Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chatham UMC Hosted Sandy Evacuees

Dean Jeffrey Kuan sits with his students in the Chatham United Methodist Church fellowship hall.
CREDIT: John Schol

By Julia Kayser*
November 21, 2012—The closer I got to Madison, New Jersey, the worse Hurricane Sandy’s destruction became. My neighborhood of brick apartments and relatively young trees had barely been affected, but the Drew University campus—home to many of my friends—was completely devastated. Bearing gifts of blankets and camping mattresses, I drove at a snail’s pace past toppled trees and drooping power lines.
My friends were no longer on campus. School had been closed for the week and most people had gone to stay with nearby family and friends. One hundred forty-seven students, most of them seminarians and graduate students with families, had stayed behind. On Tuesday, October 30, Dean Jeffrey Kuan announced a campus-wide evacuation.
“My biggest joy in such a situation,” said Dean Kuan, “is the connectional system that I was able to draw on.” A nearby church, Chatham United Methodist, still had power. Thanks to the longstanding relationship of Rev. Tanya Bennett, associate chaplain, with that congregation, students without friends and family close by were able to caravan and camp out there.
A student does homework at the Chatham day shelter.
About 60 people spent three days at the church. There were large rooms designated for single men and for single women, while smaller Sunday-school classrooms became suites for families with children. When I arrived to offer my extra supplies, everyone was bundled up in coats, gloves, and hats. They gathered around tables in the fellowship hall, quiet in the face of the storm and a slower pace of life.
On the students’ second day of exile, Bishop John Schol of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference visited Chatham UMC. In an open letter, he wrote about meeting students, many of whom could not travel home during the storm because they lived “too far away in Africa, South Korea, Texas, Portland, Oregon, and a host of other places… They found Christ through a place to sleep, hot meals, and electricity.”
But, the electricity didn’t last. Student Susan Goodman wrote, “As the 24 hour benchmark of being at the church approached, we unexpectedly found ourselves in the dark once again.” Dinner was prepared by flashlight. Rev. Bennett brought her dog for a visit, which boosted morale.
One thing that flourished without electricity was conversation. “We learned much… in the stillness created by the absence of power and all that powers up,” wrote Bennett. “It was a holy time, even in an unholy circumstance.”

Children of the graduate students celebrated Halloween in the Chatham day shelter.
CREDIT: John Schol

Chatham UMC regularly hosts families in need of shelter, so they had some blankets, and the students brought additional bedding from their dormitories. Still, people got cold. Richenda Fairhurst, a second-year Masters of Divinity student and local pastor from Washington, wrote: “blankets and sweaters [were] like loaves and fishes, blessed and shared.”  
Dean Jeffrey Kuan said that he was very concerned about the children that night. The next afternoon, he met with campus police and determined that since power had turned on at Drew University, the students could return to their homes at last. “What a relief that was,” he said. “All the students and their families were extraordinarily cooperative, patient, and grace-filled. We experienced community together in the midst of a disaster.”
Every student I talked to expressed deep gratitude for Dean Kuan, Rev. Bennett, and Chatham UMC. In addition, many students found a silver lining in this difficult experience.
“I would have been stir-crazy if I hadn’t been able to spend time in community like this,” said Rebecca Patterson.
Betty Lynn Gannon said the storm gave people time to think, and also opportunities to be the hands of Christ for each other. “It’s nice to see my future colleagues living into their call of ministry,” she said.
How are you living into your call to provide aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy? The Drew students are back on campus now, but recovery work continues. Please make a donation to the UMCOR’s 2012 Hurricane Relief fund, Advance #3021787, and help UMCOR reach out to communities in need. 
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to She gives special thanks to Susan Goodman for her careful and comprehensive notes for this story.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Florida to California: A Prayer and a Chance Encounter

Men’s Bible discussion group of Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church blessed Honess as he prepared for a cross-country bike ride for UMCOR.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Charles Honess

By Charles Honess*

October 3, 2012—I attend a men's Bible discussion group on Thursday mornings at my home church, Mt. Pisgah UMC, back in Atlanta, Georgia. The Thursday before I left to start on my cross-country bike ride for UMCOR, the men prayed over me for safety, health, and witness opportunities. One of them prayed particularly that I would know when to stop pedaling and help someone I might meet.

After stopping for a rest at Monument Park in
Florida, Honess had a surprise encounter.
Credit: Charles Honess

So here I am pedaling along FL 90, and I decide to stop alongside the road at a place called Monument Park. I get some water, an energy bar, and take a rest. After a bit, I take off again, and about a mile ahead of me, I see what I think is a broken-down motorcycle and driver. As I get closer, much to my surprise, I discover that what I am seeing is a homeless man pushing a grocery cart down the side of the road. I slow down, and as I ride by, I ask if he’s ok, and he says he is. So I ride on.

About a quarter of a mile up the road, I am "reminded" of the prayer, and I stop. The man pushing the cart catches up and wheels alongside me. We spend 15 minutes chatting man to man, and I think I am the first person he has talked to in a while. I give him some G2, and he tells me to drink only bottled water in this region.

I am sure this encounter will remain with me for the rest of my life... Hopefully I will have enough sense to stop sooner next time!

*Charles Honess is a retired businessman who is biking across the southern United States, from Atlantic Beach, Florida, to San Diego, California, to raise awareness and funds for UMCOR. He plans to visit United Methodist churches and community groups along the way. For information about Honess’ trip and how your church or group might host him for such a sharing opportunity, please contact Landon Taylor, UMCOR executive in charge of church and donor relations, at telephone 212-870-3928 or email

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Florida to California, Day One

Honess begins his trip at Atlantic Beach, Florida.
Courtesy of Charles Honess
By Charles Honess*
October 1, 2012—On my first day biking across the US for UMCOR I rode 50 miles, from the Atlantic Ocean through Jacksonville, Florida. This first day of the 3,000 mile trip is the time to check out all my systems: navigator, external battery, ear phones, etc., etc.

Half way through the ride, I stopped at a convenience store and got a soda and some water. I was checking my map in the parking lot to see if I really knew where I was… and I didn't. Lost!! Almost immediately a Jacksonville policeman, Sargent Mitchell, pulled into the lot and said hello. I asked him where the road was that I was looking for, and it turned out I had passed it a long time ago. He told me another way to get where I was headed, and I took off.

Fifteen minutes later, here comes Sargent Mitchell making sure I had found the road he had directed me to. Thirty minutes after that, he is setting alongside the road to make sure I didn't miss another turn. I am impressed, I thank him, give a fist bump, and I’m off.

Now it is time to quit and have Sparky [Paul Sparks, who is accompanying Honess in a support vehicle] pick me up. So, I call him on his cell phone and… no answer. We have an app that is supposed to show us where each other is located: No Sparky.

I am ready for a shower, food, rest, and I am getting a little worried. I look down the road, and I see a police car headed my way. Well, I had so much luck the last time, I decide to flag this fellow down. He pulls over, and right behind him is Sparky. Paul's phone had died, and the policeman said he knew where I would be. We get Paul a charger for his phone that night.

Angels in an unusual form? I believe so.

*Charles Honess is a retired businessman who is biking across the southern United States, from Atlantic Beach, Florida, to San Diego, California, to raise awareness and funds for UMCOR. He plans to visit United Methodist churches and community groups along the way. For information about Honess’ trip and how your church or group might host him for such a sharing opportunity, please contact Landon Taylor, UMCOR executive in charge of church and donor relations, at telephone 212-870-3928 or email

Friday, September 21, 2012

International Day of Peace: September 21

Construction workers pause for a blessing on the campus of New College Bird, where reconstruction of a secondary school began this month.
PHOTO CREDIT: Landon Taylor

While visiting Haiti recently for UMCOR, someone commented to me that she thought the country was getting back to about the state it was in when the earthquake struck nearly three years ago. Truth be told, during the week our delegation was there we had no trouble getting around the streets of Port-au-Prince, unobstructed by rubble. We saw Haitian men and women crisscross the capital city with purpose, and heard the pounding of hammers and heavy construction equipment like the sound of progress. Things are getting back to something like normal.

But in Haiti, to “get back to normal” is to return to a state in which 80 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty; more than 40 percent of the workforce is without a job; and only about half of all Haitians over the age of 15 can read and write. It is to get back to a state in which there is little tax base to sustain infrastructure and services, and where standardized health, sanitation, and education systems do not exist. It is to get back to a state of instability and impermanence, where only nine of 54 presidents in the country’s 200-plus years of independence completed their terms.

Like a patient already battling a debilitating condition who is struck suddenly with a heart attack—or an earthquake—Haiti is struggling not to get back to its “normal” state of survival but to arrive at a state of vigorous and productive national health. No matter how challenging the conditions of development, “there is always a way forward,” an UMCOR staffer told me on my visit to Port-au-Prince. “But it will probably be slower and look different and happen in a different way” than one might expect in another context with different challenges.

“If you are really committed to walking with the Haitian people, you must recognize that it will be a long journey; one that will require patience and endurance; one that must be guided and directed by the people themselves,” the staffer went on. Today, as the world marks International Day of Peace, it occurs to me that these requirements of the long, dusty road to development—solidarity, mutual consideration, and respect for self-determination—are also requirements of peace.

By Linda Unger, staff editor and senior writer for UMCOR

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ready for Storm and Flood

UMCOR Assistant General Secretary for U.S. Disaster Response Tom Hazelwood reports that 10,000 United Methodists across the United States have received the organization’s early response training; they are badged and ready.

By Rev. Tom Hazelwood*

With each passing hurricane season, I believe that we as United Methodists are more and more prepared to respond if, God forbid, we are hit with another Katrina-like hurricane.

We are better prepared because we now have more than 10,000 United Methodist volunteers who have taken our Early Response training and have an UMCOR badge signifying they are ready to respond. We have met, week by week, with local congregations and walked them through our Connecting Neighbors local church preparedness training. We have continued to modify and update our case management processes, our signature one-on-one disaster ministry. Finally, we are better prepared because the most disaster-prone annual conferences have made disaster preparedness an important part of their conference agenda.

With all these advances in our preparedness, along with the knowledge we have gained from experience and the amazing support that continually flows from every church pew across the United States, we have the best resources to answer the call when nature hands us the worst of circumstances.

As a faith-based organization specializing in disaster readiness and response, we at UMCOR know that all that we are and do is undergirded by our faith in Jesus Christ. Our ministry is an outflow of God’s work in creation and Christ’s work in us. While we work in response to our relationship with a holy God, we respect the dignity of all persons and never force our beliefs on others, nor is our help ever dependent upon the belief, ethnicity, income, or stance of the recipient. We truly live out the Wesleyan call: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as you ever can.”

*Rev. Tom Hazelwood is UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for U.S. Disaster Response.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Women of Many Faiths Join Hands to Learn and Serve

About 100 women of all faiths joined together to assemble birthing kits for UMCOR. Photo: Cynthia McNeal Plater.

By Cynthia McNeal Plater*

It all started with an advocacy alert from Women of Reform Judaism, an organization that represents more than 65,000 women in nearly 500 groups around the world. The alert begins: “On Yom Kippur the liturgy reads, ‘We have sinned against life by ignoring those who suffer in distant lands.’” So, the Sisterhood of Temple Israel in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, decided to put this advocacy alert into action.

About 100 women of different faiths, including the United Methodist Women of Asbury Church, also of Croton-on-Hudson, got together to learn about the various health issues women face around the world, such as complications during pregnancy and childbirth—the leading cause of death and disability for women in developing countries. In observance of what we learned, we helped assemble over 100 Birthing Kits for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). The birthing kit provides traditional birthing attendants with the basic tools they need to ensure a safe and healthy delivery.

Tina Pershing and Marilyn Bovone (wearing UMW stoles) join the assembly line to prepare birthing kits. 

We were also inspired by a talk sponsored by the Sisterhood about fistula. It was given by local OB/GYN (obstetrics and gynecology) doctors was followed by A Walk to Beautiful, a movie that portrays a powerful story of healing and hope for Ethiopian women who develop fistulas every year. Obstetric fistula is the most devastating and serious of all childbirth injuries. It happens because most mothers in poor countries give birth without any medical help. The condition occurs when a woman has an obstructed labor and lacks a skilled birth attendant. The obstruction may occur because her pelvis is too small, the baby is badly positioned, or its head is too big. Underlying causes include childbearing at too early an age, malnutrition, and others.

The following week we met at the Upper Westchester Muslim Society in Thornwood, NY, where we formed an assembly line to prepare and package UMCOR Birthing Kits. The contents of the kits were donated by local businesses, including Phelps Memorial Hospital, Home Depot, Stop & Shop, Sav-Mor Pharmacy, and Hampton Inn. To save the shipping costs, members of the Asbury congregation then delivered the kits to the New York Annual Conference.

Photo: Cynthia McNeal Plater

I was honored to be among women from all walks of life, and see them come together in solidarity with their sisters around the globe, and to see the donations that poured in from local businesses. Together, I know we are making a difference in the lives of future expectant mothers.

*Plater is a member of the Asbury Church UMW and the Trainer and Desktop Support Technician for the Information Technology unit of Global Ministries.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hotel Montana: What should have been...

Rick Santos, President and CEO of IMA World Health, and his colleagues Ann Varghese, IMA Senior Program officer, and Jim Gulley (right) with UMCOR have their photo taken on the balcony of the rebuilt Hotel Montana in Port au Prince, Haiti last week. Photo Courtesy: IMA World Health

By Rick Santos, IMA World Health
President and CEO

On Wednesday, June 21st, 2012 I sat with Jim Gulley from UMCOR and my IMA colleague Ann Varghese on the patio of the Hotel Montana in Port au Prince, Haiti, discussing our organizations’ health work. Two years, five months, and nine days ago—on January 12, 2010—we were supposed to sit on that very same patio and have a very similar conversation. It was nice to finally have this meeting, though three of our colleagues were missing—IMA’s Dr. Sarla Chand, who was in South Sudan doing other work, and Rev. Sam Dixon and Rev. Clint Rabb from the United Methodist Church, both of whom perished in the rubble of the Montana the last time we were supposed to meet. This time the evening was cool and clear, the view of Port au Prince spectacular, and the conversation about how to improve the health conditions of the people of Haiti, productive. This time, thankfully, the earth was still.

Rev. Samuel Dixon, Jr.
Ann, Jim and I were joined by Dr. Abdel Direny and Tom and Wendy Vencus, all three of whom were also in Haiti that fateful day that changed our lives forever. After the work conversation ended, we talked a lot about what happened when the earthquake struck. I think we retold stories we’ve probably told a hundred times before, and heard new details from Dr. Direny and the Vencuses that we had not heard before. We talked a lot about Sam and Clint and how much they meant to their families, to the Methodist Church, and to us. Jim reminded us that Sam had a wonderful sense of humor and of the jokes he told, even in the darkness and the rubble of the Montana.

For me it was a bookend to that day two years ago; it was the evening that should have been, but turned out so differently. It was a very bittersweet moment.

Rev. Clint Rabb
This is the second time I have been to Haiti since the earthquake. The first time was six months later, to visit IMA’s restarted Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Control Program, which is funded by USAID via RTI and is part of a larger national program with many partners including the Haitian Ministry of Health, CDC, and other organizations. Though the earthquake threatened to end it, this program has since achieved full national coverage and is on the road to the elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis by 2020. It is truly a remarkable program, one which costs so little—and our portion, led by Dr. Direny, has reached over four million people annually.

On that first trip back, I was amazed by how little had been done to rebuild, how tent cities were set up in the middle of rubble-filled intersections, and how the rhythm of daily life seemed to have regained a semblance of normality, yet the conditions were still horrible and anything but normal.

On this trip, two years later, much of the visible and palpable effects of the earthquake seemed to be gone. However, as I drove around Port Au Prince and the countryside, what struck me this time was the grinding poverty that has been part and parcel of pre- and post-earthquake Haiti. Even though the international community and the Haitian politicians have helped Haiti begin to put the earthquake behind it, I am not sure they have yet created the conditions to address the poverty of the Haitian people in the long run.

As a CEO of a public health organization, a person who is concerned, and a person who shares in the sorrow and loss from the earthquake with so many Haitians, I continue to hope that conditions will get better, and I am committed to working towards that end. I would like to think the Haitian people and politicians can work with United States Government, the international community, NGOs, and the private sector to overcome the crippling cycle of poverty in Haiti. Sitting on the patio of the Hotel Montana, this is what my colleagues and I hope and pray for. As I come to terms with what should have been all those months ago, I can’t help but turn my thoughts toward what’s to come. If we can each do our part well to turn the tides of poverty in Haiti, I think that is something both Sam and Clint would be quite proud of.

Posted with permission from IMA World Health. View original blog post here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Finding Joy in Helping People

UMCOR Philippines volunteers build temporary shelters for the Navotas community in the northwestern part of Manila whose homes were demolished two years ago. Photo: UMCOR Philippines

By Clinton Bonghanoy*

On June 22, 2012, I was invited by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to go to Navotas fish port complex, the largest fish port in Southeast Asia. I had never been to Navotas before and since I knew that whenever UMCOR responds to people in need, it usually means we are able to extend our help to the less fortunate. With this in mind I opted to help.
The municipality of Navotas is located in the northwestern part of Metro Manila. It is the fish trading capital of the country and the site of Navotas fish port complex.
It took us about three hours to arrive at Navotas. When we got there I could not believe what I saw— poverty at its worst. I was emotionally struck. The area was over populated and signs of malnutrition were everywhere. The place carried a foul odor and the children’s clothes were tattered and dirty. What was more shocking was that in the face of all this misery, some members of the community had turned to vices and drugs. At the sight of all of this, I realized how blessed I am. There are a lot of things I should thank God for in my life and not take for granted.
Our basic reason for coming to Navotas was to help the local community and their organization KADAMAY in rebuilding the homes of some 41 families who were forced to sleep on the sidewalk after their houses were demolished by local ports authority.  The beneficiaries were survivors of a violent demolition that occurred two years ago. We also distributed canned goods and sugar.
Children are happy to see UMCOR Philippines staff and volunteers who not only provided shelter and food assistance, but also spent quality time with the Navota community. Photo: UMCOR Philippines 

The recipients were so grateful and the children were so happy to see us that day. I was so moved by the community that I wanted to give them more. So I decided to play with the children. I had a wonderful time enjoying the games. It was very rewarding to see their happy faces and I felt the joy inside of me.
We left the area before sunset with all our energies drained.  But, in spite of this, I found joy in all these wearisome tasks and I’m grateful to the UMCOR family for giving me once again an opportunity to help others in need.  Indeed, it was a great experience.
*Clinton Bonghanoy is an UMCOR Philippines volunteer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Lifeline of Hope

A young Shade and Fresh Water participant takes a break after the morning activities at a
play area behind the church. Photo: J. Santiago/UMCOR

Growing up in East Harlem, I lived in a tenement building that was the hang-out spot for heroin addicts. Hope was not an option back then—only survival.  During a recent trip to Manaus, Brazil, on a site visit to Shade and Fresh Water, an Advance project of the General Board of Global Ministries, I was reminded of my own story as a youth, and the lifeline of hope that was extended to me through creative arts programs, which Shade also offers.
Every day, upon exiting my apartment building, I pressed through the crowd of heroin addicts on my way to school, often also clearing the way for my mother, who escorted me.  During those formative years, I witnessed domestic violence, gun shootings or stabbings, excessive drug use, and more.  Rather than fight my surroundings, I acclimated to them, becoming part of the drug scene.
By the time I was eight years old, I became the “look out” for the neighborhood drug pusher, and he agreed to show my family and me respect when we entered and exited the building.  Rather than playing like normal children at the nearby playground, I would stand watch for undercover detectives or cops, as heroin addicts would make their way to the rooftop to use drugs.
When I visited Shade Fresh and Water (Advance #11580A), I was reminded of the unfriendly, untrustworthy, just-survive world of selfish addiction, pain, and violence of my youth.
Many of the children living in Manaus slums are exposed to drugs and abuse, as I was.  They may also become vulnerable to prostitution, teenage pregnancy, and more.  These children are no different than me, except that now I look to my past to identify with them. They, however, may be living this life daily.
Shade and Fresh Water gives children a rest from their everyday environment and opens them up to the world of possibility. The program’s name is based on a Brazilian saying which basically says, “When you are going through life struggles or issues, all you need are a little shade and a little fresh water.”

Shade participants enjoy cookies and juice before a quick game of stick ball.
Photo: J. Santiago/UMCOR

Through learning programs that offer sports and recreation, the arts, and Christian education, Shade participants, ages 6-14, learn how to respond to difficult life issues versus acclimating to their toxic environment as I once did.  The children learn how to apply practical life lessons, work as a team, collaborate on exercises or demonstrations, and express themselves through music, dance, or sports. Shade creates an enjoyable environment for children and teenagers and makes them feel loved and protected while involving them in the program.
While visiting Shade projects with UMCOR Health executive Patricia Magyar, who was assessing the project for future collaboration and support, I saw several children minister liturgical dances to their congregations.  This reminded me of the opportunities I received in summer camp or after-school programs that fostered positive, creative learning environments through dance and the arts. Back then, my involvement in dance became my way of escape, my lifeline of hope from the everyday drama at home or in the neighborhood. It also secured the early foundation of a future call to dance ministry. 
Instructor Keilem Suzy checks the position of her team before ministering to Shade participants.
Photo: J. Santiago/UMCOR
Dancers and Shade participants minister a liturgical piece. Photo: J. Santiago/UMCOR
Watching the girls dance in Manaus was a priceless opportunity to recognize just how far God has brought me from the days of my youth.  But I also recognized how important our choices are when serving one another. To know “you did good” because a person’s life has changed or has been impacted in some positive way, is a powerful and humbling thing. It’s also an UMCOR thing, as the agency works to bring relief to the most vulnerable people around the world. I left Shade with the desire to return to teach dance, share the love of God, and share the piece of rope that once was extended to me.

While creative expression is just a part of the fresh water provided by Shade, the program is certainly building a foundation for the future of these at-risk children.  It was a privilege to witness it.
By Judith Santiago, Media Communications Associate for UMCOR

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Up Close and Personal with Darjeeling Tea Farmers and Equal Exchange

Jack Ong, West Los Angeles United Methodist Church, visits Potong Tea Workers, one of Equal Exchange's fair trade tea producers. World Fair Trade Day is May 12.
Photo: Emma Van Pelt
Jack Ong, member of West Los Angeles United Methodist Church, won Equal Exchange’s  contest for most creative tea promotion. Equal Exchange is UMCOR’s partner in the UMCOR Coffee Project .  Ong’s reward was a trip to Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, where he visited the Potong Tea Garden, one of Equal Exchange’s fair trade tea producers.  Ong shares his experience below:

 April 3, 2012

            The president of the Potong Tea Workers Welfare Committee answers one of our questions through a translator: “How do I feel about being elected president of the Potong Tea Workers Welfare Committee? I feel honored. I also feel very responsible. I want to motivate all the members, all of us working together to make a productive and profitable success of Potong Tea Garden.”

 Potong Tea Workers president Sashila Subba.  Photo: Jack Ong

            Then, all business and occasionally smiling, speaking in a soft, even voice, she shares with the eight of us from America about the tough work and living conditions in the high-altitude, remote Himalayan foothills of Darjeeling.

        “When we first joined to form this worker-owned tea collective, we knew from experience that it would be hard work. Sometimes we didn’t have food to eat. Our young people left to go work in the cities. Many died. Some brought new diseases back to us. We have never acquired the right medications to combat these diseases. And who could have predicted the drought that is so seriously upon us now? Very serious.”

            We hear a sudden commotion that interrupts the cool calmness of the late afternoon, which punctuates her remarks. We smell smoke from the hills just as we learn that another fire has erupted. The men of the Potong hamlet rush to action, preparing to fight the flames.

            Now the president’s sorrow is palpable, the pain obvious on her serene, elegant face. She quickly uses both hands to wipe her eyes, then politely places them back on her lap as she continues to talk about the present drought, workers’ goals for irrigation, more efficient harvesting of tea leaves and production, better education for their children, and the cooperative’s gratitude for the support and encouragement of Equal Exchange.

            “We understand that we must first develop, to the best of our ability, our main product – Darjeeling tea,” she says. “We cannot focus on further progress or development of our tea farm until then. We still need more development funds. And Fair Trade means trade, so we are continuing to try to improve on our part as we develop this valuable relationship with Equal Exchange.”

            She glances at the other woman and eight men of her committee; they give the president their approval of what she has told their American guests with silent nods.   The dynamic Deepak Khandelwal, Equal Exchange tea product manager, then passes around sample boxes of Darjeeling teabags using leaves from small tea farms in India.

            The president and her fellow leaders murmur their admiration for the way Equal Exchange is marketing their product. As the meeting concludes, she presents handmade silk scarves to us, and then we convene outside for photos amidst a growing congregation of smiling village boys and girls—many eager to practice their English. Then, after dinner, we are all served steaming cups of “the champagne of all teas,” of course!  We drink Darjeeling black tea, from a “first flush” crop that has been expertly cultivated: fragrant, intoxicating, and wonderfully refreshing! We’re sipping it “on location,” right where the tea was planted, nourished, harvested, withered, processed, inspected, taste tested, and exported.

            Earlier in the day, our group had hiked five miles up (and I do mean UP) to arrive at the Potong tea terraces, where we observed the women hard at work plucking leaves.  Then, in a very special ceremony, we planted new tea shrubs ourselves. It took us four hours to climb, half that time to descend. Now, exhausted but exhilarated and utterly fascinated in Potong, I tell myself that I will never take a cup of tea for granted again, whether loose leaf or teabag. I have a completely new admiration and respect for all the human effort that is required prior to my sitting back and enjoying a sip. Also, I have an enhanced admiration and respect for Equal Exchange and the organization’s commitment to small farms and farmers throughout our world!

Jack Ong is a Los Angeles based actor/writer/activist who represented the West Los Angeles United Methodist Church on a fact-finding mission to the Darjeeling tea country in India, traveling with Equal Exchange March 18-23, 2012. Ong is a licensed minister of The Missionary Church, Inc., and Executive Director of The Dr. Haing S. Ngor Foundation.


Imagine No Malaria? Who Could Have Imagined…

Mbayo Ndala waits to see a doctor with her mother, Mimi Madika, at the United Methodist Church's Shungu Health Center in Kamina, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many of the children seen at the clinic have malaria.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

By Jim Fay, Wesley Church and Foundation of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.

The birth of the Imagine No Malaria campaign is well known. The United Methodist Church's efforts to fight malaria in Africa had partnered them with allies from the United Nations to the National Basketball Association, to Bill and Melinda Gates, to Islamic and Jewish charitable institutions. Those efforts were so successful The United Methodist Church decided to launch a $75 million campaign to eliminate malaria in Africa by 2015.

It should be understood that in many cases, malaria is only the tip of the iceberg. Malaria may be the most common reason people of Africa seek medical help, but dealing with chronic malaria also often entails dealing with a host of other problems: malnutrition, diarrhea, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, etc. Considering the vast array of problems the Imagine No Malaria project is addressing so effectively, perhaps, in retrospect, a more appropriate name for the project would be "Who Could Have Imagined…"

"Who Could Have Imagined…" that village-level training efforts addressing malaria would prove to be so doable and so successful that they affected everything from sustainable agriculture to economic development, to HIV prevention and treatment.

The Kamisamba United Methodist farm in the Democratic Republic of Congo offers an example of the Imagine No Malaria effort leaving its mark on a variety of other subjects. One of these subjects is the Moringa tree, which can be an enormously valuable resource to combat poverty and malnutrition. (From Wikipedia: "The leaves contain all essential amino acids and are rich in protein, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, and minerals....The seed[s] ... is 61% protein…"). Learning to cultivate the Moringa tree is only a minor side effect of malaria prevention efforts. But it means that the people have better nutrition, farmers have products to sell, cows produce 50 percent more milk, children are able to return to school again, and on and on.

Another "Who Could Have Imagined…" story concerns the tilapia fish that currently is a very popular imported fish in America. One of the very modest strategies of the Imagine No Malaria effort is for the people to make certain any local stagnant water is stocked with fish that eat mosquito larvae. One such fish is the tilapia.  As a result, many ponds or marshes in Africa that used to raise malaria-carrying mosquitoes now raise tilapia, bound either for the market or local consumption.

But the "Who Could Have Imagined…" stories are not limited to villages in Africa. They come from the American mass media and major research institutions, too.

"Who Could Have Imagined…" that at this time when journalism seems to be limited to the loud and argumentative, a documentary about malaria narrated by Pauley Perrette of NCIS fame would not only be aired on NBC network stations but win several prestigious awards. The documentary is A Killer in the Dark, produced by United Methodist Communications and presented in conjunction with National Council of Churches and the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission.

"Who Could Have Imagined…" that after decades of disappointing efforts to develop an effective malaria vaccine, clinical tests of one vaccine seem to indicate that it is indeed the long sought-after breakthrough. Time magazine dubbed it the #2 medical breakthrough of 2011. It might be noted that a downside of this story is the cost per vaccine that is a real obstacle to the vaccine being used on a wide scale.

But then "Who Could Have Imagined…" that Texas A&M researchers would ever develop a milk goat genetically modified to carry a malaria vaccine in her milk. But they have. And they look forward to the day when vaccines and pharmaceuticals need not be produced in the lab at significant expense, but are instead produced by the “pharm animals” the people grow themselves.

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