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United Methodists receive licenses for work in Cuba

Survivors walk down a street in Holguin, Cuba, after Hurricane Ike struck the island on Sept. 9. A UMNS Web-only photo courtesy of the Rev. Ivelis Matthews.

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By Linda Bloom*
Nov. 4, 2008 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

The Rev. Sam Dixon

After weeks of efforts, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has been granted two licenses from the U.S. government for relief work in hurricane-ravaged Cuba.

The new licenses will allow the United Methodist Committee on Relief to provide both short- and long-term assistance to Cubans affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in September.

The Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR’s top executive, was elated that the church's relief organization can finally respond to the destruction. "We rejoice in this news and look forward to this opportunity to be in mission together with the Methodist Church of Cuba," he said in a Nov. 4 press release.

Cuban Methodists, who reported that many churches had been destroyed and people left homeless from Gustav, have done some repairs themselves but are appealing to Methodists elsewhere. "Any type of help will be well received," the Cuban church said on its Web site.

A 30-day license enables an immediate relief response in Cuba, while the second license will allow the mission agency to spend up to $1.1 million in humanitarian work until October 2009. Activities are restricted to those outlined in the license application with the U.S. Treasury Department, but will include home reconstruction and church repair, distribution of food, psychosocial assistance and livelihoods assistance.

The board’s previous attempts to renew licenses for work in Cuba—which has been under a U.S. trade embargo for decades—had been rejected in the past two years. Dixon credited assistance from Williams and Jenson, a Washington law firm with experience in obtaining these kinds of licenses, and "UMCOR’s persistence" in receiving the new licenses.

Other United Methodists have also advocated for relief efforts in Cuba, including members of MARCHA, the denomination's Hispanic/Latino caucus.

Grateful for efforts

Bishop Elías Galván, MARCHA’s interim executive director, told United Methodist News Service the caucus is grateful to the Board of Global Ministries for its efforts and will encourage donations to UMCOR’s work.

Bishop Elías Galván

"We’re delighted that the board has been able to obtain the licenses," he said. "There’s a great need in Cuba and our people here want to respond and be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Cuba."

Four former bishops of the Methodist Church in Cuba, currently residing in the United States, had issued a statement of concern in October about the effects of the hurricanes.

"As a result of these natural disasters more than 400,000 homes have been totally or partially destroyed, the economy has suffered greatly, the food is scarce due to the loss of crops that were kept in storages and … (sicknesses) are afflicting the people, mainly because of the contamination of the many sources of drinkable water," the statement said.

A new Advance number has been dedicated to relief work in Cuba. Donations can be made to UMCOR Advance No. 3020821, Cuba Emergency, and dropped in collection plates at local United Methodist churches or mailed to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write the Advance number and name on the memo line of the check. Information on credit card donations can be found online.

*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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