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UMCOR plays pivotal role in tsunami relief effort

 


UMCOR plays pivotal role in tsunami relief effort

Dec. 29, 2004      

A UMNS Report
By Jan Snider*

Watching images from the catastrophe in Asia and Africa might compel some people to travel to the devastated areas and help out with the recovery. However, the primary need is for financial support, the United Methodist Committee on Relief says.

The relief agency has long-term relationships with other organizations that are responding to the tsunami disaster on the ground. The agencies are working closely with UMCOR to provide what is needed to the people locally. 

“UMCOR has worked over a long period of time to develop the capacity of the church in other parts of the world to respond to the disaster,” said the Rev. Kristin Sachen, head of UMCOR’s disaster response. “We see that as our job – not just handing out food baskets, but helping people have the capacity to do it themselves.

“Very often, what they need in a big emergency is money,” she said. “Our partners have the networks, the training, and they simply need the money to carry out their plan.”

From Southeast Asia to the East African coast, at least 11 countries are trying to recover from tidal waves that struck Dec. 26, wiping out entire villages and killing at least 80,000 people. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean, and near the island of Sumatra, triggered the tsunamis.

In providing relief to India, UMCOR is working with the Christian Auxiliary for Social Action, an agency that it has supported for several years and in many disasters. In Sri Lanka, UMCOR has partnered with the National Council of Churches of Sri Lanka, which includes a Methodist church based there. The council was already involved in relief efforts for the victims of the Sri Lanka's civil war.

Knowing that UMCOR has those relationships and is responding makes it easier for local churches to provide support.

“They are an agent we can trust to be working before the rest of us even think of it,” said the Rev. John Collett of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn. “And UMCOR has decades of experience; they don’t reinvent the whole wheel. They have methods, channels and relationships already in place. What a wonderful thing!”

“The first thing we do in a disaster situation is remind ourselves that we are the agency of a global church,” Sachen said. “We are not just an American or North American church, and that makes a difference in how we approach emergency response.”

UMCOR is a founding member of Action for Churches Together, a consortium that includes the Sri Lankan churches council, CASA and other organizations around the world. Formed about eight years ago, ACT helps relief organizations avoid duplicating efforts and providing aid that is not effective.

“When we see a gap in the response, that’s where we step in and see what we can do to help,” Sachen said. “Our job is to make sure local ACT partners have the resources to do what they know how do to.” Working through ACT fosters cooperation and order among the donating agencies, she said.

UMCOR also works closely with Church World Service, a relief organization supported in part by 36 denominations. “We in Church World Service Emergency Response highly value the commitment and support of UMCOR in our endeavor to respond ecumenically to emergencies throughout the world,” said Donna Derr, associate director of the program.

Church World Service announced Dec. 29 that it is expediting more than $900,000 in relief supplies and sending emergency assistance teams to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. UMCOR is one of several denominational relief agencies supporting the initial relief effort.

Being a good world citizen is part of “who we are theologically,” Sachen said. UMCOR uses a two-pronged approach that involves investing in the leadership of the local people and their economy.

In responding to the damage caused by the tsunamis, many able-bodied citizens will be available to rebuild their communities, said Linda Beher, UMCOR communications director. “Their economic viability may depend on them to have jobs in order to keep their families going.” 

Although UMCOR has already released funds to aid survivors of the disaster, the agency considers itself a mid- and long-term recovery organization. “It may not get us a lot of attention, but it is the right thing to do,” Sachen said.

“We are hoping for a large offering to come in,” she said. “It will be two or three weeks before it is in the bank and ready to send, but it will be good timing because that is when agencies will have a better idea of what they need.”

CASA is already planning on building cyclone shelters in India, and UMCOR is in contact with the Christian Medical Association of India to see how the relief agency can help disperse medical teams. 

In order to help churches respond to the relief effort in South and Southeast Asia, UMCOR will have a Sunday bulletin insert available for download. The bulletin will be available at http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/worship/ on Dec. 30.

Donations to UMCOR's  “South Asia Emergency” relief efforts can be placed in local church offering plates or sent directly to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Designate checks for UMCOR Advance #274305 and “South Asia Emergency.” Online donations can be made by going to www.methodistrelief.org. Those making credit-card donations can call (800) 554-8583.

Said Sachen: “We put out the appeal and promise that 100 percent of the money collected will be used for the disaster.”

*Snider is a freelance producer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or (615) 415-0147, or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

 

 

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