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United Methodist disaster donations suggest new ways of giving

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Syntrudin (right) and Ramadham make their way through the tsunami damage in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
Oct. 14, 2005

By Linda Bloom*

STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) — The tremendous financial outpouring by United Methodists in response to the Dec. 26 tsunami suggests that church members are looking at giving in a new way.

During the first eight months of 2005, donations to Advance special projects, along with other income received by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, exceeded donations to the denomination’s general funds for the same period. UMCOR’s total income during the period was nearly $63 million, compared to $58.5 million for the apportioned funds.

That fact came to light during the Oct. 10-13 annual meeting of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent organization.

The bulk of the $63 million came from the more than $43 million raised for UMCOR Advance special projects during the first eight months of 2005, compared to almost $3 million in 2004. Nearly $40 million of the $43 million was for tsunami relief. In total, United Methodists raised $41 million to assist those affected by the tsunami.

To Sandra Lackore, chief executive of the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration, this indicates the current systems of giving may need to be adjusted to better reflect the situations that encourage donations.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Relief supplies from around the world pour into the airport at Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
“When we tell the story and when we have a message that says we can deliver what we promise … people will give,” she told United Methodist News Service.

The council’s funding patterns task force is looking at “the giving habits and the giving trends” of church members, along with different systems of giving, she said. The task force includes annual conference treasurers, council directors and chief executives of denominational agencies.

Not counted in the eight-month total is the $16 million that United Methodists have contributed since then for hurricane relief.

The Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive, Board of Global Ministries, spoke about the denominational response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in his address to directors. “Our connectional mobilization has been incredible,” he said. “The interface between the conference disaster response organizations and UMCOR has multiplied our efforts beyond our numbers.

“The work of the Texas Conference and UMCOR in dealing with the evacuees from the Superdome in New Orleans was nothing short of miraculous. The response of the conferences, congregations, community centers and colleges across the United States has been heroic.

“The needed supplies, such as health kits and flood buckets arrived … from every part of the country,” he said. “Our conferences and partners in other lands sent prayers and money — very large amounts of money and small amounts, all valuable in their benefits and in the act of giving.”

The Rev. Paul Dirdak, UMCOR’s chief executive, noted that more than 200 truckloads of goods have been sent to places across the Gulf Coast in the past five weeks. “At one point, we distributed 75,000 mops. That’s a lot of mops.”

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Hurricane Rita lashes the debris from a home that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss.
UMCOR’s partners in the relief work include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Church World Service and the denomination’s annual conferences and national mission institutions.

“Case management is one of the strongest contributions UMCOR makes in disasters,” Dirdak said.

In Mississippi, for example, some 1,500 people are living on a cruise ship near Pascagoula. FEMA is providing UMCOR-trained personnel for case management, he added.

Recently, at FEMA’s request, UMCOR submitted a proposal to design case management across the country. If the proposal is accepted, it would be the agency’s “largest single undertaking” in its history, according to Dirdak.

During the meeting, UMCOR directors approved $5.4 million in grants for hurricane recovery. That total includes $2 million to the denomination’s Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference and $1.4 million to the Mississippi Conference for a six-month period, with the expectation that additional funds will be approved later for a projected five-year recovery plan.

The directors also approved $227,400 for Hurricane Dennis relief and $686,600 for Hurricane Katrina-related work in the Alabama-West Florida Conference; $500,000 for the Texas Conference; and $550,000 for the Florida Conference.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Residents of Banda Aceh, Indonesia, pick through debris left by the Dec. 26 tsunami.
In addition, the Board of Global Ministries is offering other types of assistance to churches affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to the Rev. Sam Dixon, who leads the agency’s evangelization and church growth unit.

“We have services to offer churches that have catastrophic loss,” he said. “One of the things we can help churches do is define the new mission field.”

That “new mission field” is dependent on such issues as how many church members are returning to the area and how a new church facility should be designed to meet the needs of the 21st century. A big challenge for the affected annual conferences, Dixon noted, will be deciding which congregations should be encouraged to start again.

Church groups interested in such services should contact Dixon directly at

While the Gulf Coast has been in the headlines, UMCOR continues its long-term recovery work in tsunami-affected countries. In Indonesia, for example, UMCOR is building housing in five villages for 500 families, according to Dirdak. “The result of that project will be a model for other villages in that area,” he told board directors.

Two United Methodist annual (regional) conferences are helping rebuild churches damaged by the tsunami. The Iowa Conference has committed funds to assist 19 churches in Sri Lanka, and the North and South Indiana conferences are supporting a new church complex in Banda Aceh in Indonesia.

UMCOR directors approved a grant of $505,983 to support tsunami recovery efforts by the Methodist Church of India in Chennai and the Andaman Island. Those efforts include scholarship help for nursing students whose families lost their income, the repair and building of houses; and church renovation for social service programs.

Churches Auxiliary for Social Action in India — of which the Methodist Church of India is a member and UMCOR is a donor — also was approved for funding. A grant of $677,747 will be used to restock supplies expended since the tsunami. Directors earmarked $1 million for future application by CASA to allow the agency to respond to other disasters in India during a time when it is heavily involved in tsunami recovery and reconstruction.

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

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

Audio Interviews

Randy Day, Chief Executive, Board of Global Ministries:The response has been heroic.

Randy Day, Chief Executive, Board of Global Ministries:I am thankful for the connection.

Sam Dixon, Staff Executive, Board of Global Ministries:We can help congregations rebuild.

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