Haiti Quake Spurs Overwhelming Intl. Response

An overwhelming response from the international community has poured into the impoverished country of Haiti since Tuesday's devastating 7.3 earthquake reduced the country's capital of Port-au-Prince to rubble.

International aid agencies and churches have dispatched hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding and supplies to help provide victims of the tragedy with basic living essentials and medical services.

Over half a million emergency meals have been provided by the United Nations' World Food Programme, which airlifted 86 metric tons of food to Haiti on Wednesday.

Organizations active on the ground include Catholic relief agency Caritas Internationalis, who pledged to provide "support to survivors of the earthquake, such as food, shelter and comfort through churches and parish networks," according Humanitarian Director Alistair Dutton.

"A priority for Caritas will be to assess the damage and our local capacity to provide aid to survivors of the quake," Dutton said. "Caritas runs over 200 hospitals and medical centres in Haiti. It is experienced and prepared to respond to humanitarian disasters there as a result of the frequent hurricanes."

The United Methodist Church has reported that hundreds of its American congregants are providing disaster assistance on site in affected areas with more teams scheduled to arrive for work in schools, clinics and homes, and to bring medical supplies and food.

 "[The United Methodist Committee on Relief ] (UMCOR) has always had a strong presence in Haiti," said Tom Hazelwood of UMCOR's disaster-response staff. "With this tragedy, we'll just be redoubling our efforts, and we'll be calling on people across the country to help us."

"It is very important for Haitians to know people care about them," said the Rev. Roger Richards of the Haiti Partnership with the Wyoming Annual (regional) Conference. "They are in a desperate situation with so many obstacles to overcome."

"Anderson Cooper is reporting for CNN, 'There's no electricity. There's no water. People are in the street.' He doesn't realize that's how it is most of the time in Haiti," he added.

The Rev. Molege Desir of Vailsburg United Methodist Church in South Orange, N.J., said hunger is a major problem in Haiti.

"And now there is this catastrophe so the need is even greater," Desir said. "This is a good opportunity to reach out to people and to make a difference when the help is finally able to get there."

"I encourage the people of Haiti not to give up. We believe in God, and God will not let us down. Like the song says, 'Our God is still on the throne and His love is steadfast.'"

Nearly $600,000 dollars in relief aid has been collected from various churches and ecumenical groups, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and UK-based charities Christian Aid and Tearfund.

ELCA Presiding Bishop the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, whose organization committed $250,000 to relief effort on Wednesday and authorized an additional $500,000 for use in the crisis upon collection, told the church's news service that "this is a time for the ELCA to come together as we have so often done in our history."

Hanson, who is also the president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), said the ELCA has the capacity to respond to human tragedy, and "members are called to bear witness to our faith by responding generously and working with partners" to provide relief.

"We also give thanks that we have trusted and effective partners on the ground in Haiti who already are at work helping earthquake survivors," Hanson said in a statement released on Wednesday. "The ELCA is the largest regular supporter of the LWF's program in Haiti, which helps communities escape the deep poverty in which so many Haitians live."

"Since staff is already in place, no precious time will be lost in shaping an effective response. The work of providing food and shelter and in helping people to rebuild their lives is under way," he added

Other prominent church leaders have also expressed their condolences and encouragement for those affected by the tragedy.

"We must pray for the people of Haiti, hundreds of thousands of whom are grieving the loss of loved ones, wandering dazed and homeless and hungry," said Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the US in a statement released on Thursday.

"May our loving God be a powerful presence in their lives. Tragedies like this one are impossible to understand, and we need to remind ourselves that God is also shedding tears at the pain and suffering of God's children in Haiti," he added.

Archbishop Demetrios of the Orthodox Church in America asked his congregation for "fervent prayers" for Haiti, saying he hopes those affected will find "heavenly solace in this hour of grief and pain, and may they find strength and hope in Him through faith and through the ministry of love and healing offered from around the world."

Demetrios also asked Orthodox churches to take up a special offering on Jan. 17 to provide aid for the tragedy.

"Through prayers, gifts, and service may we respond to this tremendous crisis, knowing that our Lord will be faithful to bring comfort and healing through our witness of His love," he said.

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News