Thursday, December 19, 2013

Four “Marys” of Batan

After receiving UMCOR food relief packages, this 66 year-old woman above said, "Alleluia! Thank you! Thank you very much!" Her thankful spirit wasn't defeated by Yolanda's (Typhoon Haiyan) fury.
Photo: UMCOR Philippines 

By Ciony Ayo-Eduarte*

Batan, in Aklan Province, in the central Philippines was the hard hit by Typhoon Yolanda (known outside the country as Typhoon Haiyan). Ninety percent of livelihoods and homes were devastated due to the town’s coastal location. Thanks to preemptive evacuations there were few fatalities in the November 8 storm, but the people will die slowly if the loss of livelihoods and shelter is not soon addressed.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Dambana, an ecumenical disaster relief organization whose name literally means “altar,” traveled together last week to Aklan to deliver emergency food packages to communities in Batan. The long trip included two ferry transfers and hours of road travel, with around 25 tons of relief goods in a huge truck. We visited the communities, or baranggays, of Mandong, Songcolan, Mamboquiao, and Napti. Because the debris from the typhoon still litters the roads, we faced many challenges getting to the communities. For instance, our team had to pull up and carry an electric post just to allow our truck to pass. We also had to clear fallen wires and cut tree branches that blocked our way.

But all along our route, I was reminded of the Advent story (Luke 1:26-56) in which Mary is visited by the Angel Gabriel, who announces to her that she will conceive and bear the Son of the Most High. As a betrothed virgin, the supposed “good news” is not easy to accept. Troubled, Mary accepts and bears that news. But in the end, her song of praise loudly resounds: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name." (Luke 1:46-49)

In Batan, four such “Marys” welcomed us warmly. Like Mary of the Gospels, these women also were troubled by the events that surrounded them. They were living in the midst of loss, confusion, and other effects of Typhoon Yolanda. Many of the people in their communities had lost their homes, fishing boats, coconut trees (a major source of livelihoods), and their own family members. Yet, in the midst of this devastation, they were full of hope, and this hope resounded loudly in our hearts.

In Mandong, we were welcomed by former Baranggay Captain Excelsa Doroteo, whose damaged home became our place to meet, rest our tired bodies, and fill our empty stomachs. We were so moved to learn she had killed a pig to give us decent food. We told her that she doesn't need to do that, but she said we were helping a lot of families, and this is just a simple way to return goodness.

We were not able to reach the community of Mamboquiao as planned, due to obstructions in the road, so we distributed our emergency food packages in Napti. And that is where we met the other three “Marys.”  The second one happily came to me and said, "I am the only Methodist in this community. I used to live in Palawan and transferred here when I got married. I am so proud that as Methodists you are not only reaching out to our fellow members but to the entire community."

This “Mary” stayed near and kept watch over us during the distribution. When it began to get dark, she asked me, “Where will you eat?” I responded, “Wherever we have the opportunity along the way.” Then I realized that the whole time she was watching us, she was sizing up the number of our group, trying to determine whether the emergency food package she had just received from UMCOR would be enough to feed us and provide for her family for an entire week. She wanted very much to welcome us into her home, but we knew that to agree would be to take food from her family. I was so blessed by the spirit and gesture of this woman.

Our third “Mary” is a 66-year-old woman. I had asked our team members to relieve me for a while, and I went around and started conversing with people who had assembled. This “Mary” was waiting with other townspeople at the side of the road. I caught her in my camera lens, and started clicking. When I went to her, she made the sign of the cross and said, "Alleluia! Thank you! Thank you very much!” Then she hugged me and kissed me. I felt sincere and warm gratitude from this elderly woman. The devastation all around her had not broken her thankful spirit.

Diding Dela Cruz is a 55 year-old baranggay community health worker, helped those who could not carry the 16 kilos (35-pound) food packages. Photo: UMCOR Philippines

The fourth Mary was the strongest woman we have ever met. Usually, in the course of a distribution, we ask men and younger volunteers from the community to help those who are older, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and others who are unable to carry the 16-kilo (35-pound) food packages Diding De la Cruz, 55, helped a lot of the beneficiaries and, in fact, she kept coming back and forth to assist. We were so amazed that we asked her where she gets her strength. She said, “I’m a baranggay health worker. I’m used to helping others, and I am happy doing this. I cannot help with material resources, for I also suffered devastation, but what I can offer is my strength.” I was humbled. She gave what she had, and she gave it all.

Like Mary the mother of Jesus, these four women bring us back to a deep Advent spirituality: Radical hospitality in the midst of uncertainty, even in the midst of devastation. They show us the true meaning of “open hearts, open doors, open minds,” by giving to all without regard to faith affiliation; by nurturing a thankful heart and a hopeful spirit even in the midst of ruin and death; and by extending their helping hand fully and unconditionally to others in need.

Likewise, to the many people around the world who are supporting UMCOR in different ways, we send you the warmest embrace: "Alleluia! Thank you! Thank you very much!"

*Ciony Ayo-Eduarte is the director of UMCOR’s office in the Philippines. Follow the Typhoon Haiyan relief and recovery work of UMCOR Philippines on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

UMCOR–Philippines Distributes Relief Goods in Visayas

A woman carries her emergency food supplies during UMCOR’s second Typhoon Haiyan relief-supplies distribution in Ormoc and Tacloban on December 5 and 6. Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, brought death and destruction when it barreled through the central Philippines on November 8.  
CREDIT: UMCOR Philippines

By Eduard M. Jocson*

After the devastating force of Super-Typhoon Yolanda (known outside the Philippines as Typhoon Haiyan) landed in the Visayas Region on November 8, 2013, staff and volunteers of the Philippines office of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR-Philippines) responded immediately to affected communities by distributing emergency relief goods. UMCOR’s mission is to alleviate human suffering, open hearts to all people and open minds to all religions. 

Yolanda was considered the strongest typhoon in the world in 2013. The storm killed about 6,000 people, while 1,779 people remain missing. It caused damages to infrastructure and agriculture estimated at a cost of 809 million US dollars. On November 19-20, the United Methodist Committee on Relief first distributed about 1,500 emergency food packages to communities in and around Tacloban City. Then on November 26, UMCOR volunteers, including both a regular core group and new volunteers from churches and from Harris Memorial College, helped prepare another 1,500 packages of relief goods. These were distributed to communities in Ormoc City and Tacloban City on December 5 and 6. Each of these distributions takes at least a full week to complete, including travel time from the north to the Visayas Region in the central part of the country.

There are many nongovernmental organizations, both local and international, that are helping to alleviate the suffering of the Filipino people. But the relief goods are not enough to bring back their normal life. There also is much we need to learn from experiences like this one, especially how to deal with people in times of disaster. As the human suffering increases, poverty, violence, and man-made disaster also increase. We need to understand the people and learn from them, and also to teach them how to minimize their vulnerabilities.

Survivor Story

“I am so thankful to God almighty that I am still alive after the Super-Typhoon Yolanda hit our community with such strong winds and also flooded us,” said Mr. Yulo Rosendal, a 59-year-old father who lived near the shore in Tacloban. He added that some of his family members died in the storm. He is a good carpenter, and thinks he may yet contribute to rebuilding the home of his pastor at the Light and Life Methodist Church in Tacloban City. 


As an adage goes, “no man is an island.” In times of trouble or disaster, we cannot rely on ourselves alone. Other people will complete our wholeness as a human person. This reflects the real story of the Harris Memorial College student deaconesses who helped in the packing of relief goods. They volunteered for this work as their classes are not in session. They were accompanied by the Rev. Charles Jenkins Mendoza, chaplain, and me, both of Harris Memorial College. All of the student deaconesses felt inspired by God to volunteer themselves to package the goods as a way to help survivors of Typhoon Yolanda. They said that they are always willing to volunteer and help people in need.

Volunteerism the acts of serving people

Volunteerism is the process of opening our hearts, minds, and doors to reach out to others not only in times of trouble but whenever help is needed.

Philosopher Thomas Hobbes claimed that man is by nature belligerent, selfish, and egoistic. But for me, the spirit of working and helping together to reach out to survivors of Typhoon Yolanda shows more compassionate values. I personally was asked by our program director to volunteer with UMCOR, and I responded without hesitation. Perseverance and compassion are my tools to serve people in need. I helped pack the relief goods and was so excited about participating in the distribution. It was my first experience of volunteering in the far-flung communities, and it filled me with emotion. 

*Eduard Jocson is a member of the staff of the Community Extension Services and Development Department at Harris Memorial College in the Philippines.

Monday, November 25, 2013

In the Philippines: The Sun Rises

The sun rises behind storm debris and trees stripped clean of vegetation by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

By Linda Unger*

I am on my way back to the States after an eventful week in the Philippines assisting Typhoon Haiyan survivors in the hard-hit city of Tacloban and surrounding towns. Our UMCOR convoy departed Sunday, November 17, from DasmariƱas in Cavite Province, made the 36-hour drive, distributed emergency food packages over the course of two days to abundantly grateful survivors, and returned to Manila via the ruined local airport in Tacloban.

What stood out? In Palo, which lies next to Tacloban and about a kilometer from the sea, there was an especially eerie quiet—no sound of chainsaws clearing a path through the debris, just the occasional hammering; from inside our passing car we watched as forensics specialists put two bodies into body bags and photographed the scene, and it seemed as though we were watching a silent movie. Everywhere, the ruined coconut crop lay in piles of shredded brown—brown, in fact, was the dominant color: of the spoiled branches of the coconut palms, the seared hillsides, the mud underfoot, and the piles of wet wood and other debris lining the roadsides. Brown, brown, brown—and it was quiet like a family in mourning.

Trees were shorn of their branches, the stubby remains of which reached wanly to the sky—“arms too short to box with God.” Too short, too shocked, too stunned and exhausted. The storm surge in Palo, a kilometer from the sea, and Tacloban shoved everything in its path out of its path, depositing it where it didn’t belong: in fields, on roofs, and in piles of what sometimes looked like junkyard wreckage. Filipino flags and painted slogans called for strength, affirmed courage, but down each side street—where there had been side streets—lay more wreckage. The Roman Catholic cathedral in Palo allowed its grounds—where many of the severed tree branches and parts of trunks had come to rest—to be used for a mass grave. The figures of two angels, standing high above where the cathedral doors used to be and beneath the roof that no longer is, remained inexplicably intact and watchful. Palo, particularly, made me think of pictures I’ve seen of cities bombed in the Second World War.

We drove back at night from the town of Dagami, through Tanauan and Palo, to Tacloban after our second day of distributing emergency food packages. The night was black as pitch. The full moon that had cheerfully accompanied us from DasmariƱas was, by this time, in retreat and covered, besides, with black-on-black storm clouds. Every once in a while a small, bright, red-orange family fire gave a sign of life and challenged the darkness with its warmth and beauty.

Where destruction is so pervasive, one looks for signs like that, signs of hope. And there were at least two other such signs that penetrated the desolation which I became aware of: one is found in that great dynamic of neighbors helping neighbors; the other, in the very remembrance that the sun rises.

Freddie Santos (left) and Angelo Catanga work to erect a temporary roof for a friend whose home was laid open to the sky by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

At the height of the storm, seventeen-year-old Dilmar Barnizo made a rope and pulled people out of the fast-moving storm surge and up to the roof of his family’s home in a vulnerable community in Tacloban. Christian Tabao hosted about 50 of his neighbors, even as his own home was being severely damaged by the typhoon’s high winds. His house is on a hill, and they would be safe there from the floodwaters, so he took them in. On the road we stopped to talk briefly with two men, Freddie and Angelo, who were helping a neighbor put up a temporary roof on a badly damaged home, a first step toward rebuilding a community. And there were more stories and scenes like these.

And, yes, the sun rises, even though, in the midst of so much destruction, it may seem impossible. For survivors, it rises and announces the start of a new day—a day perhaps eerily quiet, but a new day nonetheless. The sun rises, and we can do… something—to ease another’s burden and to make this day better than the day before….

*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.

Friday, November 15, 2013

UMCOR Executive Reflects on Hands-on Theology

Jack Amick, center, with Typhoon Haiyan volunteers and family food packs. Photo courtesy UMCOR Philippines. 

By Jack Amick
Sometimes, the best way to learn is by doing. That principle seems to be especially true when you’re learning about God’s love. That’s why the UMCOR Philippines office was full this morning. It was full of food and theologians. Young seminary students wanted to help and learn. Stacks of 50 kilo rice bags filled the hallway as 25 students, mostly women, from the Philippines Mission Institute, began their work of making food packets for families impacted by Typhoon Haiyan. 
These young women were soon joined by students from nearby Union Theological Seminary. But these volunteers were not just students. They were champions. They were the champion varsity football (soccer) team – and their coach. 
“These are my champs,” boasted UMCOR Philippines Director Ciony Eduarte. “They are my most experienced and dedicated volunteers. They do the quality control to make sure there are no missing items.” 
Her comment about missing items reminds me that UMCOR is intentional about reaching those on the margins and in crisis, making sure no one is missed. 
As the evening wore on, the young men were expecting their skateboarder friends to come help out. “Everyone here is eager to help,” Eduarte noted.
By the end of the day, over 800 relief bags were completed, adding to the hundreds that have been assembled in the past few days.

UMCOR's role in Typhoon Haiyan

On Nov. 8, Typhoon Haiyan battered parts of the Philippines. It cut a swath of devastation through the three large island provinces of Samar, Leyte and Bohol. 
UMCOR approved a grant to provide emergency food, water, and water purification tablets to 7,500 people (about 1,500 families) in Tacloban City, Leyte Province, which was devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan. 
UMCOR volunteers in Manila have turned locally procured food into family packets, each of which will provide a family of 5 in the affected area with emergency food for around 5 days and costs $50.
Relief efforts are being funded through the UMCOR International Disaster Response Advance #982450. 100% of all gifts will be used to help people in need.
Jack Amick is at the UMCOR Philippines office in Manila and shared this reflection. He is the Assistant General Secretary, International Disaster Response for UMCOR.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

UMCOR Congratulates the Asian Rural Institute

(Second from left) Jonathan McCurley, a Global Minstries' missionary serving the Asian Rural Institute in Japan, and Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR's associate general secretary (center), during a visit to the institute in 2012. Photo: James Rollins

UMCOR Associate General Secretary Melissa Crutchfield greets Asian Rural Institute on the occasion of the institute’s 40th anniversary of founding in Togichi, Japan,

September 16, 2013.

Good morning!  It is an honor for me to have the opportunity to bring you greetings from the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. As one member of an esteemed group of international ecumenical supporters of the Asian Rural Institute, it is truly an honor for me to be here with you this morning, celebrating 40 years of a ministry that represents our common calling to love, empower, and encourage all God’s people while promoting dignity, justice and peace across the globe. 

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (known as UMCOR) and Global Ministries have a particularly special relationship with ARI, starting from the very beginning.  We have a “shared DNA” – ARI’s founder Takami-sensei had a close friendship and collaboration with former UMCOR staffer Harry Haines, and ARI has since been the host of numerous United Methodist mission interns, Global Justice Volunteers, missionaries (hi, Jonathan!), and participants. 

As the humanitarian relief and development organization for The United Methodist Church, UMCOR’s natural partnership with ARI was renewed and strengthened in the aftermath of 3/11, when we were called together to rebuild the buildings and the lives of so many affected by the triple disaster.  Sharing our stories of this time of recovery also enabled us to lift up the good work of ARI and raise awareness and funding for scholarships and other important support for their mission. This immense tragedy presented us with a true blessing and opportunity in disguise, and has really deepened our relationship with ARI in such a meaningful way. 

Those small seeds planted 40 years ago, wishing to promote ecumenical partnership and cooperation from a base in Japan through agricultural training and outreach, have grown into a flourishing crop of alumni and partners from all over the world and from all walks of life.  It is humbling for us to know we have been a part of something which has touched so many lives and so successfully embodied our shared mission.  On behalf of your ecumenical partners, congratulations to ARI on your growing legacy and the impact you are making all over the world. And on behalf of all for your ecumenical partners, thank you again for letting us be a part of it. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Serving at UMCOR Sager Brown

UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La. Photo: UMCOR Sager Brown
Carl and June Coleman, United Methodist individual volunteers from the Texas Annual Conference, who were trained and placed by the Mission Volunteers office of Global Ministries, share their volunteer experience at UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La.

September 18, 2013

Carl and I are in our sixth week at UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, Louisiana, and we are seriously considering writing a book.  Just kidding…but the whole experience has been wonderful and full of inspirational stories from so many fantastic volunteers who have come here to serve.  By the time we leave next Friday there will have been approximately 300 volunteers on campus, who have given special meaning to our mission experience here.

In addition to Heart and Hand Home Repair in the community, the kit ministry is in full swing at the UMCOR depot every day.  There are a number of different kits made at Sager Brown, which include health, birthing, bedding, layette, sewing, cleaning buckets, etc.  Since we have been here, we have sent one container (an 18-wheeler trailer) of supplies to Angola. It contained 11,424 health kits, 700 bedding kits, and 3,360 birthing kits, for a total weight of 38,540 pounds.

Henry Heaton, a volunteer, assembles health kits for shipment. Photo: J. Santiago

Tomorrow we will be loading and sending out another container of supplies (mainly health kits) to the Republic of Georgia.  We have been told some cleaning buckets (which contain cleanup supplies) will be going to Colorado from Sager Brown and also from the warehouse in Utah (UMCOR West Depot).  It has been such a blessing to see the complete cycle of service the volunteers provide at Sager Brown in being the hands and feet of Christ—(1) starting with the donating and bringing supplies for the relief kits; (2) assembling the kits; (3) packing the completed kits into packing boxes;  (4) loading the boxes on to pallets;  (5) loading the truck with boxes of kits, and (6) finally watching the loaded truck leave the depot heading for its destination.

We always have a prayer of blessing around the container right before the truck pulls out of the depot...very awesome!!!

A group of volunteers assemble to pray for a shipment about to depart UMCOR Sager Brown. 
Photo: UMCOR Sager Brown

Carl has been doing service projects in the community and is staying very busy. One man could not come home from the rehab hospital until a wheelchair ramp was constructed at his home. Carl and some other volunteers made it happen. Another lady had holes in her floor so that daylight was clearly visible. She was so pleased after the repairs were completed, because for the first time in many years, she can have a Christmas tree in her house. We will never lack for community service jobs in the Sager Brown area.  Between the poverty, hurricanes, and the destructive nature of rain, there will always be work to do here.

We only have one more week of service here. We will be heading back to Texas for a few days, and then we will be starting a NOMADS mission experience, October 7-27, at The Methodist Children's Home.  We have told our adult kids (and grandkids) we will definitely be home by Thanksgiving. 

Sending you all our very best,

Carl and June Coleman
United Methodist Individual Volunteers

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

UMVIM Team: Reflections on the Last Day

The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team from First United Methodist Church in Portland Oregon, shares their experiences with UMCOR as they volunteer at UMCOR West Depot in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In the last of this five part blog series, Kay Ward brings us reflections from the UMVIM team’s last day of volunteering at UMCOR West.

August 31st, 2013

As we are winding down our week at UMCOR another UMCOR/VIM team from Susanville, California has come into this beautiful Episcopal center last night and worked with us today at the Depot. Bob was impressed again with how many tubes of toothpaste can be unboxed and bagged with many hands working. On Thursday he was the lone toothpaste volunteer while the rest of us sewed.

Rev. Brian held a communion service for both teams. This has been a day of reflecting and finishing up. We sewers finished up 30 baby gowns, two footie sleepers, six blankets and two sweaters. The sweaters were begun while we traveled and finished up here. We leave behind to be remembered by, an origami crane mobile made of tooth paste boxes and a beautiful quilt square banner made with the Christian symbol of fishes.

We have been remembering and appreciating FUMC of Portland’s involvement with UMCOR this past year. Both UMW and the Global Mission Committee and many individuals contributed money for materials. Tabitha Circle and friends managed to create an entire pallet of baby gowns and sweaters (Dora crocheted about 140 sweaters by herself). We assembled 82 complete layette kits and as a church we gave over $3,000 to One Great Hour of Sharing which funds UMCOR. We have sent two UMCOR/VIM teams.

The shipment we have worked on this week will go to Armenia. The need is still great in many parts of the world. UMCOR was originally begun by a Methodist Bishop in 1940 because he saw the tremendous need in Europe from a war in which we were not yet involved. Seventy-three years later Methodist churches all over the United States put forth efforts like we did to keep this great “idea” flourishing. We feel quite passionate about our wonderful experience. We’ve tentatively picked a date in mid-September for next year’s team, and because we so want our youth to experience this and can’t get a date for them when school’s out before 2015, we’ve reserved a slot for a team of 10 people for the week of June 15, 2015.

As we get ready for our trip home, we are filled with a sense of fulfillment in being able to serve the global community, and look forward to our return next year.

Kay Ward
United Methodist Volunteer in Mission

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013


The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team from First United Methodist Church in Portland Oregon, shares their experiences with UMCOR as they volunteer at UMCOR West Depot in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In part four of a five-part blog series from First United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon, Bob Fujimoto, Volunteer in Mission, shares about a recent dinner with guests from First UMC in Salt Lake City, Utah, and discusses its history and similarities to his own church in Portland.

August 30, 2013

Our Volunteers in Mission team hosted dinner last night, with guests from First United Methodist Church, Salt Lake City’s (FUMC SLC) United Methodist Women, and other guests staying with us at the Episcopal Church Center of Utah. All 15 of us enjoyed a wonderful stir fry with peanut sauce dinner (Kay Ward’s fabulous recipe), and had great conversations with all. FUMC SLC UMW President Carolyn Thurmond led her group one block from their church, and Pastor Eun-Sang Lee welcomed us to Salt Lake City. Although he couldn’t stay for dinner because he had to attend a meeting (Pastors have to go to evening meetings?), he invited us for a tour of their historic church this morning. This is the church that UMCOR West Director Brian Diggs was Senior Pastor for 10 years before working for UMCOR.

FUMC SLC was founded in 1870, one year after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Their first service was in a hay loft above a livery barn, with 40 worshippers. Their current building was constructed beginning in 1905, and completed in 1906. The large, beautiful stained-glass windows, and pipe organ, are originals to the building. During this time, J.C. Penney and his wife Berta Alva Hess Penney attended the church, and Berta was a member. Following her tragic death in 1910, JC Penney paid off the mortgage for the church. The bell tower is dedicated to the memory of Berta Alva Hess Penney.
There are several similarities between our two churches. Both are the oldest in their respective cities. Both are located in their central core areas. Both work with interfaith groups to sponsor lodging and meals for homeless families. Both have diverse congregations – FUMC Salt Lake City has over 10 nationalities in their congregation.

Following the tour, we went back to UMCOR’s West Depot for another day of volunteer service. Anxious to sew the fabric that they brought, the ladies began to work in the sewing room. Overcoming a few problems with the sewing machines (they frequently get a hard workout), they sewed and assembled baby gown (17 in progress), did some mending of other layette items, and Shirley Blalock began work on a fish-themed quilt square which we will leave at the Depot as a memento of this year’s FUMC PDX VIM team.

The non-sewer in the group (me) went back to repackaging tooth paste. It is a lot slower going when there is only one person, rather than five people, working on this part. However, I had the company of Antonin and Dmitri. Erin asked who they were, and I told her Dvorak and Shostokovich. Three full pallets of toothpaste are still waiting to be repackaged, as part of the health kits that will be sent out next month to Armenia. Along with the health kits, UMCOR’s West Depot will send out school kits and layette kits. In October, another shipment will go out to another destination.

Fortunately for me, another United Methodist Church group will be arriving tomorrow, and will be working with me.

Gotta love Mint Fresh toothpaste.

Bob Fujimoto
United Methodist Volunteer in Mission

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Monday, September 9, 2013

UMVIM Team: Our Day at Deseret Industries

The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team from First United Methodist Church in Portland Oregon, shares their experiences with UMCOR as they volunteer at UMCOR West Depot in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In part three of a five-part blog series from First United Methodist Church  (FUMC) in Portland, Oregon, Shirley, a UM Volunteer in Mission, shares about her volunteer work outside of UMCOR West at Deseret Industries, a vocational rehabilitation facility, which cares for the poor and the local community. 

August 28th, 2013
No work at the West Depot today. We met Maika, FUMC Salt Lake City lay leader, at the depot and he took us to Deseret Industries for two hours of volunteer work and a tour of the facility. Deseret Industries purpose is to care for poor and needy, foster self-reliance, and encourage service to others. This large welfare square consisted of a cannery, bakery, thrift store, storehouse, and job training.
Our two hours of service was very rewarding because we work alongside employees and many volunteers. Apple, oranges, and potatoes were put in five-pound bags. Time was spent on grooming the onion for their market shelves. Also, work was done in the recycling center.
What I saw during the two hours of volunteer in service:

  • Service – Our volunteer hours with LDS church is towards the larger humanitarian aid.
  • Hope – A young man from Romania with both arms off at the elbows driving a fork lift and carrying 50-pound bags of onion with a cheerful smile on his face.
  • Transition – A homeless man working for food and clothing.
  • Job Training – A disabled young man working at the center.
  • Partnership – Deseret Industries partners with UMCOR West Depot when purchasing supplies for our seven relief kits.
  • Humor – A man asked the women if we were single because he was looking for a good Mormon wife. Someone said we were Methodist. His reply was “What are you doing here?”

Tonight we are having a dinner party. Originally, we had planned on some UMW women from the local church. Now the party is up to 19, because our fearless leader has included other house guests at the Episcopal Retreat Center. The dinner party will be fun. We are having stir fry. Better close for now, almost time to start chopping for the dinner party.

Blessings, Shirley
United Methodist Volunteer in Mission
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Friday, September 6, 2013

Today We Count

The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team from First United Methodist Church in Portland Oregon, shares their experiences with UMCOR as they volunteer at UMCOR West Depot in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In part two of a five-part blog series from First United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon, Volunteer in Mission Kay Ward shares the value in performing the oftentimes mundane tasks in preparing relief supplies for those most in need. 

By Kay Ward

August 28th, 2013

Day 3

What a rewarding, expanding experience this is. Last night after dinner we shared some of the things that impressed us most. For one it was the loving extras knitted, crocheted or sewn into the handmade layette garments. For another the realization that the mundane task of taking tubes of toothpaste out of their box and bagging them in groups of 12 was important work that needed to be done. Two others were impressed with the size of the undertaking, the thousands of items that pass through the UMCOR Depot on to the needs of the world.

Rev. Brian is currently working on staging the next big shipment that will go out in October. With funds low he didn’t want to overbuy for the health kits or the layette kits. Though thousands of items are donated it all has to come out even with each kit fully supplied so Brian must use budget to cover the expense. We were asked to inventory what was on hand. The numbers are impressive. The layette kit inventory was 102 complete kits, 221 diapers, 496 shirts/onesies, 3,136 washcloths, 2,611 gowns/sleepers, 4,920 diaper pins, 1250 sweaters, and 169 receiving blankets.

The health kit inventory was 3,120 hand towels, 2,719 washcloths, 3,600 combs, 3,405 toothbrushes, 3,600 nail clippers, 2,880 soaps, and 7,345 bandages.

YES, we counted it all! No wonder we are impressed with the volume.

During the day a man from Southern Arizona came by to drop off some materials from his church. He was up this way on vacation. We thought of all the effort we had made this year at FUMC Portland to complete 82 layette kits and enough sweaters and gowns to complete one pallet. All over the nation churches are doing the same thing.

Kay Ward
United Methodist Volunteer in Mission

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

UMVIM Team at UMCOR West Begins Work

The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team from First United Methodist Church in Portland Oregon, share their experiences with UMCOR as they volunteer at UMCOR West Depot in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In this first of five blogs to appear on the UMCOR Notebook, Erin Riley, a United Methodist Volunteer in Mission, reflects on the church’s week of service at UMCOR West Depot in Salt Lake City, Utah, assembling and preparing relief supplies for shipment.

August 27th, 2013

Our first day at UMCOR West began with an orientation given by director Brian Diggs, a tall, ordained Methodist minister. Diggs served as the pastor of Salt Lake City First United Methodist Church for ten years before he took the UMCOR position. The Reverend has an unusual hobby – pro-wrestling. Known as the “Deacon of Doom,” Diggs plays the bad guy in the ring, but uses the matches as an opportunity to share the message of God’s love.

When Diggs describes UMCOR’s mission, his strong faith and love of being part of the organization that calls itself the “hands and feet of Christ” quickly becomes apparent.

He explains that UMCOR is like a Methodist Red Cross – a non-proselytizing, non-profit, humanitarian aid agency. UMCOR responds to urgent disasters in the US and around the world – tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes. In addition, it helps people cope with long-term disasters such as poverty, hunger, and war.

UMCOR West’s mission is to assemble and ship seven types of relief kits:

  •  Birthing kits
  •  Layette kits
  •  School bags
  •  Bedding kits
  •  Sewing kits
  •  Health kits
  •  Cleaning buckets

Hundreds of thousands of relief kits are shipped to US sites and around the world each year. Diggs said the depot shipped cleaning buckets to Colorado in June when the area around Colorado Springs was struck first by fire, and then by floods. Recent overseas shipments have gone to Haiti and to refugees fleeing the upheaval in Syria.

After Digg’s orientation, our five-person, First Church team spent the day removing cardboard packaging from toothpaste and counting band aids to go into health kits, and inventorying baby sweaters and diapers to go into layette kits. We were thrilled to see layette kits our congregation packed during a coffee hour in March. We were equally delighted to see that some of the items sent by FUMC this year had already been shipped!

For lunch we walked to a local landmark, Victor’s Tires and Custom Wheels. Apparently Victor’s wife wanted to open a Mexican restaurant, so he gave her a kitchen and half the counter in the tire shop. The restaurant was a hit, and now both businesses happily carry on together.

Erin Riley
United Methodists Volunteer in Mission

Click here to view First United Methodist Church’s original blog posts.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Philippines: Pray, Fast, Build

At left, UMCOR’s Ciony Eduarte and DAMBANA’s Norma Dollaga prepare to distribute UMCOR school bags to students in the remote Salugpungan community on the island of Mindanao. The students’ school was severely affected by a super typhoon in December 2012. Photo courtesy of Ciony Eduarte.

By Norma Dollaga
From July 12 – 16, an International Solidarity Mission traveled to the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines to visit the site of the Pray Fast Build Project of a Filipino ecumenical organization called DAMBANA. Pray Fast Build began earlier this year in Holy Week, when Christians were encouraged to pray, fast, and raise funds to help rebuild a school in a remote community of Muslim indigenous peoples. The school had been severely damaged by Typhoon Bopha, which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people in December 2012. Bopha was the strongest typhoon to ever strike the island of Mindanao.

Norma Dollaga, a United Methodist deaconess and leader of DAMBANA, and Ciony Eduarte, head of UMCOR’s Philippines office, were part of the group. DAMBANA and UMCOR partnered to facilitate the rebuilding of the primary school in the remote Salugpungan community. UMCOR also provided school kits for 200 children as well as reference books and other teaching aids and supplies for teachers.
Below is Dollaga’s reflection on the visit.

The path to the heart and life of the Salugpungan community, located in the barangay, or neighborhood district, of Panansalan, in the province of Compostela Valley, on the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, is not an easy one. Only by truck can you get close. You must drive for more than two hours over rough and winding roads. Then, you must travel on foot for nearly another hour. The trail is rocky, muddy, and sometimes very slippery.

We were all drenched when we reached the place. Heavy rains had come after scorching sun. We marveled at the apparent beauty of the mountains. But a community leader lamented that we could not see the mountains at their best, referring to the splendid days before corporate logging took over the area. In addition, he said, Typhoon Pablo (also known as Bopha) had left the mountains almost bald, practically devoid of vegetation.

We stayed at the local school, which is being reconstructed. Classes have started, and the rebuilding has proceeded through bayanihan, or communal work. Parents and community members agree that their participation in the school project helps ensure that their children will get an education. That joint effort inspired PANAGSANDUG, the local people’s organization in Panansalan, also to participate in rebuilding the school.

The Salugpungan community has gathered its strength and risen above the recent tempest and pain that came with Typhoon Pablo. The bare mountains will grow trees again; the children will go to school again; and the farmers will sow again. This they believe. They have never given up the hope that has been their companion since long before the storm unleashed its fury. Through years of official neglect, they have learned to organize, to demand their rights be respected, and to build their dreams.

School for Teachers and Students Alike

“As teachers and volunteers in the community, we did not come here to teach and then leave just like that. Our concern for the community is comprehensive. The people have struggles and aspirations, too. It is not enough to teach children about arithmetic, reading, and writing. When we are with them, we also are thinking of the entire community life. We believe education must not be detached from the everyday reality of the children.” These are the words of Kakai Rosello, head of the High School Department of Salugpungan Ta’tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center (STICLC) in Panansalan, Compostela, Compostela Valley, and Southern Mindanao Region.

Salugpungan is the word the Talaingod indigenous people use for unity. The Talaingod, Matigsalog, Manobo and other tribes organized themselves as Salugpugan Ta’tanu (People United to Defend the Ancestral Land). The organization has an expressed dream to empower their youth through education. Thus, an educational philosophy was conceptualized and organized to strengthen the unity of the Lumads, or indigenous peoples. This gave birth to STICLC.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc., and martyr-priest Fr. Pops Tentorio, PIME, had accompanied the Lumads and helped them shape their aspirations. They developed and continuously improved the curriculum with an overarching educational philosophy that is pro-people, nationalist, and scientific. It complies with the requirements of the Department of Education (DepEd) and integrates subjects and practicum on farming, environmental care, and children’s rights.

The Panansalan STICLC annex is one of the schools being rebuilt after the damage caused by Typhoon Pablo. It has 55 students with seven teachers who are all graduates of Education and come from different places in Mindanao. Teachers stay in the community as they are also volunteer community organizers. By integrating themselves into the lives of the tribe and peasants, they are able to understand their students and learn the most effective methods of teaching and learning. Teachers are also engaged in economic production and in co-discovering the gifts, talents, and abilities of the people. They also take part in training community health workers.

Kakai is an English teacher. In her youth, she was a volunteer of Gabriela, a women’s organization, and AnakBayan, a youth organization. She came to know about the problems of our society by listening to stories of fellow youth who were struggling to survive amid economic woes. She visited communities of farmers, Moro [Muslim] communities, and tried to link the situation of each one to national issues and concerns. For her, it wasn’t enough to know and analyze problems. There is a need to organize people and let their struggles and hopes unite them.

As a teacher, Kakai finds it both fulfilling and challenging to engage in this work. Born with a weak heart, there were times when she would collapse while trekking to school. She experienced difficulties in adjusting to the food, the long hikes, learning the language of the community, and even on the issue of toilet use.

“If we want the learning process to happen, then we have to be ready to become students, too. The answers to all our problems are not in the hands of the teacher. Our role [as teachers] is to blend with the people and be one with them in shaping the kind of community we want to have. Teaching children within the classroom is not enough. We have to be with them in their farming and harvesting activities, learn with them the lessons of collective life, and respect the dignity of the work of farmers. The conversation does not stop when we sing the goodbye song at the end of the class. We have to get to know who they are. And there is no way to know them except to listen to them and speak their language. If the people express the need for a water reservoir near the community, then we have to facilitate a discussion until we collectively design a plan of how to achieve our goal,” says Kakai.

The children naturally embrace their dance and music. They could not forget who they are as Filipinos and as indigenous people, because it is part of their curriculum. Just before dusk, when there is community gathering, children re-enact their history and current life stories through song, storytelling, music, and dance.

Building a school among peasants and indigenous peoples is not just about building physical structures, providing supplies and teachers. It is about building community life—the development of children to embrace a scientific, nationalist, and people-oriented education—and cultivate the capacity of community members, especially women, for basic health care, improved farming and agricultural production, and to nourish a collective community life.

We visited the community and were blessed by their radical hospitality and stories of enduring strength and perseverance despite the natural tempests and structural injustice that they wrestle with and that test their courage. The collective joy we shared with them through our material contribution from the Pray Fast Build Project has reached them. But, indeed, we received back the blessings we shared through their inspiring call to us to never give up hope.

We thank the people who made this experience of sharing and giving an even stronger testimony of loving communion.

Monday, July 8, 2013

United Methodists Embrace OK Tornado Survivors

This tee-shirt is from a team of volunteers from North Carolina, who came to support
relief and recovery efforts in Moore, Oklahoma, following the tornado there.
Photo Courtesy of Holly McCray

By Holly McCray*

Today I went to the UMCOR office that is set up at First UMC, Moore. David Nichols told me a great story: Several streets in Moore have become unofficially named "Methodist Row." By word of mouth, residents in some of the devastated blocks have shared with their neighbors that the volunteers who are helping them clear debris are United Methodists. Thus others have turned to us to ask for assistance. David explained that the volunteer work to clear a slab saves $12,000-$15,000 for a family.
T-shirts and posters hang on the walls inside the UMCOR office.... Here's a photo of a shirt from a North Carolina team.... It feels like United Methodists around the nation are wrapping their arms around the people who are helping on the ground as well as the people who lost so much...
Rob Harris, First UMC's new senior pastor, said the homes of 12 families in that church were destroyed and they lost everything...
So many stories of people serving in the name of Christ...

*Holly McCray is the editor of Contact, a publication of the Oklahoma Annual Conference.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Walking in Faith

By Nyamah Dunbar*

Global Ministries staff, family, and friends get ready to walk more than six miles for HIV/AIDS awareness and care in the annual AIDS Walk NY in Central Park,
New York City.
Photo: J Savilon
You can tell a lot about a person when you look them squarely in the eye and make an explicit ask of engagement.  No, not the on-bended-knee kind of engagement, the other kind; the one that says there is something out there greater than you and me that requires us uniting in faith to accomplish.  Would you care to join me?  People normally split into three categories:  the fully engaged group (THEY SAID YES!); the willing-in-spirit group (I’ll think about it), and the I-must-tend-to-other duties group.

This past Sunday, which coincidentally was Pentecost, AIDS Walk New York was held in Central Park.  The idea to participate in this year’s walk, thanks to a straphanger on the New York Subway who shared the details, sprang from a personal interest to engage with a larger group for a common cause.  However, it did not take long for me to realize that linking me to a universal cause is good, but bringing others along would be greater.  So in my typical take-charge manner (blame it on my mother!), I decided that it would be great to sign up colleagues and friends!  
The three-week sign-up process ranged from the comical in excuses: “My Sunday school class is having finals, so I can’t come” to shock: “Wow!  You’re actually getting people to sign up?!”  There was also the reprimanding excuse: “It’s Pentecost!  You’re supposed to be in church, not the park!”  To the latter statement, I asked how many times in the Bible was Jesus in a church (structure).  Church, for HIM, was wherever HE was.  And he prioritized HIS time not on being in a place, but on being in a state of mind, in body, spirit, and presence where HE could be of most service to the least among HIS children.
Where would Jesus have attended Pentecost Sunday service?  The answer depends on both the individual and collective perspectives. 
HIV/AIDS, as a disease and a cause, has polarized the faith community.  We have made significant strides to overcome prejudices and stigma surrounding the disease, but we still have the hardest portion of the journey to overcome.  I overheard quite a few walkers commenting that they were walking in hope for an imminent cure.  Some were walking with photos draped around their necks of lost loved ones.  Others simply thought this would be a cool event to partake in; and besides, they try to participate in any sporty activity freely offered in the City. 
So if you had walked, what would you have walked for?   I walked for a cure of the human heart; that we as faith communities and general society may realize that we must walk together in order to make a difference in this world. As Christians, we aim to always stay focused on the goal, which, no matter what the cause, is always rooted in Jesus Christ.  In this vain, our differences do not matter.  It is the achievement of HIS will for our lives that matters.
So one day (doesn’t have to be a Sunday), go out and have “church” in a park, at a lake, or on a mountain (if you can climb it!).  You will see the glory of the LORD shining there just as brightly as it does through the chapel’s stain glass windows.
THANK YOU to all who participated in the Holy Ghost-inspiring walk of 10km/6.3 miles on Sunday!
NOTE:  Participation in the AIDS Walk New York was made possible through donations from ReThink Church, United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (ADVANCE # 982345), and private donations.  

*Nyamah Dunbar is senior program manager of the Malaria Initiative of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

Be Alert! United Methodist Disaster Response

By Thomas Kemper*

Photo courtesy Oklahoma Conference
The devastating tornadoes that wiped out much of Moore, Oklahoma, as well as the dozens of tornadoes in several states early this week call Christians to put into practice our best theology of compassion and action.

Concern for those in distress after calamities is rooted in both Old and New Testaments. Rabbi Myrna Matsa reminds us that being a holy people means caring for people and the earth, and leaving the world a better place. Jesus, who was steeped in Jewish wisdom, spells out in Matthew 25 the duty disciples have to those who are in need.  Assisting communities and people affected by disaster is one way we follow Jesus Christ.

As with the bridesmaids who needed to bring extra oil in Matthew’s parable of the wedding guests, we must be ready when God calls us to respond to human need.  The message is: “Be alert.”

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), along with other public and private agencies, is constantly on alert. We were already in touch with the Oklahoma Conference leadership following Monday’s tornado in Shawnee and continued to connect with them on Tuesday following the tornado in Moore.

In the name of Jesus, when disaster strikes, we provide emergency food, water, shelter, and medical care, and begin the harrowing process of clean up. In Oklahoma we have:
Photo courtesy Oklahoma Conference

     •    Offered the conference all available UMCOR resources, including emergency funds, relief supplies,
and training in early response and spiritual and emotional care.
     •    Worked with the conference’s Office of Mission to begin to determine the resources that will be needed for recovery.
     •    Shipped relief supplies including cleaning buckets and bedding kits from UMCOR Sager Brown in Baldwin, Louisiana. The UMCOR depot stands ready to send additional relief kits as requested.

Additional needs are likely to surface following the emergency phase. We will remain in contact with the conference’s Office of Mission to sort out the resources that will be needed for long-term recovery. These are likely to include training and expertise in long-term disaster case management—UMCOR is a recognized leader in providing this crucial training—as well as encouraging volunteers for rebuilding through UMVIM .

Photo courtesy Oklahoma Conference
As Methodists go about the work of disaster relief and rebuilding, we are guided by strong theological themes from our Wesleyan heritage. Here are a few:
     •    The disaster response of the church and its members is an expression of faith, a confirmation of discipleship, and a witness to love for neighbors worldwide. But we do not distribute cleaning buckets and rebuild homes with the intention of converting others; rather, we do so as the practice of a theology of presence that requires few words.
     •    All people need God’s grace. Helpers in disaster are not superior to those being helped. Responders act with humility and not for the sake of feeling good about helping others.
     •    We work in collaboration with other religious groups and public and private sectors in response, partnerships that recognize the fullness and wholeness of God’s creation; we work with others to restore and preserve.
     •    We allow God to work through us, serving others in both humility and confidence. We realize that everyone needs and has access to God’s grace.

Every annual conference in the United States has trained disaster response teams, and this network is primed for its work in Oklahoma. Equipping these teams is a matter of both practical and theological importance in being alert.

Read more about the theology of disaster relief and rehabilitation, and use this church bulletin insert to support US Disaster Response.

* Thomas Kemper is the General Secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. UMCOR is part of Global Ministries. Compelled by Christ to be a voice of conscience on behalf of the people called Methodist, UMCOR works globally to alleviate human suffering and advance hope and healing. Gifts to support US Disaster Response to the devastating tornadoes can be made online.

Top: Students and church members work together to unload UMCOR relief supplies at Moore First United Methodist Church in Moore, Oklahoma, in the days following a devastating tornado.  Courtesy Oklahoma Conference.

Middle: Bedding kits and other supplies will be distributed among families and individuals living in temporary shelters. Courtesy Oklahoma Conference.

Below: Some of the 400 shovels that were shipped from UMCOR Sager Brown Depot. The shipment also included bedding kits, nine generators, hundreds of push-brooms, and other much-needed relief supplies. Courtesy Oklahoma Conference.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Tapestry of Shared Ministry

Hazelwood surveys damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy last October in
Belmar, New Jersey.
Photo: Chris Heckert

By Tom Hazelwood

After 15 years at the helm of UMCOR’s US Disaster Response program, the Rev. Tom Hazelwood leaves his position on April 30 to assume a new post, director of Connectional Ministries with the Memphis Annual Conference. He offered this reflection as part of his final address to UMCOR’s board of directors during their semiannual meeting on April 12, 2013, at the headquarters of the General Board of Global Ministries in New York City.

As I give my last report here, I thought I would, like any preacher, read a passage of Scripture and then reflect on its meaning.

The passage is from I Chronicles, chapter 2, beginning at verse 13: “Jesse was the father of Eliab, his first born. The second was Abinadab. The third was Shimea. The fourth was Nethanel; the fifth Raddai; the sixth Ozem; the seventh David. Their sisters were Zeruriah and Abigail. Zeruriah’s three sons were Abishai, Joab, and Asahel. Abigail was the mother of Amasa, whose father was Jether, an Ishmaelite.” And, this, my friends, is the word of God for the people of God.

How many of you have ever preached on this passage? How many of you have ever heard a sermon on this passage? I love Chronicles and the listing of all these names! Anybody who’s ever tried to read through the Bible gets to Chronicles, and that’s when you throw up your hands and surrender! When I was in elementary school, we called them “The Begats”: So-and-so begat So-and-so…. Do you ever wonder why all these names are found in the Scripture?

Why are they in there? You know, you look, and they’re just names, they don’t mean anything to us. It’s much like if I took a single thread, which you can hardly even see, and it’s meaningless. It’s a scrap that I can drop, and it can be swept up and thrown away.

But you take that single thread and you weave it into other fabric, and it can become a part of this beautiful tapestry—have you seen tapestries? How those threads get woven together and create these beautiful scenes—just like any great painting, but all done with thread. So, you take any single thread and it means nothing, but when it gets woven together by the Master Weaver it becomes this beautiful thing.

This is the way the people of the Bible felt about their larger family: that apart from it, any one of them was scarcely more valuable than a snip of thread lying unnoticed on the floor, but within the family, every one of them took on the dignity and beauty of their part in the human tapestry into which they had been woven, thread by thread, begat by begat. "And Attai begat Nathan, and Nathan begat Zabad, and Zabad begat Ephal, and Ephal begat Obed...."

At the close of the Global Ministries board of directors meeting in April, Hazelwood, right, greeted Greg Forrester, who assumes leadership of UMCOR’s US Disaster Response program on May 1. After the meeting, Hazelwood led the directors in a day of service with Hurricane Sandy survivors.
At the close of the Global Ministries board of directors meeting in April,
Hazelwood, right, greeted Greg Forrester, who assumes leadership of UMCOR’s
US Disaster Response program on May 1. After the meeting, Hazelwood led the
directors in a day of service with Hurricane Sandy survivors.
Photo: Cassandra Zampini

So, the Hebrews sprinkled their Bible with genealogies, having concluded that all that is profound does not have to be poetry and all that sings does not have to be music. That genealogy is as much the Word of the Lord as the Twenty-third Psalm.

I believe that these biblical family lists are a reminder to us that we are all connected. The scripture says, “Out of the stump of Jesse…”—and you see that out of the stump of Jesse there was another name that should have been familiar to you: David. The names, the chronologies of all these families, are tied together in what God is putting together, the history of God’s creation.

As I look at my 15 years at UMCOR and with Global Ministries, and as I look at each of you and recall your names, I consider how each one is a unique thread in the tapestry of what has been and is my ministry. You may think you have nothing to do with me; you may think your thread is meaningless when it comes to me and my life. But consider, as I do, how our threads have been woven together over these past 15 years. I appreciate each one of you as significant, part of a thing of beauty, woven into the tapestry of my ministry. And at the same time, that thread that is Tom Hazelwood is a part of the fabric, the tapestry, that is UMCOR, and part of the fabric of Global Ministries.

Any single strand of thread representing any one of us alone may seem meaningless, but they are all woven together in what God is doing in the ministry of The United Methodist Church. They all fit together.

As I have sojourned through this ministry for the past decade and a half, it has been a tremendous privilege and honor for me to serve the church in this way.

I’m looking forward to the ministry that lies ahead of me, and it’ll be different. I know it will be very, very different, but also, it will be meaningful, and it will be a part of that tapestry God is weaving together that is my life's ministry. And where our threads have intertwined is to me a beautiful piece of my life, and I hope that the thread that is mine is a beautiful piece of your life and ministry as well.

The ministry of UMCOR will continue. That tapestry will continue to be woven as you make decisions each time the board meets and as we continue to serve the least, the last, and the lost. That tapestry continues to be woven. In some places the threads go one direction, and in other places the threads go in the other direction, but it’s all a piece of the whole.

What an honor it has been for me to be a part of this ministry. Over the years, I have had the privilege of growing professionally through the learning and the trials of working in disaster response, a very different kind of ministry than parish ministry. Probably most important for me are the personal relationships I’ve had with many if not all of you, in this room. Our relationships shape who we are, how we do ministry together, and how we serve those who are dependent upon the grace of God working in our midst. There are so many who depend upon the grace of God to touch the hearts of others so that UMCOR can have resources to help put lives back together once they’ve been broken by disaster or by whatever calamity comes along.

Thank God the church, The United Methodist Church, has Global Ministries. Thank God The United Methodist Church has the United Methodist Committee on Relief to address people’s specific needs through this ministry that is ours together.

So, what a privilege it is for me to have been a part of what God has been doing through UMCOR over the course of these past 15 years. And what a privilege it is for me to know that as I step away, my friend Greg Forrester steps into this role, to lead the US Disaster Response program going forward.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Newtown's Teddy Bears: How Many is Too Many?

Teddy bears seem nearly synonymous with solace.
Photo: Susan Kim
By Susan Kim

When a distressed child hugs a teddy bear, there is a moment of innocent comfort that not only soothes the child but the grownups around her, too.

No wonder, then, in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting in Newtown, CT, the donation of choice for many people was a teddy bear. The bears—huge, tiny, handmade, store-bought, rainbow-colored, traditional brown—began arriving within 24 hours of the tragedy. They came from churches, children's groups, Facebook campaigns, car dealerships, and individuals across the globe.

Undeniably, for some of the children in Newtown—and adults, for that matter—a new stuffed animal was just the right gift at the right time.

But then a hundred bears arrived. Then a thousand. Then tens of thousands. Along with prayer shawls. Flowers. Rubber bracelets. What callously might be referred to as “stuff” if it didn't so fiercely represent a burning collective desire to reassure the people of Newtown that the world is not, in fact, an evil place.

A lot of “stuff” landed at the Newtown United Methodist Church, which has been a pillar for the town's ongoing recovery. The pastor, Rev. Mel Kawakami, has been featured on national television and in dozens of print and web news reports. The town's role in Newtown's recovery is finely documented by C. Jeffrey MacDonald in The Christian Science Monitor.

Now, three months after the tragedy, Kawakami quietly worries that he has perhaps offended some gift givers because he hasn't yet responded to them. His “sister churches,” he says, have already helped write more than 300 thank-you notes. But there are thousands more to go.

“You don't want to sound ungracious,” he says, “and you don't want to be ungracious. Because we became a witness for how deeply people were touched.”

Just what is the best response to a horrendous act of public violence? There's no right answer, Kawakami says. “One strategy might be to do something in your own community that honors the victims and also honors those who survived.”

Also, he says, don't underestimate the power of prayer. “We wouldn't have made it if we didn't know there were untold numbers of people praying for us.”

What about our own need to send “stuff?” Mary Hughes Gaudreau, a U.S. disaster-response consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), believes it's important to recognize the hearts of people involved in giving.

“I really do think when people give gifts after acts of public violence that, in some ways, they're trying to deal with their own pain,” says Gaudreau, who has supported Kawakami and the Newtown church during the ongoing recovery. “We don't want to have suffering be the last word. We need to touch something or do something tangible to make that real.”

UMCOR is a nonprofit ministry of The United Methodist Church dedicated to alleviating human suffering across the globe. Within UMCOR's broad range of response to disasters, a vital component is emotional and spiritual care.

Sometimes when you're trying to offer emotional and spiritual care, it's important to examine yourself as a giver, Gaudreau says. “There are times when we find people who get very angry when their desire to do something good is rejected. They desperately want to help and they feel frustrated when their help is not needed.”

That doesn't mean the teddy bears were rejected. Some of them went to local parents who had lost newborn babies. Some were given to church visitors and parishioners. Some were transformed into compost destined for a memorial garden. And some did make it into the arms of kids.

“The truth is, they needed those teddy bears,” says Gaudreau.

But thousands of them? “Then it gets complicated,” she adds, “and we need to consider those six key words: It's about the people we serve.”

What would Kawakami say is the best response? He would like people to keep praying for Newtown. “But if I could attach a tag to that,” he says, hesitating. “If you can freely send out the prayer—without expecting something in return.”

In normal times, he says, when someone sends a gift, you respond. “But multiply that by ten-thousandfold and there isn't a way to respond. My fear is that someone has taken offense because they've heard nothing.”

Susan Kim is a journalist who frequently writes on appropriate donations, disaster response, and social justice. She is a regular contributor to