By Elliott Wright*
NEW YORK (UMNS) - More than $62 million was contributed in 2005 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief for hurricane relief and rehabilitation in the United States and wider Gulf of Mexico region.
"Year-end receipts from the annual conferences pushed the figure far, far beyond what we anticipated in the late fall," said Roland Fernandes, treasurer of the Board of Global Ministries, the denominational agency of which UMCOR is a part.
UMCOR had received $62.37 million as of Dec. 31. All of the money was or is being applied to relief and rehabilitation, primarily through the church's annual (regional) conferences affected by the strong series of hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast. Post-hurricane work in Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Nicaragua also was covered.
"In April, our directors will make decisions about how the balance will be expended," said the Rev. Paul Dirdak, the executive in charge of UMCOR for the mission board. "Meanwhile, UMCOR has responded 100 percent to the emergency relief and rehabilitation start-up requests made by the annual conferences, with over $6 million expended to date. Our rehabilitation efforts will likely cover a four-year period."
David Sadoo, international field staff for UMCOR, said the work in Mexico and Central America is an important part of the church's hurricane response. "We are assisting there with both relief and long-term rehabilitation."
The Rev. R. Randy Day, top staff executive of the Board of Global Ministries, expressed appreciation to United Methodists and their friends for the outpouring of support for people and communities affected by the hurricanes.
"United Methodists are such caring and generous people," he said. "How thankful we are that we can provide major assistance to the storm-ravaged areas."
The Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama-West Florida and Texas conferences were the most severely affected by hurricanes striking the United States in 2005. The first two were the hardest hit by Katrina, which made landfall Aug. 29. The Texas Annual Conference received the largest number of displaced people from New Orleans, followed by a major hit from Hurricane Rita in September.
Dirdak said the cash contributions are only one measure of the enormous United Methodist response to the hurricane disasters. In addition, tons of supplies have been sent to UMCOR's Sager Brown materials depot in Baldwin, La., for distribution in the disaster zone. Thousands of church members are helping with cleanup and rebuilding as volunteers in mission.
"The compassion of the United Methodist people for those in crisis appears to be unlimited," Dirdak said. "It is a compassion rooted in thanksgiving for God's grace and love and in Jesus' mandate to love our neighbors."__While most of the $62 million was contributed in response to Hurricane Katrina, some amounts were earmarked for relief following the later Hurricane Rita, and some came in response to 2005 storms prior to Katrina.__Money reaches UMCOR in a variety of ways: telephone and Internet gifts, checks sent directly to the agency, and contributions made through local congregations and channeled by annual conferences to the church's General Council on Finance and Administration. The council serves as treasurer for relief and other designated giving through what is called the Advance for Christ and His Church.__Conferences have until late January each year to make their submissions to the finance agency.__