Haiti trips postponed & new leader for Covenant




As the anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake approaches on Jan. 12, some agencies are asking recovery volunteers to temporarily postpone trips.

 

Postponing non-essential travel to Haiti was recommended in a mass e-mail to mission directors and clergy in mid-December with quotes from the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), said Florida Conference Disaster Recovery manager Pam Garrison. Also, the United States Department of State issued a travel warning about Haiti in early December.

 

“We’re trying to get (the message) out to all of our churches because not all of them go through the UMVIM process,” Garrison said.

 

UMVIM maintains a formal registration and training process that United Methodists may use when planning their mission trips.

 

One factor that may have raised security concerns is a run-off election set for Jan. 16 in Haiti, Garrison said. According to the State Department, several demonstrations occurred after late-November elections.

 

As a result of the warnings, the Florida Conference has postponed a trip scheduled for January for volunteers trained to lead mission teams.

 

Task force looks at church needs

 

Since traveling to Haiti currently is not recommended, the Haiti Recovery Task Force suggests that churches can focus on helping local Haitian congregations in the Florida Conference.

 

“While we don’t want to ignore what’s happening in the country of Haiti, in our eagerness to serve down there, we don’t want to forget what’s happening right here in our Conference,” Garrison said.

 

Included among these congregations are refugees and their families, Garrison said, who potentially are coping with a variety of challenges, including separation from family, immigration issues and unemployment.

 

The first step is to find out “what are their needs and what could churches help them with?” Garrison said.

 

The key will be connecting churches that have human and financial resources, Garrison said, with those Haitian congregations who are in need. The overall model for helping specific individuals and families in need will be similar to disaster case management.

 

Building relationships comes first

 

The Rev. Dionne Hammond with a young friend in Haiti.

Strengthening personal relationships with the people of Haiti is the best way to stay involved with Haiti’s needs, said the Rev. Dionne Hammond, who is the new chairperson of the Haiti/Florida Covenant as of Jan. 1, 2011. Hammond serves as associate pastor of East Lake United Methodist Church in Palm Harbor.

 

The covenant is an agreement signed in 2006 between the Florida Conference and the Methodist Church of Haiti.

 

The task force’s plan to help local Haitian churches is on the “continuum of creating relationships,” Hammond said. “The main purpose is to create relationships that are enduring.”

 

That includes relationships that lead to traveling to Haiti, Hammond said.

 

“I think the idea of helping local Haitian Methodist churches is a great idea in Florida…(but) I think people still want to go to Haiti and be a part of that as well,” Hammond said.

 

In recent years, Hammond has traveled to Haiti several times initiated through relationships she has established. In her experience, she has found that conditions in Haiti vary by region and change rapidly. By February, she hopes able to return to Haiti to make strengthen the Conference’s ties and continue to hear more about what needs exist.

 

Also, a team comprised of up to 12 people – including Hammond – from five United Methodist churches still hopes to take a March mission trip to Croix de Bouquet, Haiti.

 

“My sense is that by March, it will be a completely different situation,” Hammond said.

 

Conference outreach helps Haitian churches

 

In keeping with the theme of building stronger relationships with local Haitian congregations, the Florida Conference staff held a food drive to assist four Haitian churches for its recent Christmas outreach.

 

The drive benefited Emmanuel Haitian and Berea Haitian missions in Orlando, as well as Faith Community Haitian in Tampa and Adullam Worship Center in Seffner.

 

“Every year the Conference staff does something to support a food bank, so this year we … identified (that for) some of our churches that food is a major issue because food banks don’t carry what Haitians are accustomed to eating.”

 

The churches received 20 packages of rice, 20 bottles of cooking oil, and 20 packages of dried beans, as well as gift cards to Wal-Mart for the pastors to purchase additional items.

 

This type of tangible step is the “beginning of the relationship,” Garrison said, opening the door for follow-up conversations that are set for January.

 

The e-Review contacted several Florida Conference Haitian congregation leaders for comments in this story. None returned calls in time for publication.

 

The United Methodist Committee on Relief also remains an option for those who wish to help Haiti. Gifts to UMCOR can be made at http://www.umcorhaiti.org or by sending checks made payable to UMCOR to P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, with Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325, on the memo line.

 

News media contact: Gretchen Hastings, 800-282-8011, ghastings@flumc.org, Lakeland
 
*Hastings is executive editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Franklin, Tenn.




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