Methodist ministers off to Sri Lanka to aid tsunami work

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

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

The three are going after a request came via the World ChurchOffice from the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka. Christine Elliott,the Asia Pacific Secretary made contact with the President ofConference, Rev Will Morrey, who responded quickly by asking anumber of ministers if they would be prepared to act on behalf ofthe President and the Conference in support of a partner church.Expressing his delight at the positive and enthusiastic response ofthe ministers the President said, "It is an important practicalexpression of our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in SriLanka. Judith, Philip and Soba will offer a rich range of pastoralexperience and skills to all they meet while also releasing othersfor ministry in the neediest areas."
When the tsunami and earthquake struck the region, the MethodistRelief and Development Fund (MRDF) launched an appeal that has sofar raised over £500,000. The World Church Office has also been intouch with churches across the region, and Will, along with VicePresident 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 andchurches in the region. 'The church leaders and ministers in thedevastated areas are coming under incredible strain as they bothwork to help rebuild communities while having to console andsupport those who have lost friends and relatives. Many have had tobury 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 worstdamaged areas.'

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

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

The Rev Soba Sinnathamby has been a minister in the BritishMethodist Church since 1998 and is currently based in Cardiff. Hecame to Britain from Sri Lanka in 1990, and studied for hisdivinity degree at the University of Wales at Bangor. He says "Idon'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 thecountry, but I will go where the church sends me."

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

All three ministers will leave in the next two weeks, althoughdetails are still being finalised. They expect to stay for abouttwo months, but The Methodist Church is committed to helping thewhole region for years to come. "We will take our lead from PartnerChurches and support them in whatever ways we can and when they askus to", says Christine Elliott. "It will be years before some ofthese regions are back to where they were, but even before thistragedy there were many issues - from civil conflict and HIV/AIDSto poverty and debt relief - that our partners have been engagedwith and we have been supporting them: that work continues."

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

MRDF appeal

The MRDF tsunamiappeal was launched on December 27 and has so far raised over£500,000, with more coming in each day. "The response has beenincredible," says Supporter Relations Co-ordinator Kevin Fray, "andwe are tremendously grateful." MRDF has channelled much of thefunds given through Action byChurches Together (ACT), which has enabled partner churches andagencies to quickly buy food, medicines, shelter and housingmaterials and other items as needed. Reflecting the need forlong-term support, the ACT tsunami appeal will stay open until theend of 2006.

"We are heartened by the response people have made to thisappeal, 'says Kevin Fray, "but we also ask that people rememberother parts of the world that have received less coverage. Somaliawas also affected by the tsunami, and Africa as a whole still needslong-term support, and action to free it from heavy debt and unfairtrade practices."

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

The Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) began workingin the San Francisco Libre area of Nicaragua in 1999, in theaftermath of Hurricane Mitch.  Although casualties weretreated and houses rebuilt, the long term affect of the disastermeans that those who were already poor now have to struggle evenharder to make a living.  Emergency grants from MRDF grew intolong term relationships with local partner organisations, such asMujer y Comunidad (Women and Community). 

Women work hard; not only in the household, responsible for foodand childcare, but also alone, or alongside their husbands, assmall scale farmers.  There is a huge demand among women foraffordable health care which is locally available, alongside ahunger for knowledge, so that they can treat their own ailments andmonitor 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 healthcareprogramme.  Health promoters also run workshops onpreventative healthcare, such as how to perform simple breastcancer checks, and advise parents on good nutrition for theirchildren, even on a low income. 

Kopila is a community-based organisation working in partnershipwith MRDF to encourage education in Nepali villages. 'Out ofSchool' non-formal education classes are one element of their work,but Kopila particularly strives to make mainstream educationavailable to underprivileged children excluded because of povertyor disability.  Parents' groups enable adults in the communityto meet, share problems and parenting tips, discuss social issueslike immunization campaigns, collect savings and make loans togroup members. The groups fundraise and encourage schoolattendance, and meeting together empowers communitymembers.   A video, In All Its Fullness, is availablefrom MRDF (£6) featuring Kopila's work.

Mane Sunar (12) has been attending Bal Kalyan Primary School fortwo years, though he had never been to school before. He says: "Atschool we can study and play. I like school. Before I worked downby the river, fetching sand and stones (to sell to constructioncompanies). The Kopila community worker came to my house and talkedto my parents about going to school. She said if I study well I canget a good job and a good life. I won't always have to collectsand."