On Wednesday, January 27, 2010, over 80 general staff and local church leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and United Church of Christ (UCC) staff (via conference call), gathered at the Disciples Center in Indianapolis to hear the Reverend Felix Ortiz-Cotto report on his pastoral visit to Haiti over the previous weekend. As executive for Latin America/Caribbean of Global Ministries (the Disciples/UCC common witness in mission), Felix was the first general staff executive visiting our partners in that country after the January 12 devastating earthquake. During the pastoral visit, he had the opportunity to observe the effects of the disaster and to meet with the leadership of one of Global Ministries’ partners, the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH). At that meeting, he presented CONASPEH with an initial love gift from the Disciples and UCC, thanks to special offerings received through Week of Compassion, One Great Hour of Sharing and Global Ministries. With deep passion, Felix, (who served with his spouse, Maria, as missionaries to Haiti for nine years) shared that although the six-story general office building of CONASPEH was totally destroyed during the earthquake, and the bodies of 20 student nurses are still under the rubble, CONASPEH “has not been destroyed.” He added, “CONASPEH is still alive and committed to its vision ‘to eliminate the religious exclusion of the member churches in the country, and to promote religious, economic, social, moral, and intellectual development.’”
Of the 6,700 member churches of CONASPEH, 2,500 were in the affected earthquake zone, including 128 churches in Cité Soleil. CONASPEH is responding to the disaster utilizing their 7 established regional centers (Carrefour, Petionville, Fontamara, Delmas, Leogane City, Petit Goave City, and Cité Soleil), with 30 regional coordinators. Although the assessment of the damage and needs have not yet been completed, Felix was informed that there is an urgent need for the following items to assist approximately 500,000 people within the affected area: food (rice, beans, oil, and milk), clothing, shoes, personal hygiene items, and cots or mattresses. They are also in desperate need of shelter.
CONASPEH’s leadership wants to respond to the tragedy in two major stages: 1) an emergency response, and 2) reconstruction. The emergency response will consist of the distribution of food, clothing and the other urgent needs listed above. In addition, they would like to secure some trauma counseling as part of this first stage, including training for local pastors and lay leaders who are accompanying the victims.
The reconstruction stage will be a lengthy process which must begin in the very near future, as soon as the most urgent needs are addressed. Although the reconstruction will require building new facilities or repairing the salvageable ones, CONASPEH’s emphasis is on the reconstruction of services to the affected communities, such as: schools, health clinics, the nursing school and the seminary. Since most of the churches in the disaster area had primary and secondary schools which were destroyed, the entire education system that was in place is interrupted. For example, Felix reported that the school that was housed in the CONASPEH National Center (which was totally destroyed), had an enrollment of 450 primary and secondary students. According to CONASPEH leadership, at least $200,000 will be needed to implement these two stages of response to the earthquake disaster.
In the midst of the presentation at the Disciples Center, Felix was able to connect, by phone, with Reverend Patrick Villier, President of CONASPEH and a member of the Global Ministries’ board. Patrick expressed his heartfelt gratitude to both the Disciples and UCC, not only for their immediate response at this time of deepest need, but through accompaniment provided for more than two decades of partnership.
At the conclusion of the gathering, Rev. David Vargas, president of the Disciples’ Division of Overseas Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries, reminded the group that although the situation in Haiti may appear hopeless, we should remember that sometimes, in our own households, a plant may look dead and ready to be discarded when in reality all it needs is just a little water to flourish. David stated, “As a church, let us be sure that we provide, at this moment, the water Haiti needs.”
The event ended with a powerful and moving prayer by the Reverend Todd Adams, Associate General Minister and Vice President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) while holding hands with former Global Ministries’ missionary and himself a Haitian, Daniel Gourdet, as a symbol of our churches solidarity and accompaniment.
The second week of February, Felix will return to Haiti for a second pastoral visit. This time, he will also visit with the leadership of Global Ministries’ partner, House of Hope, whom he was unable to meet last week because they were in a relief related meeting in the Dominican Republic.
For more information on the Haiti earthquake response, you can click here: http://globalministries.org/news/lac/haiti-earthquake-what-we.html You will find on this page the PowerPoint presentation that Felix Ortiz made during the Global Ministries lunch presentation. Please also plan to join Global Ministries and Felix Ortiz for a Haiti update webinar on Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 4pm EST. For all the webinar details, click here: http://globalministries.org/news/webinars/february-6-haiti.html