For many, the future of UT football was paramount. Others were preoccupied with the upcoming weekend at Resurrection
But for a good many United Methodists in Holston last week, the focus was on the tragedy and need in Haiti.
Two days after the Jan. 12 earthquake, Holston staff had created a bulletin insert and started organizing a conference-wide health kit collection. Appeals went out for donations to UMCOR, which by the weekend had topped more than $1 million.
The health kits, valued at about $12 each, contain everything from towels and washcloths to sterile bandages and bar soap. Estimating that hundreds of thousands of kits will be needed in the months ahead, UMCOR asked United Methodists to begin assembling kits immediately. Holston Conference will organize regional collection of the kits within two weeks, according to the Connectional Ministries Office.
Numerous groups pounced on the health kits as an immediate hands-on activity, since the Haitian government advised that United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams would not be permitted to enter until mid-March. Organizers of Divine Rhythm, Holston's young adult weekend, appealed for participants to bring kits or ingredients to the Jan. 29-31 event in Pigeon Forge.
"Some persons coming to DR have put the word out in their communities, and they are collecting numbers of kits to bring with them," said Lori Sluder, connectional ministries staff member.
Donna Hankins, multimedia coordinator, invited non-United Methodists on the conference staff to join in a health kit collection effort.
"I was thinking about how we could easily help with Haiti relief efforts right here from the office," she said in a e-mail. "We could literally just run next door to Big Lots or Food City and pick up any one of these items."
On the evening of Jan. 17, the Rev. Buzz Trexler reported that his congregation of 26 donated $400 for health kits to send to Haiti. Trexler is pastor at Green Meadow UMC, Maryville District.
The Rev. Richie Hayes of Reynolds Memorial UMC, Abingdon District, reported a Haiti offering of $1,945.
'Hands, feet, and heart'
Attending a Southeastern Jurisdiction Council of Bishops meeting, Bishop James Swanson learned of an opportunity to magnify UMCOR's image and donations. He immediately initiated a response.
"The rank and file membership of the United Methodist Church often criticizes the leadership during times like this for not being involved in recovering efforts and humanitarian work," Swanson said. "The truth of the matter is that (the UMC) is often the first on the scene and the last to leave. But our efforts, for some reason, are not reported in the secular news."
Swanson requested his staff to place ads in local newspapers throughout east Tennessee and southwest Virginia.
Ads promoting UMCOR (pictured above) were placed by Holston Conference in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Kingsport Times News, and the Bristol Herald Courier on Jan. 16-17 for a total cost of $1,091. The other 14 conferences in the Southeastern Jurisdiction joined to place similar ads in their local newspapers, according to Swanson.
The Holston print ads coincided with the The United Methodist Church's specially produced TV spot on CNN Headline News, which began Jan. 15 and continued through Jan. 18. The 15-second spot aired 17 times during the four-day period. Banner advertisements also appeared online on CNN's home page.
"Many are not aware that 100 percent of what is given to UMCOR goes to the designated project," Swanson said. "The operating expense of UMCOR is covered through our apportionments."
"You see, we can sit and debate with ourselves and others as to why this earthquake happened, or we can choose to act," Swanson said. "I believe that you will join with me, the bishops of the southeast, and your United Methodist connection and others, to say that we are willing to be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus reaching out to those who are hurting in Haiti -- as we have done countless times before."
By Jan. 16, UMCOR reported that more than $1 million for relief work in Haiti had been raised. In a statement, Bishop Joel Martinez of the General Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent agency, said he was thankful “for the overwhelming generosity,” but encouraged further gifts.
"This is heartening but needs to be multiplied many times over,” he said. “We believe that contributions to UMCOR at worship on Sunday (Jan. 17) will be a powerful testament to the love of United Methodists for those in crisis."
United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.