Friday, January 14, 2011

Standing with the Least and the Forgotten in Mexico

Mexican immigrants who were returned to their country from the US carry blankets they received during a distribution in Nogales, Mexico. Five United Methodist annual conferences, Global Ministries, UMCOR, and the Methodist Church of Mexico participated in the action.  Photo: Tom Hazelwood/UMCOR

Bishop Minerva Carcaño invited me last weekend to come to Nogales, Arizona, to join the Covenant Council of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference in a distribution of blankets and health kits to people the US government had deported to Nogales, Mexico, just over the border.

Each year, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, captures and repatriates thousands of unauthorized immigrants. I suspect the average United Methodist, regardless of his or her opinion of immigration and immigration reform, has not given much thought to what happens to a person who is detained and deported.

My own sense was that an unauthorized immigrant, once caught, was simply transported back to his or her country of origin, and that was all there was to it. Last weekend in Mexico, though, after I listened to people tell their stories of repatriation, I learned more and my heart ached for these people.

I learned that deported persons are returned to their countries of origin with literally just the shirts on their backs. Personal items such as money, identification cards or documents, additional clothing, even medicine are taken away. If a group is captured together, even if they are members of the same family or husband and wife, I was told, they are separated and each one is sent to a different port of entry, unknown to the other. The objective behind these measures, of course, is to make it as difficult as possible for those who have been removed to reenter the US.

Into these difficult circumstances five United Methodist annual conferences (Southwest Texas, Rio Grande, New Mexico, Desert Southwest, and Cal-Pac), the Methodist Church of Mexico, the General Board of Global Ministries, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) have come together in ministry. Together with local ministry partners we offer assistance to people repatriated to Mexico, who literally have nothing.

The blankets and health kits Bishop Carcaño invited me to help distribute were provided by UMCOR. In all, UMCOR sent 10,000 blankets and kits to help stations along the US/Mexico border. The annual conferences and local ministry partners provide additional assistance, including medicine, food, clothing, and transportation for returnees to their cities or towns of origin. The humanitarian plight of the deported was our focus. Their needs cannot be overstated, and, regardless of one’s opinion of immigration and immigration reform, their plight must not be overlooked.

As we traveled through Arizona, we could sense that tensions were high. Immigration has been a hot-button issue in this state for some time. A teenage boy had been shot and killed recently by a border patrol agent. Only days before that, a border patrol agent had been shot and killed under circumstances that remain unclear.

Saturday morning, while we were distributing the blankets and health kits in Nogales, Mexico, we heard that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others had been shot in Tucson. We learned that some of those who had been shot had died. Our hearts were hurting, angry, and scared. We stopped where we were and prayed for all involved. Then we crossed back over the border into Nogales, Arizona. We reconvened at El Mesias United Methodist Church, where we debriefed, worshiped, and prayed.

Both in the stories of the deported immigrants and in the violence in Tucson, I was reminded of how in the midst of tragedy, Christ stands with us. God, through the power of Jesus Christ, gives us the courage and strength to walk into tragic situations like these and offer compassion and hope.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be in Arizona last weekend and to be a part of The United Methodist Church’s ministry to the least and the forgotten.

By Rev. Tom Hazelwood,  Assistant General Secretray, US Disaster Response, UMCOR

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Celebrate Life!

Celebrate Life! Starting the day with a sunrise memorial with the Protestant Federation of Haiti. Photo: Melissa Crutchfield/UMCOR

The following is a statement issued by Melissa Crutchfield, Assistant General Secretary, International Disaster Response, UMCOR, to the Protestant Federation of Haiti in Port au Prince.

January 12, 2011

On behalf of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, I would like to thank you for the privilege of being here with you today.

Over the past 12 months, we have shared an incredible journey with the Haitian people, a journey which began with the great loss and tragedy caused by the earthquake one year ago today. We have cried with you, mourned with you, prayed with you, celebrated miracles with you. We have been humbled by your strength, your courage, your resilience. We have learned from you what it means to be patient, hard-working, dedicated and devoted to the ministry of renewal in Christ’s name. We have walked with you through the treacherous and ever-challenging recovery. We have worked side-by-side with you in what have been the first steps towards rebuilding this beautiful country, the first steps along what we know will be a long road. A road which will present us with fresh challenges; a road which will not be easy; a road whose end we may not yet see from where we stand today. Yet with our support of each other and with our faith in Him, we are given the strength to continue the journey.

Although our work together over the past months has redefined and strengthened our partnerships in Haiti in many ways, the commitment of UMCOR, GBGM and the United Methodist Church to the people of Haiti began long ago. For decades, we have worked with our brothers and sisters in the Église Méthodiste d’Haiti and the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas, as well as other partners in faith, and those who share the humanitarian spirit, to support, strengthen and improve the lives of all Haitians.

The people of the United Methodist Church and beyond have continued to affirm this long-standing commitment and partnership with their extravagant generosity, so that we may have the resources to remain engaged in the recovery, rehabilitation and sustainable development of Haiti for years to come. We pledge to work with you to strengthen the livelihoods, shelters, education and health of the Haitian people; we commit ourselves to stand beside you as we navigate the holistic recovery of body, mind and spirit, so that all Haitians may not just survive, but thrive.

Today I am honored to have the opportunity to stand with you to remember those we have lost, celebrate those who remain, applaud our progress, and renew our commitment to walking hand-in-hand with you on the long road ahead. And with Christ’s help, all things are possible, so that renewal of Haiti and all Haitians will not be a dream, but a reality.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Day of New Beginnings

This time last year, I am certain the UMCOR staff had high hopes for a new year of service and transformation in the world. They couldn’t know that in just 12 short days their lives would be changed forever.

On Monday, January 11, then UMCOR head the Rev. Sam Dixon boarded a plane bound for Haiti to do what Sam did best: work with a local church to launch a major program initiative, this time in the area of agriculture. While in retrospect some might see this is as Sam’s final journey, others of us have come to see it as yet another new beginning.

In more than 200 years, there has not been an earthquake in Haiti as destructive as the one that struck January 12, 2010. When the quake struck shortly before 5:00 p.m., it provoked one of the most devastating disasters of our time. January 12 did not only impact life at UMCOR, in the tragic deaths of Sam and his friend and colleague the Rev. Clint Rabb. This disaster impacted the world. It brought Haiti to the forefront of international attention and exposed the historical challenges of development work there, exacerbated now by a level of destruction that defied the imagination.

UMCOR stepped forward, in the midst of our own grief, to do what UMCOR has done for more than 70 years: we responded to the needs of the people. At first, we offered simple means to critical clean water and food distributions. Then, we began implementing larger programs of rubble removal and providing temporary shelters and schools. In all we have done over the past year, responding to the expressed needs of Haitians has been first and foremost. Together with Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti (Methodist Church of Haiti), UMCOR has responded to the needs of the church and of the broader communities it serves.

Recovery work in Haiti has been a dance: two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes it’s a smooth, beautiful waltz and at others a chaotic routine. Just when we began to feel we were making progress last year, the rainy season came, and then there was the cholera outbreak, and then post-electoral political unrest. All the while, broken supply chains remained unaddressed, and transportation continued to be an issue.

Even in the midst of challenges, though, there are new beginnings; there are victories, both large and small, that we must celebrate. Rubble has been removed. Children are in school. People are worshiping on Sunday morning. Haitians have a place to lay their head at night. Hope peeks its head around the corner in the beaming face of a Haitian child. These things are possible thanks to the generosity of the people of the United Methodist Church and our partners around the world.

The work in Haiti will take a long time but UMCOR is committed to be there and to respond to the needs of the Haitian people for as long as it takes. Our recovery plan initially contemplated five years, but our response may well have to stretch beyond that, to 10 or more years. Patience and perseverance will be critical in 2011: for the UMCOR staff, for the United Methodist Church, and for the resilient people of Haiti.

The hymn writer said it best,

This is a day of new beginnings, time to remember and move on, time to believe what love is bringing, laying to rest the pain that’s gone.

Then let us, with the Spirit’s daring, step from the past and leave behind our disappointment, guilt, and grieving, seeking new paths, and sure to find.

By the way, the agriculture program Sam Dixon and others were in Haiti to launch last January is back on track. This is the day of new beginnings.

Grace and Peace,


By the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Deputy General Secretary for UMCOR