Written by J. Bennett Guess
June - July 2008
Extending a hand, making connections
When terrible disaster strikes - as it did recently by cyclone in Myamar, earthquake in China, and tornadoes in Oklahoma and Missouri - it’s only natural to want to give our money where we feel it will have the most impact.
Many of us, subconsciously perhaps, have come to associate disaster relief with the Red Cross or Salvation Army - worthwhile organizations to be sure - but, despite an abiding love and respect for our church, some of us forget, or are unaware of, our own denomination’s global capacity to respond.
In early May, when CNN and other news agencies were reporting widely that international aid groups were being denied access to Myanmar, UCC leaders knew this was not the whole story.
While not skirting the difficulties there, church leaders, by May 5, had already established contact with the Myanmar Council of Churches and a relief worker from Church World Service was on the scene by May 7 to coordinate the ecumenical community’s common effort.
“One of the gifts of being part of the wider church, and committed to ecumenicity, is that we are able to work with and through partners around the world when disasters strike,” says Susan Sanders of the UCC’s Wider Church Ministries. “The UCC - as a member of Church World Service; and Action by Churches Together, International; and the World Council of Churches - is working with our partners to assess the situation and make plans for what we can do together to support the Myanmar Council of Churches and other local organizations in providing early relief and long-term rehabilitation.”
Church World Service has a license from the U.S. Treasury which permits the transfer of funds and relief items to Myanmar, Sanders says. The UCC’s partner church, The Christian Conference of Asia, is also able to transmit funds to Myanmar.
And so it is around the world.
In China, the UCC - again in concert with its global partners - went to work immediately with the Amity Foundation to provide funds for the purchase and provision of drinking water and food for heavily damaged regions. Relief operations are expanding to include housing repairs, blanket distribution, and protection from the weather. Moreover, there are long term plans for rehabilitating 600 homes, 10 schools, five hospitals or clinics, and five drinking wells.
At the same time, back in the U.S., the UCC was seeking $50,000 to assist with long-term recovery after deadly tornadoes destroyed hundreds of homes.
As Sanders often reminds me, the UCC is not just some stand-aside financial supporter of Church World Service or ACT International. “They are us,” she emphasizes. The UCC not only played a prominent role in their founding and continuing work, but these ecumenical mechanisms are the UCC at work.
We respond in cooperation with others, because that’s our style. And by working closely alongside other faith communions, we work smarter and have potential to make lasting change, not just feel-good moments.
It’s also important to remember: When you give to a UCC-issued disaster appeal, 100 percent of your gift supports direct relief, recovery and rehabilitation. No administrative dollars are taken off the top, thanks to our churches’ basic support for Our Church’s Wider Mission which undergirds the denomination’s staffing infrastructure.
The UCC has long been proud of the fact that, in times of disaster, our niche is not fleeting, short-lived relief, but longer-term accompaniment. Most often, real recovery is just getting started when the TV crews are packing up and moving on to cover the next calamity.
Every day, UCC dollars continue to rebuild damaged homes and restore broken lives in New Orleans, northern Maine, southeastern Virginia, and elsewhere, as well as in the Sudan, Iraq, Bangladesh and other countries around the globe. Every day, the dollars we contribute to UCC disaster response and recovery are making a difference in places that others have long forgotten.
Next time disaster strikes, remember that your church is responding.
Give - and learn - online at www.ucc.org/disaster