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Haitian Methodists and UMCOR size up needs

Signs requesting help are a common sight in earthquake-damaged areas
in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. 

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
1:15 PM EST Jan. 22, 2010 | PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (UMNS)

As the day starts to become night, mothers tend to their crying babies by the pale blue light of cell phones.

In the distance, someone is softly strumming a guitar. A young couple strolls away from the crowd, enjoying a few moments of peace.

Since an earthquake hit Haiti Jan. 12, more than 500 families have found a new home on the grounds of College Methodiste de Freres, in the country’s capital.

For most, home is nothing more than a thin blanket spread on the concrete basketball court or on the hard ground under trees.

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But these are the fortunate ones. Thousands of others sleep in the open under much more dangerous conditions.

“They feel safer here than on the streets or in public parks,” said Rosny Desroches, former vice president of the Methodist Church of Haiti. “Methodists don’t only care for Methodists; the church assists all people in need.”

Pastors and lay leaders from the Methodist Church of Haiti met Jan. 21 with a team from the United Methodist Committee on Relief and United Methodist Communications to talk about the immediate needs of people in Haiti.

“We lost quite a few churches and schools that are important to the Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Gesner Paul, president of the Methodist Church of Haiti.

“One of the best-known schools in the country we lost in one minute,” he said, referring to a 50-year-old Methodist school in Port-au-Prince.

Pressing needs

The most urgent needs are for food, water, shelter and medicine, Paul said. The church also needs to give emotional support to hurting people who have lost entire families, he said.

“Imagine losing your children and your wife or husband and you are the only one left,” he said. “Also there are a lot of children who lost their parents. How can you stand that?”

Over the next few days, the Methodist Church in Haiti will try to gather information on how many churches and schools have been destroyed. The church also is searching for missing church members who may still be buried in the rubble of their homes.

The quake killed as many as 200,000 people and left some 1.5 million homeless, according to news reports. The Haitian government has announced that it will move about 400,000 displaced residents to new villages outside Port-au-Prince.

Long-term commitment

Some needs, such as getting food, water and medicine, can be addressed quickly, said Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR executive and team leader. She stressed that The United Methodist Church’s response will be a long-term one.

“UMCOR is committed to staying for the duration,” she said. “We are going to build a solid foundation for the long term.”

“Thank you for being here and learning of our plight,” Paul said. “Every Haitian person has lost a loved one or friend.”

The families living on the church grounds weigh heavily on Desroches’ mind.

“So far, they have been lucky; no rain has come since Jan. 12. But the rain will come.”

Donations to support UMCOR's Haiti Relief efforts can be made to Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325. You can donate online or checks can be made to UMCOR with "Advance #418325 Haiti Emergency" in the memo line. Checks can be put in the church's offering plate or mailed to: UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. The entire amount of each gift will be used to help the people of Haiti.

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service on assignment in Haiti.

News media contact: Kathy Gilbert or Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.  


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