Friday, May 24, 2013

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.


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