Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Life and Hope Help Haiti Stand

UMCOR executive Melissa Crutchfield passes purified water to Haiti survivors.
UMCOR photo by Mike Dubose, UMNS

Our team of six (three from UMCOR and Global Ministries, and three United Methodist communicators) arrived in Port-au-Prince on Thursday evening, heading straight to the Auberge du Quebec hotel in Carrefour, located in a suburb just west of Port-au-Prince, where dozens of aid workers and reporters are staying. We stayed there one night, then moved closer into town at the Methodist guest house, which remained intact despite the buildings around it that crumbled.

The scene here is quite unimaginable and cannot be put into words. I know everyone has seen the footage and heard the stories, so I'll refrain from repeating the obvious, except to say I see no other way that this country will recover but for practically razing the entire city of Port-au-Prince and many surrounding areas and simply starting over. The destruction is immense. Of the structures left standing, many are precarious. There will be scant few that won't need some kind of repair, reinforcement or replacement. It will take years.

The humanitarian emergency is dire in terms of access to clean water, food, and shelter, but slowly and surely aid is getting out and increasing. The vast majority of the international community (UN, USAID, etc.) are still focused on the city of Port-au-Prince, and it is definitely needed here, but the traffic congestion and closed roads due to debris create additional challenges to simply getting around.

More than 700,000 people are displaced from their homes, either because their homes collapsed, or because they are afraid to sleep inside. Almost no one sleeps indoors right now. Spontaneous informal settlements have cropped up in the public parks, church yards, school yards, along the streets, parking lots, soccer fields, or anywhere with open space. The situation outside Port-au-Prince is the same in terms of the destruction, but slightly less congested. For now, we are focusing our relief efforts in these areas which are receiving less attention and aid.

Aftershocks are pretty common at this point. We felt three aftershocks on Friday and have heard there is a solid chance of more of them occurring. They were pretty unsettling, although the biggest one was only a 4.4 magnitude, and I can see why the folks who experienced the actual earthquake are jumpy about sleeping indoors. (But don't worry, mom, we're staying safe, have a quick exit strategy everywhere we go, and have tents to sleep in as a back-up plan!)

On Friday we visited several sites about 40 miles outside of Port-au-Prince with the l'Eglise Méthodiste d'Haiti and Petit Goâve and Mellier, where we saw churches, schools and countless homes completely destroyed. The road on the way there was fraught with rock slides and fissures. The scope of the destruction is staggering.

On Saturday we spent the day with our partner GlobalMedic, delivering clean water to several spontaneous settlements in Léogâne and Gressier.

Our team attended several cluster meetings on Sunday morning with the UN and international aid community, which was interesting but still reinforced the fact that (a) everyone is struggling with logistics and coordination at this stage and (b) the outlying regions are still underserved. UMCOR is actually doing a pretty good job getting into action at this stage.

Tomorrow we head back to Mellier, accompanied by l'Eglise Méthodiste d'Haiti, to do a needs assessment, and plan a distribution of relief supplies for later in the week.

In terms of security issues, the stories you see on the news are pretty sensationalized and there isn't much concern just getting around the city. Civil society has begun to resume and people are out in the streets selling fruit, water and an impressive variety of other goods. It seems that a lot of things are still available for purchase, but the prices have gone up. The banks have also been down, causing a breakdown in the ability of people to access goods. But the banks and money transfer places (like Western Union) opened on Friday, allowing people to access money. So things should improve somewhat on that front.

There has been a curfew imposed at night for international aid workers, so we are usually back to the guest house by 6:00 p.m. When we do the distribution later this week we will be prudent and plan ahead to avoid any mob scenes. We will have access to security from the local UN if needed. But generally, folks respect things done with and through the church, so we have that on our side.

The resilience of the Haitian people is impressive and humbling. Life really is going on, despite the huge loss that EVERYONE has felt, and the difficulties that seem to mount for them each day. The recovery will be long and slow, but most are also seeing an opportunity to strengthen Haiti in the process. I feel humbled, anxious, honored, and excited to have the opportunity and responsibility of coordinating UMCOR's work on the ground at this stage. I honestly think we'll do some good and make a positive impact, despite all of the hurdles we already have and inevitably will encounter.

Keep checking the UMCOR website for updates. The UMC website is posting additional stories and pictures from the communications team with us here.

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

Monday, January 25, 2010

Haiti journal: Home is a field, but families remain families

A father helps his son with basic hygiene at the camp where they are staying in Leogane, Haiti.
UMNS photos by Mike DuBose

January 24, 2010

LEOGANE, Haiti (UMNS)—A soccer field has become home to more than 5,000 traumatized Haitians here. It is one of many makeshift communities tucked in every corner of the cities and in open fields in the outlying areas.

A massive earthquake Jan. 12 shook more than 400,000 people from the safety of their homes.
Home doesn't mean safe anymore.

The communities can't really be called tent cities because most of the people don't have any kind of shelter. Wooden poles covered by sheets provide a little respite from the hot sun during the day.

Families hang their laundry to dry on the bleachers and on top of chain-link fences. Women wash clothes in large tin pots, cook on open flames, and watch as children run and play in the narrow spaces between the shelters.

Some comforts from home have made their way here. A young couple walks into the camp carrying a wooden door. An old, worn chair looks oddly out of place.

The people have designated a place between two cars as the public shower. An elderly man stands wrapped in an orange towel, using the side mirrors of one of the cars to shave.

A group of Haitian medical doctors and nurses operates a clinic, set up in a corner of the field. A pharmacist says he took all of the drugs from his store and brought them to the field for the medical team to use. Today, the Angel Medical Center from Western North Carolina is lending a hand. The Haitians say occasionally a team will stop and help for a few hours or a few days.

Being homeless doesn't stop families from being families.

A father leads his young son to the "shower." Gently he brushes his child's teeth, washes his body and softly talks to him. For a moment, he is able to block out all the noise and upheaval.

It is the sweetest moment of my day.

 *By Kathy Gilbert, a news writer for United Methodist News Service on assignment in Haiti.

News media contact: Kathy Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Open Letter to Annual Conferences

Young UMCOR West volunteers take a break.

Dear Friends,

I am writing on behalf of the United Methodist Committee on Relief‘s UMCOR West Office and Depot which has been in operation since June 1, 2009. We are a ministry that gathers, assembles, and sends disaster relief kits all round the world to the most vulnerable of populations. Along with UMCOR Sager Brown, UMCOR West is the UMCOR second disaster relief depot. Except for Alaska and Hawaii, every western state has sent a work teams to UMCOR West to participate in our important ministry. You can find out more about our mission by going to

This last week has been particularly difficult for all of the UMCOR staff as a result of the earthquake in Haiti. As you may know, the Rev. Sam Dixon who was the head of UMCOR, along with the Rev. Clinton Rabb, head of mission volunteers, were killed in the earthquake. Your prayers for the UMCOR staff, the families of Rev. Dixon and Rev. Rabb, and for the people of Haiti are coveted during this grieving process.

On a more positive note, the people of Utah have responded powerfully to the call to help the people of Haiti. We have been working with hundreds of volunteers to assemble and send aid to the people of Haiti. Our first shipment of around 23,000 health kits will be sent from our warehouse in a few days!

As a result of this tremendous volunteer response, we are now running critically low on our disaster relief materials and we call on you to help. If you would like to help restock our warehouse in preparation for more supplies being sent to Haiti and other destinations you can:

1. Give financially through the Advance ( ) which is a powerful giving program in United Methodist Church. One hundred percent of the money donated goes toward the project you pick. Each mission project is assigned a number. The Advance number for both UMCOR West and UMCOR Sager Brown – our two UMCOR Depots – is #901440.

2. Consider putting together disaster relief kits at your home church. All of the information to assemble kits can be found at If you choose to make kits at your home church we ask that you please focus on two kits, the Health Kit and Layette Kit. They can be sent to UMCOR West, 1479S 700W, Salt Lake City, UT, 84104. .

Thank you so much for your support and faithfulness! It is the work of United Methodists like you that makes a difference in the lives of people around the globe.


Rev. Brian Diggs, Director UMCOR West Office and Depot

The Benefit of Being Conventional

UMCOR volunteers work together to load health kits for shipping to areas in need.

For several years now I have heard friends throughout the states belittle the value of denominations in our country. “We are in a post-denominational world” they say. “Denominational structures get in the way of ministry. Why do you continue on a a dying system?”

There are many days when I agree with them, many days when I am convinced that the bureaucratic morass that we have created is worthless and needs to be cast aside. There are times when I fully agree that denominations are dinosaurs, the legacy of times past, which are unable to be quick and nimble in the face of need.

And then, just when I am ready to give up, some disaster happens in the world and UMCOR, the disaster relief organization of my denomination, springs into action and restores my faith in the power of denominationalism to bring about good.

UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has been a point of pride for me and a shining example of what can be done when multiple congregations join forces in a systemic way to address world needs. It is through our connection that we can keep in place one of the leading NGO’s which is able to respond at a moment’s notice. This connection allows us to cover the administrative costs of having a relief agency, which then means that when emergencies come and appeals are made for assistance, 100% of the dollars given are available to address those emergencies.

This is a unique gift to the world, for most other NGO’s are forced to direct some of their donated dollars toward administrative expenses. Our ability to direct 100% of donations to those in need has led to our receiving high ratings from all the leading non-profit watch dog agencies who help us know what agencies are faithful to their mission. Other agencies aren’t as efficient, and often have high administrative expenses.

There are many things we do wrong as denominations, but sometimes we need to remember than which is done right, and UMCOR is the way that we put love into action and reach out with the love of God. It’s something we can be proud of, for it demonstrates in tangible ways our commitment to love and justice.

From the very beginning of the tragedy in Haiti, UMCOR has been on the ground, in fact, the organization’s leaders were in Haiti during the earthquake resulting in at least two deaths. It is an organization that I can proudly claim as my own, and I have no reticence in telling all who might read this that it is a good place to give your money if you are looking to help out.

By Jay Voorhees, pastor of the Antioch United Methodist Church
View his weblog “Only Wonder Understands

Friday, January 15, 2010

Health Kits Needed

UMCOR Sager Brown volunteers prepare health kits.

UMCOR's two relief supply warehouses are asking United Methodists to provide health kits that will be sent to Haiti. Click here to download health kit contents and instructions.

You can send relief supply kits to either depot—UMCOR coordinates supply shipments from both locations.

UMCOR Sager Brown Depot: P.O Box 850 131 Sager Brown Road Baldwin, LA 70514-0850 Contact : 1-800-814-8765

UMCOR West Office and Depot: 1479 South 700 WestSalt Lake City, UT 84104-1605
Contact: 1-801-973-7250

Donors may also contribute by placing a check in the offering plate at a local church or by mailing it to:
UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087.
Checks should indicate Haiti Emergency, Advance #418325
Please keep Haiti in your prayers. For more information call 1-800-554-8583

Monday, January 11, 2010


A boy in Sudan carries his UMCOR school bag to to school each day, as he has no home to leave his belongings.

After our first year of working at the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot, the Mission Ministry Team at First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn., became interested in having our congregation assemble various disaster relief kits for shipment to Sager Brown. The first kit we selected was the ‘school kit’. We bought fabric, cut out bags, sewed bags and stuffed them with the necessary school supplies. We then transported these bags down to Sager Brown when a team drove down to Baldwin for our second year of kit verification, and we were actually able to verify our own kits. What a meaningful experience to see a kit from its gestation to being placed in a box, put on a pallet and the pallet placed on a shelf read for deployment to a disaster site.

But my story does not end with waving goodbye to our kits. A year later, my wife Maxine and I were fortunate to participate in a Holston Conference mission team that served the Methodist Compound in Yei, Sudan. This compound houses a school, church, feeding facilities and a few homes. The school serves over 1,000 youth. Besides providing them with an education the school feeds them the noon meal. While serving in Yei we saw many children running around with UMCOR school bags just like the ones we had built, transported, verified, and packed. This boy, in the accompanying photo, attracted my attention as he stood and watched us for several hours, as we filled prescriptions from our make-shift pharmacy. Like many of the children attending this school, he comes in from the ‘bush’ where he lives in a make-shift ‘home’ and he returns to the ‘bush’ when school is out for the day. As well as getting an education he receives one meal a day at the compound.

His UMCOR school bag is very near and dear to him as he keeps all of his worldly belongings in it. He carries it to school each day, as he has no home to leave them. The United Methodist School, his daily meal and an UMCOR school bag are his life. As I took the picture I thought about the importance of working within the structure of a connectional church and about how fortunate I was to observe the complete life cycle of an UMCOR school bag. The work of UMCOR is a blessing to both those who serve and those who are served.

By Bob Schultz, an UMCOR Sager Brown volunteer from Oak Ridge, Tennessee