about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it was a privilege for me to witness signs of hope and joy as a community joined together in the fight against malaria.

The atrocities of war, illness and extreme poverty demand our attention and need to be addressed. In Lubumbashi last week, the Congolese people celebrated a common goal—to significantly reduce the incidence of malaria—and took a step closer to achieving peace and economic stability in a country that faces severe hardship.

Realizing that children of all faiths are dying of malaria, representatives of different religious backgrounds—United Methodist, Jewish, Moslem, Anglican, Roman Catholic—came together for the first time in the DRC, under the banner of CORESA, to provide 30,000 mosquito nets to families in the Bongonga community. The spirit of celebration I witnessed is one I will always remember.

A barely passable dirt road leads into Bongonga, an underserved, unrecognized urban community. But last week, in anticipation of World Malaria Day, Bongonga was the center of attention. Dignitaries and artists joined the thousands of local people who turned out for a launch event designed specifically for Bongonga. The governor was among the speakers, and a musical performance by Yvonne Chaka Chaka, a South African musician often called the “Princess of Africa,” was a highlight of the event.

I felt self conscious of my position in the VIP area as I noted the very strict security that kept the local people far from the stage. When Yvonne started singing and called “her children” to join her, the ground shook as security allowed thousands of young people to dance their way to the stage. I was so moved that she had done that for them. . . The children’s joy surrounded me and was electric.

Watching them I knew that one out of five of these precious, smiling little ones will likely die of malaria, and the significance of the day hit me. Yvonne did not forget either. When she finished singing, she told the crowd how important it is for children under five and pregnant women to use the mosquito bed nets. “Do not sell the nets,” she commanded. “Do not use the nets for fishing.”

After the celebration, I joined one of the local volunteer groups as they hung a mosquito net in the home of a woman who has eight children. I met her two smallest sons and played with them in the front room of her home. I prayed that the net would save these boys’ lives.

I prayed that a day like this, with celebrities and dignitaries, community volunteers and bishops, would leave a lasting impression on this community and that with the partnership and commitment of local volunteers, they would see a decrease in the number of malaria-provoked deaths. I prayed they would begin to advocate for themselves and work with the government to fight against malaria.

And I gave thanks that my church was among the religious communities that today decided to not stand by while every 30 seconds a child dies from a disease that is preventable. I am grateful to be part of the United Methodist Church—a church that continues to bring hope to God’s most vulnerable people.

By Melissa Hinnen, director of UMCOR Communications

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Holy Week in Haiti Reflection

Communities in Haiti find refuge under tents at a nearby basketball court.
An UMCOR Photo by Mike Dubose

It was Tuesday morning. Since Palm Sunday I have been experiencing Holy Week in a different way from previous years. I have been preparing for my first trip to Haiti, which is also my first trip as Deputy General Secretary nominated to lead the Mission and Evangelism Program of Global Ministries. The trip to Haiti brought me a special meaning of Jesus’ walk to the cross. In a sense, I saw His experience of death and resurrection re-lived by the people of Haiti. I felt I was about to meet Him again through the suffering of the Haitian people.

I traveled to Haiti through the Dominican Republic. That morning, as my flight was about to take off, my little knowledge of French was coming back to mind. I wished I could speak Creole. With a series of bumps, we were suddenly off the ground, and in God’s hands. Below, I saw Santo Domingo and the poor neighborhoods close to the airport. I wondered how the other side of the island of Hispaniola would compare.

I read the passage of Jesus in the temple watching the widow offering her two last coins. Her gift of life was much more valuable than the riches of the wealthy. The passage made me think about what we were giving to Haiti. Charity? A gift of life? The possibility of rebuilding a nation with justice and dignity? Our love must turn into action.

I landed in Haiti excited and anxious about what I would encounter. I started the day thinking of the widow and her gift of life, and kept seeing her in person all day long in Port-au-Prince. The plane was still high and could see the signs that I had crossed the border into Haiti. Bare mountains and dried rivers, which resembled the dried rivers and washes from the Arizona desert—no vegetation. But I was in the tropical Caribbean, not the desert! Something was wrong with that picture. Or is it the Earth crying because of the pain from its recent devastation… the same pain that afflicts the people of Haiti?

When the plane was approaching the airport, we flew over the capital city, I realized that it was no longer the Earth that was crying, but it was the city—the flattened buildings, the inexistent roofs, the damaged structures, which all caught my attention. It was a different cry. The first was the cry of nature violated by humans trying to escape poverty. The second was the cry of humans in poverty violated by nature—the two are so connected. Later that day, I heard that areas with more trees were less devastated than areas with no vegetation because the trees absorbed the energy of the earthquake to some extent. Could it be true, that the devastation of the environment has increased the devastation of the earthquake?

To arrive at a country which speaks two languages that you don’t understand well is always challenging. But there was something familiar in the air, which I didn’t identify with until later. Then it came to me: I was back in Baixada Fluminense, in Caxias, the city where I started my ministry in Brazil. What a discovery! There was nothing to put or take from that context of poverty and misery in Brazil, just the different sounds coming out of the mouth of the people. Without that language difference, I could swear that I was on a time travel to the periphery of Rio de Janeiro some 25 years ago.

A car picked me at the airport and started its journey to the Methodist Church of Haiti’s office in Petionville. My first sight visit was one of many tent camp housing sites where thousands lost their homes. They are white and blue. Every flat space that was clear after the earthquake is covered with tents, even the hillsides.

I once saw an image of the Exodus: the Philippine domestic workers in Hong Kong on their day off. They occupied the business center of the city to meet and chat and eat together. They were thousands and thousands of women resting from their wanderings in the desert. Today I saw the tents of those living and wandering in the desert for 40 years, yearning for a new home. Once again the image of the desert in the Caribbean crossed my mind.

The car continued to snake the streets and the traffic. I saw signs of destruction and rubble all along the streets. Then I saw a collapsed building. It had two or three floors. It was flattened as if a giant had taken a seat on it. If there were people inside at the time of the earthquake, they could not have gotten out alive. If there were people inside, their bodies are still there, because there were no signs that the building has been touched at all. At that moment, I realized that I was looking at a grave. All of this in few seconds. My heart was pounding. My mind was spinning. Then I saw another one, and another, and another. Then I saw a row, a block, all full of rubble. But the randomness is distressing. Was it a lottery? Why did one building fall and not another?

We got to the school where the church office is located. Children were under blue tarps and classrooms were in session. What a wonderful view… beautiful smiles, and bright eyes everywhere. No wonder Jesus said that from these little children you would get perfect praise. Looking into their eyes, I asked if they had experienced the earthquake as I was feeling it. The devastation was still there around us, but life had continued.

During the rest of the day, we traveled the city and saw the same thing over and over again, in every neighborhood we passed. But when we looked at the city from the top of a mountain, we noticed how the earthquake affected the most vulnerable. Hill side communities (not different from the slums of Rio de Janeiro, like Rocinha) flattened as if there had been a dry land slide. And suddenly I remembered the rainy season, the hurricanes. My God! What will happen to these people when the rains arrive? It is frightening.

Finally, we were taken to the site of the Hotel Montana, the place where two of our colleagues of Global Ministries lost their lives. My heart was again pounding, my hands trembling, my eyes watering. Seeing all the destruction of that rich neighborhood, I didn’t feel the same signs of death I felt before, not to the same degree. There was no place destroyed which had not been touched, searched, cleared. And we got to the gate of the Hotel. A red tall metal gate closed with a sign that stated that no one could enter.

A security guard also stated, “It is not safe. It is private. You cannot enter.” Why?

We needed to see the place we had so much imagined during those anguishing days in January. But we were turned away. We stopped a few hundred meters from the Hotel at a clearance, where we could see the poor hills before us. There are thousands and thousands living there, in tents, in shacks, many which will not survive the rainy season. And suddenly it startled me. Like a voice whispering in my ears: Those who you came here looking for have gone to Heaven. Look around. These are the people you are here to see. These are my sheep without a shepherd. Look after them.

My God, my Jesus! I saw the widow again! I saw Jesus suffering and dying and resurrecting in the eyes of children! It is Holy Week in Haiti! And Jesus is Haitian!

It was Good Friday when I was on my way back to New York. On our second day in Port-au-Prince we were able to debrief our short but intense visit of the previous day with the President of the Methodist Church of Haiti to discuss plans for the near and remote future. There is so much to be done. Our presence and our work there is just a tiny piece of what is needed to be done.

Our visits and meetings gave us a sense of the magnitude of the task ahead, and of the capacities and limitations of the church there. We learned of their compassion in the middle of their pain. Those whose houses were not affected have opened their land, and their gardens to families who lost their places to live. The school we visited opened its sports field to hundreds of families. Thousands of students are having classes under tarps, under the trees, and another community of more than two thousand are living on the grounds. Solidarity is not lacking.

Going from one place to another we also saw that life has not stopped. We saw hundreds of street sellers, thousands hired to clear rubble, people coming and going everywhere. We saw tired eyes, bright smiles, and smelled a hope in the midst of anxiety for the near future.

And on the way to the airport to drop Bishop Ough and Melissa Hinnen who were part of the team, we were taken to a final site visit to tour the damaged facilities of Grace Children’s Hospital. It was scary to be walking under those ceilings and walls sustained by metal beams. Afterall, they could fall at any moment. But it was so humbling to see every inch of space that is minimally safe to be in used so they can continue to serve the children with disabilities, AIDS or other conditions each day. Before the earthquake they were attending 300 patients per day. Now they are seeing only half that amount. But where? How?

When we came out of the damaged building and saw the tents outside – there, under the tents were the patients, the nurses, and the doctors. We went under a blue tarp and it was lunch time for the babies and toddlers with disabilities. What a heartwarming image. What a hope.
We also visited the maternity ward, which was totally destroyed. Imagine the panic of the little children during the earthquake? When we saw their bright eyes and smiles under the heat of the scorching sun, we left the place sweating, but smiling too.

After a day and a half, I was the only member of our team left. More meetings and more plans. Dicussions about the needs of the country and how the church can help, continued. It is evident that the capacity is limited. Help is needed for organizing, but the energy level is high.

When my last night in Haiti arrived, I wished I could stay longer and visit with more people. There is so much more I want to learn. But suddenly I heard the rain. It had rained every night of the week. It was a short rain. It lasted less than an hour. We almost didn’t notice it in the morning. But for those living in tents the rain is literal wake up call, that hurricane season is on its way. Rain can be the very next disaster. I looked outside into the rain and felt the urge to pray. Please, God, pour your grace over these suffering people.

It was Good Friday. I read the passage of the Stations of the Cross in the plane. In the evening I attended the service of the Way of the Cross at my church, St. Paul and St. Andrew UMC. Jesus’ death is for our redemption, for the redemption of the people of Haiti. Oh, God! May your son’s resurrection be a sign of new life for the people of Haiti! May this be a Holy Week for that suffering country. May it be Holy Week in Haiti! May it be Easter in Haiti!

By Jorge L. F. Domingues, Deputy General Secretary for Mission and Evangelism, General Board of Global Ministries.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Signs of Hope in Haiti: A Good Friday Reflection

A women in Haiti passes by a collasped building.
Photo by Melissa Hinnen/UMCOR

April 2, 2010—And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. Matt 27:51

On this Good Friday, as I reflect on my trip earlier this week to Haiti, I think of the woman I met whose mother had died in the earthquake and whose home was destroyed. “But we must carry on. That is not all there is,” she said to me with the most sincere smile that carried to her eyes. What an awesome reminder of God's grace and promise for us as we approach Easter.

This was my first visit to Haiti. I had tried to prepare myself to be met with despair and hopelessness and was anxious about how I would handle that. I prayed that I might know how to provide comfort and ministry. But I am so amazed by the resilience and the true joy of the Haitian people. I began to understand that despair is a luxury – in order to survive, one must embrace the blessings offered in the midst of hardship.

Everywhere we looked there were homes and other buildings destroyed. As we passed collapsed building after collapsed building, I thought about how every single structure held a story with people connected to it. While much of the rubble has been removed from the streets, there is nowhere in downtown Port au Prince that does not bear signs of the devastation and loss. Every open space is filled with tents.

But beautiful, colorful tropical flowers bloom everywhere-- even the earthquake could not keep these signs of life from emerging. And the people of Haiti carry on. They are in the market, they are walking, they are worshipping, and they are in school.

At UMCOR and The General Board of Global Ministries, we have had our own losses in Haiti where Sam Dixon and Clint Rabb lost their lives. Sam was the head of UMCOR and always available to give me guidance and perspective. I miss his support and his laughter and his commitment to mission. As I traveled to Haiti, I was so aware of his and Clint’s sacrifice and UMCOR’s commitment to the overall crisis.

As I met with people and glimpsed their day to day reality, it helped me to understand that while our personal sadness is justified, the magnitude of what the Haitian people face still lies before us. They have ALL lost people they love and they are all still struggling to survive -- they do it with a grace and purpose that blessed me.

The deepness of the loss in Haiti is great but the commitment of our church is strong and I am proud to be part of this denomination that has shown time and again that working together we will be in solidarity with the people of Haiti for years to come. Through gifts to UMCOR, we will work with communities to transform their resilience into self sustaining empowerment.

What a blessing. What a reminder of God’s grace and promise for us.

By Melissa Hinnen, Director, UMCOR Communications

Monday, March 22, 2010

Celebrating UMCOR

Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar.  A photo by Mike Dubose/UMNS.

My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As we continue our journey in the Lenten season, on the fourth Sunday of Lent we celebrate the ministry of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), through our prayers, gifts, and other support.

In a recent issue of the New World Outlook, Melissa Hinnen, writes, “In the midst of war and destruction UMCOR serves as a “voice of conscience among Methodists to act in the relief of human suffering without distinction of race, color or creed’. So said Bishop Herbert Welch at the General Conference of the Methodist Church on April 26, 1940. With the outbreak of World War II, Bishop Welch called on the General Conference to respond to the needs of human suffering around the world. On June 2, 1940, Methodists observed a day of prayer and sacrifice, with the offering being used to support the newly formed Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief (MCOR)” (Melissa Hinnen, “UMCOR 70 Years of Hope”, New World Outlook, January/February 2010, p.14).

Later, in 1972, the name of the MCOR (Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief) was changed to UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief.) As we reflect on the ministry and mission of UMCOR on the fourth Sunday of Lent the gospel reading for the day challenges us to reflect on the parable of the prodigal son. Luke writes, “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

The American Heritage College Dictionary defines compassion as, “Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” Elsewhere, in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, referring to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Mark writes, “... he had compassion for them” (Mark 6:34).

As we celebrate the ministry of UMCOR, particularly as we journey under the shadow of the Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the larger question we need to ask is “Am I a compassionate Christian?” Christians not only make themselves aware of the suffering of the children of God but also make every effort to relieve it.

The compassionate spirit of Jesus Christ challenged the disciples to respond by feeding thousands of people who came to hear Jesus.

The compassionate spirit of the father in the parable of the prodigal son nudged him to run after the needs of a son who was approaching.

The compassionate spirit of Bishop Welch energized the General Conference of our denomination to respond to the “needs of the human suffering around the world.”

Today, the ministry of UMCOR takes us to places where we cannot go ourselves in times of hurt and suffering. Though many of us were not there in person to relieve the pain and suffering of the victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti, we were there in spirit and resources through the ministry and mission of UMCOR.

Though we take an offering for the ministry and mission of UMCOR through One Great Hour of Sharing on the fourth Sunday during Lent, UMCOR is in ministry on our behalf 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in the United States of America and around the world.

May God enable all of us to call for self-examination and to raise a question, “Do we have the compassionate spirit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in us?”

May we all experience a blessed and spiritual Lenten season.

In Christ’s love,

Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar,
Greater New Jersey United Methodist Conference

View more of Bishop Devadhar’s messages on The Relay Online

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Small Churches Give Big to Haiti

Rev. Madlyn Barry Ruch, RN, Pastor, Oklahoma Conference-Parish Nursing

Several of the local churches collected and assembled health kits for UMCOR Haiti relief, a task that is relatively easy for large congregations with plenty of resources. However, our congregations, Savanna United Methodist Church, Savanna, Oklahoma, and Krebs Grace United Methodist Church, Krebs, Oklahoma, are very small in number and resources. Savanna UMC has a membership of only eight, and Krebs Grace UMC has about 15 members.

Nevertheless, these two sister congregations assembled 95 health kits and four layette kits for UMCOR Haiti, a rather large feat for our small congregations. Special offerings have also been collected, and online donations were made directly to the Volunteers in Mission.

Many of our members are elderly and cannot physically serve in the relief efforts. However, they all give from the bottom of their hearts, freely and lovingly, and have pledged to continue collecting items for the kits, as long as is needed. The relief efforts, as well as all of God's children in Haiti, are prayed for daily by each member.

Our small but mighty churches are committed to serve in any way possible that helps to bring God's love to His children who are in need.

Grace and Peace,
Rev. Madlyn Barry Ruch, RN, Pastor
Oklahoma Conference-Parish Nursing