Flood survivor Rosemarie Peak (left) visits with volunteers Rose Calhoun (middle) and Debbie Holcomb while picking up relief supplies at United Methodist Mountain Mission in Jackson, Kentucky. (Photo: Mike DuBose, UM News)

ATLANTA – Last year, severe flooding ended the lives of more than 600 people and displaced 1.4 million in several regions of Nigeria. Not only did the floods submerge buildings, streets and farmland – some communities experienced an outbreak of cholera as floodwaters subsided.

In July of 2023, many of the people affected by the floods still hadn’t recovered. Bishop John Wesley Yohanna, Nigeria United Methodist Church, requested assistance from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) because with UMCOR’s support, the church could supply food and replace lost household items for nearly 5,000 families, or 30,000 people, for three months. This would give them time to recover until the next harvest.

Food and other relief items at a United Methodist distribution center in Jalingo, Nigeria. The supplies, purchased through a $150,000 grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, helped people displaced by severe flooding in the region. (Photo: Ezekiel Ibrahim, UM News)

Justina Ezekiel, one of the recipients of the relief supplies, said: “I was just thinking of what to cook for the children because we had exhausted the last grain. It is as if God showed you our predicaments because these items are truly going to bring relief to us.”

Did UMCOR receive gifts specifically designated for these catastrophic floods in Nigeria? Not one. But because of church communities, leaders and partners that span the world, targeted and effective training programs, and flexible Advance options, UMCOR has the unique ability to respond whenever disasters happen.

The expansive work of UMCOR

In John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples, the places they go and situations they encounter. “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world,” he says in verse 18. He prays for their protection and steadfast commitment as they spread God’s love.

UMCOR is sent by the church to respond to humanitarian needs, regardless of the religion or faith of the populations affected, and its motivation is a spiritual and biblically based call to action.

As the war in Ukraine continues, short-term needs for emergency food, water and shelter have become long-term needs for more permanent shelter and reliable ways to get food to whichever population the war has displaced at the time.

Working with International Blue Crescent (IBC), UMCOR helped to refit a tractor trailer with a bakery inside to provide fresh baked goods and cooking oil as well as canned goods and other food supplies. If circumstances change and another population needs help, the trailer can move to where it is most needed.

Bakers at the UMCOR sponsored IBC mobile bakery get fresh bread ready to package and serve in Ukraine. (Photo: Alexandr Velmozhko, IBC Ukraine)

While it is not possible for UMCOR to intervene in every refugee situation, it supports displaced populations in many places beyond Ukraine, such as Syria. After more than a decade of civil war, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have perished and nearly 13 million people – more than half the country’s prewar population – are displaced.

Recently, UMCOR partnered to help Syrian refugees in Jordanian communities gain better access to health care, particularly those with chronic health problems. In addition, after a February 2023 earthquake struck both Turkey and Syria, other UMCOR partners provided food and hygiene supplies in both countries.

Other places where partners working directly with refugees receive UMCOR support are Honduras, Burundi, Mexico and Greece. In the United States, organizations working with refugees from California to New York, including Georgia, Illinois and Texas, are among those that receive UMCOR support.

Training volunteers to be ready and able

Another multiplying factor that increases UMCOR’s ability to respond is training volunteers to respond effectively on the ground. Training for Early Response Teams (ERTs) and conference leadership in the U.S. has enabled teams to move quickly when needed and hold back when circumstances require caution. Training for construction and disaster case management kicks in when conferences take on major recovery ministries.

In Africa and the Philippines, UMCOR builds the capacity of local leaders to prepare for and respond to disaster through Disaster Management Offices. This connectional network across the church is one of the main reasons UMCOR has access to communities when disasters strike. A responding church or partner organization is already there.

Long-term and short-term responses and a few surprises

In places like the Eastern Horn of Africa, where people in Somalia and Ethiopia have struggled through years of drought, unrest and severe food shortages, people migrate to find food for their families. UMCOR returns again and again to provide relief, even when the world’s attention is focused elsewhere.

In Somalia, five years of drought-affected land met with torrential flooding in March 2023. Shelters for more than nearly 9,000 families were destroyed, along with six health facilities and four schools. UMCOR partner Kaalmo Relief and Development provided food, water and hygiene items for 500 households, many of which are headed by women. Supplying 300 of these female-headed households with livestock increased their resiliency and aided their recovery.

United Methodists who mobilized in the 1990s in response to a volcano eruption in the Eastern Congo will remember the city of Goma. Today, it still hosts over half a million refugees, caught by violence between rebel attacks and government retaliation.

Kalehe flood survivors talk to Bishop Gabriel Unda of the East Congo Episcopal Area during a church distribution operation in Goma. (Photo: Jolie Shabani, UM News)

UMCOR supports the East Congo Episcopal Area as it offers aid and comfort; the latest response will supply food and hygiene supplies to about 2,500 families.

People generally associate tornadoes with the United States, and they designate millions of dollars to help communities recover from storms, tornadoes and hurricanes.

But this year, UMCOR responded to a request from Côte d’Ivoire after Zokolilié, a town of 12,000, was nearly wiped out by a tornado. The Côte d’Ivoire UMC’s disaster agency is using an UMCOR grant to rebuild about 50 houses in the town.

And, while typhoons are often associated with Asia and Africa, UMCOR also responded to a request by the Alaska Conference in the aftermath of Typhoon Merbok, which struck the town of Hooper Bay in September 2022. The conference is gearing up to provide disaster case management and support for long-term recovery for households that have not yet received the help they need.

Giving through UMCOR, Where Most Needed, Advance # 999895, means that neither UMCOR staff nor donors need to predict when typhoons will strike the U.S. or tornadoes the western coast of Africa. Whenever and wherever natural and humanmade disasters strike, UMCOR will be able to respond through nearby partners.

Christie R. House is a consultant writer and editor with Global Ministries and UMCOR. Ezekiel Ibrahim, communicator for the Nigeria Episcopal Area, provided reporting from Nigeria.

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.

Support the work of UMCOR.