Chilean Methodists, UMCOR Sign Agreement
By Linda Bloom*
October 14, 2010—When a massive earthquake struck Chile on Feb. 27, Juan Salazar and his fellow Methodists were ready to respond.
Four months earlier, a group from the Methodist Church of Chile had received disaster preparedness training from the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
That fledgling partnership was strengthened Oct. 11 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Chilean Methodists and UMCOR officials during the annual meeting of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the relief organization’s parent agency.
For Cynthia Fierro Harvey, UMCOR’s top executive, the agreement signifies “a wonderful example of a model of mission” for two denominations with a long history of cooperation.
In October 2009, two agency staff members — Melissa Crutchfield and the Rev. Tom Hazelwood — conducted disaster preparedness workshops in Chile. At the same time, a new entity for the church, the Methodist Humanitarian Aid Team (EMAH), was created. So when the strongest earthquake in 25 years caused destruction across Chile, “their skills and training were put into quick, practical action,” Crutchfield said.
Chilean Methodist Bishop Mario Martínez — who signed the memorandum of understanding along with United Methodist Bishop Janice Huie, UMCOR’s president — expressed thanks for the new opportunities for cooperation.
Martínez invoked the missionary spirit of William Taylor, a Methodist who first went to Chile in 1877. “His task was not only to evangelize and form congregations, but also to contribute to Chilean culture through education,” he said.
Today, the Methodist Church of Chile has more than 8,000 members, with 66 pastors serving more than 100 congregations. The church owns 23 educational institutions with more than 10,000 students, runs a series of clinics that see more than 500 patients daily and provides other social services.
The Board of Global Ministries also works with the Chilean church on other mission and evangelism projects, said the Rev. Edgar Avitia, staff executive. A roundtable meeting with various partners, including British, European and other Latin American Methodist representatives, is planned in November in Coronel, Chile.
In February, the 8.8 magnitude earthquake and accompanying tsunami, centered in south-central Chile, killed more than 500 people, destroyed infrastructure and affected hundreds of thousands of families.
In addition, 16 Methodist churches in the regions of Maule, Bio Bio and Metropolitan sustained damages, and a few already have been demolished by municipal order. Four parsonages and 11 other church-related buildings also sustained damaged. The estimated cost of repairs and reconstruction for the church structures is more than U.S. $600,000.
After the earthquake, the Methodists first had to determine their role in the emergency response. “We discovered that some things you can do and some things you just can’t do,” Salazar, who leads the church’s social ministry and humanitarian response team, explained to UMCOR directors. “We were not going to be building bridges.”
Instead, their efforts placed an immediate focus on earthquake survivors. “We needed to hug people, to console them and to pray with them,” he said. “We hugged thousands of people.”
Two Paths to Relief
Then, they followed two paths to provide emergency relief services — one through a larger group, the InterChurch Emergency Committee Chile 2010, and the other through a Methodist team for humanitarian aid.
Martínez and Salazar were part an interchurch committee delegation that visited the region hardest hit by the earthquake in early March. The committee’s assessments helped guide the responses of UMCOR, Church World Service and ecumenical partners in the Action by Churches Together Alliance.
Again, the first priority was people, not buildings. “We developed plans and programs that would above all respect the dignity of the person,” Salazar said.
The interchurch committee, in consultation with survivors, dealt with the immediate crisis — providing food, water, hygiene kits and blankets — and then tackled the emotional aftershocks through psychosocial assistance and conflict management. Current efforts include the repair of homes, promotion of small income-generating projects and a focus on community health.
“As a Methodist team, we tried to have a more specialized response to this emergency,” he added. That response has focused on the spiritual accompaniment of the church as earthquake survivors struggle to regain their lives and livelihoods.
A current goal is to strengthen the teams of volunteers working in the earthquake recovery process. “There’s still a lot to learn, as a church and as a humanitarian team,” Salazar said.
Martínez recalled that the agreement originally was to be ratified last January with the Rev. Sam Dixon, who died after being injured during the earthquake in Haiti. Martínez called the cooperative effort “a great remembrance of this great director of UMCOR who now is in the presence of the Lord.”
Crutchfield and Hazelwood returned to Chile in September to conduct further training. Hazelwood said UMCOR hopes to continue the work Dixon started by establishing or strengthening other relationships in Latin America.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.