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

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The World through Children’s Eyes

By Amber Kubera*

Kubera’s son and his classmates focused on similarities they share with these children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Photo: Amber Kubera

When discussing the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) with partners, communities, beneficiaries, donors, or church groups, I try to prepare information I think will most interest the audience. Upon return from my recent trip to UMCOR’s programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, I had to prepare for what I thought might be my toughest audience yet: my son’s preschool class.

Any worry I had about presenting my work from a seemingly far-away context to four-year-olds living in New York City evaporated when they leaped at the chance to discuss my first slide, the world map. I pointed out DRC, and then we looked through photographs of my work in Africa, which included pictures of animals, plants, and the landscape in general.

The work of UMCOR that I chose to highlight was that which most directly involved children. When I showed a photo of a classroom, the children shouted excitedly, “Look, the kids are in school, just like we are now! And do you see how they are also wearing uniforms, like we do! What language do they speak? Is it hot or cold there?”

As I showed more photographs of the children and our work, I was struck most by the way my son and his classmates focused on how the kids in the photos were just like them. When they saw little kids walking to school in Lubumbashi, they likened it to how they go to school every day. When they saw children at their desks, they pointed out how the kids were listening and learning, with their teachers watching over—just like them.

What my son’s class didn’t see in those photos was the stark reality of day-to-day life for many Congolese children. It was more exciting and interesting to them to think about what makes us alike than to focus on the differences. It is this world view that I hope to see nourished and strengthened as these children grow and learn about the world around them—and that they will appreciate how problems that affect others affect us all, and are ours to work toward solving, together.

*Amber Kubera is UMCOR’s senior program manager for international programs. She oversees the organization’s work in DRC, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. UMCOR’s work in DRC includes support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children as part of our HIV/AIDS activities under a Global Fund/SANRU grant. This support includes uniforms, school fees, and other educational and psycho-social support for children.