Growing Hope: In Honduras, and Around the World

Rev. Erin Wathen, Associate Director for Marketing and Communications

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Most folks know Week of Compassion as the disaster response ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). When there is a fire, we’re there. When there’s a flood, we’re there. Hurricane, tornado, earthquake: there. We respond to meet immediate needs in the aftermath, and we commit to sustained presence as communities look ahead and rebuild.

Those are important parts of our ministry. But it isn’t the entirety of what we do. Week of Compassion also supports sustainable development projects all over the world. We empower families and communities to better support themselves, using resources that are often already available to them. Sometimes, this type of work does not feel as urgent as the devastation of a natural disaster, especially one that is trending on our local news every day. But this work is every bit as important and lifegiving as the other side of our ministry.

On a recent trip to Honduras, I was able to witness firsthand the kind of lasting impact that these development projects have and the ways in which our presence around the world shapes places for good.

Along with our partners at Church World Service and Growing Hope Globally, we support the work of an organization called Comisión de Acción Social Menonita (CASM). Some of their staff work in the urban center of San Pedro Sula, addressing the violence and drugs that destroy lives and drive people out of the country. And some of their work focuses on agricultural development in rural areas, addressing the poverty and lack of opportunity that also drive families to migrate.

The challenges of rural poverty and urban poverty vary: people leave the rural areas for want of food and education, but then in the city, they find similar lack of opportunity, compounded by gang violence. The situation is complicated, and there are no easy solutions. But wherever our group traveled, the story we heard was the same: “we don’t want to leave;” “this is our home;” “this is our family.”

We also heard another common thread in the communities that welcomed us: the work we support there is changing the narrative.

The small rural villages that welcomed us were in various stages of development. Some are learning better sanitation and hygiene practices--receiving support to build latrines and wash stations. Some are receiving the resources to pave the floors of their homes or make improvements to their tin roofs and mud walls. These practices combined cut back on the spread of disease and the contamination of food sources.

Other communities are learning to plant new crops or to sustain growth in conditions made more challenging by climate change. Some are learning to coop their chickens, or to raise tilapia. When a community completes these phases, they receive a cow as a ‘graduation gift.’ Once one family in a village has a cow, the nutrition of the children improves across the whole community, as milk and cheese are added to their diet. Then, when the cow has its first calf, the expectation is that the family will give it away to a neighboring village. This pay-it-forward mentality keeps the growth happening across many local communities.

Everywhere we went, entire communities came out to greet us, to tell us the stories of what they have learned and what they can grow together after having been mentored by the amazing CASM staff. In some cases, people traveled for hours (in the rain!) just to thank us and tell us what our support has done for their family or their village. They wanted to show us how hard they are working, and how far they’ve come. This kind of support means families aren’t split up and communities are not disrupted as a whole generation seeks a way out. Through new opportunities afforded by the CASM program, more people feel that there is hope for them at home. In many cases, the growth of their farms also means they can afford to send their children to school, so fewer of their younger generation will leave them.

Through education and agriculture, communities gain self-sufficiency and are empowered to build their future together. This work is every bit as transformative as the work of disaster response. And in fact, the two are not unrelated. What we’ve learned, time and again, is that empowered, well-connected communities are the most resilient in times of crisis. By supporting development projects in vulnerable parts of the world, we build capacity to endure emergencies, when and if they occur; in the meantime, your support brings hope and abundance to the everyday lives of God’s people. This is the work of the body of Christ-- around the year, and around the world.

Click to view a video of the work we are supporting in Honduras

Ashes to Ashes

When Mrs. F evacuated her home near Redding, CA to escape the Carr Fire, she didn’t know when she would be able to return. And she was fairly certain that when she did, she would be returning to ashes. Her home was, in fact, one of the 1200 homes destroyed by the fire.

Mrs. F had insurance on her home, but her settlement will not be enough to rebuild. Meanwhile, she was denied FEMA assistance and is in the process of appealing the decision. At this point, more than six months out from the fire, hope can be fleeting, but small encouragements keep Mrs. F --and others like her-- moving forward.

The role of community is priceless; both for practical, immediate needs, and for ongoing emotional and spiritual support. Your gifts to Week of Compassion mean that we can support people like Mrs. F at every phase of the journey towards recovery.

As the Church prepares for Ash Wednesday, we are mindful of God’s presence with us through all seasons. Through times of joy and celebration; through heartbreak and loss; through times of tragedy and into days of rebuilding. As we receive the sign of ashes, we remember our own mortality, as well. We remember that life is fleeting, and that all we have will one day return to the dust. But more importantly, we remember that in Christ, all things are made alive--and that the God who made us will not leave us to the dust.

We carry that powerful symbol on our bodies, so that we move through the season looking for signs of life.

Several months after the fire, Mrs. F made another visit to her home, still expecting nothing but dust and ashes. “I went back with her to the house to sift through the rubble,” a fellow member of First Christian Church, Redding recently told Week of Compassion staff. “It was amazing. You know, she had this rose bush in her yard...and it looked totally burned, like everything else. But there, at the base of the vine, a new shoot was growing.”

For new shoots growing--and for the transforming love of community-- we give thanks to God. We also give thanks for your gifts to Week of Compassion. With your support, we help make many kinds of new growth possible; in every season.

In the footprint of a home destroyed by the Carr Fire near Redding, CA, recent rains have brought new growth, green against the ashes and the blackened trees.  Photo Credit: Disciples Volunteering

In the footprint of a home destroyed by the Carr Fire near Redding, CA, recent rains have brought new growth, green against the ashes and the blackened trees. Photo Credit: Disciples Volunteering

CHRIST AT HOME IN US -- A CHRISTMAS GREETING

“Come, Desire of nations come,

Fix in us Thy humble home;

Oh, to all Thyself impart,

Formed in each believing heart!”

“Home” is a word we throw around quite often around Christmas, with songs on the radio reminding, albeit sentimentally, that there is no place like home for the holidays and crooning of a longing to be home for Christmas.

Home is a word that shows up quite often, as well, when we talk about the ministry of Week of Compassion. Be it in rebuilding houses after hurricanes or tsunamis or in resettling refugees and migrants displaced by violence, restoring home is a fundamental part of our work.

The celebration of Christ’s birth invites us into an even deeper and holier sense of the word home. This fourth verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” in the form of a prayer, suggests that home is something far more intimate and more powerful. These words, so often accompanied by fanfare and the organ with the all stops pulled out, entreat the incarnate one to take up residence not just among us, but indeed within us.

When Christ dwells within us, home is the place where God’s love is made known, where God’s love works through us.

The mission of Week of Compassion is born out of this desire both for Christ to be present among and within us and for us to recognize our neighbors as the dwelling places of God. This year, your prayers, partnership and financial support have enabled this work around the world.

Photo Credit: Week of Compassion

Photo Credit: Week of Compassion

In Bangladesh, summer floods ravaged dozens of districts in the north, northeast, and central parts of the country. The water damaged or destroyed an estimated 700,000 houses, and millions of people felt the effects on their businesses, their crops, their livestock, their health, and their homes. Your Week of Compassion worked with partners and helped provide emergency food supplies to thousands to address the immediate crisis. Thousands more received training and materials to repair their houses, rebuilt stronger to withstand future storms. Seeds, livestock, and market-driven skills-trainings helped communities revive and generate sustainable livelihoods.

For Ajuwa, Imani, and their four children--refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo--home is now Greensboro, North Carolina, after years of fear, danger, and instability. With your support to Week of Compassion, the CWS resettlement office has helped Ajuwa find a good job and obtain his driver’s license. The family has saved up for their first car to drive their kids to school.

This fall, the Camp Fire damaged the houses of nearly every family in the congregation of First Christian Church, Paradise, California. Two out of every three of those families returned to find only ash and rubble. Even as the future is uncertain, the congregation is finding strength in their relationships with one another and with the wider church. Because of your partnership, Week of Compassion was able to provide solidarity grants for the church and the families and has committed to supporting the long process of rebuilding ahead.

During the Ebola outbreak in west Africa a few years ago, thousands of people died, and survivors were restricted from gathering together, since the disease is so highly contagious. In the years since, community members, especially the women, have been leading their communities along the path of recovery--healing from the grief of so many deaths, reviving the devastated local economies, and restoring the bonds of community torn apart by the epidemic. Your gifts to Week of Compassion has allowed women to gain livelihood skills and micro-credit loans so they can begin to work and generate income to support their families again, thus lifting up their communities to overcome the pain and hurt from the outbreak.

These are just a few of the places your gifts have made an impact this past year. Thousands of lives have been touched by your generosity, partnership, and solidarity.

Thank you for your gifts to and partnership with Week of Compassion.

Thank you for the many ways you make a place for Christ to dwell.

This Christmas, may you be filled, again, by the power and wonder of Christ at home with and in us all.

Christmas blessings from your Week of Compassion staff,

Vy, Caroline, Suzie, and Chuck