Concerns Mount for Missing UMCOR Workers
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Jan. 13, 2010—United Methodists throughout the world are saying prayers; donating time, talent and money; and planning relief efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Haitian people even as the church worries about the fate of some of its mission workers in the devastated nation.
In the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude quake Jan. 12, church officials on Jan. 13 were still waiting to hear from three executives of the Board of Global Ministries who were in Haiti. Sam Dixon, top executive of the United Methodist Committee on Relief; Clinton Rabb, head of Mission Volunteers; and James Gulley, an UMCOR consultant, were on the island on a mission-related trip.
No one has been able to reach the three men since the earthquake occurred and communications with Haiti have been difficult, officials said.
“We’ve heard conflicting reports,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, an UMCOR executive. “We’ve heard they were in a car on the way to the airport. We’ve heard they were at the Hotel Montana having dinner. We don’t have any confirmation about what their whereabouts were when the earthquake hit. We’re still hoping and praying we hear from them soon.”
According to Agence France Presse, about 200 people were missing after the popular Hotel Montana collapsed during the earthquake.
Amid the concern, church members rallied to help begin healing the nation rocked by an earthquake that one Haitian official estimated may have killed more than 100,000 people.
Bishop Joel Martinez, the interim leader of the Board of Global Ministries, said he was confident the board and its relief agency “will save lives and restore communities with the prayerful support of our United Methodist connection.”
Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, said officials throughout the denomination were meeting to see what more the church should be doing.
“We are urging every United Methodist to encourage their folks to be in prayer, to stand in solidarity, and to give as generously as possible through UMCOR,” Palmer said.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief immediately began making plans for an emergency response in partnership with groups such as Action by Churches Together, Church World Service, Global Medic and the Methodist Church in Haiti.
“We are working with our partners on the ground to provide immediate relief to the people in Haiti,” said Melissa Crutchfield, an UMCOR executive. “UMCOR has worked in Haiti for many years. We anticipate that there will be years of rebuilding needed and are prepared to work with the people to help them through that process.”
‘A Deeply Spiritual Issue’
The images of collapsed hospitals, demolished homes and bodies lying on torn-up streets from the earthquake tear at the hearts of those who have worked in a nation that before the natural disaster was the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
The Rev. Ray Buchanan, a United Methodist pastor and co-founder of Stop Hunger Now, has been to Haiti a dozen times over the years as his Raleigh, N.C.-based organization has provided meals for Haitian schoolchildren.
His voice choked as he talked about the importance of the faith community’s response to the earthquake.
“This is a deeply spiritual issue,” he said. “We’re called on to treat each other as family. We have brothers and sisters in Haiti who are in desperate need at the moment.”
In the past two years, Stop Hunger Now has distributed more than 6 million of its dehydrated, fortified rice-soy meals in Haiti, including a million and a half in the last two months.
Another container is ready to ship. Buchanan said he was alerted by Haiti Outreach, a partner organization, that New York Gov. David Patterson is donating a plane that will come to Richmond, Va., and load up on Stop Hunger Now meals.
United Methodists were among those trying to reach family members in Haiti.
“The frustration is that we tried all night to reach my brother and have not been able to get through, said the Rev. Molege Desir, pastor of Vailsburg United Methodist Church in South Orange, N.J. “This morning we were hoping it would be different, but still there’s no contact.
“We need to be in prayer for them because when you don’t have any means to contact people and you have no way to get to them, the best we can do for the moment is to pray.”
While concern mounted for those unaccounted for, relatives and friends of other United Methodist mission workers in Haiti felt relief as word slowly reached them that mission teams in Haiti from the Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, North Carolina, Dakotas and Kansas East annual conferences were safe.
Haiti is an overwhelmingly Christian country. Although the majority are Catholic, the country has more than a million Protestants, including the Methodist Church in Haiti, which is part of the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas.
The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, top executive of the World Council of Churches, expressed “condolences and solidarity with the people of Haiti, as they experience the great burdens of anguish, damage, and death because of a natural catastrophe."
Support for relief efforts can be made to Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance # 418325. One hundred percent of all gifts will be used for the emergency.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.