UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2010 / 0413 - Pastor from Texas to Lead United Methodist Committee on Relief

Pastor from Texas to Lead United Methodist Committee on Relief

By Elliott Wright*

April 13, 2010—The Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, a pastor from Texas with a background in the local church, international health ministries, domestic disaster relief, and organizational management is the new head of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). 

She was elected on April 13 by directors of the General Board of Global Ministries, the United Methodist mission agency of which UMCOR is a part. Harvey succeeds the Rev. Sam Dixon, who was killed in the earthquake that shook Haiti last January 12. Her new position is effective May 1.

Harvey began a special assignment in late January as liaison between UMCOR and United Methodist congregations and annual (regional) conferences that have to date given $17.8 million to relief efforts in Haiti. For two years, starting in February 2008, she was director of the Texas Conference's Center for Mission Excellence, which equips leaders to carry out ministries of mercy, justice, and wholeness.UMCOR is a major Protestant disaster relief and rehabilitation agency. It is known for staying on the scene of disasters to help with long-term restoration of lives and communities.

UMCOR, which operates internationally, often remains in a disaster area after most other humanitarian organizations have gone. In the US, much of its efforts are coordinated through United Methodist annual conference disaster networks.

Welcomed by Mission Leaders

Bishop Bruce R. Ough of West Ohio, president of Global Ministries, welcomed the choice of Harvey to lead UMCOR. He said she has "a profound call from God" and combines a passion for relief with "ministry experience and proven administrative skills.

"Both Bishop Ough and Thomas Kemper, the general secretary (chief executive) of the mission agency pointed to Harvey's experience in mission and local church life as among her strengths. "Cynthia is a leader," said the bishop. "As head of UMCOR, she will make a significant contribution to the leadership capacity of Global Ministries and the entire church.

"Kemper described Harvey as having a "passion for mission" and the capacity to continue the work of "bringing mission and development into a fruitful relationship.

"Bishop Janice R. Huie of Houston, a board director who is president of UMCOR, said that "Cynthia Harvey not only has a passion for mission but is a woman on a mission to witness to God's new creation around the world. Mission is her mission. We have been blessed to have her energy in the Texas Conference and look forward to her bringing her energy and passion to UMCOR."

Harvey's new position is formally that of a deputy general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, assigned to UMCOR. As such, she sits on the program cabinet of the agency.

Disaster and Health Experience

Harvey worked with Texas Conference disaster relief responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike last year. The Texas Conference covers a large part of east Texas, including the Houston metropolitan area.

She has international experience in health ministries through a partnership program between the Texas Conference and the Côte d'Ivoire Annual Conference in West Africa. She helped to coordinate the distribution of almost a million mosquito nets in Côte d'Ivoire in 2008. She related to UMCOR in both of these efforts. After election to the UMCOR post, Harvey said she "considers it a great privilege and an awesome task to serve people around the world on behalf of The United Methodist Church, to bring new life to those living on life's edge, to those teetering between life and death. I pray that God will provide me the courage to serve and the eyes to see and ears to hear the cries of the people and bring about hope, life-giving hope."

Ordained a United Methodist elder in 2001, Rev. Harvey has strong experience in corporate management, marketing, and communications. She had a 12-year career in property management with the Rouse Corporation, a major real estate developer based in Columbia, Maryland.

The new UMCOR director has strong ties to other United Methodist agencies, including the General Commission on Communications (UMCOM), serving on its board since 2004 and currently chairing its personnel committee. She is also a board member of the United Methodist Communications Foundation, and she serves on a committee of the General Council on Finance and Administration. Harvey is fluent in Spanish and has a working command of French and Portuguese, skills that will assist her work in relief and rehabilitation in the worldwide church.

Harvey has been married to Dean Alan Harvey for 28 years. The couple has one daughter, Elizabeth Grace, 19, who is a freshman at Baylor University.

From a Small Hispanic Town in Texas

Cynthia Fierro grew up in Big Spring, Texas, a small town in West Texas, surrounded by family in a traditional Hispanic neighborhood. "Perhaps it was that experience that birthed my passion for caring for others," she reflects. "Our home was always open to everyone--literally. It was a place where there was no distinction between family and friend, family and stranger."

As a child, she also experienced what it means to be marginalized, and those occasions, she says, helped to shape her life. "I remember sitting at the Woolworth counter with my grandmother in the area set aside for Mexicans. I can still feel the torn plastic scratching my legs and waiting for others to be served before we were served. I realized that every child of God ought to have an equal place at the "table or the Woolworth counter. I have a deep concern for those on the margins, those who live on life's edge. I am convinced that it is our call to give voice to the voiceless, to open the table that all may be served."

Her involvement in mission also began as a child: "I recall my first mission trip to a small town in East Texas. I realized at an early age that not everyone had indoor plumbing. Years later I had similar experiences when I encountered children dying of malaria in Zimbabwe and in Côte d'Ivoire. A disease that robs a child of life every 30 seconds. It is unconscionable that a child should die of a disease that is preventable. Just last year I visited an orphanage in Côte d'Ivoire filled with children with special needs. A nursery lined with beds filled with children, many whose mothers had died at childbirth because of the lack of prenatal care. Unconscionable."

Harvey believes it is the work of UMCOR "to bring hope to places where it is often hard to find. Because of the extravagant generosity of churches across the denomination, UMCOR is able to bring life, to bring hope and health and wholeness to those who need it most. During this season of Easter, I am reminded that our work is life-giving. It is about resurrection--it is Easter work."

Career in Management and the Pastorate

She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with an emphasis on public relations from the University of Texas in Austin in 1980. Following her years in public relations and management, she turned to a church-related vocation in 1992. For three years, she worked with a conference-level program that placed 3,000 young people in summer mission programs and was also an associate and administrator at Foundry United Methodist Church, Houston. She received her theological education at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, graduating with a master of divinity degree in 1999.

From 1996 to 2008, Harvey was executive associate pastor at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church, Houston, Texas, a 6,900-member Houston congregation. She had oversight of a staff of 15 clergy and laity and was responsible for communications and community relations. At Memorial Drive, she had key roles in two capital campaigns that raised a total of $17.4 million.

In addition to her extended United Methodist links, she has active community involvement. In Houston, she serves on the board of Shalom Health and is active in St. Luke's Episcopal Health Charities. She was formerly on the board of the Heartspring Foundation.

Elliott Wright is an author and consultant to the General Board of Global Ministries.