God's Grace And Hope Available For All
Christie R. House*
Because God’s image is present in every human being throughout the world, mission partnership embraces witness in all cultures, traditions, political arrangements, economic structures, and languages.
—Theology of Mission: God’s Prior Presence, Our Current Response section
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is the General Board of Global Ministries’ disaster response and development arm. Founded in 1940 amid the devastation and suffering resulting from World War II, the agency has gained much experience in its 77 years, realigning and refining its ministries over time. Yet its basic mission has remained the same—to reach vulnerable people with life-saving ministries regardless of their race, religion, creed, origin, or culture. Currently, Global Ministries’ general secretary, Thomas Kemper, heads the unit along with Roland Fernandes, Global Ministries’ general treasurer and chief operating officer.
A cornerstone of UMCOR’s ministry is Disaster Response—including both international and US-based disaster-response coordination. In either case, UMCOR works through partner organizations that are already present in a region—annual conferences in the United States and Methodist or ecumenical connections internationally, as well as local or international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). UMCOR responds to requests for help in a variety of ways, sometimes providing grants or personnel to assess disaster situations. In the United States, UMCOR coordinates volunteer teams and the distribution of relief supplies, such as health kits, flood buckets, or other necessities. Case management is another area of US expertise that UMCOR has refined and developed through various response efforts. Responses differ according to the context of the disaster and available resources.
The Rev. Jack Amick, UMCOR’s senior director for Disaster Relief, recently traveled to Haiti to assess some of the damage after Hurricane Matthew struck in 2016. UMCOR opened a country office in Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of the country. “I had the opportunity to travel with the UMCOR Haiti team to the southwestern-most tip of Haiti, to the town of Port-Salut,” he reported. “Most of the families we visited were sleeping in hastily constructed structures. In front of these huts were piles of rubble, their former homes.”
The Rev. Jack Amick (left) and Javed Sheikh, both of UMCOR, meet Global Ministries’ board of directors at the October 2016 board meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo by Kathleen Barry/United Methodist Communications
In one weekend, UMCOR Haiti provided 500 people with food, cooking kits, tarpaulins, and other necessary supplies. This distribution process took three days because the team sought out hard-hit impoverished communities and conducted house-to-house surveys to identify the needs of the most vulnerable people.
Disaster Risk Reduction
UMCOR has developed training programs for disaster response teams in the United States and workshops on humanitarian assistance, disaster risk reduction (DRR), and the UMCOR grants process internationally. US training is coordinated with the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission regional offices and United Methodist regional conferences, many of which have their own disaster relief ministries. Internationally, training and risk reduction efforts vary. Currently, a unique Philippines shelter project, which includes eight storm shelters and DRR training with communities affected by Hurricane Yolanda in 2013, is nearing completion.
The Rev. J.F. Lacaria (right) visits with highway contractors Andy Gillenwater (left) and
Chris Apperson at Brawley Chapel United Methodist Church near Clendenin, West Virginia after severe 2016 flooding. Photo by Mike DuBose/United Methodist Communications
More typical of UMCOR’s DRR work are the partnerships it forms with organizations around the world to conduct community assessments and small-scale mitigation efforts. Identifying and finding solutions for risky situations before disaster strikes can save many lives and minimize some of the damage.
Sustainable Recovery and Development
Another cornerstone of UMCOR’s ministry is its development work, which concentrates on building resources within communities for better nutrition, sustainable agriculture, food security, and water—including access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). The WASH and agricultural programs have been integrated with the work of Global Health to provide a more holistic response for health ministries. Speaking to a
group of Global Mission Fellows, Dr. Olusimbo Ige, the executive director of Global Health, said, “We cannot change health outcomes if we focus only on disease. You are not one compartment—you are a whole human being.”
Some projects are accomplished through grants that support the work of partnership organizations and ecumenical groups, but UMCOR also works directly in some communities through its country offices. Currently, UMCOR extends its work with country offices in Haiti, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Zimbabwe. There is no template or cookie cutter for an UMCOR country office. They develop, thrive, and dissolve as needed. Some evolve into separate humanitarian agencies, such as happened with country offices in Armenia and the Republic of Georgia recently.
Janvier Jackson sorts plastic bottles for a recycling program sponsored in part by the United Methodist Committee on Relief in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by Mike DuBose/United Methodist Communications
The services, training, and resources offered through country offices vary greatly, according to Javed Sheikh, who currently serves as the interim head of UMCOR’s international development program. “UMCOR country offices often serve as partners for the implementation of UMCOR’s disaster response and recovery programs. The UMCOR DRC office, for instance, has undertaken large health programs, for malaria and HIV/AIDS, funded by Global Health and other partners. In Zimbabwe, UMCOR is working with the World Food Programme to improve the food and nutrition security of the most vulnerable communities.”
Priorities depend on the expressed needs of the community and the resources that are available. In Sudan, UMCOR is implementing a project funded by the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) called Promoting Access to Basic Services for New IDPs (internally displaced people) in East and South Darfur. Another project in Sudan funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), is the Sudan Humanitarian Assistance and Resilience Program. In South Sudan, the Logoseed project works at a grassroots level to encourage villagers from diverse ethnic groups to get involved in the planning, implementation, and oversight of local government investment activities, such as infrastructure and community projects.
The founders of UMCOR believed the relief agency would accomplish its designated tasks after World War II and eventually end its work in their lifetimes. For this reason, funding for the original Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief (MCOR) was not generated from shared apportioned funds but financed by voluntary gifts from Methodists across the United States. Today, wars and conflicts continue to erupt, natural disasters have intensified, and there are more migrants and refugees traveling across the earth than ever before. Although many mainline Protestant denominations have developed relief ministries, Thomas Kemper notes that The United Methodist Church is the only denomination that has kept the disaster and development arm as part of its mission agency. “This is very Wesleyan,” Kemper said, “keeping works of piety and mercy together. It creates a healthy tension for us, but also is a testimony to the world.”
*Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine.
Get Involved in UMCOR’s Work
Find out about Disaster Response ministries in the United States and internationally and where to find training for hands-on US disaster response ministries:
For more information on UMCOR’s various relief kits, how to make them, and where to send them, go to:
To learn more about UMCOR’s country offices, go to: