Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Light in the Basket

Sharing a word with Rev. Ashton Brooks immediately after service.
Photo: Rosina Pulhmann

At the start of the Equal Exchange Interfaith Fair Trade Cocoa trip to the Dominican Republic, in which I participated for UMCOR, one of our early stops was an optional visit to the Cathedral Church of the Epiphany, the Union Church of Santo Domingo.

The Rev. Ashton Brooks led the congregation in a message that stayed with me throughout the cocoa tour. He referenced the scripture (Luke 24:13:35) which speaks about two men on the road to Emmaus who were discussing the recent events of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus walks alongside them and joins their conversation. When they invite Jesus to stay with them, Jesus accepts and joins them for a meal. When Jesus breaks bread, gives thanks, and passes the bread to them, the scripture says, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

As Rev. Brooks continued, I closed my eyes. I saw the image of a light shining in a basket. I pondered the meaning of the vision. So, here I was sitting among a community of believers and sensing that this place was something special to God. What does it mean? I asked the Lord quietly. “I know you are the light of the world, and that baskets may hold food or bread, and this basket was holding Your light.” At best, I knew this was a communication from God that described the uniqueness of that particular church community and their specific call.

At the end of the service, I learned that the church is involved in a weekly food distribution program for the hungry, called Lazarus’ Basket. They also hold weekly Bible studies at a local restaurant where other people may be drawn to participate. So, there it was. The church brought the message of light which is Jesus as a form of spiritual food. The church was the carrier of that basket of light that “passed bread” to a hungry community.

My eyes were opened, and I recognized Him.

How does God become recognized in our day-to-day activities? How often is Jesus recognized through our work or associations with people? There was something so simple, yet so profound in learning how this small congregation carried such a heavy call, yet did it with such ease and love for one another. And, perhaps that was it. These light bearers loved God and each other.

When I stayed at the home of Eusebio Velen, a cocoa producer, he asked me in Spanish, “Are you married, do you have children?” I replied joyfully in Spanish, “Right now, I’m married to Jesus and my children are dance students that I am training.” 

The conversation paved a way for me to share a part of my personal story and struggle.  As I noted Eusebio’s concerned response, one that only a father could have, I realized at that moment that God was being recognized in me. Later, he publicly said to the delegation that I was like a daughter to him and that I was welcome in his home anytime. I was warmed by his remarks, which satisfied that place of belonging as a daughter that I have missed since my father’s passing last year. At that moment, Eusebio became a light-carrier for me. Through him Jesus was inviting me to be a part of that family and community.

I was miles away from my residence in New York, but I was at home sitting and sharing with Eusebio in the Dominican Republic. And, isn’t this what life through Christ is all about? That through loving your neighbor, providing the ministry of presence during a storm, embracing a moment, holding a hand, or extending a hand of support — all of which UMCOR represents—that He is recognized. What a blessing to recognize Jesus!

Pass the bread.

By Judith Santiago, Media Communications Associate for UMCOR

Monday, May 23, 2011

Malaria Nets Distribution Launch Event

During mosquito nets distribution launch celebration in Golo, the gathered crowd had an opportunity to learn, in a skit, about the proper use of the nets.
Ted Warnock

By Nyamah Dunbar*

With roughly two months of planning and nearly four weeks before the kickoff of a massive mosquito nets distribution in Mozambique, the United Methodist Mozambique Annual Conference hosted nearly 1,500 inhabitants of the rural village of Golo in a launch celebration of the effort to eradicate malaria.

The national nets distribution is part of a local government effort. It is supported by Imagine No Malaria, an initiative which, through UMCOR, is partnering with the United Methodist Church of Mozambique, the Missouri Annual Conference, United Methodist Communications (UMCOM), and the Government of Mozambique to finance the net distribution. An estimated 100,000 nets will be distributed to inhabitants of two districts in southern Mozambique, benefiting a total of about 165,000 individuals.

Bishop Joaquina Nhanala reminded the gathered crowd of The United Methodist Church’s mission, in adhering to the mandate of Jesus Christ, to teach, to heal, and to preach to the flock. She reiterated that whether through local or universal means, The United Methodist Church’s aim is to extend beyond the pulpit and serve the general population.

Bishop Sengulane of the Episcopal Church, former UMC Bishop of Mozambique João Somane Machado, a representative from the provincial governor’s office, and Ministry of Health leaders reinforced the importance of the UMC-led partnership with the government, the first of its kind for the region.

The significance of partnership and the importance of proper and consistent use of mosquito nets were key components of the messages by attending dignitaries to the launch celebration participants.

After the speeches and prayers, came the music, inevitably followed by joyful African dancing. The young and old, traditional chiefs and school-age children all joined each other under the sweltering sun and swaying palm trees, as local musicians provided music, skits, and choreographed dances in celebration of this great effort to eradicate malaria.

The launch celebration was made possible through support from UMCOM, under the leadership of Rev. Larry Holland and Rev. Gary Henderson, who also heads the Global Health Initiative, of which Imagine No Malaria is its first campaign initiative.

*Nyamah Dunbar is UMCOR Grants Officer for Imagine No Malaria.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Harvesting Justice in the Dominican Republic, part 3

Baby cacao trees are cultivated in a CONACADO nursery, the first step toward the production of fair-trade chocolate.
Credit: Rosina Pohlmann

This is the third and final blog entry by Rosina Pohlmann, who traveled for New World Outlook magazine last week on an UMCOR tour of the CONACADO cacao cooperative, an association of small-farm producers who grow a portion of the cacao beans that make the Equal Exchange chocolate line. Rosie has posted blog entries for the past week about what she saw and heard, and in July, her article on the tour will appear in New World Outlook.

Our stay in San Francisco in the Dominican Republic was brief but rich. There was a somber atmosphere to the place when we arrived, due to recent violence, but thanks to the careful planning of our hosts, we were able to avoid any danger. My prayers remain with those who were affected.

It’s good to know, however, that in the midst of trouble, there is positivity, too. Plants are being nurtured to grow into strong, fruitful trees; people are being given the opportunity to build better lives for themselves; and organic, fair-trade chocolate is being produced! This was apparent at the new chocolate factory that CONACADO acquired just five years ago, where many of its cacao beans are taken to be processed after they have been fermented and dried. There we breathed in the rich smell of chocolate and saw firsthand how the beans are cleaned, heated, ground, pressed, and separated into butter and powder.

Afterwards, we took a quick tour of CONACADO Bloque 9, located in San Francisco. The setup there is very similar to the plant in Yamasa, including a new credit union open to the community. We then hopped over to a nursery where baby cacao trees are cultivated. It’s not as easy as it may seem: each tree needs to be pruned and grafted with the branch of an existing tree. The process was demonstrated for us in Yamasa as well, but here we were given the opportunity to try it ourselves, and thereby learned just how much care and skill it requires. Let’s just say that those of us who tried needed a little bit of help from the experts!

San Francisco was the last stop on our tour. I am now back home in New York City, and in addition to feeling very grateful for the chance to see what I saw and meet the people I met, I feel reflective—especially as a consumer of chocolate. Every step of the cocoa-production process is hard, hard work, and many of those who do that work still live in conditions that, although adequate, would be unacceptable to most of us. They’re improving with every school built, business financed, and roof repaired through fair-trade premiums. These improvements need to continue—which makes fair trade and the support of fair trade absolutely necessary. It’s startling to learn that entire communities, thousands of families and thousands of lives, depend on something that takes just a few minutes to consume—something that, to us, is just a few moments of delight for our taste buds. With this much at stake, I can’t afford to be blasé about my choices as a consumer. Not anymore.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Harvesting Justice in the Dominican Republic

Cacao is grown at CONACADO co-op in Dominican Republic and used to produce chocolate for Equal Exchange, a fair trade enterprise.
Credit: Rosina Pohlmann

This is a second blog entry by Rosina Pohlmann, who is traveling for New World Outlook magazine this week on an UMCOR tour of the CONACADO cacao cooperative, an association of small-farm producers who grow a portion of the cacao beans that make the Equal Exchange chocolate line. Rosie will be posting blog entries this week about what she sees and hears, and in July, her article on the tour will appear in New World Outlook.

The past few days have been active indeed, as we try to fit what would ideally be a ten-day tour into seven days. During our stay in Yamasa we visited a cacao farm, swam in a local river, visited a small women-led business, visited the new credit union, planted our own cacao trees, and spent plenty of quality time with our home-stay families.

Many of the families who opened their homes to us are connected to the co-op, and they shared their stories as well as their food and hospitality. It’s heartening to see how much of a positive impact CONACADO has had on their lives and how quickly the community is progressing. We saw schools and water pumps that were paid for by fair trade premiums, and we listened as co-op members told us about their children, many of whom were able to pursue higher education. Also encouraging is the co-op’s new credit union, which allows members to take out loans at low rates and thus establish the community even further.

One of my favorite moments was our visit to the Asociación Mujer & Acción, a group of women who have used co-op funds to start their own small business venture. The women use cacao to make a sweet wine which they then sell. They started with a small loan, which they paid back, and then were able to take out a larger one with which they built a modest structure to house their business. To me, these women exemplify the progress which is possible within the community—the kind of positive outcome that results when we invest in people and not just things.

All of us on the tour feel very grateful for our home-stay families, and toward everyone else who has helped us along our way in Yamasa. We have now left Yamasa for San Francisco (yes, there’s one in the DR too!)—uncharted territory for Equal Exchange and the rest of us!


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Harvesting Justice in the Dominican Republic

At the CONACADO co-op in the Dominican Republic, Fair Trade chocolate is produced from cacao beans.
Photo Credit: Rosina Pohlmann

By Rosina Pohlmann

Rosina Pohlmann is traveling for New World Outlook magazine this week on an UMCOR tour of the CONACADO cacao cooperative, an association of small-farm producers who grow a portion of the cacao beans that make the Equal Exchange chocolate line. Rosie will be posting blog entries this week about what she sees and hears, and in July, her article on the tour will appear in New World Outlook.

This week I am blessed to join an eco-tour led by El Fuego del Sol that will take me into some of the farms where Fair Trade chocolate is produced, and allow me to learn from the farmers themselves.

I arrived on Saturday, and joined a team made up of Methodists, Catholics, representatives of Equal Exchange, and world travelers. We’ve been busy! Sunday began with back-to-back services at the Iglesia Episcopal de Santo Domingo, a lovely church just west of the colonial zone. The first service, conducted in English, was for the Union congregation, which combines several denominations not well represented in the Dominican Republic. The second was an Episcopal service and was lead in Spanish. After the services, we joined in fellowship and conversation with Pastor Bob Snow and his wife, Ellen Snow, who shared a little of the Church’s history.

They told us that the parsonage has seen both tragedy and great accomplishment: tragedy during the time of dictator Rafael Trujillo, when a socially minded pastor was murdered for his anti-governmental actions, and accomplishment in recent years, as social programs addressing orphaned children, AIDS, and other social issues have flourished and expanded.

After touring the Colonial City, a historically rich area that includes the oldest street in the Americas – La Calle de Damas – we learned a little about cultural relations from Jean Gentil, a well-educated and well-spoken Haitian who has sought fruitlessly a job in the Dominican Republic for 15 years (and whose story provides the plot for the award-winning film Jean Gentil). The conversation was eye-opening indeed.

Today, we began a new adventure, visiting the headquarters of CONACADO and travelling to one of the seven Bloques where Fair Trade chocolate is produced, called Yamasá. Several leaders of the chocolate-producers co-op, as well as a number of youth active in the community, welcomed us and led us on a tour of the fermentation facility, where we learned a bit about the painstaking process of fermenting, drying, and packaging the cacao beans. Perhaps as fascinating as the production process is the democratic structure of CONACADO, led by the organization of the cacao producers themselves. I’m eager to learn more about it as we visit the cacao farms and share with our home-stay families.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cherry Blossoms and Hope

UMCOR executive, Melissa Crutchfield (second row, fifth from left), attends an ecumenical gathering in Seoul, South Korea, to help the National Christian Council in Japan build a long-term response to the March 11 disaster in Japan.
Photo Credit: Ciony Eduarte/UMCOR

By Melissa Crutchfield

On May 6 and 7, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) joined some two dozen faith-based relief organizations in a forum in Seoul, South Korea, convened by national Christian church councils of Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The objective of the two-day meeting was to help the National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ) flesh out a long-term relief and reconstruction strategy and explore the establishment of an ecumenical consortium to accompany those efforts in the wake of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and still potential nuclear disaster in Japan. Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR’s International Disaster Response executive, attended the meeting and read her reflection, below, at the closing worship.

Reflection – Closing Worship – Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Relief Ecumenical Solidarity Meeting – Seoul , South Korea – May 7, 2011

When I began to contemplate what might be appropriate words to share on such an occasion as this, I kept thinking about cherry blossoms. Perhaps they were on my mind because I could see them outside my window in Washington, DC as I worked, calming in their simplicity yet inspiring in their abundance.

Or perhaps it was because the annual National Cherry Blossom and Japanese cultural festival had just taken place down the street – honoring the gift of the cherry blossoms from Japan to America many years ago, symbolizing friendship and solidarity between our nations. Then thinking about our gathering together here in Seoul, again showing solidarity with Japan, the parallel was pretty easy to see.

Or it could have been that a colleague had just shown me a touching and poignant haiku, accompanied by an image of a cherry tree (that you can see on the front cover of the bulletin):

My weeping cherry tree
Bloomed today
Pink Blossoms
For the people of Japan

Or perhaps I kept thinking of cherry blossoms because they are an iconic image of spring, renewal, rebirth, hope… after a long winter – or, after an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster – when the earth looks as desolate as it might have to Jeremiah, all we need to do is have faith in God’s word that the land will be restored to life, will flourish as before. Or as the Gospel tells us the story of the Resurrection –we just need to believe that life which we thought had ended, has in fact, begun again.

The cherry blossoms – the first sign of spring – consistently reassure us, the small pink and white flowers a signal to us that life goes on, grows, blooms, replenishes, recovers from the harsh winter of previous months. Embodying optimism and hope in their very existence.

Through my work with UMCOR, responding to other disasters across the globe, what has always struck me is the cycle of renewal and hope that abounds after every crisis. Especially working with and through the church, we see first-hand how faith in action inspires, restores, revives. A little over a year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, progress is indeed slow. But there IS progress. All around we see the hope of renewal, of life begun again: literally tons of rubble removed, families with new homes, women with new jobs through a microcredit program, crops and trees replanted, students returning to school in classrooms built back better and stronger than before. Recovery in Haiti is taking advantage of the opportunity to build back better. As Rev. Victor Hsu implored us yesterday, we are striving for quality, not quantity. Integrity and strength, not speed. We are committing ourselves to standing in solidarity with the Haitian people as they map out their future and the long road ahead. We are committed to being there, being a manifestation of hope.

In a world plagued by devastation, doubt, destruction; a world of natural calamities and man-made crises, it is easy to see the world as a place without hope… a world that looks more like Good Friday. But we are an Easter people who live with the conviction that land can be restored, that lives can be restored. That even in the face of death and despair, we have faith that life and hope are the final word.

With this conviction, together, we can change the landscape of Japan’s future. Together, we can raise awareness, and raise buildings. Together, we can repair and replenish lives and spirits. Together, we can nurture the support and momentum to carry us forward on the long road to recovery.

And so, we are again called to be like the cherry blossoms, to be Easter people in a Good Friday world, to be in God’s name that beacon of hope and promise of renewal and solidarity, for our friends, for our partners, for all of the people in Japan.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

St. John's UMC responds to storms and flooding with 'a whirlwind of love'

Flooding in Memphis, Tennessee.  Photo by J. Collins Dillard

By Lane Gardner Camp*


As weather emergencies have been taking place throughout the Memphis Conference all during April and now into May, churches are reacting and responding in many ways.

St. John’s UMC in midtown Memphis is seeing and feeling the effects in its neighborhood and throughout the city as waters rise from the nearby Mississippi River.

“When disaster happens, whatever form it takes, we tend to feel helpless, like we just want to do something to help. But we also know that there are specially trained responders who need to assess the situation and make a plan for what help is needed and how to provide it, said Renee Dillard, Associate Minister of Discipleship Ministries at St. John’s.

On Sunday, May 1, members of St. John’s decided to help in the way it thought was “best” at the time, said Renee – by making donations to Advance #3021326 (U.S. Spring Storms 2011) of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the global humanitarian aid organization of The United Methodist Church.

“In the weeks and months ahead, we hope to put our hands and feet to work helping to rebuild, but supporting UMCOR was the best way we could immediately begin helping our neighbors," said Renee.

“Be a Whirlwind of Love” is the theme St. John’s chose to communicate its caring, concern and action.

St. John’s member and artist-photographer J. Collins Dillard, Renee's husband, created artwork to illustrate the theme and is offering the art to other churches who might want to use it. (Contact Collins at

“This started as a prayer for Alabama and the tornado victims," said Collins, "but quickly became more broad in meaning when the waters (from the Mississippi River) became so dangerously high.”

Renee called Collins' art “a powerful image” and expressed hope that other churches might use it to “encourage support for storm relief.”

Collins said the idea for the theme and art hit him during the night.

Knowing that Christians must respond with love to the “unimaginable pain” and “devastating loss” from recent storms, he said he was reminded of the words “His way is in the whirlwind and the storm” from verse 1:3 of the Old Testament Book of Nahum.

“To justify destruction in God’s name,” Collins said some people take the verse out of context.

“We, of course, know God is present in the recovery and healing. God is not the violence of destruction," he said.

St. John's created a "focal point" table for its May 1 worship service by combining Collins' art in poster form with a three-dimensional sculpture, also created by Collins, that conveyed the same image and message.

"Members were invited to pause at the table (after receiving Holy Communion) to offer a prayer for storm victims and those who are responding to the needs all around us, and then to place a small (paper) heart at the base of the sculpture," explained Renee.

Placing the heart was "an act of hope, an act of prayer, a tangible way to demonstrate our trust in a loving God who is working to bring healing and wholeness out of this chaos and despair," she said.

"We will now live into God’s purpose by being a 'whirlwind of love' through prayer, giving and service," added Renee.

*By Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications, Memphis Annual Conference.

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