The Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Director of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), has posted a letter on the UMCOR website (umcor.org) detailing the organization's response to the earthquake and tsunami devastation in Japan, and giving an update on its relief efforts.
On Friday, March 11, Harvey reports, the General Board of Global Ministries reached out to missionaries and partners in Japan to confirm their safety and to ask how UMCOR could be of help. The Wesley Center, affiliated with United Methodist Women, began offering shelter to those who are displaced.
UMCOR set up an Advance account for the Pacific Emergency and, "once we understood better what the scope of the disaster was," changed the name to "Japan Emergency" and updated the description to read:
UMCOR is working through relief and church partners in Japan to respond and provide immediate assistance and long-term rehabilitation. With these partners, UMCOR is meeting the most basic humanitarian needs in northern Japan, such as providing clean drinking water, food, cooking and eating supplies, clothing, and fuel for heating.
Government request is being honored
After stating that UMCOR grieves with the people of Japan and stands with them in solidarity, Harvey's March 21 letter goes on to say that UMCOR is honoring the Japanese government's request that outside groups not travel to Japan at this time.
"UMCOR staff generally does not go into disaster areas as first responders and we are working through trusted partners who have existing networks on the ground in the affected areas," Harvey writes. "We have sent an emergency grant to church partner, United Church of Christ in Japan. They are using the funds to distribute food, clean water, clothing, and heating fuel. Local churches are being used as distribution sites to provide basic necessities to survivors. UMCOR also sent an emergency grant to GlobalMedic, a trusted partner and first responder, to provide relief to affected survivors in the form of medical care, and access to clean drinking water, supplies, and food."
Harvey says UMCOR has received "thousands" of phone calls, emails, Facebook posts, and donations already, from people "whose hearts are aching for the people of Japan and who are looking for meaningful ways to respond." She adds, "We anticipate working with our partners to direct your gifts to earthquake and tsunami survivors in Japan as needs and plans for response are identified."
Volunteer teams must wait
Harvey stresses that, while "our hearts may feel that we must do something besides 'just' writing a check," we need to keep in mind John Wesley's instruction to do no harm.
"The situation in Japan is not conducive to sending volunteers" at this time, she says, and it is important to "allow the well-established government organizations to organize the response, particularly while they are in the crucial rescue phase."
The director adds that "when the time is appropriate," UMCOR is prepared to send thousands of health kits to Japan in response to this emergency. She says that thanks to the faithful giving of United Methodists throughout the year, UMCOR's depots presently are well stocked with health kits, and so the priority now is adding to the store of other kits, such as cleaning buckets, layette and school kits, needed now in places such as Cote d’Ivoire, Armenia, and here in the United States where spring storms and flooding are creating challenges.
"UMCOR is committed to standing with the people of Japan into the recovery phase. We will continue working through our church and relief partners to provide shelter, food, and clean water to survivors of this crisis," Harvey's letter concludes.
"Regular updates can be found … on our website and on Facebook [www.Facebook.com/UMCOR]. Please continue to hold the people of Japan in your prayers. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love into the world by our United Methodist Church."