Unbroken Road to Renewal Passes through Haiti
By Linda Unger *
March 15, 2010 —When Rev. Edgar Avitia got to Port-au-Prince shortly after the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, the first thing he noticed was the absence of children in the street. The second was the dust-covered absence of music.
“People were walking around as if soulless, their eyes empty,” said Avitia, General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) executive for Mission Relationships in Latin America and the Caribbean. Survivors were still taking in the enormity of the disaster that befell them just nine days earlier when some 230,000 people died and a million were left homeless.
Avitia accompanied two UMCOR executives, Melissa Crutchfield and Sharad Aggarwal, as they assessed damages and needs following the earthquake that devoured three-quarters of the capital city.
The collaboration of their GBGM offices continued that undertaken by UMCOR Deputy General Secretary Rev. Samuel Dixon and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) executive Rev. Clinton Rabb just before the earthquake struck.
Rabb and Dixon had traveled to Haiti to encourage a Methodist renewal movement already sweeping Latin America and the Caribbean. Both men died in the aftermath of the quake.
A Kairos Moment
“Clint and Sam both were interested and involved in the region,” said Avitia, who originally was slated to travel with them, but postponed his trip for two weeks so he could attend the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church of Haiti.
A year earlier, UMCOR, Mission Volunteers, and Mission Contexts and Relationships had organized a region-wide encounter in Mexico City, bringing together their various disciplines. The Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean (CIEMAL) had elected new leadership, and the whole region was caught up in a “kairos moment,” Avitia said.
“The January trip to Haiti was part of that,” he explained.
Given the magnitude of the quake and the destruction it left in Haiti and the massive temblor in Chile six weeks later, anyone would think the Methodist renewal movement in the region was over. But Avitia insists the contrary is true.
“The vision will continue—renewed, fortified—because God is calling us to respond to the call to renewal in the whole region,” he said.
The ongoing collaboration among the various GBGM departments, like UMCOR, Mission Relationships and UMVIM, in the long-term recovery in Haiti is one reflection of how that vision goes on.
Given the relationships he built over time with the Methodist Church of Haiti (EMH) and the Evangelical Dominican Church, Avitia was a resource for strong partnerships for UMCOR’s immediate relief tasks during his trip with Crutchfield and Aggarwal.
“As I witnessed UMCOR and EMH work together, I was amazed,” he said. “The church is a natural partner. They know who the most vulnerable people are.”
“All that the church of Haiti accomplished during our visit they accomplished in the midst of their pain. The circuit superintendents we visited were in shock and grief,” Avitia said, “but they were empowered by the spirit of the Lord.”
Witnessing that spirit and participating in it with his UMCOR colleagues, Avitia was able to hear the sounds and see the signs of life emerge in Haiti by the end of the two-week visit. “I saw children playing with a soccer ball or flying a kite,” he said. “Women were selling on the streets goods that started to arrive from rural areas. It was all very uplifting and hopeful.”
Gifts to support UMCOR's work in Haiti can be made online by visiting umcorhaiti.org. For gifts by mail, please make checks payable to UMCOR and mail to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Please indicate Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325 on the memo line of your check. One hundred percent of gifts made to this advance will help the people of Haiti.
Read a weekly report of UMCOR's relief efforts in Haiti.
* Linda Unger is the UMCOR staff writer.
This story was written with Mary Beth Coudal, GBGM staff writer.