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.