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