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Florida United Methodists ramp up relief efforts for Haiti

Florida United Methodists ramp up relief efforts for Haiti

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida United Methodists ramp up relief efforts for Haiti

By Jenna De Marco | Feb. 3, 2010 {1135}

Propelled by the United Methodist connection and their concern for the Haitian people, members of the Florida Conference have found a variety of ways to help in the aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck near Port-au-Prince Jan. 12.

Members and guests attending a prayer vigil at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Tampa Jan. 14 lit candles for victims and survivors of the earthquake. File photo by Derek Maul. Photo #10-1366. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1123, 01/17/10.

They’ve held prayer vigils, donated to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), provided hands-on relief in Haiti, organized fund-raising concerts and put together health kits. As of Jan. 25, the Florida Conference had received a little more than $11,376 toward the “2010 Methodist Church in Haiti Relief, Advance #100190,” according to conference controller Craig Smelser.

Leaders contacted by e-Review say members are trying to help communities find tangible ways to give. The Conference has a special relationship with the Methodist Church of Haiti through the Haiti/Florida Covenant, signed in 2006.

Several areas around the state are now collecting goods — bottled water, non-perishable food, and emergency, hygiene and medical supplies — for delivery to Haiti. The donations will travel to the country via oversized shipping containers.

The Rev. Timothe Jacques, chairman of the Conference Committee on Haitian Ministry (CCOHM), organized the supply list and drop-off locations. The containers will be sent to Haiti as soon as possible.

“The CCOHM and the Haiti/Florida Covenant are working together with the conference and its districts to try to put together a comprehensive effort through the conference to help and support the Haitian people at this tragic moment,” Jacques wrote in an appeal for widespread assistance.

Supplies may be collected at local churches and then delivered to a designated drop-off location. The cost for the shipping containers is substantial, Jacques said, and financial contributions are being accepted at New Life United Methodist Church in Fort Lauderdale, where Jacques serves as senior pastor, via its Web site at The list of needed supplies and drop-off locations is available at

Floridians find hands-on ways to help

Filling the shipping containers attracts the interest of church members and non-churchgoers alike, said the Rev. Dionne Hammond, associate pastor at East Lake United Methodist Church in Palm Harbor.

Signs requesting help are a common sight in damaged areas of Port-au-Prince. A UMNS photo by Mike Dubose. Photo #10-1392.

“Hopefully we’re about connecting with the community through this whole thing,” Hammond said.

One collection site near the Palm Harbor church is Wellspring United Methodist Church in Tampa, where Hammond’s husband, the Rev. Craig Hammond, serves as senior pastor. A total of about $3,300 has been raised to ship the container sometime in the coming weeks when the supply drive is complete, Dionne said.

The Hammonds are also helping organize a relief concert for Haiti Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. in Westpark Village in Tampa. The concert is a joint effort by the church and other community organizations and will feature the reggae band “Tribal Style.” In the event of rain, the concert will be held at Wellspring church, 10701 Sheldon Road, Tampa. More information is available by contacting the East Lake or Wellspring churches at 727-784-9250 and 813-926-5006, respectively.

Other churches are planning similar events and staying busy preparing health kits for shipment to Haiti. Instructions for preparing health kits are available at These guidelines must be followed exactly to enhance the timely shipping of the kits internationally.

Conference prepares for potential influx of people

Members of St. Johns Haitian United Methodist Church in Boynton Beach are providing emotional support for each other and the local Haitian community. They are also trying to gauge what their assistance might look like in the weeks and months ahead, said to the Rev. Charline Pierre, senior pastor at the church.

“We also encourage church members less affected to visit those with a heavier burden, such as loss of a child, of brothers and of parents,” she said. “We offer moral support and envision (helping) financially those church members who have family members admitted in one of the few hospitals in Haiti with (their) costly medical bills.”

Boys pass the time outdoors at the Methodist Children’s Home orphanage in Port-au-Prince. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo #10-1393.

Pierre predicts food shortages, home loss and emotional trauma will bring an influx of Haitian people to Florida. She said a massive earthquake is “very new and unexpected to Haiti and its people,” who will need some time to ease their fears. There is a growing sense of concern among Haitians living in Florida for the safety of family members in Haiti, Pierre said.

Although Pierre’s church does not have the resources to receive and house refugees, “the church will be assisting those refugees through church members who will receive them, through financial support of those supporting them.” The church will also provide pastoral care and referrals to resource services and job placement, Pierre said.

The possibility of Haitians coming to the United States prompted a recent meeting of leaders in the conference’s South East District.

“The pain and the grief and the frustrations and desire to do something — all of that’s wrapped up in the folks here,” said the Rev. Craig Nelson, the district’s superintendent, who led the meeting.

Nelson says the potential arrival of Haitians will affect South Florida even more. “How you walk with people in their sojourn away from their country is something that we are trying to figure out,” he said.

Nelson hopes to discover from local Haitian pastors the needs they anticipate will need to be met and the ministries that must be in place to help, all while honoring the Haiti/Florida Covenant. Nelson says rebuilding churches in Haiti is one possible ministry the covenant relationship could facilitate. Although that rebuilding could take considerable time and money, “ultimately it is beneficial to Haiti,” he added.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker said he is going to request that most of the offering — up to 80 percent — collected at the 2010 Florida Annual Conference Event be given to the Methodist Church of Haiti for rebuilding local churches. The other 20 percent would go to Florida Impact, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit that works to reduce hunger and poverty in Florida and is a partner with the conference in its commitment to end childhood hunger.

A Haitian congregant of St. Martin Methodist Church in Port-au-Prince prays during an outdoor worship service. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo #10-1394.

Despite what’s being done, the Rev. Montreuil Milord is concerned not enough aid is reaching cities other than Port-au-Prince, especially areas previously flooded by tropical storms that hit the country in 2008. Some homes “are still under water” from the hurricanes, making their needs very pressing, said Milord, who serves as chairman of the Haiti/Florida Covenant and is senior pastor at South Dade Haitian United Methodist Mission near Homestead.

Although there are qualified transportation professionals working on such issues, Nelson said, one challenge is finding individuals in the United Methodist connection who are able to receive and express that type of concern.

Haiti’s neighbors lend hand

Despite a history of somewhat strained relations with Haiti, the people of the Dominican Republic are “doing a great job helping their neighbor,” said the Rev. Connie DiLeo, a deacon from the Florida Conference who serves as a Community Partners (COPA) project director in the Dominican Republic.

Community Partners is a shared ministry of churches primarily in Florida and Great Britain that provides education assistance for children, health clinics and instruction in Christian education. It has long-standing ties to the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, according to the board’s Web site.

Injured Haitians began to arrive at local hospitals the day after the earthquake, including one operated by COPA, DiLeo said. During the past several weeks, DiLeo has been busy visiting with these patients, listening to their stories and locating needed medical supplies when possible. A language barrier made communication difficult, but that has been eased somewhat with the help of translators, DiLeo said.

A 2-week-old baby taken to the Dominican Republic for treatment recovers after surgery performed by a medical team from the United States. Photo courtesy of Connie DiLeo. Photo #10-1395.

Among the patients were babies and children with a host of serious injuries, as well as injured mothers and their newborn children, DiLeo said. The mothers needed clean clothing for themselves and diapers for their babies.

Medical supplies and nursing staff are still needed, DiLeo said. In the meantime, church members and area residents have delivered food, clothing and hygiene supplies to the hospitals. DiLeo says it has been inspiring to see local people “helping (patients) to change positions in bed, go to the bathroom, get a drink,” and do whatever is necessary.

A growing concern, DiLeo said, is for patients who have completed their treatment at the hospitals. She says many do not want to leave, for fear of having nowhere to go.

“I have heard they may be opening a refugee center … for those that can be discharged from the hospital,” DiLeo said. “We will then be able to help a bit more.”

Connection at work

While grieving the loss of a colleague in the days following the earthquake, Shirley and Joe Edgerton say they experienced first-hand a strong sense of Christian community and what the United Methodist connection can do.

As long-term General Board of Global Ministries’ volunteers in Haiti, the couple was in Haiti when the earthquake occurred. The connection helped them and their fallen colleague return home. 

With information shared between several United Methodist clergy and lay members, including the Rev. Dr. Mont Duncan, director of the Florida Conference New Church Development office, and his counterpart in the Virginia Conference, an organization called Missionary Flights Inc., located in Ft. Pierce, was able to fly the Edgertons back to the United States, according to the Rev. Renee Lawrence, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Port St. Lucie.

The Rev. Sam Dixon, head of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, addresses directors of the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries in October 2008. A UMNS file photo by Cassandra Heller. Photo #10-1396.

Missionary Flights also flew the body of the Rev. Sam Dixon, a top executive with UMCOR, back to the country. Dixon died from injuries sustained in the collapse of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince. A memorial service for Dixon will take place Feb. 11 in New York City.

“Our Haitian friends and church leaders worked with us, and we shared the grief of our loss and theirs as friends and as a faith community,” Shirley Edgerton said. “We were more than ever impacted by the way God connects and cares for all brothers and sisters of faith.”

Lawrence, who greeted the Edgertons at the airport when they landed, described the experience of meeting and getting to know them as “very humbling.” She praised the connection for its role in taking care of its members after the quake.

“For us, it was a comfort to fly home with others who had shared as missionaries at the time of the earthquake and days following,” Edgerton said.

The Edgertons, who are based out of the East Kansas Conference, expect it will take them some time to process everything that occurred in January, but they say they are committed to helping Haiti for the long haul, including eventually returning to the country.

How to help

Give: To the United Methodist Committee on Relief Advance Special #418325. Checks, with #418325 in the memo line, can be mailed to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, or dropped in church offering plates. Donations can also be made online at
To Methodist Church in Haiti. Checks made payable to “FAC Treasurer,” with “2010 Methodist Church in Haiti Relief, #100190” in the memo line, may be sent to the Florida Conference at 1140 McDonald Street, Lakeland, FL 33801. Florida Conference United Methodist churches may send checks through their normal apportionment giving channels, utilizing lock-box #207.
Prepare: Health kits for short- and long-term recovery efforts. Information on making kits is available at

Collect: Bottled water, non-perishable food, and emergency, hygiene and medical supplies for delivery to Haiti. Supplies may be collected at local churches and then delivered to a designated drop-off location. The list of needed supplies and drop-off locations is available at

Plan: To send a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team later in the year to assist in disaster recovery and humanitarian aid. Churches may visit the UMVIM Web site at for updates or to register a team to go to Haiti. The Southeastern Jurisdiction UMVIM ministry is also collecting contact information at
More information about the United Methodist response is available at http://, and

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News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.