Update on Hurricane Irma in Florida

By: Caroline Hamilton-Arnold, Associate Director

 "We feel a bit forgotten," said one homeowner south of Daytona, Florida, during my recent visit. After sharing the frustrations of understaffed FEMA offices and the rapidly diminishing numbers of volunteers coming to help with cleanup and rebuild, she said frankly: "I know the situation is worse in Puerto Rico and across Texas, but I need help, too."

After causing extreme damage across the Caribbean as the strongest Atlantic hurricane since Wilma in 2005, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida as a Category 3 hurricane and proceeded up the backbone of the peninsula. Some of the hardest hit areas were not in the path of the eye, but along the east coast, where the "dirty side" of the hurricane caused extensive wind damage and flooding. In Daytona, flooding came from multiple sources: storm surge, rising rivers, and overwhelmed city drainage. This disaster came on the heels of Hurricane Harvey and just before Hurricane Maria.

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Even three weeks after the hurricane, water levels remained precariously high.    Moderate rains overwhelmed the drainage system, causing roads to flood again.

To complicate the situation, Irma hit just short of one year after Hurricane Matthew, which caused devastation in Haiti and across the Caribbean before traveling parallel to Florida's east coast. In Volusia County, which includes the city of Daytona, more than 17,000 households received assistance from FEMA. Of those, 8,000 households were elderly, disabled, or low-income, and needed additional assistance to recover. In partnership with the Disaster Ministries of the United Church of Christ, Week of Compassion has been supporting Volusia Interfaiths/Agencies Networking in Disaster (VIND), which offices at First Christian Church, Daytona. VIND is assisting homeowners who were either displaced from their homes or living in unsafe conditions. They have 200 more homes currently in process.

Many of the families affected by Hurricane Matthew were affected again by Hurricane Irma. Some of the hardest hit were those who had roof damage--the high winds destroyed the tarps, which had been covering holes, preventing water intrusion and further damage. One house--owned by two elderly sisters--has a 10 inch hole in roof caused by Hurricane Harvey. Just a few days before my visit, the ceiling in one room collapsed because of water that rained in during Hurricane Irma.

Week of Compassion will continue to support VIND as they assist families affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The unique situation provides an opportunity--because they are already working to recover from Hurricane Matthew, VIND has infrastructure in place to receive volunteers for repairs and rebuilding. Where it typically takes 6-9 months for communities to be ready to receive volunteers after a disaster, Volusia County is ready and eager for volunteers! (Find out more and register your group here!) Because Hurricanes Harvey and Maria were unprecedented in size and scope, media attention and volunteer efforts have diminished in Florida. Your support is needed!

 

Wildfire in California and Hurricane Harvey Reflection

Situation Update: California Wildfires                                                                                   

Seventeen separate fires are burning in Northern California in the areas of Santa Rosa, Napa, and Sonoma. 13 people are confirmed dead, and 150 persons are reportedly missing, according to reports at midday today. More than 1,500 structures and 73,000 acres have burned. Geyserville Christian Church opened its doors yesterday to take in evacuees.

Smoke is causing health concerns across much of the state. In conversation with Week of Compassion staff, one pastor described the smoke that has blown west from the fires, blanketing the coast and causing the sun to appear red.

Another fire in Orange County, California has burned over 7500 acres and required evacuations for thousands of residents. A report this morning from the Orange County register indicated two dozen homes have burned. Among those evacuated are several members from First Christian Church, Orange, though the church building is currently in a safe area. Disciples-affiliated Chapman University, also in Orange, reports that campus is "safe but smoky." Operations are suspended and classes are cancelled for the health and safety of staff and students.

Week of Compassion will continue to be in communication with regional and local churches and partners to provide support as needed. We join in praying for all who are affected, all who are working to contain the fires, and all who will work for recovery in these communities. 

 

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Reflections  on recent South Texas Pastoral Visit

By Rev. Terri Hord Owens

"How long must your servant endure?"  Psalm 119:84                                                                                                           "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you..."- Isaiah 43:2 (NRSV)

As I traveled to Houston, Corpus Christi, Beaumont, Katy, Aransas Pass, Lake Jackson, and other areas in Texas recently hit by Hurricane Harvey, I was blessed to talk, pray and eat with Disciples pastors and laity.  Week of Compassion had been present on the ground, and everywhere we went, Disciples expressed gratitude for the checks for congregants and members. Their gratitude for your generosity was palpable and abundant.  The presence of regional ministry staff was steady and sure.

In the midst of inexplicable disaster, I shared the importance of lament.  In the Psalms we find expression for every facet of human emotion. David felt close enough to God to on one hand, shake his fist, asking "Why?"  "How long?"  But David always ended in praise.  In a sense, he released his fist, opening his hands in praise to a God whom he knew was always there.  For some, the work of "muck and gut" had already taken place, and they were awaiting final word from insurance adjustors.  In several cases, the estimated damage fell below the policy deductible-yet another blow to those who had flood insurance, yet without benefits.  Some churches were stripped to the studs, having gutted their entire sanctuaries and building.  Many pastors' homes had flooded, and they were managing their own recovery alongside that of their congregation.  "It's not losing the stuff that matters; it's the memories attached to all the stuff", one pastor shared.   Piles of drywall, carpet, furniture and cherished belongings in front of homes everywhere reminded us of just how much had been lost.  And so we hugged, prayed, sang and ate together, reminding each other of God's love in the midst of the storm.

Alongside the affirmation and thanksgiving that God had seen them through, I also saw tears on the faces of saints whose faith in God over a lifetime stood despite their tears.  For some, it was the first time that disaster had touched them.  For others, Harvey represented one of many factors that shape their daily existence, always on the edge of insecurity.  Churches that had been spared extensive damage had organized relief efforts and served as supply stations for the entire community.  Churches whose entire buildings were unusable were allowing themselves to consider how ministry might look differently going forward, how God might use their rebuilt physical resources in a different way for the future.   And as I saw weariness and the fatigue that comes with the trauma of such disaster, I also saw that spirits were reaching upward, desiring to offer God praise.  

There will be a time of rebuilding, a time when Disciples will be welcomed to mission stations to support the long-term recovery.  In the meantime, Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering and other General ministries such as DCEF and Pension Fund, will be there to support the long road to rebuild.  As we lament yet another natural disaster that has ravaged another community, we lift our voices in both lament and praise, knowing that the God we serve is able to hear both, and will be there with us as we together work to reconstruct homes, churches and lives.  God is with us; the storm will not overtake us.                                                

Life Abundant in the Broken Places

By: Virginia White, WoC Contributor

With the floods in South Asia, the earthquake in Mexico, and the hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean, this has been a particularly frightening and heartbreaking month to turn on the news and witness the havoc our planet is wreaking on neighbors near and far. For Week of Compassion, the relief and recovery ministry of our church, which is charged with bringing Christ's comfort, power, and hope to all those suffering from these devastating events, it has been a particularly challenging, and yet, grace-filled, month.

The Velasquez home in Houston

The Velasquez home in Houston

This week our General Minister and President, Rev. Terri Hord Owens, joined Rev. Caroline Hamilton-Arnold (Associate Director, Week of Compassion) and Josh Baird (Director, Disciples Volunteering), along with other Southwest Region leadership, in South Texas to be present with the communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey.  

There they met Disciples like Pastor Hector Velasquez of Iglesia Cristiana El Redentor who have lost much in the storm.  Water seeped in through the exterior walls at Pastor Velasquez's church, leaving major, costly damage, and he and his wife's home was severely flooded. Nevertheless, in the face of these challenges he and his congregation "felt the embrace of the Church" and found strength in that embrace. Both, his family and his congregation received support from Week of Compassion and other ministries: supplies, offers for labor and other assistance from many churches across the country.

Member Angela Wright shows Rev. Owens damage at University Christian in Houston along with Pastor Darnell Fennell

Member Angela Wright shows Rev. Owens damage at University Christian in Houston along with Pastor Darnell Fennell

Others, like Pastor David Dear and lay members at First Christian Church Aransas Pass, suffered only minor damage to their church building, yet nevertheless, decided to fully commit to becoming involved in the broader community recovery efforts. Knowing that "to do nothing would certainly be sinful", David and lay leaders from FCC Aransas Pass organized to provide assistance to their neighbors.

Revs. Owens, Hamilton-Arnold and Baird also met a family from First Christian Church Katy who had been evacuated from their rapidly flooding home by "three random guys in a bass boat." As they waited for over two-weeks for the water to recede from their home, in partnership with their church, they chose to serve their neighbors in need. They sorted donations and welcomed other families seeking shelter. They also delivered supplies in the neighborhood and cleaned out homes as they became accessible. Through it all, they did not let their suffering stop them from responding to the suffering of others.

As the congregation of FCC Katy went deeply into serving their community, they also made new connections with neighbors previously unaffiliated with their congregation. People came into their church to volunteer with the congregation's recovery programs. In the weeks since the storm, congregation members report seeing some of these new faces in worship.

In each of these stories, God's abundant ability to empower, heal, and offer life anew, even in the face of overwhelming devastation, is evident; as is our always present power and our gift, as God's children, to serve and help our neighbors in need.

Pastor Bruce Frogge shows how high the water got in Cypress Creek Christian in Spring,TX

Pastor Bruce Frogge shows how high the water got in Cypress Creek Christian in Spring,TX

One woman, recalling the crews that went out from churches to clean out flooded homes concluded: "I just don't know what people do without a community like a church, without a group of people to come and help."

Her statement underscores just how vital our words and our actions as the Church-as those who are committed to bringing the good news of resurrection to places of destruction and death-are, especially after disasters. In the short-run we are there to provide shelter, prayer, and sustenance; in the long-run we are there to stand with communities as they rebuild and reimagine their livelihoods and lives together, providing supplies, labor, and ongoing encouragement.

Yet, with so many disasters happening, seemingly constantly, it is easy to become discouraged.

As I write this, we know that Hurricane Maria has devastated Puerto Rico, where power has been knocked out for 3.5 million people, and is expected to remain out for 3 to 6 months. We do not yet know the numbers of lives that have been lost; and the situation continues to develop. Maria continues to strengthen over warm water, endangering other low-lying islands. We know that over 200 lives were lost in Mexico City earlier this week, while more remain injured in hospitals, and entire neighborhoods have been destroyed. We know that earlier this month, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, millions in Florida suffered from heat, darkness, and hunger, and hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed. We are right to mourn for these pains and losses, even as we also take solace in the fact that we are present there, and can continue to be present there, mending and healing, through Week of Compassion.

As Rev. Owens has encountered families impacted by Harvey in Houston, she has drawn from the wisdom of the Psalms. She says, "We see in the Psalms an affirmation of our full range of human emotions. We can cry, and yell, and shake our fists and ask God, 'how long, O Lord?' Yet, at the end of the Psalms David releases his fist in praise--affirming that God is who God says God is, that God is with us."

We know that God is with us, and God is who God says God is, when we experience God's presence even in the midst of our suffering. Sometimes this looks like a helping hand, sometimes it looks like a check from Week of Compassion, sometimes it looks like a phone call, checking-in, offering help.

Just as it is currently in south Texas, Week of Compassion has been in contact with our partners in Mexico and Florida, assessing the damage, and offering assistance as needs are identified. Currently, Week of Compassion is seeking contact with partners in Puerto Rico and will be providing assistance there in the months and years of recovery ahead.

Inspired by God's enduring, loving, presence, Week of Compassion, and by extension, ourselves, will remain in these places for the long-haul. Though the obstacles we face are immense, if we choose to act together in hope, inspired by God's abundant love, and to give of ourselves and resources graciously, then we need not despair, but will find life even in the most broken places. Thanks be to God.

 

Update on recent Hurricanes and Reflection on Hospitality

Update on Harvey and Irma:

Hurricane Irma:

Week of Compassion partners are assessing the extensive damage in Cuba. We have set aside funds to support the coming appeal, once response plans are in place.

Power outages and flooding continue in Florida and along the southeast coast. Week of Compassion is working with regional leadership to assess the effects of Irma on our Disciples congregations. Reports of roof damage and flooding at homes and church buildings have already begun, and we anticipate many more as people are able to return from evacuation locations. Congregations across Florida and the southeast continue to offer shelter and assistance to their communities, with support from regional leadership.

Week of Compassion has an ongoing relationship with the Volusia Interfaiths/Agencies Networking in Disaster, where we are supporting long-term recovery from Hurricane Matthew. We have reached out to offer additional assistance for additional efforts responding to Irma.

Hurricane Harvey:

In the last week, Week of Compassion has distributed over $100,000 in solidarity grants to households and churches through the Coastal Plains Area and Southwest Region. Additionally, our staff has provided information and pastoral support to Disciples congregations making significant impact in their local areas. Our congregations span the impact zone--from Corpus Christi, Aransas Pass, and Victoria in the west, to Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange in the east; from Galveston and Texas City in the south, to Conroe and Kingwood in the north. Disciples have distributed more than 1000 clean up buckets and have helped muck out dozens of houses. Congregations have collected school supplies, hosted meals, and offered prayer for and with their neighbors.

Together with Disciples Volunteering and local and regional leaders, Week of Compassion is planning for long-term recovery support and volunteer opportunities.

 

Seminarian Foster Frimpong shares in the feast provided in the Saenam village of West Timor.Photo by Kyle McDougall

Seminarian Foster Frimpong shares in the feast provided in the Saenam village of West Timor.Photo by Kyle McDougall

Hospitality - Reflection on a recent visit to Indonesia

Last month, a group of nine Disciples seminarians and recently ordained clergy participated in an immersion experience with Week of Compassion partners in Indonesia. Rev. Miriam Gentle of the Capital Region offered this reflection as part of a recent sermon.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is our example for what welcoming the stranger means.Jesus entered humanity and became human. In the Incarnation, Jesus humbled himself, becoming vulnerable.

Even as he humbled himself, he invited others into a relational experience; strangers, Samaritans, women, tax collectors. He welcomed little children, who had no status in society, and placed them on his lap and proclaimed that to them belonged the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16)

Jesus even broke bread with the person who would eventually betray him.

God’s welcome was extended to all.

As scripture shows us, hospitality is about giving and receiving.

It’s about relationships and mutuality.

Mutuality means that we need to welcome others, but we also need to be humble and vulnerable enough to allow others to welcome us.

I experienced a bit of this mutuality in my recent visit to Indonesia. I traveled with a group of seminarians and newly ordained clergy. We weren’t there to do mission work, dig wells, or build schools. Our task was simply to observe the work that was being done by Week of Compassion, the Disciples’ relief, refugee and sustainable-development mission fund, partnering with Church World Service working with food insecurity and disaster risk management.

As our group of ten traveled to remote villages, I felt like those early apostles, sent out two by two, traveling light, carrying God’s love in our hearts, being welcomed by strangers.

On the island of West Timor, we traveled for hours up a winding mountain road. Breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean on one side. We drove until the cars could no longer travel up the mountain. Then we walked up a rocky hill. A bit winded and weary, I came upon a humble cement block building nestled among the trees. In contrast to the gray and dusty cement block building, brightly colored woven cloths woven by the women of the village, hung neatly in rows.

We climbed the steps and entered the building, their church. I was surprised to see the entire village had gathered to greet us. As we were ushered to the front, a place of honor, the children of the village began to sing. The words, in Indonesian were not ones I understood, but the tune, “Amazing Grace” gave me all I needed to translate. God’s love is here and you are welcome in God’s name. Salam! Welcome! Peace be unto you!

I felt humbled, honored, and loved. God was on that mountain. God was there in our midst. We were offered food to eat from what little they had. Fish, rice, bananas. Even in scarcity, they welcomed us lavishing their food, their water, and their gifts of beautifully woven scarves, on us.

True hospitality is choosing to see another person as a child of God. When we enter into relationships with others, guided by respect, love, and mutuality, we begin to unfold God’s kingdom on earth and live into our calling of “doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly” with God and all creation.

A Bridge to the Future in Myanmar

Photo by CWS

Photo by CWS

Photo by CWS

Photo by CWS

By CWS

It’s a two-hour drive from Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar (Burma) out to Maubin Township. From the town of Maubin it’s another hour drive to Inn Ma Su village. You can make that drive in the dry season. During the rainy season between July and September, the roads between Maubin and Inn Ma Su flood, and your only option is a 90-minute boat ride. About 1,400 people live in Inn Ma Su and the nearby villages of Kyone Cha, Ywar Ma and Sint Ku.

The rainy season presents challenges and risks for everyone, including children. During the dry season, it takes the children from Inn Ma Su about 40 minutes each way to walk to and from school. Not only does it take much longer in the rainy season, but it is also dangerous because of muddy paths and both standing and moving water. During the height of the rainy season children can’t walk to school at all – they have to be taken by boat. For both the children and their families, this time-consuming solution adds to the danger.

Something needed to change to help students get to school. In early 2017, with support from Week of Compassion, Church World Service began to plan and construct a new, 90-foot concrete bridge so that school children could access the main road more safely and easily.  The CWS team in Myanmar worked with village leaders and the community’s Water and Sanitation Committee to choose a bridge design – one that included hand rails and a safe surface – and draw up construction plans and a budget. The community committed to share the cost of the bridge by donating labor.

Work on the new bridge began in March. A CWS engineer worked with skilled masons and community volunteers to ensure quality work for safety and sustainability. The bridge was completed in April, in time for a mid-May inauguration and celebration.

While the bridge was designed with students in mind, its benefits are far reaching for the people of Inn Ma Su. Ma Kaythi, a mother of three, told us, “I feel so happy that we have the bridge because I do not worry any more about my kids walking through the creek when they go to and from school. Now, they can go safely within a shorter time. The bridge also encourages women like me to go to the Health Center for medical care and treatment because it is now much less difficult and time-saving.”

Rejoice and be glad, for God has done great things!

Today we celebrate God's faithfulness, your generosity, and the
amazing work your gifts have enabled over the last quarter. From
offering famine relief in Nigeria and across the Horn of Africa, to
supporting refugees and displaced persons, to providing economic
opportunities for women and girls, to rebuilding homes destroyed
by floods and tornadoes in the United States, Week of Compassion
partners continue to make a difference in the world.

Below, you will find the 2017 Second Quarter Report as well as
information about how to connect with Week of Compassion and
our partners at the 2017 General Assembly in Indianapolis, IN.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Throughout the Assembly, Week of Compassion staff and committee members (present and former) will be at our booth in the exhibit hall. Several of our partners will also have representatives in the booth, with some great stories to share! Come by and hear about the ways we are present for our neighbors near and far!

We hope to see you, also, at the Week of Compassion breakfast on Tuesday morning, with special guest Laila Alawa. Ms. Alawa is the founder and CEO of The Tempest and also works in public relations and social media branding for NuDay Syria, a non-profit organization bringing humanitarian aid to people in Syria and the surrounding countries displaced by the ongoing civil war. On-site tickets for the breakfast will be limited; buy your ticket in advance here.

 

SECOND QUARTER RESPONSES

Photo by Brethren Disaster Ministries

Photo by Brethren Disaster Ministries

DISASTER RELIEF AND EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE

Africa
Kenya, Drought Relief
Nigeria, Crisis Fund
East Asia and the Pacific
Philippines, Emergency Support
Middle East and Europe
Greece, Refugee Response
Jordan, Refugee Response
Lebanon, Refugee Response
Syria, Internally Displaced Response (2)
North America
USA, Refugee Response
Alabama, Storm Relief
Arkansas, Storm Relief (2)
California, Emergency Support
California, Long-Term Wildfire Recovery
Kansas, Fire Recovery
Kentucky, Storm Relief (2)
Louisiana, Long-Term Flood Recovery
Michigan, Refugee Response
Missouri, Storm Recovery (3)
North Carolina, Hurricane Matthew Long-Term Recovery (4)
Oklahoma, Tornado Relief
Tennessee, Storm Relief (2)
Texas, Long-Term Tornado Recovery and Mission Station support
Texas, Storm Relief
Texas, Emergency Support

DEVELOPMENT, LONG-TERM RECOVERY AND REHABILITATION

Africa
DR Congo, Girl's Advocacy & Leadership
DR Congo, Women's Empowerment
Kenya, Emergency Drought Support
Liberia, Water Program Support
Nigeria, Famine Support
Sierra Leone, Water Program Support
Latin America and the Pacific
Chili, Forest Fire Prevention
Haiti; Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene
Middle East and Europe
Bosnia & Herzegovina, Renewable Energy
Georgia, Renewable Energy
Israel/Palestine, Sustainable Agriculture
Moldova, Renewable Energy
Southern Asia
Indonesia, Women & Girl's Empowerment
 

Start at the Resurrection

A Reflection for Easter by Associate Director, Rev. Caroline Hamilton-Arnold

Light streams in the dome at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Light streams in the dome at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

In the fall of last year, I had the opportunity to travel with a Global Ministries delegation to visit many of our partners in the Middle East. The itinerary was full - four countries in less than fourteen days. Most of our days were spent witnessing the work and receiving the stories of partners who are working to provide trauma care to children, to equip young women to organize on behalf of their communities, to ensure refugees have the supplies they need for the coming winter, and to stand in witness against abuses and atrocities. Though we spent little time exploring "holy sites," it was a deeply sacred experience.

On our last morning in Jerusalem, we decided to participate in a tradition that stretches back centuries and make the pilgrimage along the Via Dolorosa - the journey Jesus made between Pilate's court and the cross on Golgatha. The path, which people have walked in some form for hundreds of years, traditionally begins at the site of Jesus' conviction at ends at the site of the garden tomb.

We discovered, however, that on the day of our travel, the Allenby Bridge between Israel-Palestine and Jordan would be closing early for observances of Rosh Hashana. In order to make the pilgrimage and still reach the border crossing before it closed, we determined to walk the path in reverse. Rather than begin at the approximate site of the Pilate's court and travel west, we would begin at the end, so to speak, at the garden tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Inside the church, built on the site that tradition identifies at the tomb where Jesus was laid, are six unique chapels for the six branches of orthodox Christianity. As we were there on a Sunday morning, services were held in these chapels. Coptic songs blended with Armenian chants and Roman Catholic liturgy, all mingling in air perfumed by incense burned by the Greek Orthodox priest. The candles of thousands of worshipers and pilgrims lit the space with a holy, dancing light. Protestants and Roman Catholics refer to the place as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, meaning the church of the holy tomb, but in that moment the Orthodox name seemed more fitting - the Church of the Resurrection.

It was from this sacred space, where Christians from around the world converged to praise the Risen Christ, that we began our pilgrimage-in-reverse. The inverted order is theologically appropriate, in a way, for the message of Easter, of life overcoming death, upends our expectation of the way things progress. We expect beginnings to precede endings. Yet, the resurrection declares that (to quote the popular hymn) "in our end is our beginning." The cycle and sense of the Christian story is of beginnings and endings and new beginnings.

As we made our way along the Via Dolorosa, each stop and encounter filtered through our experience of beginning at the end. The incense clung to our clothes, bringing the perfume of the resurrection into the moments of suffering and grief. We did not avoid the other parts of the road or the story. We confronted the death, the betrayal, and the corrupt and brutal systems that condemned Christ to the cross, but we did so from a place of the profound hope of Easter morning.

Our world can feel like one, long via dolorosa, a never-ending way of suffering. The work of Week of Compassion puts us in proximity to and relationship with those who are struggling most severely. Human corruption and conflict drive people from their homes and exacerbate shortages of food and water. The oceans are rising, and rain patterns are changing, putting vulnerable populations at even greater risk. Children continue to live in hunger; parents continue to live in fear of what tomorrow may bring.

We come to this work, however, having first been to the place of resurrection. Which means, we come to this work with the perspective of hope, of faith in what God is doing and can do. Amidst the terrors of war, our partners are cultivating peace - through art in Bethlehem and education along the Syrian border. In the midst of conflict and severe drought in the Horn of Africa, people receive life saving food and water. Along with the stories of hunger are the stories of orange trees planted in Nicaragua, now bearing abundant fruit.

To start at the resurrection is to begin always from a place of life rather than death, a place of hope rather than resignation, a place of anticipating abundance rather than fearing scarcity. In this blessed Easter season, may you experience the hope of the risen Christ, and may your journeys start at the resurrection.