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


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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