Friday, September 9, 2011

UMCOR Builds on 9/11 Response

Like many people, I anticipated the arrival of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks for some time. Although I was not in my current position with UMCOR at the time of those terrible events, I recall feeling a sense of pride as a United Methodist pastor serving in a local congregation that "my" church was responding.

UMCOR responded as it always does, with special attention to the most vulnerable populations. Love in the Midst of Tragedy was UMCOR’s three-tiered response to those events. In addition to focusing on the most vulnerable survivors and other affected people, its programs promoted peace and reconciliation and also extended a hand to a displaced Afghan population that was returning home after two harsh decades.

It is fitting that at this tenth anniversary of 9/11 UMCOR continues to build on its response to that tragedy as it addresses current emergencies around the world. In just the past six months, these have included the triple disaster in Japan; a rash of violent tornadoes through the US South; a third straight year of record flooding in North Dakota; a still unfolding recovery in Haiti; epic flooding caused by back-to-back hurricanes/tropical storms along a string of Eastern states; and wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres in Texas.

Yes, it is fitting that UMCOR should honor those who experienced not only the horror of 9/11 but the solidarity and self-giving that were part of the response to the events of that late-summer day by continuing to be present in times of emergency or disaster, to offer a hand and to offer hope.

*Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey is the head of UMCOR.

You can also read 9/11 reflections from the General Board of Global Ministries General Secretary Thomas Kemper here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Passing on the Gift: Haiti Day 2- Sept. 6, 2011

Madame Marie Therese in La Tremblay, Haiti, discusses her participation in the PAUA Agriculture project with UMCOR's director of marketing and communications J. Rollins.  Photo: J. Rollins/UMCOR

The day began with a rooster crowing outside my window at 5 a.m., beating my alarm clock by half-an-hour.

Everyone gathered in the common area of the Methodist Guest House on the Frere campus for a delicious breakfast (the hospitality is incredible) and then set out for three site visits: a recipient from the Emergency Agriculture program Projet d’Assistance Urgente d’Agriculture (PAUA) at La Tremblay; a trip through Camp Corail, a resettlement camp; and the construction site of a school at Leveque.

It was overwhelming to see the estimated 100,000 temporary and transitional homes at Camp Corail, encouraging to see the progress of construction at the Laveque school, and heartwarming to meet Madame Marie Therese at the PAUA site at La Tremblay.

M. Therese was a recipient of goats as part of the agricultural project, which reached out to 1,600 most vulnerable families in all of Haiti. The project focuses on livestock and grain distribution in six of the most difficult places to access in Haiti. M. Therese and her husband chose to raise goats instead of growing crops due to the difficult access to water. They use the milk from the goats, and also breed them to sustain themselves and others in their village.

M. Therese said that without this program, she is not sure how she and her husband would have survived. Neither could work after the earthquake, and they struggled to meet day-to-day needs.

Today, when she saw Collins Zamar, PAUA project coordinator, approaching her home with our group, she came out and greeted us with a large smile. She explained that she was not feeling well, but she did not want to pass up the opportunity to tell us how the program had changed their lives. She said she was looking forward to the day when she would “pass on the gift” to another family in need.

A component of PAUA is that recipients of livestock and grain are required to give a percentage of seed harvested or livestock produced to others in their community—thus keeping the program going and changing the lives of their neighbors, friends, and loved ones.

I thought of M. Therese for the rest of the day and felt lucky to share in her joy. My sentiment was best described in our liturgy that started this day:

For men, women, and children in communities adversely affected by natural disasters;
For friends, and well wishers who are actively involved in Haiti’s ongoing development;
For a positive outcome of this roundtable meeting;
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

James Rollins, director of communications for UMCOR

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Upon this rock

A child passing by the Methodist Church of Haiti guest house in Port-au-Prince embodies hope for the future, as the devastated nation continues to rebuild following last year’s earthquake. Credit: J. Rollins

“Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Matthew 16:18

This is my first trip to Haiti, and I admit that I was not fully prepared. The photos that I have seen since the earthquake of January 2010 cannot fully capture the complete devastation I now see on this island. On the trip from the airport, I saw miles and miles of rubble, tent cities, and tarps held up by sticks to create makeshift stores. And in the midst of all this, I also saw the faces of smiling, resilient Haitians—their spirit of hope shining through and proving that life is about more than the places where we dwell and work.

I am here for at the invitation of the Methodist Church of Haiti (Eglise Metodiste d’Haiti, EMH) for three days of planning long-term projects that will help the Haitian people rebuild their lives. There is an excitement among those of us gathered as we prayerfully await the start of this series of meetings. It is clear to all present that all is not lost. Hope, faith, and love have persevered. Thanks to the generosity of donations, volunteers, and dedicated EMH and UMCOR staff, progress has been made. The church stands ready to continue this progress at increasing rates.

Tomorrow, on the way to our first meeting in Moulin Sur Mer, I will have the opportunity to visit two projects sponsored by UMCOR, at Camp Corail and La Trembelay. I aim to post blogs, photos, and videos each day so that you may experience this journey with me, sharing in the work that has taken place and celebrating the work that will begin soon.

Upon this rock we will continue to work in solidarity with the people of Haiti to accompany them as they rebuild.

James Rollins, Director of Marketing and Communications, UMCOR

September 5, 2011