FAMINE IN SOUTH SUDAN

The hardened, dry earth, parched for rain, cracks open as if calling out for relief from the drought now into its third year. The earth adds its cry to the cries of people, calling out for peace and for relief from the civil war now into its fourth year. The effects of the drought combined with the pressures and violence of the war have hampered the ability of the Sudanese people to raise livestock, farm vegetables or harvest grains. The result has been an extreme food shortage, officially declared a famine by the World Food Program last month.

An estimated 5.5 million people-nearly half of South Sudan's population-will face life-threatening hunger this year and, in some regions of the country, one in three children are facing acute malnutrition. Additionally, these famine conditions pose serious medical challenges, including a greater risk for infection among an already vulnerable population.

Week of Compassion is responding to the food crisis through our partners: ACT Alliance and IMA World Health.    

Photo Credit:  ACT Alliance

Photo Credit:  ACT Alliance

IMA World Health is working to provide needed medical and health services. Having been working with communities and local and international groups in the area since 2008, IMA World Health has built strong local relationships that are enabling us to respond effectively.  Bout Diang, a Sudanese community organizer who has worked for many years with IMA World Health shares: "Without the support they are giving us, I doubt if we would be receiving any medical care." He also feels that the IMA workers are emotionally supportive. "When we sit with IMA staff, they always tell us that one day things will be ok. We feel emotionally better and stronger to bear the challenges we are facing."   

Through our partners at ACT Alliance, Week of Compassion is helping provide seeds, tools, and other supports to over 250,000 people across South Sudan. We recognize, however, that much more is needed. "We are extremely concerned about the situation," says  Lokiru Yohana, a regional program coordinator working in the ACT Alliance. "We hear of fighting in the Greater Upper Nile Region, Unity and Jonglei state, even the once peaceful and stable Greater Equatoria region, which serves as the main bread basket of the country."   

Though these are serious threats and challenges, a positive difference can be made for the people of South Sudan. International organizations, including the United Nations, are coming together to respond. Stephen O'Brien, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said, "To be clear, we can avert a famine." But, it will take us all, "We're ready despite incredible risk and danger ... but we need the world to respond now."

In times like these, we are called to use our resources to serve those in need. We are not powerless to make a difference, even save lives, when we work together and share the resources that we have.  

Women Strengthen Women Through Economic Empowerment

Today, in Iraq, over 1.5 million Iraqi women are widowed. More than half of these women live in poverty and face obstacles to gaining employment, including having faced severe trauma. To support these women, Week of Compassion is working closely with Propensity Catalyst to help Iraqi widows launch sustainable, women-led businesses in Baghdad.

Over a two-year period, the Women's Empowerment through Business (WEB) program has trained hundreds of women in business and entrepreneurial practices. An initial cohort of 10 women have completed intensive courses in candle-making. Among those women was Hana'a--a widow and sole-provider for her family. Though initially skeptical of the training, Hana'a participated in the courses and was glad of her decision. "I met lovely people, learned a skill which will help me raise my income and support my family and grandsons," she said, reflecting on the experience. "Now I am developing plans to utilize the trainings to earn money."

The participants of that original cohort are passing their skills on to an additional 100 women. Another 100 women have been trained in sewing and are currently expanding their knowledge to jewelry-making.

Of course, running a successful business takes more than artisan and entrepreneurial skills. It requires access to capital and markets, so WEB blends rigorous, hands-on business and vocational training with start-up financing and connections to local and international markets.  

This model has had significant impact. Iraqi women trained in candle making have produced almost 5,500 candles for the Akkadian Collection, [akkadiancollection.com]. These candles have been shipped to the United States for sale and have generated over $107,000 in revenue, allowing women micro-business owners to increase their incomes, on average, by 58%.

Beyond money, human relationships and well-being are at the heart of this program. Prosperity Catalyst also provides support for women's personal needs, including ongoing psychosocial support and through the program women build community with one another. As Hayam, a Candle-Maker and Trainer involved with the program explains, "This program makes much more sense than any previous ones. We feel that we're not left behind after being trained, as had happened before with other programs."

Given the successes of this program, Prosperity Catalyst is beginning new programs focused on serving women who have been displaced from their homes, known as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), in Erbil, Iraq, where many newly arrived women face obstacles integrating to the new culture. This new program offers women economic opportunities to bridge the transition process. At least 600 migrant-women In Erbil will take courses in business skills and receive vocational training in various industries such as textiles, candles, jewelry, and other products. This program will help them support themselves in their new environment, develop relationships with one another, and settle into the new community.

One Iraqi mother of two who has participated in the program has a message for what this program has meant to her and her fellow women:. "For years we have been living in a very tough situation, fighting stereotypes and a male-dominated society," she told us. "What the world must know," she continued, "is that Iraqi mothers are heroes."

Your support of Prosperity Catalyst through Week of Compassion is an investment in empowering Iraqi women who heroically strive to provide for their families even after tragedy and despite gender-based obstacles. With your support, these women find independence and hope as they begin to earn a livelihood and build community with one another.

 

When we give from a place of joy and purpose, the act of giving gives back much to us.

Seven year-old, Jonah, from First Christian Church of Wheeling, West Virginia reminded his family and community about this powerful truth during the Week of Compassion Special Offering.

FCCW hosted a coloring contest focused on this year's Special Offering theme: You Are Here. Children, youth, and adults alike were invited to reflect on what it means to "be here" in the places where people are suffering and to "insert themselves" standing with these brothers and sisters in need.

Their pastor, Rev. Kenny Hardway, admits FCC Wheeling enjoys a little good-natured competition, especially when that competition supports a good cause. To stir-up some competition around the coloring contest, an anonymous donor gave $50 for the winner to donate to Week of Compassion. And it worked!  At least 25 people entered drawings into the competition.

Jonah was excited to participate. He remembered Sunday School conversations about children who have to walk miles each day for water, and he thought giving to Week of Compassion would be a great way to help. With this in mind, Jonah decided to draw wells and water.

During church that morning, when the youth and children selected the winning drawing, they selected Jonah's! He was thrilled to be able to give to Week of Compassion to support access to water all over the world.

Despite being a smaller-sized congregation, FCCW is often among  the top-100 congregations for denominational offerings. They recently joined the Circle of Compassion, a group of congregations who have made sustaining gifts to the Week of Compassion Endowment Fund through the Christian Church Foundation. The congregation gives almost a quarter of their annual budget to ministries outside their walls, and they talk frequently about being a church engaged in mission. This culture of generosity inspired Joshua.

After winning the competition and talking with his Dad about how the money he won would be used, Jonah collected all the money he had saved from past birthdays and Christmases: $80 in total. Then he brought it back out to his father, and handing it to him said, "Will you make sure this goes to help people?"

Jonah wanted to give everything he had.

His generosity, and that of FCCW, challenges us all to consider how we can give more. It reminds us that when we give and act from a place of abundance, we inspire others to do so as well.  

Fourth Quarter Report

Toward the end of 2016 there were significant disasters around the world. From Hurricane Matthew impacting communities along the US coasts, as well as wiping out 90% of the crops in Haiti, to the continued crisis in Aleppo where thousands of families continue to struggle to survive in the midst of the civil war. Just when we begin to feel overwhelmed, a Facebook notification, email inquiry, or donation alert from you revives our faith in our prayers that compassion for the world is still needed, and shared.

In the month of December alone, Week of Compassion provided nearly $600,000 in emergency aid, enabling us to provide 22 responses in 5 states and over 14 countries around the world. Below is a glimpse of all the places your support enabled us to respond to in the last 3 months of 2016.

From all of us at Week of Compassion, thank you for your compassion and generosity. We are grateful for your partnership - together, we help shine the light of Christ's peace to the world. Thank you!

Photo: Paul Jeffrey          Six-year old Miriam, a refugee from Afghanistan, holds her stuffed toy duck as she embraces her little brother inside a refugee processing center in the Serbian village of Presevo, not far from the Macedonian border. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants--including many children--have flowed through Serbia in 2015, on their way from Syria, Iraq and other countries to western Europe. The ACT Alliance has provided critical support for refugee and migrant families here and in other places along their journey. *Parental consent obtained

Photo: Paul Jeffrey          Six-year old Miriam, a refugee from Afghanistan, holds her stuffed toy duck as she embraces her little brother inside a refugee processing center in the Serbian village of Presevo, not far from the Macedonian border. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants--including many children--have flowed through Serbia in 2015, on their way from Syria, Iraq and other countries to western Europe. The ACT Alliance has provided critical support for refugee and migrant families here and in other places along their journey. *Parental consent obtained

Fourth Quarter's Responses

DISASTER RELIEF AND EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE

Africa
Nigeria, Refugee Response
Tanzania, Refugee Response
Uganda, Refugee Response

East Asia and the Pacific
Philippines, Typhoon Relief (2)

Latin America and the Caribbean
Cuba, Hurricane Relief
Ecuador, Earthquake Recovery
Haiti, Hurricane Relief (7)
Haiti, Ministerial Crisis and Stress

Middle East and Europe
Greece, Refugee Response (2)
Hungary, Refugee Response
Jordan, Refugee Response
Lebanon, Refugee Response
Serbia, Refugee Response
Syria, Internally Displaced Response (3)

North America
North America, Refugee Response
USA, Disaster Response
Florida, Hurricane Relief (4)
Iowa, Flood Relief
Kentucky, Fire Relief
Missouri (GKC), Local Church Disaster Recovery
New York, Winter Storm Recovery
North Carolina, Hurricane Relief (5)
Oklahoma, Spiritual and Emotional Support
South Carolina, Hurricane Relief (7)
Tennessee, Emergency Response
Virginia, Hurricane Relief
West Virginia, Fire Relief

 
DEVELOPMENT, LONG-TERM RECOVERY AND REHABILITATION

Africa
Africa, Community Health
Kenya, Children Education
Zimbabwe, Food Security

East Asia and the Pacific
Philippines, Livelihood Program
Latin America and the Pacific
Argentina, Food Security
Guatemala, Women's Empowerment
Paraguay, Food Security

Middle East and Europe
Egypt, Children Education
Israel/Palestine, Refugee Response
Israel/Palestine, Women and Youth Accompaniment
Israel/Palestine, Youth Empowerment and Just Peace
Jordan, Refugee Response
Lebanon, Refugee Response
Republic of Georgia, Children Empowerment
Serbia, Women's Literacy
Serbia, Youth Shelter

Southern Asia
Myanmar, Water Security

We Want to Hear From YOU

Dear Week of Compassion Supporter,

As we approach the end of the year we are reflecting on where we, as a ministry, have been and where we are going. Because you are vital to this work, we would greatly value your participation in this short survey (approximately 5 minutes):

Thank you for your prayers, your support, and your ongoing investment in Week of Compassion. 

Wishing you a merry and blessed Christmas season!

Week of Compassion
 

Celebrating Our Saints

By the traditional Christian calendar, today is the feast of All Saints, a day to remember the people whose lives have shaped us and who stewarded and imparted to us the stories of our faith. As Bruce Barkhauer of the Center for Faith and Giving notes, "All Saints Day is, at its core, about legacy and promise - what has been left behind by those who have gone ahead for us to build upon and the 'blessed assurance' of what lies ahead for the faithful." We celebrate on this day the ways in which people live on through the love they have shown. We join on this day with full communion of saints throughout all of history to declare God's goodness and witness to liberation found in Christ Jesus.

One way the saints continue to bear faithful witness is through the endowment fund of Week of Compassion. Named endowments, established to honor and remember loved ones, ensure the continuing ministries of relief and development in North America and around the world.

Rev. Robyn Fickes Bles (Associate Minister, West Des Moines Christian Church) and Jordan Blevins Bles share one story of ongoing generosity and witness through the Week of Compassion endowment.

 

Love Shines On

Milly in her favorite place - holding and being held. Photo credit: Katie Lindgren Photography

Milly in her favorite place - holding and being held. Photo credit: Katie Lindgren Photography

by Rev. Robyn Fickes Bles

I recently read that a star, long after its fiery heart burns out, continues to shine its light throughout the galaxies. Years after what could be described as its bodily essence has dimmed, the star's brilliance is still illuminating the far corners of distant space.

This can also be said for my daughter, Milly. For the 14 months we spent with her she was a brilliant light, fighting to shine in the darkness of a bleak surgical accident and ensuing traumatic brain injury. Her story, her spirit, rallied together people from around the world. Her life's work showcased the work of the church in ways this pastor has never experienced. And when our bright star passed from this world, her light continued to shine in the dark places of our world. So many people continue to speak of how Milly touches their lives, and that is why my husband and I chose to help Milly's spirit keep reaching and impacting others.

With the Wonder Milly Fund through Week of Compassion, Milly's life and brilliant spirit reaches into the far corners of our world; bringing light and hope, life and strength in those times that seem the darkest. Our Milly and the work of Week of Compassion, like those brilliant lights that fill the dark night sky, are the backdrop for our greatest moments of dreaming and hoping. They allow love to shine on.

 

A Prayer for All Saints Day

By each life you seek, generous God, to bless the world - through the tenderness of smiles, hugs, and tears; through the power of stories and relationships; through the sharing of abundant resources. Thank you for the lives that have blessed us. By their example make us to be a blessing for others. With that great cloud of witnesses, we proclaim your goodness and pray to be faithful stewards of our lives and our resources. By the grace of Christ Jesus, Amen.

 

Our Global Responses  Since October 25th, 2016

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