Responding to recent disasters near home and abroad


United Methodists are reaching out this month to respond to damage from record-breaking storms across the south, while continuing to respond to disaster around the world. Below are updates on several mission fields and how you and your church can help. Plus, find Disaster Response contact information in the event severe weather causes damage in your area.


After storms pound, churches respond

(UMNS) UMs are opening their hearts, wallets and doors to people affected by violent storms that cut across 14 southern states in the U.S. Apr. 14-16. At least 45 people died as a result, including 22 in North Carolina, seven in Arkansas, seven in Alabama, six in Virginia, two in Oklahoma and one in Mississippi, according to news reports.

The death toll is unusually high for the spring storm season, said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, who coordinates U.S. disaster response for the UM Committee on Relief (UMCOM).

"The loss of life is going to be a more significant thing than the property damage," he said. Still, he and other UMs are doing what they can to help people clear debris, find shelter and start to feel whole again. So far, UMCOR has made a $10,000 grant to the denomination's Mississippi Annual Conference for disaster assistance. Hazelwood said he also has been in contact with other UM conferences to discuss their needs.

Assessments for possible relief efforts are just beginning, and in some areas, disaster-relief volunteers must wait for roads to reopen before they can offer aid.

In Oklahoma, volunteers from First UMC in McAlester removed a large tree that had pierced the metal roof of Mount Zion UMC. The damaged church was still able to hold worship on Palm Sunday.

Two Alabama churches sustained heavy damage-Soul Chapel UMC in Geiger, and Bethlehem UMC near Greenville. At the Bethlehem church, the only thing left standing was a wall with a picture of Jesus. The congregation has no insurance, and members are considering merging with another nearby church.

In Virginia, Bellamy UMC in Gloucester is serving as a command post for the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Gloucester Community Emergency Response Team.

"We opened up the church at 7:30 Saturday night even before the storms had left the area," said the Rev. Ken Waclo, the church's pastor. "Right now, we're doing the initial impact work of helping families find their bearings, get them food, get them clothing and get them supplies. If they've lost their homes, we're helping them find places to stay."

In the North Carolina Conference, most districts have reported storm damage. The conference is establishing a Disaster Response Coordination Center.

Church leaders in all the affected areas have requested prayer and financial help for the long-term recovery.

You can designate funds for Storm relief using UMCOR Advance #901670 and putting in your church offering plate or mailing checks to the Conference Treasurer's Office, PO Box 102417, Atlanta, GA 30368-2417.

If you want to send a team to volunteer, contact our disaster response committee chair Mike Yoder. Contact information is available at

-Linda Bloom and Heather Hahn of UMNS, Holly McCray of the Oklahoma Conference, Mary Catherine Phillips of the Alabama-Western Florida Conference, Bill Norton of the North Carolina Conference and Linda Rhodes of the Virginia Conference



Three important phone calls
If there is damage to your church, there are three calls that should be made as soon as possible: your district superintendent, your trustee chair and your insurance agent.

Your District Office will contact the Conference Office of Connectional Ministries as well as the Conference Disaster Response Call Center. Mike Yoder, Chairperson of Disaster Response, and the Disaster Response Team will coordinate UM disaster response teams with local efforts.



UMCOR grant helps Japan Institute reopen

After the ground stopped shaking on Mar. 11, staff at the Asian Rural Institute in northern Japan began assessing the damage. The two-story Koinonia House, with its kitchen, dining hall, chapel and other facilities, was damaged to the point of being unusable. Repairs were required at other buildings, and numerous pipes in the institute's water system had ruptured because of the earthquake. The bigger problem: Participants in the annual rural leaders training program were scheduled to arrive in three weeks.

A month later, repairs were under way and, with the support of a $150,000 grant from the UM Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the staff will be able to welcome its new students on May 2. UMCOR directors approved the grant during their Apr. 12 meeting in Stamford, Conn. The relief organization had received $1.6 million in donations by Apr. 8 for the Japan disaster, and this is the largest grant to date.

The independent Christian-based school has had a long partnership with The UMC. Steven Cutting, director of ecumenical relations for the Asian Rural Institute, told UM News Service that the grant was "critical" to carrying out the institute's mission to train grassroots community leaders from Asia and Africa in leadership, .

UMCOR already had made grants of $10,000 each to the United Church of Christ in Japan, National Christian Council in Japan, the Korean Christian Council in Japan and long-time UMCOR partner Global Medic, reported Melissa Crutchfield, who oversees international disaster response for UMCOR. A $30,000 grant went to Church World Service, whose Asia Pacific team is working with several partners in Japan on relief and recovery. A new agreement with National Christian Council in Japan will create a long-term partnership in emergency response, recovery and other humanitarian initiatives in the affected region, Church World Service (CWS) said in an Apr. 12 report.

The UMCOR Philippines Office in Cavite is coordinating with partners there to assist Filipinos or others returning from Japan. Crutchfield also anticipates a grant request from Second Harvest Japan. As of Apr. 8, Second Harvest, a food bank, already had sent trucks laden with relief supplies to northeastern Japan 35 times since the earthquake.

Additional concerns-over which the staff has no control-are the radiation levels in the air and water, which they continually monitor, and the perception that food sold at the institute's farm is unsafe. The Asian Rural Institute is close to the southern border of the Fukushima prefecture, where the Japanese government has asked farmers to delay plowing for spring planting. "There is great concern on the part of [the institute] about guaranteeing the safety of our invited overseas students," the institute's report said. "As a contingency measure, we are looking into other possible locations that we could conduct the first part of our training."
--Linda Bloom, UMNS

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