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