Immanuel -- “God with us” -- In all times, in all places. A Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Vy Nguyen, Executive Director, Week of Compassion

As we begin the season of Advent and anticipate the celebration of God coming to live among among us, I am remembering a powerful experience of Immanuel. In early October, I and other General Ministries representatives -- including our own General Minister and President, Rev. Teresa Hord Owens -- were in South Texas where we were indeed powerfully reminded of Immanuel, that God is always and ever with us. 

We met an amazing five-week-old baby girl whose mother named her “Emmanuel.” Emmanuel is a beautiful child, and her mother loves her so much, and we understood why: her small fingers, her tiny nose, her eyes staring at us as we held her in our arms. She is an amazing gift to her mother and to this world, for she is a powerful reminder of God in our midst.

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(Rev. Terri Hord Owens holds a child who is being hosted by Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries. Photo: SGSM)


You see, her mother (whose identity is hidden for her protection) had to flee the Republic of the Congo because of severe violence, and she was able to escape her country. During her journey she was sexually assaulted. She is currently seeking protection and asylum along our borders. She has gone through so much to get here, and yet, she has a long way to go, still. In the midst of her struggle, her child is her love, her child is her sign that God is yet with her, her “Immanuel.”

Emmanuel and her mother are being sheltered by a Week of Compassion partner, Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries, supported by your Week of Compassion gifts. We are assisting the mother and child in their request for refugee status. That is a long process, so in the meantime, your dollars to Week of Compassion are taking good care of both of them—providing food, clothes, legal assistance, and medical attention.

It is a long and difficult journey ahead for Emmanuel and her mother. But they are not alone on their journey. Your financial support to Week of Compassion witnesses to a Church that is walking with Emmanuel and her mother as they seek a community of peace and transformation. The money you give to Week of Compassion enables us to stand with the millions of people around the world who are displaced by violence, by political conflict, by economic oppression, and by natural disasters.

Because of your gifts to Week of Compassion, they are not alone. 

Your gifts are signs of God-with-us, of Immanuel. Offering clean water, providing medical supplies, protecting and caring for people like Emmanuel and her mother. By the sharing of our resources, along the way in our journey, we are reminded of our God—a God who is ever with us. 

  A volunteer sorts donated hygiene supplies at Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries. Photo: SGSM

A volunteer sorts donated hygiene supplies at Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries. Photo: SGSM

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The Quiet Crisis--Assisting Displaced Venezuelans

Week of Compassion partner Church World Service (CWS) notes that in the last four years, more than one-and-a-half million Venezuelans have fled their country in what is now the “largest humanitarian crisis and exodus in Western Hemisphere history.” Martin Coria,CWS staff member, says “Most Venezuelan migrants are escaping a collapsed economy (1.000.000 annual inflation!) where buying nutritious food and medicines, access to health care and meeting basic needs is increasingly difficult… I heard many testimonies of Venezuelans who even after working all week full-time could not afford to buy one day´s nutritious meal for their family.” Complicating the situation is that most of these migrants have fled to Colombia, a country that itself has experienced its own challenges in recent years, including war and violence, human rights violations, internal displacement, and poverty.

  Opportunities for recreation are important for the children of refugees.    Photo: CWS

Opportunities for recreation are important for the children of refugees.

Photo: CWS

Week of Compassion is responding to this plight in several ways, particularly assisting those Colombian families who are taking in displaced Venezuelans, despite their own struggles. In the border town of Saravena, a carefully designed humanitarian assistance and support project is directly serving five hundred Venezuelan migrants with vouchers for both food and hygiene, as well as livelihood support through the purchase of needed tools for migrants to work. In addition, families receive micro-business development training, and women and girls receive counseling on gender-based violence and access to legal and psychosocial support services. These programs are making a huge difference in the lives of these migrant families!  

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Of his recent visit to Saravena, Martin Coria says, “I am grateful for the Colombian host families, most of whom were displaced themselves, whose countless acts of kindness towards their new neighbors inspire me… I’m grateful for the supporting members of CWS who – once again! – responded quickly and compassionately to an invitation to join this ecumenical response. In a world and region increasingly polarized and divided, we are united in putting dignity and compassion first.”

Amen! Through your partnership and prayers, you are continuing to help put dignity and compassion first. Thank you!

Update on Hurricane Michael

We are still monitoring the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael. Our partners at Children’s Disaster Services have deployed two child-care teams to Panama City, and we are providing support for distribution of food, water, and basic supplies through Primera Iglesia Cristiana in Fort Walton Beach, FL. We have also developed a Worship Resources page that you may find helpful in times of disaster; you can find that page here:

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Dear Church,

Once again we find ourselves holding our breath as we watch another calamitous storm batter our brothers and sisters.  This time the storm’s name is Michael, but it has quickly followed upon Florence in the southeast United States, and Lane, Norman, and Olivia in Hawaii.  And, of course, we also recall our extended family in Asia as Typhoons Mangkhut and Jebi battered The Philippines and Taiwan, along with the horrific damage done in Indonesia by the recent earthquake and tsunami.  It has been a hard, hard year for too many of our kin around the world!

The reality is that we may be tempted, in the face of such a list (and it is only a small portion of this year’s disasters) to “compassion fatigue,” to walling off our hearts to so much hurt and pain.  I hope, though, that we won’t and that we will pray God’s help to continue to want to know how to assist those in any part of the world who are caught up in these terrible storms.

And so we need to pray: 

  • For ourselves, that we “would not grow weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9),

  •  For all those affected by Hurricane Michael (which as of this writing has turned far worse than anyone predicted),

  • For those who have lost lives and loved ones, those who have had their homes battered and bludgeoned, those who have fled and live in fear of what they will return to.

We also pray in thanksgiving for all those first responders who often risk their own lives to help:  police and paramedics, firefighters and FEMA workers, doctors, nurses, and pastors, and so many more.  May God grant them both courage and patience in the midst of overwhelming need.

We don’t fully know the effects of Hurricane Michael as of this writing, nor do we have many reports from Disciples congregations or families who may have been affected.  We are aware of a few Disciples congregations who seem to have fared okay – and are already working on how they can help their neighbors! We will doubtlessly hear more specifics in the coming days.  But please know that Week of Compassion is staying in close touch with Disciples and ecumenical partners in the area as well as working closely with our General Ministry partners and our General Minister and President Teresa Hord Owens to coordinate information and relief efforts.

Importantly, as our partners begin to plan for long-term response, we need your continued support and partnership that we may continue to offer assistance, short-term and long-term, wherever disaster strikes.  I know that many will want to go to Florida and Georgia to assist, but please understand that it is too soon to do so and that there will be ample opportunity later for volunteers. Right now the best thing you can do is “stay, pray, and donate.”  You may donate through Week of Compassion’s website designated for Hurricane Relief or through your local congregation with the same designation. In the weeks and months ahead, as we get more information on the impact of the storm, we will provide updates on our social media; I hope you’ll follow Week of Compassion on Facebook or Twitter to receive these updates.

With gratitude for your partnership,

Rev. Vy Nguyen, Executive Director

Week of Compassion

Earthquake and Tsunami Strike Indonesia With Deadly Power

On the evening of Friday, September 28 (local time), the central Sulawesi area of Indonesia was hit by a magnitude 7.4 earthquake which triggered a 10-to-20-foot tsunami along the coastal areas. The Indonesian Disaster Management Agency says that dozens of buildings collapsed during the quake and ensuing deluge, and the current death toll stands at over 1200. Almost 50,000 people have been displaced from their homes. 

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The sheer destructive power of earthquake-driven tsunamis is almost impossible to describe. 

Thousands of people in Indonesia have once again been struck by the deadly combination of earthquake and tsunami, even as parts of the country are still in long-term recovery from the 2004 tsunami. News reports tell of “terrified survivors huddled in a devastated city rocked by aftershocks, and of entire houses being sucked into the ground, as the full scale of Friday’s earthquake and tsunami disaster begins to emerge.” Overwhelmed by the number of dead, hundreds of bodies were buried in mass graves to prevent the outbreak of disease as critical transportation and communication infrastructures were damaged, impeding the efforts of rescue and recovery workers and the receipt of emergency aid.  NPR reports that “Thousands of people began camping at the airport over the weekend, hoping to leave. But the airport has been operating at partial capacity since it reopened. And as they wait for a chance to fly out, people are also enduring heat of more the 90 degrees, with little to sustain them.” Electricity continues to be out in the area; portable generators are being airlifted in but the damage to the local airport has slowed that effort.

Our partner, ACT Alliance, is on the ground and currently accessing the damage and coordinating relief efforts. They note that thousands of persons are in a “desperate situation, with many unmet vital humanitarian needs such as access to sufficient food , safe shelter and basic non-food items, basic health services and facilities, safe drinking water, as well as sanitation and hygiene infrastructure.” Together, with Indonesian officials and other agencies, Week of Compassion will work with partners, including ACT Alliance, in helping distribute emergency assistance in a variety of forms in the days and weeks ahead.

May we lift this situation before God in prayer, especially for the people impacted by this disaster, for the tireless first responders, and for all who will offer help and hope in the coming months and years:

“O God of all who are weary, all who are hurting, all who are grieving, we give you thanks for all those responding to assist our brothers and sisters in Indonesia as they deal yet again with the calamity of earthquake and tsunami. Be with those who are hurting, those who mourn, those who have lost homes and loved ones; hold them up, comfort them, never leave them. Amen”

Life is Warmer, Safer, and Healthier in Eastern Europe

Warfare and strife have too long been the companions of many who live in Eastern Europe where poverty is rampant. In Georgia, Moldova, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, too many children study in under-heated classrooms and learn by candlelight; people use polluting and health-damaging fuels for heating and cooking; and women bear the burden of food preparation, cooking and heating the home, which negatively impacts their health, and limits educational and livelihood opportunities. Many remote rural areas still lack electricity and adequate sanitation services. But life for many is now warmer, safer, and healthier thanks to Week of Compassion partner Church World Service’s Renewable Energy Technologies (RET) program.

One of those families for whom life is now a little brighter is the Vladusic family, who received a new solar cell system. The family lives in the village of Donji Tiskovac in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The family returned to their ancestral home in 2004 from Serbia, where they fled during the war. In Tiskovac, there is no electricity. Dragan is the only son in the small family of three and is the only child in the village. Dragan travels 60 kilometers to school and back each day for his only connection to peers and learning. By providing electricity to people in rural areas like Tiskovac, CWS has helped the Vladusic family and other families to stay on their land and prosper from it and for their children to live and learn in decent conditions.

The RET program has now trained over 600 people in constructing and maintaining renewable energy technologies including solar dryers, solar electricity production, solar house heating systems, fuel-efficient stoves and water heating. Other initiatives include better sanitation, sustainable agriculture, soil and water protection, safer waste management, and collecting and drying wild fruits and medicinal plants. In four schools and summer camps in Moldova (the poorest country in Europe, where almost 50% of the inhabitants live below the poverty line), solar water heating systems were installed that benefited almost 1800 children. Families in Bosnia and Herzegovina received solar cells that made possible electricity and adequate and sanitary hot water.

A priority in all areas of CWS’ work is to empower vulnerable women (heads of households, unemployed with little/no access to other income generating activities). More than 60% of beneficiaries are women. The burden of collecting firewood and heating water largely falls to women, who care for the basic needs of the households. Labor-saving devices are clearly a priority for rural women, given the inordinate amount of time and energy that they expend on household work. Fuel efficient stoves and solar water heaters provide significant time savings to women.

Thanks to your gifts to Week of Compassion, life for many families is (literally!) brighter, warmer, and less trapped by poverty.

  School children benefit from the availability of hot water. Photo Credit CWS

School children benefit from the availability of hot water. Photo Credit CWS

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Worship Resources In Response to Hurricane Florence

While we all hope and pray that the destructive impact of Hurricane Florence will be less than predicted, we also want to make available to you worship resources for this Sunday that you may wish to use in response.

Pray, Stay, and Give: In the midst of this or any natural disaster, Week of Compassion invites you to PRAY for those affected and those who are first responders, STAY -- as much as you might want to go the the disaster area to help your presence can actually cause more harm than good right now (and there will be plenty of opportunities as recovery gets underway), and GIVE:  Give through your congregation or through Week of Compassion’s website; 100% of your gifts designated for Hurricane Relief will go to that cause.

Below you will find worship resources for this Sunday that may help you and your congregation come before God in prayer for all those affected by Hurricane Florence.

Worship Resources for Hurricane Florence


Call to Worship     Adapted from Psalm 46

Leader: God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.  Therefore we will not fear.

People:  Though the earth give way, though the seas roar, though the winds howl in their fury.

Leader:  God is with us; God does not fail us.

People:  Let us be still and know that God is indeed God, the One who never leaves us adrift, the One in whom we and all the earth live and move and have our very being.

Leader:  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Responsive Prayer of Intercession and Hope

Leader: Let us pray for those near and far who are affected by storm and sea and rain and tumult:

People:  We pray for those who have lost loved ones, those whose homes are in tatters, those whose livelihoods have been lost, those who have been injured.

Leader: May God’s tender grace be with them, may God’s loving arms enfold them, may God’s hope grant them courage.

People:  We pray for those who respond with bravery and dedication and skill in the midst of danger and loss:  for firefighters and paramedics, police and soldiers, doctors and nurses, pastors and counselors, and all those who give of themselves to serve their neighbors in need.

Leader: May they know rest in the midst of danger, perseverance in the face of overwhelming need, and the thanks of those whom they serve.

People: We pray too for ourselves, O God.  May too many needs, too much sorrow, never leave us jaded or calloused.  May we open our hearts and offer our prayers and our gifts to those who are hurting.  May we never lose hope.

Leader: O God our help in ages past, and our hope for now and years to come, be with all those who need you in this and every hour.  May it be so, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, Mother of us all. Amen.

Call to Offering

Hurricanes and natural disasters bring out some of the best in people. Folks of every race, of every religion or no religion, of every class, step forth to help those who are hurting, whose lives are in shambles, who may wonder if anyone cares about them in the midst of so much suffering.  They need not wonder, for folks with trucks and boats have helped carry people to safety, have helped get desperately sick people to hospitals, have tried to make sure that families stay together and have a safe place to recover. But please know this: We too are those people. We may not drive a truck or pilot a boat, but we too can help our neighbors in such dire need.  We may want to join our hands to those on the Atlantic coast but now is not yet the time. But we can pray. And we can donate. Every dollar that you give for Hurricane Relief to Week of Compassion, our wider church family’s disaster relief ministry, will go to work through our partners to assist those impacted by this terrible storm. Those dollars will continue working too; long after the headlines have faded and the cameras have been turned off, Week of Compassion and its partners will still be there – as they are in Texas and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands – helping with long-term recovery.  Will you give generously, knowing that your gifts will help both right now and in the months and years to come?

Pastoral Prayer/Prayers of the People

O God, you have been our rock, our comfort, our hope from generation to generation.  For your abiding love that never leaves us, for your grace that enfolds this whole earth, for your care which invites us to care along with you, we are grateful.  This morning our prayers are especially with all those in every part of this world who are dealing with natural disaster, but especially those in the path of Hurricane Florence.  We pray for those who have lost loved ones, for communities that are in tatters, for lives that have been upended and livelihoods destroyed. We pray that all of these would know your presence, and that they might know that they are cared for by folks near and far.  We thank you for all who brave danger to assist those in need: firefighters and police and paramedics and doctors and nurses and soldiers and counselors. Be with them, O God, in their noble and too often scary work. Finally, O Lord of Life, we pray for ourselves. May we open our hearts and hands to the needs of our brothers and sisters, may we pray for them daily, may we dig deep to give of our resources to assist.  We thank you, God, for the privilege of doing these things, to help in your name, the One whose love lets none of us go, now and forever. Amen.


Communion Meditation/Call to Communion

In communion with Christ, we are joined with the trials and sufferings of all. This morning we pray that through Christ we too would be with those who endure the wind, rain, and flooding from Hurricane Florence.

As we come to this Table, we pray to the Lord:  Protect those in the path of danger, open the pathways of evacuations, help loved ones find one another in the chaos, provide assistance to those who need help.

May Christ’s presence be known to all those who are fearful and discouraged, just as He makes His presence known in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup – at this Table and around the world, in every nation, among every people.  

These are the gifts of God for God’s people!  Let us come with joy and gratitude and hope.

(Lightly adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Occasional Services for the Assembly, page 394)



Forced From Their Homes: Water & Sanitation Assistance for Congolese Refugees

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has long had a presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo was founded in 1899, and has witnessed faithfully over the decades. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada celebrates our kinship with the Disciples in the DRC and joins them in prayer for Congolese citizens displaced by violence.

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WASH station.  Photo by Abrao


They seem like such simple things: a peaceful night's sleep that isn't interrupted by gunfire, knowing that your home today will most likely be your home tomorrow, getting up in the middle of the night and walking a few steps to get a glass of water that is safe and not potentially disease-ridden, making use of safe and hygienic sanitation facilities.

But many of our brothers and sisters in central Africa have no such luxuries.  Over the last two years, a violent conflict between militias and government forces in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has displaced 1.4 million people, upwards of 25,000 of whom have fled to a refugee camp and the surrounding villages in Lovua in neighboring Angola. These numbers have seriously strained the water, sanitation, and health infrastructure, again threatening the inhabitants who have already lost so much. Our partner, ACT Alliance, staff member Abraham Mushivi notes: "The refugees do not have shelter, enough food or proper sanitation. All are in urgent need of protection, medical and psychosocial assistance, shelter, food and basic relief items. Many of those who have fled report harassment, violence and killing," including burning houses, rape, and recruiting children into armed forces or using them as human shields.   

Week of Compassion partners are on the ground to assist: supplying villages with "WASH stations" (consisting of adequate and safe drinking water and sanitary hygiene facilities) to the benefit of almost 10,000 persons.  This helps keep illness at bay, allowing children to go to school and families to begin "backyard farming" to improve their nutrition. Safe water and hygienic sanitation seem like such simple things, but they are key priorities to begin to help those who have been driven from house and homeland.

Your generous gifts allow this work to continue.


Week of Compassion is closely monitoring Hurricane Florence and Tropical Storm Olivia as they threaten, respectively, the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast and the Hawaiian islands. For the latest information on the storms and how you can help, follow Week of Compassion's Facebook page. This week and next also mark the one-year anniversaries of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. As we respond to the immediate needs of current storms, we continue to support the long-term recovery of communities affected last fall. We pray for God's peace to fill these anxious days.


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FIRST TOO LITTLE, THEN TOO MUCH: FAMINE AND FLOOD IN KENYA - AN UPDATE

A few months ago, we reported to you on terrible famine conditions in Kenya due to ongoing severe drought. In a cruelly ironic turn, in the late spring, torrential rains and flooding made the famine crisis even worse. Week of Compassion partner, Church World Service, reports that over 300,000 people along the Tana River in Kenya were affected by floods, and the death toll was 118. While you may think that rain would be a blessing to drought-plagued areas, too much rain in too little time on soil that has been so hardened and baked under the relentless sun (which cannot, therefore, absorb water) leads to devastating runoffs and rivers that overflow their banks.

 Photo: Church World Service

Photo: Church World Service

In hardest-hit Tana River County, over 12,000 households lost a total of almost $4 million dollars’ worth of crops. Aided by your gifts to Week of Compassion, Church World Service is leading the response to the flooding in Tana River County. Together, we are serving 910 households -- or nearly 7,300 people -- as they temporarily reside in camps on higher ground. Those driven from their homes by the floods receive food kits containing maize, rice, beans, cooking oil, and three water containers per household member. Clean water (and safe sanitation facilities) are also a essential priorities for these displaced folks, and Church World Service has made available water purification systems to every household, along with community water tanks and mobile toilets.

 

  Photo courtesy of Church World Service

Photo courtesy of Church World Service

Behind each of these statistics is a family threatened by disease and hunger. Your gifts to Week of Compassion give families relief from those fears and hope for the future.

Thank you for your continuing generosity.

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BEGINNING TO REBUILD IN PUNTA ALEGRE, CUBA

Week of Compassion--in conjunction with Disciples Home Missions, and Global Ministries-- is working with the Iglesia Cristiana (Discipulos de Cristo) to support recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Registration is open for teams of volunteers/ambassadors to assist with rebuilding homes and to build relationships with our Puerto Rican Disciples. For more information, see www.discipleshomemissions.org/pr-response]

As multiple severe wildfires rage across California, Week of Compassion is in regular contact with pastors and partners in the area to provide relief. We will continue to monitor the fires and will continue to support affected communities as they move into long-term recovery in the months ahead.

 

   Julio's and Belkis' destroyed home in Punta Alegre.  Credit: Cuban Council of Churches

Julio's and Belkis' destroyed home in Punta Alegre.  Credit: Cuban Council of Churches

The picturesque fishing village of Punta Alegre, Cuba, lies on the north coast of Cuba, 230 miles east of  Havana. On September 15, 2017, Hurricane Irma utterly devastated the town with sustained winds of 149 mph. Local journalist, Miriam Celaya, wrote: "After the catastrophe, when the inhabitants of Punta Alegre began to come out of the few remaining homes or shelters in which they had taken refuge temporarily, they encountered a panorama of utter devastation. A pile of debris, sea corals, chunks of roofs, scraps of furniture, tree branches, and mud stretched over what once was a quiet coastal town. Some fishing boats had been swept by the sea into the village and floated between houses."[1]

The need after such devastation - which also severed communication and transportation links with the Cuban government - was (and continues to be) enormous. Working with Global Ministries and through our partners, ACT Alliance and the Cuban Council of Churches, Week of Compassion has been making available food kits, household items, newborn care items, basic hygiene items and equipment for access to safe water. The story of two Punta Alegre residents is mirrored by scores of others: In the very centre of Punta Alegre, the home of husband and wife Julio and Belkis was almost completely destroyed by the hurricane. Only the walls of their recently remodeled kitchen remained intact, as well as those of the dining room, which they had to re-roof and now use as a bedroom. Although they are close to retirement age, they both work.

Their income barely covers debts owed for previous purchases of construction material, so Julio and Belkis have no idea of how they will obtain the necessary material for the difficult task of rebuilding their home. With support from Week of Compassion partners, Punta Alegre residents are able to purchase building materials and re-start businesses to restore income for both daily necessities and re-building.

Full recovery from this devastation will take many years, and Week of Compassion and its partners continue to assist the residents of Punta Alegre with the everyday necessities of life that are so often taken for granted until disaster sweeps them away. Thanks to your gifts to Week of Compassion, the residents of this village know that they have neighbors who care and who will continue to care.

[1] Miriam Celaya , "The Hurricane Has Delivered Punta Alegre the Coup de Grace." Â https://translatingcuba.com/the-hurricane-has-delivered-punta-alegre-the-coup-de-grace/

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No Holes in These Buckets! Defeating Cholera in Haiti

(Late-breaking update: Even as our partner, IMA World Health, works hard to combat the scourge of cholera, violence in Haiti has made that job much more difficult.  IMA staff have had to be evacuated due to recent violence in Haiti's capital. Please keep these mission partners and the people of Haiti in your prayers)

 An American children's ditty sings (in verse after verse) that "there's a hole in the bucket," and that hole makes it impossible to do something that needs doing.  Fortunately, there were no holes in the buckets distributed by Week of Compassion mission partner IMA World Health to those in Haiti threatened by an outbreak of cholera.   

Cholera is a too-often deadly disease that is borne in contaminated water. Haiti had not seen a cholera outbreak in nearly a century, but after the devastating 2010 earthquake, the disease killed 9500 people. Cholera thrives where sanitation is inadequate, and the earthquake damaged much of the sanitation infrastructure across the island. The situation became much worse following torrential rains and flooding in the fall of 2017.

 

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Victor Daphne, 12, stops on his way home from school, Eglise La Foi Apostolique, to help carry buckets to his community in Port-Margot. The buckets are distributed as part of Haiti's Ministry of Public Health and Population's Cholera Program. (Photo by Kara Eberle/IMA World Health)

Working with Haiti's Ministry of Cholera Program, IMA trained twenty-five health workers and sent them into the most disease-threatened areas to equip people with information about healthy hygiene and the importance of safe sanitation. Along with that information, workers distributed water-purification tablets and rehydration salts - and buckets! Each household received two buckets: one with a lid and one without. One bucket is to carry water from the source to their homes, and the other is to store drinking water after it has been purified. Members of each household also received instruction on additional ways to purify water and on how to treat cholera symptoms with home remedies. Dr. Paul-Emile Dalexis, who manages the program for IMA, describes the buckets as a vital tool. "Without the buckets," he said, "people don't have supplies for water conservation."

Cholera is a terrible disease that can swiftly lead to dehydration and shock. It can be deadly within hours if not treated with oral or intravenous rehydration. Yet it is easily deterred with the right equipment and information - and something as simple as a bucket! Thanks to your gifts through Week of Compassion and the partnership between the Ministry and IMA, 7900 families now have the means and knowledge to protect themselves from cholera and continue living a healthy life.

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A Choice No Mother Should Ever Have to Make by Tana Liu-Beers, Disciples Immigration Legal Counsel

Yesica and Yani were small children when their mother left El Salvador to make the journey to the U.S. They grew up with their grandmother and made weekly phone calls to their mother in the United States. Their mom's earnings from the U.S. allowed them to go to school.

When Yesica and Yani were eleven and thirteen their walk to school changed. Someone started following them as they walked along the only highway leading to their school. After a few days that someone showed his face. They knew who he was. Everyone knew who he was: a gang member who had threatened their neighbors. Everyone in the neighborhood believed this young man and his associates had killed the uncle of a neighbor. Of course, they didn't have proof because the police wouldn't investigate. It was likely that the police were on his payroll. But when he told Yesica and Yani that they had to be his girlfriends, they understood what that meant. They understood that girls forced into his gang were constantly raped by all its members. They understood that to refuse meant certain death.

When Yesica and Yani finally told their mom what was going on, she immediately sent all her savings to El Salvador to pay to bring her daughters to the United States. She did not take lightly her decision to send her daughters on foot and atop trains across thousands of miles of desert and danger. She tried not to think of her own journey. She tried to get the girls on birth control, knowing the likelihood of assault on the road. It was a weighty decision, yet it was hardly a choice.

Yesica and Yani arrived at the U.S. border after being abandoned by a smuggler in the desert. They were detained by Customs & Border Protection. Despite their dehydration and exhaustion, they managed to express their fear of returning to Honduras convincingly enough to be allowed to apply for asylum. Months later the immigration judge refused to hear their claims. They were deported to Honduras in 2012. Their fate is unknown.

***

Tana Liu-Beers, Disciples Immigration Legal Counsel and former representative of Yesica and Yani, notes that cases like these are far too common and are even more likely under current immigration policies. On July 12, 2018, the U.S. immigration agencies, by order of the Attorney General, further foreclosed claims of asylum based on gang violence and domestic violence, which will undeniably result in more youth like Yesica and Yani being sent to their deaths.

For the sake of young people like Yesica, Yani, and countless others, Week of Compassion works with partners such as Disciples Immigration Legal Counsel, Disciples Refugee and Immigration Ministries, and Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program to support advocacy and legal assistance. In the name of Jesus, who himself found safety and shelter in a foreign land, we seek the fair, compassionate, and hospitable treatment of immigrants and asylum-seekers.

Here are some things you can do right now:

  • Learn about how current policies are affecting our immigrant neighbors, and connect with immigrant communities in your area.
  • Call and visit your elected representatives to oppose policies of family separation and support legislation that will keep families together. (Information and resources are available through Disciples Refugee and Immigration Ministries  and Disciples Immigration Legal Counsel
  • Continue to pray, learn, and speak out!
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SEASON AFTER SEASON

In December of 2017, Marie (named changed for privacy) moved back into her home in Bertie County, North Carolina, just in time for Christmas. Over a year before, in October of 2016, 5 feet of water filled her home during flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew. Since that storm, many others have filled the headlines and captured our hearts and attention, most notably Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, which caused such extraordinary damage last fall.

Now, the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season is upon us. In fact, before the official start of the season on June 1, the first named storm of year, Subtropical Storm Alberto, formed in the Gulf of Mexico and doused the Southeast with heavy rain. High winds and high water caused damage from Alabama through Virginia.

  A swollen creek washed out a road at Christmount Retreat, Camp, and Conference Center.

A swollen creek washed out a road at Christmount Retreat, Camp, and Conference Center.

In western North Carolina, a creek swollen by rains from Alberto washed out a road at Christmount Retreat, Camp, and Conference Center, potentially putting at-risk the busy summer camping season so important to youth and adult faith formation. As the summer camp schedule begins, Christmount will be able to make necessary repairs, with support from Week of Compassion. "Talk about fast, and on the ball," said Rob Morris, Executive Director at Christmount. "When the wind and rain washed our road away, Week of Compassion called the very next day. Now we're back up and running... thanks for the work you do."

Season after season, storms come, causing damage and disrupting lives. And storm after storm, Week of Compassion is there to provide support, assistance, and hope. Even as new seasons bring new storms, we walk with and work alongside communities in the process of recovery, not just in the immediate aftermath, but for months to come.

On the other side of the state, in Cumberland and Robeson Counties, as well as in Bertie County, recovery continues from Hurricane Matthew. Week of Compassion has helped enable community organizations to provide furniture to families moving back into their homes, to host recovery fairs where survivors can learn about available resources, and to facilitate home repairs.

Recovery continues, as well, in Volusia County, Florida, where many residents sustained damage both during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma last fall. Volusia Interfaiths Networking in Disaster (VIND), which is housed at First Christian Church, Daytona, has helped dozens of homeowners move back into homes that are more resilient for future storms. "Homes are ready for repairs. We need more volunteers!" says the staff of VIND (click here for volunteer information).

  Volunteers help FCC Port Arthur repair flood damage caused by Hurricane Harvey

Volunteers help FCC Port Arthur repair flood damage caused by Hurricane Harvey

Volunteers can also make an impact in Southeast Texas, where Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding. First Christian Church, Texas City is serving as a mission station with Disciples Volunteering. Texas City is part of Galveston County, an area where already vulnerable communities--with above average rates of poverty and aging populations--experienced devastating flooding. A local pastor and leader in the recovery describes the situation as a compelling story of need, but also one of great hope, as people have been reaching out to serve their neighbors. (click here for mission station information).

In Puerto Rico, where the damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria is still extreme, and where electricity is still unreliable nine months after the storms, the congregations of the Iglesia Cristiana (Discípulos de Cristo) are combining recovery efforts with disaster preparedness. Last month, a group of Disciple pastors began designing and implementing a disaster communication network, which will connect congregations across the island in the event of an emergency. Additionally, as a program of home repairs is getting underway, additional investments in stronger materials and resilient building techniques will make homes safer in future storms.

Thank you for your faithful partnership and generous gifts, from season to season, storm upon storm, year after year.

Prepare Yourself For the Next Storm

From hurricanes to earthquakes to tornadoes, disasters can happen anywhere. If you are prepared before a disaster, you are more likely to be in a position to help after.

Find resources to prepare for hurricanes and all kinds of disasters at Ready.

Encourage your church to be prepared, too!

Emergency Management in Georgia has compiled a great set of resources for congregations called Praise and Preparedness.

The book, Help and Hope: Disaster Preparedness Response Tools for Congregations, edited by Amy Gopp and Brandon Gilvin is also a great resource for congregational preparedness. Available through Chalice Press:

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Praying and Working to End Famine

"The Horn of Africa is facing its third consecutive year of drought causing thirst and hunger, decimating livestock, destroying livelihoods, spreading disease and triggering large scale population movements."  There is an almost unimaginable amount of misery contained in this statement from Week of Compassion disaster relief partner, ACT Alliance. Beneath this broad description is a daily struggle to survive by millions of people in what continues to be one of the most under-reported stories of our time.

 Photo: ACT Alliance

Photo: ACT Alliance

The horror of this situation is real.

It is so very dry in Somalia that even the famously drought-resistant camels are dying. And in a country where so many people earn their meager livelihoods from agriculture, the death of such animals is life-threatening.  

It is so very dry in Kenya, that upwards of 70% of crops failed last year. Imagine having your food intake reduced by 70%. Imagine it for your children. There are over 2.5 million Kenyans who aren't imagining it but are forced to live it - with the consequent increase in infant deaths, stunting of children's development from malnutrition, and increase in devastating disease due to weakened immune systems from lack of adequate nutrition.

A little further to the north, Ethiopia is dealing not only with the devastating effects of drought, but also with ongoing armed conflicts in parts of the country. The government of Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency for the 10 million people affected, and, as our partners note, "Lives remain at risk due to shortage of food and water, and disease outbreaks coupled with malnutrition are prevalent." In South Sudan, IMA World Health staff member Matt 

Hackworth says, "Decades of civil war, economic and ecological strife keep South Sudan on the brink of famine. As this is the world's youngest country, it is critical now that caring people around the world- including donors to Week of Compassion - support the men, women and children at risk."

One of those children is named Teer Majak. He was brought to an IMA facility where he was diagnosed as severely malnourished with medical complications including convulsions, loss of appetite, high fever, sunken eyes, and yellowish skin. He was stabilized, his medical conditions addressed, and soon he began to grow and gain weight. In just three weeks he showed significant improvement.  Following a stay in an out-patient therapy and feeding program, he was able to be discharged with the hopes of now living a life not wracked with the  effects of chronic malnutrition.

 Photo: ACT Alliance

Photo: ACT Alliance

The horror is real, but it does not need to be the end of the story. Week of Compassion has been responding to these crises and supporting our partners to provide relief.                                                    

                                                                                   

  • Medical feeding centers, like the one that saved Teer provide critical nutrition, as do    school feeding programs and supplies of maize and beans, which are distributed in areas of extreme crop loss.

  • Cash vouchers for food and wages earned through well-restoration projects help bolster agriculture-dependent economies and provide food and water.

  • Water purification and pond de-silting efforts increase the availability of potable water, and hygiene and sanitation supplies help curtail water-borne diseases.

With your partnership and support, we will continue to help relieve the horrors of famine

Join us in observing a "Global Day of Prayer to End Famine" on June 10, 2018. Global Ministries and World Council of Churches websites have ideas for helping make folks aware of the need around the world on that day.

Continue to seek out stories about this situation and help keep the plight of these brothers and sisters in your and your fellow church members' consciousness.

Make a gift  to Week of Compassion designated for famine and drought relief, where 100% of your support will go to provide relief to affected communities.

Plumbing, Learning, and Playing-Improving Lives for Refugees in Tanzania

There are too many stories of refugees around the world which have not received the attention they should have.  One of those is the story of the almost 300,000 refugees who have left the political turmoil of Burundi and sought haven in Tanzania. As with so many refugee situations, a large portion of the impact of such uprooting falls on women.

Women often are the ones responsible for cooking for the family, caring for children, and seeking to ensure that the family is able to maintain basic hygiene--no small task in the midst of crowded refugee camps!

 Photo: ACT Alliance

Photo: ACT Alliance

Through your support, Week of Compassion has been able to respond through our partner, ACT Alliance, in ways that help women and families have adequate food, housing, and water. In the Mtendeli camp, engineers worked to drill new wells and improve the productivity of existing wells. 300 hand washing stations were installed in the latrines for individual cleanliness.  One refugee, who works as a plumber, said: “I give thanks to ACT Alliance [for the] water network improvement. This reduced the risks of eruption of water-borne diseases and gender violence,” as women and girls no longer have venture beyond their households to collect water. Commenting on something most North Americans take for granted, another expressed appreciation for Week of Compassion’s contribution “for the construction of household latrines to our homes, as this helps in reducing risks of diseases, fights amongst ourselves over shared latrines, and environment cleanness as a whole.”

Week of Compassion also supported ACT Alliance in other vital services that improved lives of women and their families: 1800 participants met to discuss the implications and negative effects early and forced marriage have on women and the community in general and how damaging marriage practices needed to be abandoned. Women received group support with counselors as they navigated their situations. Classes to improve literacy and numeracy provided women and family members better tools for dealing with their situations. Another refugee said: ACT Alliance helped “by restoring hope, dignity, mental and social well-being that promote a sense of normality in the camps and encourage a stable and proactive life. The sports brought us refugees together, enable us forget our differences and increase the interactions while in the camp.”

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Photo by: ACT Alliance

Your gifts and generosity have made a real difference to people who have had to flee their homes. Your partnership helped bring dignity, safety, and diminishment of the threat of disease. Your support of Week of Compassion have done “more than you can imagine!”  Thank you!

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