Methodist ministers off to Sri Lanka to aid tsunami work

Trio to enable Sri Lanka church to send ministers to coastal areas
MRDF appeal passes £500,000 mark
Church committed to supporting affected areas for "as long as it takes" while not neglecting other needy areas

Three Methodist ministers are to go to Sri Lanka at the request of the church there. The Rev Philip Chapman, Rev Judith Chapman and Rev Soba Sinnathamby are ready to go to Colombo. They will work in the Sri Lankan capital, releasing ministers there to go to the tsunami-hit areas in the north and east of the country.

The three are going after a request came via the World Church Office from the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka. Christine Elliott, the Asia Pacific Secretary made contact with the President of Conference, Rev Will Morrey, who responded quickly by asking a number of ministers if they would be prepared to act on behalf of the President and the Conference in support of a partner church. Expressing his delight at the positive and enthusiastic response of the ministers the President said, "It is an important practical expression of our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Sri Lanka. Judith, Philip and Soba will offer a rich range of pastoral experience and skills to all they meet while also releasing others for ministry in the neediest areas."
 
When the tsunami and earthquake struck the region, the Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) launched an appeal that has so far raised over £500,000. The World Church Office has also been in touch with churches across the region, and Will, along with Vice President Myrtle Poxon, sent messages of support and prayer.

Christine Elliott, Methodist World Church Secretary for Asia & the Pacific, has been in regular contact with partners and churches in the region. 'The church leaders and ministers in the devastated areas are coming under incredible strain as they both work to help rebuild communities while having to console and support those who have lost friends and relatives. Many have had to bury their own loved ones, and the strain on them is incredible. The Sri Lankan church asked if we could send ministers to Colombo, releasing local Sri Lankan ministers to go to help in the worst damaged areas.'

Judith and Philip Chapman are no strangers to overseas service. Philip began work in the Ministry in 1964 and Judith in 1993, and they spent 14 years working in Cote D'Ivoire. After they returned to the UK they worked in London, South Wales, West Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Since retirement they have lived in Herefordshire.

"There is nobody in Sri Lanka who is not deeply affected by this tragedy," says Philip. "We had no hesitation when we were asked if we would go to Colombo. We will stand in for ministers who can go and help directly. Although we don't know what the situation is like, we are happy to be able to help in any way we can. We are responding in a Christian way to this human situation."

The Rev Soba Sinnathamby has been a minister in the British Methodist Church since 1998 and is currently based in Cardiff. He came to Britain from Sri Lanka in 1990, and studied for his divinity degree at the University of Wales at Bangor. He says "I don't yet know where I will be working when I return to Sri Lanka. I am a Tamil and so could help directly in those parts of the country, but I will go where the church sends me."

Soba comes from the village of Kallar on the east coast of Sri Lanka, which was badly hit by the tsunami. His sisters still live there, and his aunt died in the disaster.

All three ministers will leave in the next two weeks, although details are still being finalised. They expect to stay for about two months, but The Methodist Church is committed to helping the whole region for years to come. "We will take our lead from Partner Churches and support them in whatever ways we can and when they ask us to", says Christine Elliott. "It will be years before some of these regions are back to where they were, but even before this tragedy there were many issues - from civil conflict and HIV/AIDS to poverty and debt relief - that our partners have been engaged with and we have been supporting them: that work continues."

"It is also important to remember that there are other parts of the world still recovering from disasters," says Christine. "The Caribbean was badly hit by hurricanes last year; the Sudanese people are caught in a brutal situation, and across the world people are dying unnecessarily from the effects of poverty. This is why we are also backing the Make Poverty History campaign."

MRDF appeal

The MRDF tsunami appeal was launched on December 27 and has so far raised over £500,000, with more coming in each day. "The response has been incredible," says Supporter Relations Co-ordinator Kevin Fray, "and we are tremendously grateful." MRDF has channelled much of the funds given through Action by Churches Together (ACT), which has enabled partner churches and agencies to quickly buy food, medicines, shelter and housing materials and other items as needed. Reflecting the need for long-term support, the ACT tsunami appeal will stay open until the end of 2006.

"We are heartened by the response people have made to this appeal, 'says Kevin Fray, "but we also ask that people remember other parts of the world that have received less coverage. Somalia was also affected by the tsunami, and Africa as a whole still needs long-term support, and action to free it from heavy debt and unfair trade practices."

Kevin adds: "MRDF's on-going general work continues in addition to the tsunami relief effort. None of our other projects has been cut or under-funded as a result of the tsunami appeal: in fact, some people have given specifically to the general fund in order to support our on-going work in Africa, Asia, Latin America or elsewhere."

The Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) began working in the San Francisco Libre area of Nicaragua in 1999, in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch.  Although casualties were treated and houses rebuilt, the long term affect of the disaster means that those who were already poor now have to struggle even harder to make a living.  Emergency grants from MRDF grew into long term relationships with local partner organisations, such as Mujer y Comunidad (Women and Community). 

Women work hard; not only in the household, responsible for food and childcare, but also alone, or alongside their husbands, as small scale farmers.  There is a huge demand among women for affordable health care which is locally available, alongside a hunger for knowledge, so that they can treat their own ailments and monitor their own health.  In response, Mujer y Comunidad (MYC) has launched a project called Health in Women's Hands.  Natural medicines are only one part of MYC's overall healthcare programme.  Health promoters also run workshops on preventative healthcare, such as how to perform simple breast cancer checks, and advise parents on good nutrition for their children, even on a low income. 

Kopila is a community-based organisation working in partnership with MRDF to encourage education in Nepali villages. 'Out of School' non-formal education classes are one element of their work, but Kopila particularly strives to make mainstream education available to underprivileged children excluded because of poverty or disability.  Parents' groups enable adults in the community to meet, share problems and parenting tips, discuss social issues like immunization campaigns, collect savings and make loans to group members. The groups fundraise and encourage school attendance, and meeting together empowers community members.   A video, In All Its Fullness, is available from MRDF (£6) featuring Kopila's work.

Mane Sunar (12) has been attending Bal Kalyan Primary School for two years, though he had never been to school before. He says: "At school we can study and play. I like school. Before I worked down by the river, fetching sand and stones (to sell to construction companies). The Kopila community worker came to my house and talked to my parents about going to school. She said if I study well I can get a good job and a good life. I won't always have to collect sand."

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