by Jack Amick
In college I ran cross-country, but I also ran marathons. Sometimes, after cross-country practice had ended, I would add on a few extra miles to build endurance. It was hard work, but necessary to achieve my goals.
Today, I am privileged to work for UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief. UMCOR is the humanitarian arm of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Church; an organization that goes the extra mile to alleviate suffering without regard to race or creed. In response to disasters globally, UMCOR coaches local and international organizations as they develop proposals in the best ways possible. At UMCOR, we help partners take good ideas and expand them, ensuring the implementation of international best practices for humanitarian assistance, given the local context. These partners range from national church organizations, local humanitarian organizations, and, in a few cases, UMCOR field offices. Together, we seek to do good well.
After Hurricane Matthew, I had the opportunity to travel with the UMCOR Haiti team to the southwestern most tip of Haiti, to the town of Port Salut. As we drove through the town, it was clear that there were nice homes and hotels, which had been badly damaged, but the greater need lay further ahead. We turned off the road onto a rocky path that soon became a series of ruts. At several points, the four-wheel drive vehicles we were in had to make several attempts to clear mud and ruts. Up and up we went, crossing through streams and still going higher. At each cluster of homes – or what used to be homes – we visited with beneficiaries, selected through a series of three visits by the team after first learning from mayors, and other relief workers of the extreme need of this area.
Most of the families we visited were sleeping in hastily constructed structures made of branches, palm fronds, some salvaged bits of wood and tin, and maybe a tarpaulin. These primitive patchwork structures where all these people had to keep them from the relentless rain, weeks after the hurricane had done its damage. In front of these huts were piles of rubble, their former homes.
These families now had nothing, except their dignity and a few items they had been able to salvage. One woman described how she had directed her family of five to gather under the table. “The table,” she said, “ saved our lives,” as the house tumbled down around them. I could not help but reflect on the sermon Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, the new Bishop of the North Georgia Annual Conference had delivered at the opening of the recently held first board meeting in Global Ministries new Atlanta headquarters. She had talked about the saving power of gathering at the table. Here was a family that had saved their lives in the storm by gathering under the table. I’m sure in that moment of disaster; Christ was present with them under the table.
In one weekend, UMCOR Haiti had extended the table to 500 people, providing them with food, cooking kits, tarpaulins, and other necessary supplies. The process of distribution took three days. First, UMCOR Haiti’s monitoring and evaluation team went ahead, asking questions about the needy, going from community to community and from house to house, trying to identify the most vulnerable. On the second day, the team went back and issued cards that allowed the family to receive the items. Finally, on the third day, the team brought the materials to three locations, and those with cards received the relief supplies.
The young staffs of UMCOR Haiti are energetic and dedicated. Having worked for several years on development projects that arose out of the needs demonstrated after the earthquake of 2010, and having completed, they are excited about being ready to provide humanitarian assistance. “God has made us ready to stand and deliver,” as Azim Akhtar likes to put it. And deliver they do. The UMCOR Haiti team goes the extra mile – or more – to alleviate suffering.
It is an honor to serve with people who go the extra mile.
*Jack Amick is the senior director for UMCOR Disaster Response, with the General Board of Global Ministries.