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United Methodists Respond with Prayer, Aid for Haiti

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom and Kathy L. Gilbert* *

January 13, 2010 —“We are OK, the building held up, thanks for your prayers.”

After hours of uncertainty in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake that rocked Haiti, those words from his wife, Pam, and two other members of a mission team were an answered prayer for the Rev. Kenneth Carter Jr. of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C.

The three volunteers were safe inside the Methodist Guest House in the capital of Port-au-Prince Tuesday evening. The three had gone ahead to Haiti to prepare for a larger team from the church that had planned to leave North Carolina Wednesday morning, Jan. 13. The trip is delayed, Carter said.

Many are feared dead in the earthquake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 7.0 and was centered about 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince. Early news reports told of a hospital collapsing and houses falling into a ravine in the poor nation where many live in substandard housing.

"I think it is really a catastrophe of major proportions,” Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, told CNN.

As news of the earthquake spread, United Methodists turned to prayer, both for the people of Haiti and mission workers near the site of the disaster.

The Rev. Sam Dixon, top executive of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, was in Haiti when the earthquake struck, attending a meeting with other staff from the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries and annual (regional) conferences.

“We’ve not been able to reach them,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, an UMCOR executive, noting that phone contact has been difficult with Haiti.

However, in addition to the group from the Western North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference, another volunteer-in-mission team from the United States was able to get word that its members were OK. A medical mission team from the Dakotas Annual (regional) Conference was on LaGonave, an island off Port-au-Prince, when the quake hit. The team evacuated the building where they were staying, but were unharmed.

“Please pray specifically for the team and its health and welfare as they deal with the aftermath of this natural disaster. Also keep in prayer the people of Haiti whose homes and families have been affected,” the Dakotas Conference said in an announcement.

Relief Response

The United Methodist relief agency, meanwhile, was making plans to send teams, material resources and funding to Haiti as soon as possible.

“UMCOR has always had a strong presence in Haiti,” Hazelwood said. “With this tragedy, we’ll just be redoubling our efforts, and we’ll be calling on people across the country to help us.”

The quake is believed to be the worst to hit the region in about 200 years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was followed by two aftershocks, measuring 5.9 and 5.5 on the Richter scale.

At least 1.8 million people live in the area where the quake was most intense, a geophysicist with the USGS told The Wall Street Journal.

President Barack Obama said he was praying for the people of Haiti and the United States stands ready to assist them.

Living on the Margin

Carter said he was unsure how soon his wife and the two other church members would be able to leave. The North Carolina team was a group of United Methodist Women who planned to work in the School of Mercy, a K-4 elementary school built by the church. About 200 students attend, Carter said.

“The people live so on the margin already, they had floods a year ago, they just don’t have a lot of infrastructure. They are wonderful, gifted people, but don’t have a lot of security in general. I know this is very devastating and chaotic. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”

For the past 30 years, Providence has sponsored mission trips to Haiti and has established clinics, food programs and a micro-credit operation that helps 49 women find employment.

That commitment will continue, Carter said.

“Haiti is a major mission initiative for the church. Many people sponsor a child and pay for their education each year. This is an important part of our lives,” he said. “My wife feels volunteering and working in Haiti is her calling, mission is her passion.”

How to Help

United Methodists have had a long-standing relationship with Haiti through the Methodist Church of Haiti. The strong ties between the Methodist Church of Haiti and UMCOR helped facilitate the opening of an UMCOR Haiti field office in 2005. Support for relief efforts can be made to Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance # 418325. Online Giving

*Bloom and Gilbert are United Methodist News Service news writers.