UMCOR worked with the Northern Europe and Eurasia Conference to distribute essential clothing in the wake of historic flooding in eastern Russia and northeastern China. Courtesy UMCOR
This article appears in Interpreter Magazine, March/April 2014 edition. The issue is dedicated to the work and ministry of UMCOR.
By Joey Butler
Haiti. Indonesia. Japan.
They are names and places burned into our minds, thanks not only to unspeakable disaster, but also to the amount of international media coverage they received.
However, not every disaster makes the news. What about the remote African village with a crippling drought? What about the South American region besieged by floods? If we don’t know about these catastrophes happening perhaps half a world away, how can we help?
That is where the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) comes in.
With a global reach and a calling to help anyone, anywhere, UMCOR serves as the primary channel for United Methodist assistance. The relief agency offers disaster-preparedness training, provides essential supplies and care — both physical and psychological — in the immediate aftermath, supports long-term rebuilding efforts and assists communities as they adapt.
The Rev. Jack Amick, UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for international disaster response, said the agency “is making sure that where there is a need, we’re there.”
Amick defines disaster as an event that overwhelms a community’s ability to recover on its own. “When it’s a national emergency – in any nation – we want to respond,” he said. “As followers of Christ, we’re called to go where people are in need, and not overlook a disaster just because it didn’t make the nightly news.”
A global network of partnerships
|This severe blizzard in Peru stranded 12,000 people and killed 30,000 animals -- a major source of income. Courtesy UMCOR
One such emergency occurred in August 2013, when unseasonably heavy rains brought historic flooding to far eastern Russia and northeastern China. UMCOR worked with the
Northern Europe and Eurasia Conference and Eurasia Area Bishop Eduard Khegay’s office to buy and distribute essential winter clothing. Many of the evacuations occurred in the middle of the night, and people quickly fled their homes in their pajamas.
In a letter of thanksgiving, Pastor Elena Sokolova of Svetlaya United Methodist Church in Khabarovsk wrote, “The very people who suffered chose and purchased clothing for themselves and their loved ones. It is important to note that among those who received aid were eight people who do not attend Svetlaya Church.”
“We were able to provide assistance to people and their families who suffered in the flood – purchasing about 100 items of winter clothes and shoes,” said Khegay. “People, including unchurched ones, felt that The United Methodist Church did not remain indifferent to their distress.”
Through its global network of partnerships, UMCOR can provide assistance where no United Methodist presence exists. Such was the case in August 2013 in Peru, when a severe blizzard dumped three feet of snow, stranding 12,000 people and wiping out 30,000 sheep, llamas and alpacas, a primary source of the local economy. UMCOR worked with a local organization, Program of Volunteers in Action of the Methodist Church of Peru (PROVEA).
The agency provided $7,000 to buy emergency food, hygiene kits and winter clothing for 700 people affected.
‘We’re supposed to be incarnational’
|Flood waters rose outside the home of Tatyana Dumenko, a member of Khabarovsk United Methodist Church in Komsomolsk-na-Amure, Russia. COURTESY UMCOR
“Sometimes the response is very small, but it is a response,” said Amick. “Our guiding principle is that we’re supposed to be incarnational. We don’t belabor whether to get involved in a community or not.”
Liliana Li García, national coordinator of PROVEA, said she first encountered UMCOR during a risk-assessment training in Chile in April 2012 and had been interested in working with the agency at some point.
Citing her own calling to serve, she said she considers UMCOR a model of what God also calls her to do.
In her project report to UMCOR, García wrote, “May God continue to bless this organization greatly so that through you, they can continue its work of humanitarian aid to all corners of our beloved planet.”
Just as many of the disasters to which UMCOR responds do not garner much news coverage, most do not bring specific appeals for funds. Gifts to the UMCOR Advance–Disaster Response, International allow that money to be used anywhere outside the United States where the agency sees a need.
“That way we can be in any and every disaster in some way — and [the] right way,” Amick said.
Joey Butler is multimedia editor of Interpreter, a publication of United Methodist Communications.