The letter expresses, "We thank God for touching hearts and opening doors so that the United Methodist Church may carry out its humane and evangelical duty to aid the poor and the sick and those whose conditions in life depend now on the help that may be offered."
Over the course of ten weeks, Cuba has been hit by three devastating hurricanes -Ike, Gustav and Paloma-that often crossed over the same areas, creating widespread destruction. Earlier this month, the US government granted Global Ministries two licenses -one for the short term (30 days) and a second one that extends the denomination's ability to help until October 2009. The licenses give Global Ministries permission to implement up to $1.1 million in humanitarian response during this time period. The mission agency was denied renewal of its license two years ago as a continuing part of the US boycott.
Days after the most recent hurricane swept through Cuba, Sam Dixon, top executive of The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) met with Bishop Ricardo Pereira of Cuba, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Cuba coordinator Aldo Gonzalez, and Larry Rankin from the Florida Conference to determine the humanitarian needs in Cuba and how to best collaborate to respond to them.
Gonzalez tries to describe the extent of the damage, "The need there is so great that it is hard to begin to understand it. Imagine what happened in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina - that is what happened in Cuba - three major storms knocked down weathered old buildings that have been deteriorating for fifty years."
People who were already vulnerable have lost what little they had. Their homes, clothing, furniture and livelihoods have been destroyed. Crops have been wiped out and fields have been flooded. Even the government stockpiles of food and building materials did not survive the storms.
UMCOR's immediate response will be to help rebuild individual homes, provide food aid and repair churches. Nearly 30% of the churches were significantly damaged. Dixon reports that what is most needed is money. "Because UMCOR does not have an import license, we will be purchasing all humanitarian supplies from the Cuban government."
The license allowing UMCOR to provide humanitarian aid in Cuba expires October 28, 2009. Dixon says that while most of the focus will be to provide immediate relief, the organization will work closely with the churches in Cuba to help them prepare for long term recovery as well as provide training for disaster preparedness.
In the letter to Global Ministries and UMCOR, The leaders of the Methodist Church in Cuba residing in the United States asked the agency to "besides having open minds, open hearts and open doors, we must also have the will to . . . generously cooperate with those in Cuba that are suffering greatly." The letter was signed by Armando A. Rodriguez Borges, Bishop of the Methodist Church in Cuba from 1969-1991; and former Co-Presidents of the United Methodist Church in Cuba - Joel E. Ajo Fernandez, Francisco Gustavo Cruz Diaz, and Roy Rodriguez Ricardo.
Gonzalez has been leading United Methodist teams for two weeks, once a month to Cuba for fifteen years. In addition to providing medicine, clothing and tools, the teams worked to build homes, parsonages, and renovate churches. One of the churches was Entronque Herradura, Gonzalez' childhood church. A team repaired it and painted it to make it welcoming and bright. According to Gonalez, there is not longer a roof on the church. The home they built behind it, he is proud to note, is still standing.
Gonzalez will be going with a team to Cuba the first week in December. He is saddened by the damage but confident that they will rebuild.
UMCOR is the not-for-profit global humanitarian aid organization of the United Methodist Church. UMCOR is working in more than 80 countries worldwide, including the United States. Our mission, grounded in the teachings of Jesus, is to alleviate human suffering-whether caused by war, conflict or natural disaster, with open hearts and minds to all people.
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.
How You Can Help
In addition to prayers for the Cuban people, please give to UMCOR Advance #3020821, Cuba Emergency, to support UMCOR's work in Cuba.