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Churches dig deep to reach thousands impacted by tsunamis

Churches dig deep to reach thousands impacted by tsunamis

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Churches dig deep to reach thousands impacted by tsunamis

Feb. 8, 2005    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0244}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — In times of trouble, United Methodists are there.

When earthquakes propelled giant tidal waves inland from the Indian Ocean Dec. 26, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) sprang into action and United Methodists immediately began making contributions to sustain their efforts.

According to United Methodist News Service, financial donations for Asian tsunami relief reached the $6 million mark by Jan. 25. The Florida Conference treasurer's office had collected a little more than $411,000 from Florida United Methodists for UMCOR's South Asia relief as of the end of January.

Although numerous other organizations are accepting donations and funds continue to pour into many agencies, the needs continue for the approximately 900,000 people left homeless by the tsunamis. Churches in the Florida Conference are responding in a variety of ways.

Harvest United Methodist Church in Bradenton is involving the community in its efforts to help survivors. In addition to donating money, church members are donating medicine boxes and health kit items and family tents as described on UMCOR 's Web site.

BRADENTON — Harvest United Methodist Church here is working with a Publix store in its area to collect items for health and medicine kits requested by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) for tsunami survivors. The store puts together completed kits for customers to purchase and donate. Church members make sure the kits get to UMCOR's depot in Louisiana. Photo by Brenda Venhuizen, Photo #05-0142.

Harvest is also forming partnerships with local businesses to give them the opportunity to participate in relief aid. The local Publix grocery store is assembling complete health kits with items from the UMCOR Web site in one-gallon bags and inviting shoppers to purchase and place them in a designated box church members empty and forward to UMCOR's staging area in Louisiana. The church is also working with other local businesses to establish similar relationships and has received donations from a local Wal-mart and Sam's Club.

Brenda Venhuizen, missions team leader at the church, said 200 health kits have been collected to date. She said the 20 mission team members, as well as the church, are hard at work, aware their actions will help others around the world.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for us to help," she said. "This is an amazing church. Not only have they collected thousands of dollars, but they get their hands involved. The Holy Spirit is at our church and guiding us."

While the church is focusing on tsunami relief, it is also continuing its hurricane relief efforts, Venhuizen said, adding she encourages all churches to reach out beyond themselves and impact the lives of hurting people.

The Rev. Will Clark, associate pastor of Orange Park United Methodist Church in the Jacksonville District, said his church required a reintroduction to UMCOR — what it is and its long-term, as well as immediate, response after a disaster. With that done, he said the church has collected $12,000 for UMCOR tsunami aid to date.

"I'm proud of the way they have responded," he said. "I think they are more disciplined to respond to disasters since we were spared from the hurricanes, with the exception of some power outages. We also want them to continue giving to hurricane relief that is ongoing. We don't want people to stop giving to one disaster and start giving to another one. It's going to take spiritual discipline."

While it may take spiritual discipline, churches can make contributing to tsunami disaster relief unique and fun, such as the "super" idea Canal Point United Methodist Church in the Broward Palm Beach District implemented to raise money. The church placed a giant soup bowl just inside its front doors Feb. 6 to collect tsunami relief funds.

The Rev. David Broadbent said this is the first time the church has tried the idea.

"We thought this would be a wonderful time to do it," he said prior to the collection date. "We have placed fliers in the bulletin so people will know about that Sunday ... there will be so much money spent by advertisers and people attending and having a good time [Super Bowl Sunday], we want them to remember there are people hurting. We want them to put their faith in action."

The Rev. Mike Cloyd, pastor of Lakewood Park United Methodist Church in Fort Pierce, temporarily detoured the faithfulness of his church's members from the Florida United Methodist Children's Home to the tsunami disaster after members approached him about doing something to help tsunami survivors.

Every fourth Sunday of the month the church collects a "red bucket" offering for the Children's Home. In January the church used the fourth Sunday to collect funds for tsunami survivors and reserved the fifth Sunday for the Children's Home offering.

Cloyd said the one-gallon buckets used for the fourth Sunday offering are usually left on the communion rail, but this time children passed the buckets down the aisles and what was known as the "noisy" offering because of the usual change parishioners save in Ziploc bags during the month for the offering became silent as paper money and checks were placed into the buckets.
Cloyd said the church raised $2,417; the average amount is about $300.

"We had two hurricanes come through here," he said. "We have some people who don't have roofs and are still out of their homes. We know what it's like to be homeless. We had a disaster in our own backyard, and we want to help those people."

Members of St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Brandon decided to donate half the proceeds from its annual missions fund-raiser to tsunami relief efforts. The dinner and silent auction is the largest generator of funds for the church's local, national and international mission projects.

Cathy Fuller, coordinator of the event, said the church is hoping for another phenomenal affair March 13, similar to last year's, which raised an all-time high of $17,000. She said the average amount raised through the event, now in its 10th year, is $12,000.

Fuller said large and small donations alike arrive at the church for the live and silent auctions. Items in the past have included a batch of homemade cookies throughout the year, a boat, a homemade quilt that placed in the Florida State Fair, a hot-air balloon ride, and the use of a vacation home and used car for a week.

"There have been some creative and interesting items," Fuller said. "We get some from church members and some from local businesses."

In addition to the special one-night event, the church continues to collect special offerings for the tsunami survivors.

Venhuizen said giving to the tsunami survivors is a tremendous way to receive the incredible feeling of helping others.

"You get a sense of personal fulfillment when you help others," she said. "You miss out on that feeling when you don't, especially with a disaster of this magnitude. You can be a part of what makes a difference that's helping others. This is a time for people who have a genuine sense of caring in their hearts to help."


Instructions for UMCOR school and health kits can be found at online.

Each medicine box contains both over-the-counter and prescription medicines, enough to treat 1,000 people for about three months. Information can be found at for organizing the boxes.

Monetary donations to UMCOR's "South Asia Emergency" relief efforts can be placed in local church offering plates or sent directly to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Designate checks for UMCOR Advance #274305 and "South Asia Emergency." Credit-card donations can be made online at or by calling 800-554-8583.

This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.