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Relief office in Philippines offers help, hope

Ciony Edarte (right) helps Bishops Lito Tangonan (left), Leo A. Soriano (center) and Rodolfo Alfonso Juan cut the ribbon July 24 at the opening celebration of the new UMCOR Phillipines office. UMNS photos by Melissa Hinnen, UMCOR.

By Melissa Hinnen*
July 28, 2009 | CAVITE, Philippines (UMNS)

The Salakot Chapel was overflowing as nearly 200 people celebrated the grand opening of UMCOR Philippines.

Bishops, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries directors, disaster response coordinators, district superintendents and volunteers participated in the celebration at the new office for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, about 50 miles south of Manila.

“Your presence tells me that this is a joint ministry to serve the most vulnerable and to bring help and hope to this part of the world,” the Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR’s top executive, told the crowd during the July 24 ceremony.

He spoke of the prophetic vision of Joseph, who in the seven years of plenty, put aside resources so that people would have enough to eat during the time of famine that was to come. “Through UMCOR Philippines, we are being prepared, storing up our resources and our experience so that when a disaster happens, we can prevent a bad thing from becoming worse,” he said.

Disaster response coordinators in the Philippines present their response
plans at a three-day workshop.

The relief agency’s new office, based on the campus of Union Theological Seminary in Cavite, establishes a field presence in Asia as well as an on-site storage facility for material resources.

Bishop Rodolfo Alfonso Juan of the Baguio Episcopal Area accepted the new office building, declaring, “Jesus told us, ‘I don’t have hands but yours.’ UMCOR is an agent of hope and I accept this new office on behalf of the connection to use for the honor and glory of God.”

Members of the community brought gifts to the altar, including blankets representing hospitality, the traditional salakot hat as a reminder of God’s workers in the field and the protection the hat provides and a painting by a local artist that depicts the images and stories of the people.

Bishop Leo Soriano of the Davao Episcopal Area led the dedication, calling it a way of “giving hope to those who shall come and even those who will be sent, to the service of the many volunteers who will work and share, to the ministry of administration and service and connections.”

Disaster response training

For three full days before the opening, Melissa Crutchfield, the UMCOR executive in charge of international disaster response, and Lisa Jackson, another staff executive, led workshops on developing a disaster response plan.

Participants identified areas of concern in each of their regions, partners they can work with in a disaster situation and supplies and resources they have or can develop to help them through the emergency response phase of a disaster.

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“While many of them conceptually know most of this information,” Crutchfield said, “actually thinking through each stage and writing down contact information and a plan of action now will be much more effective than trying to pull together the specific information when a disaster occurs.”

Text messaging is a primary means of communication in the Philippines. When Crutchfield sent out a practice emergency alert via text to each of the coordinators they were able to walk through the drill with their team, coming up with responses to each of the potential scenarios.

“The time will come that we will need to put this plan into action,” Dixon told the participants. “Your time and leadership here will save time and lives when a typhoon, fire, flood or civil conflict presents a disaster in your region. Thank you for having the will to put your faith into action to care for needs of those in your communities.”

More information on UMCOR Philippines, including how to volunteer, is available through Ciony Eduarte, office manager, at CEduarte@umcor.org. Support for the new office can be made through Philippines Emergency, UMCOR Advance #240235.

*Hinnen is the staff writer for UMCOR communications.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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