ATLANTA – The ninth chapter of Matthew describes Jesus and his disciples traveling from village to village, teaching in synagogues and announcing God’s good news, healing people. Through their travels, they likely saw and heard a lot of news, as in Jesus’ time, that is how news traveled.
Today, people don’t need to travel to see and hear the news, as we are often inundated with online, social media, television and radio news. We encounter so much news, in fact, we must shut it down occasionally for our own sanity.
But when Jesus saw the crowds of people and what was happening in the cities and villages, Matthew 9:36 reveals: “…He had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
As followers of Jesus, how can our compassion expand across so many countries, in so many different circumstances? On a single day, we can see and hear about wildfires and tornadoes in the U.S., earthquakes in Turkey, war in Europe and the Middle East, and severe floods in Bangladesh. How should the church respond?
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he has compassion for them…”
Being in many places at once
Having compassion is the first response, soon followed by provision of food, water and shelter for those affected by sudden, devastating events. While no organization or agency can be everywhere at once, the strength of the United Methodist disaster network, which includes interfaith and ecumenical partners, is that the response and the responders are spread out across the world, and they start work when they are most needed, wherever they are.
Nearly two years into the war in Ukraine, UMCOR has approved millions of dollars of war relief and recovery grants to Ukrainian partners and others in surrounding countries, where various churches and organizations extend food, shelter and care to refugees from Ukraine. Yet, at the same time, UMCOR acted on several requests for assistance for an earthquake that severely affected parts of Turkey and Syria in February 2023.
In March 2023, UMCOR was able to assist United Methodist conferences in Mozambique, Madagascar and Malawi as they responded to devastation caused by Cyclone Freddy. In April, civil strife in Sudan and South Sudan broke out and UMCOR supported two partners in those countries.
Month after month, disasters happen and UMCOR responds, whether these disasters gain wide media attention and public awareness or not. UMCOR has the means to respond because people have supported UMCOR with their gifts, support that allows UMCOR to respond quickly when partners in affected regions ask for help.
Unpredictable disasters need predictable responses
In the United States, the United Methodist disaster network, including conferences, supply depots, and often responders from other denominations, functions differently than disaster response outside the U.S. The conference disaster response offices are UMCOR’s main partners at work in the U.S.
Some conferences repeatedly hit by major weather disasters, such as Florida, Texas, the Carolinas and New Jersey, have become experts at preparing, responding and providing long-term recovery help after major disasters. Most of them began with grants and training from UMCOR. Many are currently in various stages of UMCOR project grants to provide the long-term case management that UMCOR is known for…the last agents and volunteer teams to leave a recovery site even years after a major disaster strikes.
Today, recovery operations continue for populations affected by Hurricane Ida (2021) in New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. Louisiana just completed project work from hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta, all of which struck in 2020, and currently moved right into recovery after Hurricane Ian (2022). Between 2004 and 2021, the Florida Conference developed recovery projects for 18 named events.
More than 20 smaller but essential grants were extended so far this year to U.S. conferences, including California-Pacific for Guam and Hawaii (Maui wildfires), Rio Texas, North Texas, New England and New York. Florida has taken on Hurricane Idalia response (Sept. 2023) in its current disaster work.
These quick responses as conferences step into new disasters are possible because donors directed their gifts to be used “where most needed.”
When Jesus saw trouble, he had compassion.
When we see trouble, we have ways to be with suffering people just when they need it. The “UMCOR – Where Most Needed Advance #999895,” can use the funds for UMCOR ministries highlighted above as well as for grants related to UMCOR’s Global Migration program area.
Christie R. House is a consultant writer and editor with Global Ministries and UMCOR.
About the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)
Founded in 1940, UMCOR is the global humanitarian relief and development agency of The United Methodist Church. A part of United Methodist Global Ministries, UMCOR works in more than 80 countries worldwide, including the United States and its territories. The agency’s mission, grounded in the teachings of Jesus, is to alleviate human suffering with open hearts and minds to all people. Working in the areas of disaster response and recovery and migration, UMCOR responds to natural or civil disasters that are interruptions of such magnitude that they overwhelm a community’s ability to recover on its own.