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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HOPE on this INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

"Just ask your phone, Daddy."  "Mommy, just Google it." "Hey Google....?"  Even ten years ago, such sentences would have seemed nonsensical, but nowadays for most North Americans the easy availability of information through search engines and cell phones is nearly ubiquitous.  95% of Americans own a cell phone, and 80% own a smartphone. Such ready access to empowering information is something that North Americans have come to take for granted.

 Photo: Carter Center

Photo: Carter Center

It's not that way everywhere.  In Guatemala, for example - and particularly among the women of Guatemala - the lack of ready access to information has made life harder than it needs to be.  A report from the Carter Center puts it succinctly:  "we know that information related to education, starting a business, and basic rights is the most critical for women's economic empowerment and the promotion and protection of rights....  With genuine access to information women can make more effective decisions with relation to education, land, and agricultural production."

Through the support of Week of Compassion, the Carter Center's "Global Access to Information Program" has worked with Guatemalan partner Acción Ciudadana to increase women's access to information.  Over 2000 women in Guatemala have been exposed to the opportunity to learn how to find information that will enhance their lives and economic security.  Acción Ciudadana has hired a team of local women to help other women obtain the information they need to better their lives and the lives of their families. Provisioned with laptops, the teams visit villages that have limited information access. Three hundred women have received assistance in making information requests regarding their rights or in securing information about resources available to them or their families. Again in the words of the Carter Center, "With genuine access to information, women can take advantage of opportunities to transform their lives, families, and communities."

Two brief stories show the power of information to create hope and transform lives:  In one of the most impoverished and isolated areas of Guatemala, a woman had been promised chickens from one of the government agencies but had never received them.  A Carter Center staff walked many hours and many miles into this village and was able to help the woman remind the agency of her request and their promise. Not long after, well over 100 chickens arrived -- which gave her children better nutrition (malnutrition in this part of the country is a dire problem) and allowed her to have the means to now supplement her family's income through the sale of eggs.  A second woman, 34 years old, who suffered from epilepsy was assisted by Carter Center staff to find out what assistance was available from the government and to make a request for -- and receive! -- help in accessing a specialist to assist her with her medical situation and the drugs she needed.

On this International Women's Day, we are grateful for your support and financial gifts to the Week of Compassion Women Empowerment Fund, which helped make this work possible in places such as Guatemala and all over the world. Information IS power, and power IS hope - for the betterment of women and their families!  Thank you!

Learn more about Week of Compassion's Women Empowerment Fund.

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Muchas Gracious from Puerto Rico

Dear Church,

Muchas Gracias.

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I had the opportunity to be in Puerto Rico this past weekend to attend the 109thAnnual Convencion of the Iglesia Cristiana (Discipulos de Cristo) in Puerto Rico (ICDCPR) where hundreds of clergy and delegates came together for their annual assembly.  There was time for worship, reports on the different ministries and committees of the church, prayers for one another, and gratitude to God for the gift of being in fellowship with each other.  The General Pastor, Rev. Miguel A. Morales Castro, gave an update on the church's recovery efforts from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and while there has been much struggle due to the impact of the storms, the church continues to serve its community and other people in need.

It has been close to five months since the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and today, places that are away from the city, especially remote communities in the mountains, are still struggling to get access to basic needs like electricity and clean water. Many places are still without electricity. They must continue using loud, diesel fuming generators, such as at ICDC in Dajaos, Bayamon, the church where we gathered for our assembly.

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In the midst of so much destruction, the theme of the assembly was "Serving in Spirit and in Truth," based on 1 John 3.18 and Philippians 2.5-11.  As the church tries to rebuild itself, it also recognizes the call to serve the community by partnering in feeding and opening doors.The focus on not forgetting to serve these vulnerable communities remains at the heart of the convencion gathering, and it also remains as our focus for Week of Compassion.

Week of Compassion is working with our partners in slowly transitioning from immediate relief to long-term recovery efforts. In partnership with the Iglesia Cristiana (Discipulos de Cristo) in Puerto Rico, we are developing a long-term plan to partner with local congregations and agencies in rebuilding many homes, but more importantly, many lives.

As I received words of "Muchas Gracias" from so many of our brothers and sisters on this island this past weekend, it's really a gratitude to you, our church and supporters, in this long recovery work.  We remain committed to rebuilding Puerto Rico for the months and years ahead, as well as other places around the world that have experienced disasters.  In a few months you will hear from us about opportunities to partner with us in Puerto Rico to help and work on some of these homes.

Through your gifts to Week of Compassion, especially this week during our special offering, you are joining Disciples in Puerto Rico in "Serving in Spirit and in Truth." Your generosity strengthens our partnership in the much needed, long term recovery of the island.

Muchas gracias,

Rev. Vy Nguyen, Executive Director

Week of Compassion

 

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REBORN FROM THE MUCK AND MUD

2017 saw a series of disasters, both in North America, and around the world. One of those that received too-little attention was a devastating mudslide in Mocoa, Colombia.  In the early morning hours of April 1, 2017, increased rainfall caused the Mocoa, Sangoyaco and Mulata Rivers to overflow, which in turn generated a mudslide in the municipality of Mocoa, capital of the state of Putumayo. Over 20,000 men, women, and children were made homeless, the local water and sewer systems were badly affected, ten local roads and seven bridges sustained damage. Six neighborhoods were totally destroyed and seventeen were seriously damaged.

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Because many of the folks in the Mocoa area depend for their livelihoods on agriculture -- growing cassava, coffee, cacao, among others, as well as raising poultry -- the mudslide triggered a serious threat of food shortages for hundreds of residents. Agricultural production capacity was completely destroyed due to the disaster. The local market was also destroyed, and with no income from these activities, many residents could no longer pay the debts they'd incurred for small business or agricultural purposes.

Through your gifts and prayers, Week of Compassion was able to work with partners to assist the residents of this disaster through immediate supply of food, water, and temporary shelter, along with cash gifts to 150 households to allow them to resume their work quickly and to pay livelihood-related debts. Disciples Global Mission Partner Michael Joseph reports "Some bought hens, some pigs, and some bought supplies for family-run businesses (stores, beauty salons, barber shops and restaurants).  The project also provided them with workshops in trauma recovery, investing, and financial skills."  Michael also shared some of the thoughts from those this effort helped: "This project helped us take a step forward. Today my wounds are healed. Now I can go forward even stronger than before."  "With this money I was able to get my beauty salon up and running. I even had enough money left over to buy something for my children for Christmas. Thank you for giving us this money with no strings attached."  "This project has allowed me to start over again. When I lost everything I felt so small. I asked several banks for loans, but they turned me away because I had lost everything. This aid has allowed me to be reborn."

It is truly amazing what such a seemingly small amount per family has been able to do to allow folks to quickly recover from their losses and move forward with their lives and work!

Thank you for your gifts that helped make these things possible. 

As we enter the season of Lent, we recall that God created humans from the muck and the mud. From dust we were created and to dust we will return, yet through the love of God we are also reborn into eternal and abundant life. We pray for you and our partners for a blessed Lenten season. 

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2017 Grant Distribution and Hurricane Recovery

Dear Church,

It feels like every few years extreme weather hits closer to home. Its powerful impact, whether experienced through gushing waters, ravaging winds or scorching fires, has affected our homes and churches. The news has shown us devastating images from Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, California, and the Pacific Northwest. In 2017 your Week of Compassion was able to respond at the beginning of these disasters, and now the long road of recovery begins.  While the minds of many have already moved on, we continue to coordinate and accompany local communities in the rebuilding process.  The work is just getting started.

 Members work to rebuild their church building in Northern Nigeria. Photo: Brethren Disaster Ministries

Members work to rebuild their church building in Northern Nigeria. Photo: Brethren Disaster Ministries

Other domestic and global disasters did not make it on the news. There were floods in Arkansas and Missouri and in Peru, Colombia, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, just to name a few. There were droughts that created starvation and famine for millions of mothers and children in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Somalia, and Kenya.  And of course, there are 66 million people who have been displaced globally because of conflict in their homes. Your Week of Compassion responded to calls for help across the globe. And, we continue to work with partners to alleviate the pain and loss felt in many of these communities. Your generous gifts have made all of this possible.     

As we enter the month of February, you will have another opportunity to show compassion to those in need by giving to our annual special offering.  The Week of Compassion Special Offering allows us to come together as one church in the United States and Canada and give abundantly to the vital work we do together.  These gifts bear witness to the powerful work of God and allow us to respond to crises in places close to home and far away. Your partnership through the Special Offering answers the voices in the wilderness asking for food, water, and shelter and lets communities who are struggling to find hope know they are not forgotten.  For this, so many are grateful.

Below you will find our distribution chart for 2017 showing the ways your financial gifts went to help people all over the world.  These numbers represent rich and powerful stories, some you already know and others that we will share with you throughout the year.  They are a witness that your gifts--your treasures and your hearts--are with vulnerable people who needed them most.  Lives are made better by your support.

Your gifts build a better world in ways More Than We Can Imagine.

Thank you,

Rev. Vy T. Nguyen

Executive Director

 

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ABUNDANT WELCOME

The Mediterranean Sea can be hostile. For refugees and migrants it can be a dangerous and deadly barrier--the waves more like walls, the whitecaps like barbed wire. Those who face the crossing do so in desperation and in hope for a future they can only imagine.

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Mediterranean Hope offers a ministry of welcome for those who have recently arrived across the sea. The Waldensian Church in Italy--one of our partners in Europe through Global Ministries--helped establish the Mediterranean Hope program which assists refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East who survive the treacherous crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa, providing them with basic needs, offering programs to help with their integration, and advocating for their well-being.

Late last year, Mediterranean Hope colleagues shared that there were fewer people arriving in Italy because of a deal struck between the Italian and Libyan authorities, paying Libya to prevent migrants from leaving. Such financial deals between European and North American governments to Middle Eastern and North African countries to restrict the flow of migrants and refugees are quite common.  They reduce the influx of "undesirable" people to the global North, but as a result, create "bottleneck countries" to which people have fled for a variety of reasons, including conflict and war.  Almost 5 of every 6 refugees are now in developing or middle-income countries and almost a third are hosted by the least developed countries in the world-such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Morocco.  

Where financial deals and international attitudes restrict hospitality, and increase inequalities experienced by refugees, Casa della Culture, or "Home of Culture," (a center in Sicily operated by Mediterranean Hope) emphasizes relationships. It is a place for people-Italian and new arrivals-to talk together, reflect, and enjoy fellowship across linguistic, cultural, and religious differences.  In a dinner encounter, our group met a woman who was delighted to share of the welcome she experienced-despite having lost her months-old child during the Mediterranean crossing; another whose family had remained in Morocco, but who had found gracious hospitality among the Waldensians; and yet another who simply enjoyed being able to express herself through dance during evenings of fellowship.  All of these welcomed us one evening with the generosity (and foods) of their cultures, and much graciousness.

Week of Compassion and Global Ministries continue to work together to support churches' responses to the refugee crisis in the Middle East (read more about how Disciples are responding to the Syrian refugee crisis).  By providing food and water, clothing and medical aid, and basic education for children, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) enables many partners, including the Forum for Development, Culture, and Dialogue and the Orthodox Initiative, among others, to provide a witness of Christian love to Syrians, Iraqis, and other refugees, people of different faiths, in their time of need. Beyond simply providing items, your gifts help provide an abundant welcome. Your gifts mean More Than we Can Imagine.

NEW YEAR OF GRATITUDE

As we begin the new year, we are grateful for your partnership and support.  Below is a list of all our responses from the fourth quarter of last year. Each response is filled with hope and gratitude and represents a place where you, the church, offered presence in time of need. As we look forward into this new year, we know the work is just getting started.

This week, 21 clergy and their families who were impacted by Hurricane Harvey have been in Arizona for the Care for the Journey retreat. "Our well-being is sacred," said Angela Whitenhill, the Mental Health Initiative Manager for National Benevolent Association, to those gathered. Week of Compassion, NBA, and the Pension Fund cosponsored the retreat, with program assistance from Family and Children's Ministries of Disciples Home Missions, to support clergy and their families as the new year begins. Participants are practicing skills for self care, processing their experiences together, and renewing for the long journey of recovery.

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Fourth Quarter's Responses

 

DISASTER RELIEF AND EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE

Africa

Angola, Refugee Response

Cameroon, Boko Haram Conflict Relief (2)

Chad, Boko Haram Conflict Relief (2)

Ethiopia, Drought Relief

Nigeria, Boko Haram Conflict Relief (2)

 

Latin America and the Caribbean

Costa Rica, Tropical Storm Relief

Dominican Republic, Hurricane Relief

Haiti, Hurricane Relief

 

Middle East and Europe

Iraq, Internally Displaced Response

Jordan, Refugee Response

Syria, Emergency Winter Relief

 

Southern Asia

Bangladesh, Flood Relief

Bangladesh, Refugee Response

Myanmar, Internally Displaced Response

 

United States and Canada

California, Emergency Relief for Undocumented Families

California, Wildfire Relief (4)

Florida, Hurricane Irma Relief (4)

Iowa, Storm Relief

Missouri, Tornado Relief

Puerto Rico, Hurricane Relief (4)

Texas, Hurricane Harvey Relief (11)

United States and Canada, Long-term Disaster Recovery

Louisiana, Long-term Flood Recovery

Missouri, Long-term Flood Recovery

Texas, Hurricane Harvey Long-term Recovery

US Virgin Islands, Long-term Hurricane Recovery

 

 

DEVELOPMENT, LONG-TERM RECOVERY AND REHABILITATION

 

Africa

Angola, Women Empowerment

Kenya, Children Education

Zambia, Sustainable Agriculture

 

Latin America and the Caribbean

Colombia, Conflict Transformation

Paraguay, Chaco Sustainable Development Support

 

Middle East and Europe

Israel/Palestine, Youth Empowerment & Just Peace (2)

Serbia, Roma Sustainable Development Support

 

Southern Asia

Indonesia, Food Security

 

THE DARKNESS WHERE GOD MEETS US

73 days.

61 days.

100 days and counting.

As Week of Compassion staff have traveled in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, visiting with communities affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria, we have heard these time markers from friends, partners, and strangers. In the midst of conversations about setting up volunteer housing or procuring building materials--93 days. Over a dinner of plantains (imported, since few plantains survived the storms)--68 days. They signify the number of days people have been without power.

In Puerto Rico, the power grid is operating at 70% capacity, and the first priorities for power restoration were public services, like schools and hospitals, and commercial customers, like grocery stores and hotels. Thousands of residences are still without power. Similarly, in the US Virgin Islands, territory-wide power restoration was only at 60% as of last Friday.

Today, Thursday, Dec. 21 marks 106 days without power for many who lost electricity during Hurricane Irma.

  A generator at Iglesia Cristiana (Discipulos de Cristo) in Feijoo, Naranjito, Puerto Rico is one of the sole power sources in the mountainside town. Photo: Week of Compassion

A generator at Iglesia Cristiana (Discipulos de Cristo) in Feijoo, Naranjito, Puerto Rico is one of the sole power sources in the mountainside town. Photo: Week of Compassion

As we discussed logistics and long-term plans, these counts were reminders of the humanity at the core of our work. The shipments of lanterns are not about pallets and ports, but about people. The counts served, too, as concrete evidence that the frustration and exhaustion our friends experience is warranted, and is born out of struggle, heartache, and loss. The number of days without power became a signifier of the pain of waiting and also of the resilience of people who continue to serve one another in love, even as they begin their days with cold baths in unlit houses.

This season of Advent is, itself, another signifier of humanity, of struggle, of longing for restoration. During this time, we move into the darkness of the world. Days grow shorter and dark nights longer. Yet, through the stories of our faith and the traditions of the season, we also enter into the darkness of the womb, in which the Spirit dwelt, and into the holy space of a stable dark, where the Word was made flesh.

In her Advent Devotional, This Luminous Darknessartist and author Jan Richardson writes:

"In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God's first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. I will give you the treasures of darkness, God says in Isaiah 45:3, and riches hidden in secret places. For the christ who was born two millennia ago, for the christ who seeks to be born in us this day, the darkness is where incarnation begins.

Can we imagine the darkness as a place where God meets us-and not only meets us, but asks to take form in this world through us?"                       

On this longest night of the year, we await--again--the birth of Christ among us. In this night of darkness, we give thanks for the ways God has taken on flesh through our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and through your gifts to Week of Compassion.

FINDING HOPE

Recent Disasters - Passing Baton of Compassion and Hope

Finding Hope in Tanzania

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania-Mwema Hamisi knew her 6-year-old daughter was very sick. The symptoms came on suddenly. One day, Asha was happy and playful. The next day, she was in pain.

Hamisi took Asha to one hospital, then another and another. Asha went to three hospitals in less than two months, but no one seemed to know what was wrong with her.

Finally, Hamisi and Asha were referred to Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, about an hour-long trip from their home. There, Asha was seen in the pediatric oncology ward and doctors diagnosed the kindergartener with Burkitt's Lymphoma (BL), an aggressive form of childhood cancer.

Hamisi had never heard of BL, but doctors explained what needed to be done and shared the good news: BL is highly treatable when it's caught early.

And it appeared doctors diagnosed Asha in time. Treatment to save her life could begin right away.

  Asha was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma at Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania.   (Josephat Mugunda/IMA World Health)

Asha was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma at Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania. (Josephat Mugunda/IMA World Health)

Asha is fortunate her mother kept working to find help, because care and treatment for childhood cancer is not readily available in Tanzania. The Upendo Children's Cancer Ward at Muhimbili National Hospital is the only children's cancer ward in the country, which is almost twice the size of California and has the largest population in East Africa. More than 52 million people call Tanzania home and nearly half of them are younger than 18. (Source: www.cia.gov)

More than 85 percent of childhood cancer occurs in developing countries such as Tanzania. Lack of access to health care contributes to poor survival rates in these countries. Burkitt's Lymphoma is most common in children living in sub-Saharan Africa and is related to the Epstein-Barr virus. Symptoms usually include swelling and distortion of facial bones and tumors that can grow quickly, sometimes doubling their size in 18 hours.

Dr. Trish Scanlan, an Irish pediatric oncologist, runs the children's cancer ward. When she arrived in Dar es Salaam in 2007, there was only a 5 percent survival rate for most pediatric cancer patients. Children with BL had a higher survival rate, but only if they were diagnosed early and treated promptly.

  Luke King, IMA's Country Director in Tanzania, center, looks at chemotherapy drugs purchased with funding from Week of Compassion, with pharmacists at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.(Jennifer Bentzel/IMA World Health)

Luke King, IMA's Country Director in Tanzania, center, looks at chemotherapy drugs purchased with funding from Week of Compassion, with pharmacists at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.(Jennifer Bentzel/IMA World Health)

  With support from Week of Compassion, IMA World Health provides educational   materials that help train health care professionals in diagnosis and case   management. (Jennifer Bentzel/IMA World Health)

With support from Week of Compassion, IMA World Health provides educational materials that help train health care professionals in diagnosis and case management. (Jennifer Bentzel/IMA World Health)

About 70 percent of the hospital's funding comes from the Tanzanian government, but Muhimbili National Hospital depends on support such as Week of Compassion to fill the gap and enable children to receive care for free. With Week of Compassion, IMA World Health was able to provide chemotherapy drugs needed to treat BL to the Pediatric Oncology Ward at Muhimbili National Hospital. IMA was also able to provide training manuals for health care workers along with booklets for both parents and children to prepare them for their journey through the treatment process.

Because of Week of Compassion's partnership, more than 4,500 children like Asha have been treated. More than 2,000 healthcare professionals and students have been trained in diagnosis and case management.

In Asha's case, her journey has just begun, but she looks forward to going back to school where she has many friends. Until then, her mother will be by her side, working to ensure her daughter has a bright future of health, healing and well-being.

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!