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United Methodists support initial relief in China

Residents of Chengdu, China, erect a tent city on the campus of Sichuan University following a massive earthquake that struck the region on May 12.
A UMNS Web-only photo by Connie Wieck.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
May 22, 2008

A United Methodist-supported relief team has been assessing the needs of earthquake survivors in several Chinese villages and distributing emergency supplies.

On May 21, the Amity Foundation team distributed 6.8 tons of oil and 1,700 quilts in the villages of Penghua and Wolong. According to a report from She Hongyu, Amity’s overseas liaison, other materials such as waterproof cloths and rice were being purchased.

"Villagers were quite surprised at the speedy action as the need assessment was only done yesterday in these two villages," She wrote. "Villagers took active part in the distribution by helping unloading the goods and putting up the Amity banner."

Ten days after a massive earthquake struck China’s Sichuan Province on May 12, the death toll stood at 51,151, according to the Chinese government, with 288,431 injured and another 29,328 missing. The estimate of those left homeless by the quake is a staggering 5 million.

The United Nations announced on May 21 that, at the request of the Chinese government, it will supply 11,000 tents to provide emergency shelter for 55,000 people. The U.N. World Food Program is sending a second round of relief food supplies––a 463-ton shipment of enough rice, wheat flour and cooking oil to feed 100,000 people for three weeks.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is supporting the relief efforts of the Amity Foundation, a voluntary Chinese Christian organization and longtime partner of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent agency.

Amity and UMCOR are both part of Action by Churches Together International. UMCOR is sending $50,000 to Amity through the ACT International partnership, according to the Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR’s chief executive.

Overseas donations

Amity is receiving a number of overseas donations for its earthquake response, according to Diane Allen, head of the Board of Global Ministries’ China Program. "They’re coming in from all over the world," she told United Methodist News Service in a May 21 phone interview.

The United Methodist Advance, a voluntary giving program, has given Amity $10,000 from one of its Chinese projects to begin assistance to children orphaned by the earthquake. "They (Amity) are just in the process of evaluating what that would mean," Allen said.

“(Donations are) coming in from all over the world.”
–Diane Allen, Board of Global Ministries
Many mothers responded as Amity joined with "xici.net," a famous Web company in China, to appeal for baby supplies. As a result, 42 boxes of powdered milk, 18 boxes of napkins and 57 boxes of diapers were transported to Chengdu on May 21 for further distribution.

Amity is centering its relief efforts on rural areas, which have not received as much attention as urban centers. On May 19, Amity staff assessed needs in three villages in Mianzhu County and found a shortage of food and plastic sheets for tents. "Many families share one small tent," She’s report said. "Oil and equipment for lighting is also very insufficient."

Some 5,600 earthquake survivors remained housed in the temporary shelter at Mianzhu Sport Center. The Amity team visited the center and went to the General Coordinating Office for Earthquake Relief at Mianzhu City, where they discussed potential projects with local government officials.

In Renhe Village of Yinghua Township, Shifang City, the team found an extreme shortage of food. "It was not until three days ago that the elderly and children could have a bowl of rice each day, and no one else," She wrote. "Only this afternoon, on the 8th day, was each victim here given 2 kilos of rice."

In both Mianzhu and Shifang, Amity will distribute quilts, plastic sheets and oil and provide a month’s supply of food for all residents. Amity also distributed quilts and met with more than 70 earthquake survivors in Bolin Township on May 18.

A specialized counseling team––six professors from Nanjing University and Nanjing Normal University and two Amity staff––were scheduled to depart for Mianzhu via Chengdu on May 23.

Hongyu noted that Amity has been "deeply moved" by such volunteer efforts and those offering other assistance, ranging from helping Amity receive a free shipment of underwear donated by a company in Shanghai to raising money at subway stations for relief work.

Response by Chinese

Allen believes that compassion and China’s sense of national pride have combined to bolster the internal response to the earthquake. "My understanding is the outpouring has been absolutely phenomenal," she said.

The Chinese response to the earthquake will be aided by strong government organizations on every level––national, provincial, city, township and village. "You have an organization and system pretty well in place already to begin to initiate various kinds of ideas," Allen said.

In addition to Amity, she expects the China Christian Council eventually to put out an overseas earthquake appeal. The Rev. Yuan Shiguo, who leads the Sichuan Christian Council, is trying to do an assessment. "They’re just now getting in reports from churches in that area," she said.

Nationally, China has undergone three days of mourning for earthquake victims. But Connie Wieck, a United Methodist missionary studying in Chengdu, reported in her blog on May 21 that anxiety over aftershocks had diverted some of the attention.

"Our second day of mourning yesterday was to blanket the city with concern and loving support of our earthquake-hit Sichuanese brothers and sisters," she wrote. "Instead, it turned residents inward. The panic of strong aftershocks left everyone forgetting about those up-province and concentrating more on themselves. My apartment compound’s outdoor community doubled. The number of open-sky squatters at Sichuan University exploded. Grocery stores, family-run snack shops and outdoor equipment businesses quickly emptied their shelves.

"Despite seismologists' public news conferences yesterday assuring us that tremors most likely would not cause great harm to the city, it was too late. Panic prevailed. The damage was done.

"Today’s final day of national mourning finds Chengdu with cool temperatures, overcast skies and a sizable feeling of relief," Wieck wrote. "In my apartment complex, late morning still had my neighbors sleeping soundly upon their bedding. Most are now in their apartments, going about their daily chores. Shoppers leisurely cruise the streets, but the tent communities remain. No one seems willing to call it quits quite yet."

Donations to UMCOR's relief efforts in China can be made to International Disaster Response, China Earthquake, UMCOR Advance #982450. Checks can be dropped in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY. 10087-9068. Write the Advance number and name on the memo line of the check. Credit-card donations are accepted online at www.givetomission.org or by phone at (800) 554-8583.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

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

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