COVID-19: Impact on agency gatherings, support extended to staff and missionaries
March 17, 2020 | ATLANTA
President of Global Ministries Bishop Hee-Soo Jung and general secretary Thomas Kemper have announced that the Spring Board of Directors meeting will be held March 20-21 via video conferencing in light of the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. The 37-member board represents 9 countries and 21 states and U.S. territories. The meeting agenda and associated committee meetings will be abbreviated to address key matters of business. The bylaws of the board of Global Ministries allow meetings conducted through video conferencing to be considered in-person meetings so that important decisions can be made by the directors. In an email to the board, Kemper said “I personally very much regret that we will not be able to meet in person for a final time in this quadrennium. We continue to be united in prayer as we believe there is no ‘foreign’ virus but one shared humanity and responsibility for the human family. It is also a unique opportunity to stand by our deep conviction that the body of Christ truly spans the globe from everywhere to everywhere.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) have the most updated information regarding preparedness and prevention of the COVID-19. Global Ministries’ Global Health unit and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) continue to monitor the outbreak around the world. Church leaders have a unique role to play in preparation and response as they are trusted leaders with platforms for communicating important health information. To this end, the Global Health unit continues to add resources for prevention and preparation to this webpage.
Global Health and UMCOR are in communication with partners around the world and will continue to respond to efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. With its network of over 300 hospitals and clinics, the Global Health unit is in a unique position to strengthen health-care systems. Many of these facilities provide the only health care available to poor and isolated populations. At this time, Global Health and UMCOR are focusing attention on countries where there are active cases of the coronavirus. They are preparing training materials and providing financial support for church, school, orphanage and health-care leaders in three annual conferences in the Philippines and the Central Congo Annual Conference. Similar efforts are underway for Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Liberia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
The Rev. Dr. Judy Y. Chung, Executive Director of Missionary Service, is working closely with wellness coordinator, Bernadine Smith, RN, and wellness consultant, Dr. Ted Winneberg, to keep the denomination’s more than 350 missionaries based in 70 countries well. “The support to the missionaries has been ongoing,” says Smith. “Communication by email, newsletters, WhatsApp, direct phone calls and conference calls have provided up-to-date information.” Missionary Town Halls, held periodically by video conference, will continue. This will provide Thomas Kemper, Judy Chung and others the opportunity to hear from missionaries about the ways their communities are responding to the coronavirus.
At any given time, any number of missionaries are traveling for itineration, home visits or work-related meetings. Global Ministries is responding to each situation, including travel disruptions, to ensure the safety of our mission personnel. Every effort is being made to assist them in returning to their placements or another safe location as quickly as possible.
The Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, Louisiana, home to the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s supply center, is closing in-person operations and staff will work remotely as best they can for the indefinite future. The program provides opportunities for volunteers to engage in hands-on mission work, including the preparation of flood buckets and hygiene kits to be distributed following disasters. Visits from volunteer teams are now postponed. Sager Brown normally hosts 3,500 volunteers each year.
Other volunteer sites are also now closed to prevent the spread of the disease. For example, The Methodist Church of Puerto Rico (MCPR) has cancelled all visits by mission teams through the end of April. A recent press release states, “The MCPR and REHACE value the mission trip volunteer program, which has seen more than 2,500 volunteers travel to Puerto Rico and help repair more than 800 homes to date.”
Global Ministries has offered agency staff the opportunity to work remotely through March 27, noting that this offer may well be extended beyond March. The building remains open for those wanting or needing to work from the Atlanta office.