Update on recent Hurricanes and Reflection on Hospitality

Update on Harvey and Irma:

Hurricane Irma:

Week of Compassion partners are assessing the extensive damage in Cuba. We have set aside funds to support the coming appeal, once response plans are in place.

Power outages and flooding continue in Florida and along the southeast coast. Week of Compassion is working with regional leadership to assess the effects of Irma on our Disciples congregations. Reports of roof damage and flooding at homes and church buildings have already begun, and we anticipate many more as people are able to return from evacuation locations. Congregations across Florida and the southeast continue to offer shelter and assistance to their communities, with support from regional leadership.

Week of Compassion has an ongoing relationship with the Volusia Interfaiths/Agencies Networking in Disaster, where we are supporting long-term recovery from Hurricane Matthew. We have reached out to offer additional assistance for additional efforts responding to Irma.

Hurricane Harvey:

In the last week, Week of Compassion has distributed over $100,000 in solidarity grants to households and churches through the Coastal Plains Area and Southwest Region. Additionally, our staff has provided information and pastoral support to Disciples congregations making significant impact in their local areas. Our congregations span the impact zone--from Corpus Christi, Aransas Pass, and Victoria in the west, to Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange in the east; from Galveston and Texas City in the south, to Conroe and Kingwood in the north. Disciples have distributed more than 1000 clean up buckets and have helped muck out dozens of houses. Congregations have collected school supplies, hosted meals, and offered prayer for and with their neighbors.

Together with Disciples Volunteering and local and regional leaders, Week of Compassion is planning for long-term recovery support and volunteer opportunities.

 

Seminarian Foster Frimpong shares in the feast provided in the Saenam village of West Timor.Photo by Kyle McDougall

Seminarian Foster Frimpong shares in the feast provided in the Saenam village of West Timor.Photo by Kyle McDougall

Hospitality - Reflection on a recent visit to Indonesia

Last month, a group of nine Disciples seminarians and recently ordained clergy participated in an immersion experience with Week of Compassion partners in Indonesia. Rev. Miriam Gentle of the Capital Region offered this reflection as part of a recent sermon.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is our example for what welcoming the stranger means.Jesus entered humanity and became human. In the Incarnation, Jesus humbled himself, becoming vulnerable.

Even as he humbled himself, he invited others into a relational experience; strangers, Samaritans, women, tax collectors. He welcomed little children, who had no status in society, and placed them on his lap and proclaimed that to them belonged the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16)

Jesus even broke bread with the person who would eventually betray him.

God’s welcome was extended to all.

As scripture shows us, hospitality is about giving and receiving.

It’s about relationships and mutuality.

Mutuality means that we need to welcome others, but we also need to be humble and vulnerable enough to allow others to welcome us.

I experienced a bit of this mutuality in my recent visit to Indonesia. I traveled with a group of seminarians and newly ordained clergy. We weren’t there to do mission work, dig wells, or build schools. Our task was simply to observe the work that was being done by Week of Compassion, the Disciples’ relief, refugee and sustainable-development mission fund, partnering with Church World Service working with food insecurity and disaster risk management.

As our group of ten traveled to remote villages, I felt like those early apostles, sent out two by two, traveling light, carrying God’s love in our hearts, being welcomed by strangers.

On the island of West Timor, we traveled for hours up a winding mountain road. Breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean on one side. We drove until the cars could no longer travel up the mountain. Then we walked up a rocky hill. A bit winded and weary, I came upon a humble cement block building nestled among the trees. In contrast to the gray and dusty cement block building, brightly colored woven cloths woven by the women of the village, hung neatly in rows.

We climbed the steps and entered the building, their church. I was surprised to see the entire village had gathered to greet us. As we were ushered to the front, a place of honor, the children of the village began to sing. The words, in Indonesian were not ones I understood, but the tune, “Amazing Grace” gave me all I needed to translate. God’s love is here and you are welcome in God’s name. Salam! Welcome! Peace be unto you!

I felt humbled, honored, and loved. God was on that mountain. God was there in our midst. We were offered food to eat from what little they had. Fish, rice, bananas. Even in scarcity, they welcomed us lavishing their food, their water, and their gifts of beautifully woven scarves, on us.

True hospitality is choosing to see another person as a child of God. When we enter into relationships with others, guided by respect, love, and mutuality, we begin to unfold God’s kingdom on earth and live into our calling of “doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly” with God and all creation.

A Bridge to the Future in Myanmar

Photo by CWS

Photo by CWS

Photo by CWS

Photo by CWS

By CWS

It’s a two-hour drive from Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar (Burma) out to Maubin Township. From the town of Maubin it’s another hour drive to Inn Ma Su village. You can make that drive in the dry season. During the rainy season between July and September, the roads between Maubin and Inn Ma Su flood, and your only option is a 90-minute boat ride. About 1,400 people live in Inn Ma Su and the nearby villages of Kyone Cha, Ywar Ma and Sint Ku.

The rainy season presents challenges and risks for everyone, including children. During the dry season, it takes the children from Inn Ma Su about 40 minutes each way to walk to and from school. Not only does it take much longer in the rainy season, but it is also dangerous because of muddy paths and both standing and moving water. During the height of the rainy season children can’t walk to school at all – they have to be taken by boat. For both the children and their families, this time-consuming solution adds to the danger.

Something needed to change to help students get to school. In early 2017, with support from Week of Compassion, Church World Service began to plan and construct a new, 90-foot concrete bridge so that school children could access the main road more safely and easily.  The CWS team in Myanmar worked with village leaders and the community’s Water and Sanitation Committee to choose a bridge design – one that included hand rails and a safe surface – and draw up construction plans and a budget. The community committed to share the cost of the bridge by donating labor.

Work on the new bridge began in March. A CWS engineer worked with skilled masons and community volunteers to ensure quality work for safety and sustainability. The bridge was completed in April, in time for a mid-May inauguration and celebration.

While the bridge was designed with students in mind, its benefits are far reaching for the people of Inn Ma Su. Ma Kaythi, a mother of three, told us, “I feel so happy that we have the bridge because I do not worry any more about my kids walking through the creek when they go to and from school. Now, they can go safely within a shorter time. The bridge also encourages women like me to go to the Health Center for medical care and treatment because it is now much less difficult and time-saving.”

Rejoice and be glad, for God has done great things!

Today we celebrate God's faithfulness, your generosity, and the
amazing work your gifts have enabled over the last quarter. From
offering famine relief in Nigeria and across the Horn of Africa, to
supporting refugees and displaced persons, to providing economic
opportunities for women and girls, to rebuilding homes destroyed
by floods and tornadoes in the United States, Week of Compassion
partners continue to make a difference in the world.

Below, you will find the 2017 Second Quarter Report as well as
information about how to connect with Week of Compassion and
our partners at the 2017 General Assembly in Indianapolis, IN.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Throughout the Assembly, Week of Compassion staff and committee members (present and former) will be at our booth in the exhibit hall. Several of our partners will also have representatives in the booth, with some great stories to share! Come by and hear about the ways we are present for our neighbors near and far!

We hope to see you, also, at the Week of Compassion breakfast on Tuesday morning, with special guest Laila Alawa. Ms. Alawa is the founder and CEO of The Tempest and also works in public relations and social media branding for NuDay Syria, a non-profit organization bringing humanitarian aid to people in Syria and the surrounding countries displaced by the ongoing civil war. On-site tickets for the breakfast will be limited; buy your ticket in advance here.

 

SECOND QUARTER RESPONSES

Photo by Brethren Disaster Ministries

Photo by Brethren Disaster Ministries

DISASTER RELIEF AND EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE

Africa
Kenya, Drought Relief
Nigeria, Crisis Fund
East Asia and the Pacific
Philippines, Emergency Support
Middle East and Europe
Greece, Refugee Response
Jordan, Refugee Response
Lebanon, Refugee Response
Syria, Internally Displaced Response (2)
North America
USA, Refugee Response
Alabama, Storm Relief
Arkansas, Storm Relief (2)
California, Emergency Support
California, Long-Term Wildfire Recovery
Kansas, Fire Recovery
Kentucky, Storm Relief (2)
Louisiana, Long-Term Flood Recovery
Michigan, Refugee Response
Missouri, Storm Recovery (3)
North Carolina, Hurricane Matthew Long-Term Recovery (4)
Oklahoma, Tornado Relief
Tennessee, Storm Relief (2)
Texas, Long-Term Tornado Recovery and Mission Station support
Texas, Storm Relief
Texas, Emergency Support

DEVELOPMENT, LONG-TERM RECOVERY AND REHABILITATION

Africa
DR Congo, Girl's Advocacy & Leadership
DR Congo, Women's Empowerment
Kenya, Emergency Drought Support
Liberia, Water Program Support
Nigeria, Famine Support
Sierra Leone, Water Program Support
Latin America and the Pacific
Chili, Forest Fire Prevention
Haiti; Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene
Middle East and Europe
Bosnia & Herzegovina, Renewable Energy
Georgia, Renewable Energy
Israel/Palestine, Sustainable Agriculture
Moldova, Renewable Energy
Southern Asia
Indonesia, Women & Girl's Empowerment
 

Start at the Resurrection

A Reflection for Easter by Associate Director, Rev. Caroline Hamilton-Arnold

Light streams in the dome at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Light streams in the dome at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

In the fall of last year, I had the opportunity to travel with a Global Ministries delegation to visit many of our partners in the Middle East. The itinerary was full - four countries in less than fourteen days. Most of our days were spent witnessing the work and receiving the stories of partners who are working to provide trauma care to children, to equip young women to organize on behalf of their communities, to ensure refugees have the supplies they need for the coming winter, and to stand in witness against abuses and atrocities. Though we spent little time exploring "holy sites," it was a deeply sacred experience.

On our last morning in Jerusalem, we decided to participate in a tradition that stretches back centuries and make the pilgrimage along the Via Dolorosa - the journey Jesus made between Pilate's court and the cross on Golgatha. The path, which people have walked in some form for hundreds of years, traditionally begins at the site of Jesus' conviction at ends at the site of the garden tomb.

We discovered, however, that on the day of our travel, the Allenby Bridge between Israel-Palestine and Jordan would be closing early for observances of Rosh Hashana. In order to make the pilgrimage and still reach the border crossing before it closed, we determined to walk the path in reverse. Rather than begin at the approximate site of the Pilate's court and travel west, we would begin at the end, so to speak, at the garden tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Inside the church, built on the site that tradition identifies at the tomb where Jesus was laid, are six unique chapels for the six branches of orthodox Christianity. As we were there on a Sunday morning, services were held in these chapels. Coptic songs blended with Armenian chants and Roman Catholic liturgy, all mingling in air perfumed by incense burned by the Greek Orthodox priest. The candles of thousands of worshipers and pilgrims lit the space with a holy, dancing light. Protestants and Roman Catholics refer to the place as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, meaning the church of the holy tomb, but in that moment the Orthodox name seemed more fitting - the Church of the Resurrection.

It was from this sacred space, where Christians from around the world converged to praise the Risen Christ, that we began our pilgrimage-in-reverse. The inverted order is theologically appropriate, in a way, for the message of Easter, of life overcoming death, upends our expectation of the way things progress. We expect beginnings to precede endings. Yet, the resurrection declares that (to quote the popular hymn) "in our end is our beginning." The cycle and sense of the Christian story is of beginnings and endings and new beginnings.

As we made our way along the Via Dolorosa, each stop and encounter filtered through our experience of beginning at the end. The incense clung to our clothes, bringing the perfume of the resurrection into the moments of suffering and grief. We did not avoid the other parts of the road or the story. We confronted the death, the betrayal, and the corrupt and brutal systems that condemned Christ to the cross, but we did so from a place of the profound hope of Easter morning.

Our world can feel like one, long via dolorosa, a never-ending way of suffering. The work of Week of Compassion puts us in proximity to and relationship with those who are struggling most severely. Human corruption and conflict drive people from their homes and exacerbate shortages of food and water. The oceans are rising, and rain patterns are changing, putting vulnerable populations at even greater risk. Children continue to live in hunger; parents continue to live in fear of what tomorrow may bring.

We come to this work, however, having first been to the place of resurrection. Which means, we come to this work with the perspective of hope, of faith in what God is doing and can do. Amidst the terrors of war, our partners are cultivating peace - through art in Bethlehem and education along the Syrian border. In the midst of conflict and severe drought in the Horn of Africa, people receive life saving food and water. Along with the stories of hunger are the stories of orange trees planted in Nicaragua, now bearing abundant fruit.

To start at the resurrection is to begin always from a place of life rather than death, a place of hope rather than resignation, a place of anticipating abundance rather than fearing scarcity. In this blessed Easter season, may you experience the hope of the risen Christ, and may your journeys start at the resurrection.

Fire in the Plains

Early last month, while ranchers in the heartland of the country were working hard through the height of calving season, wildfires broke out and rapidly spread across the plains of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Northwest Texas. Within days, over 700,000 acres had burned in Kansas, setting a new record for fire damage and threatening the livelihoods of many. 

In Lane County, home of First Christian Church Dighton, at least six homes were destroyed, and many others suffered smoke damage. In Reno County, at least ten homes were destroyed, and several dozen homes suffered damage to wells, water lines and electrical lines. Across the state, ranchers lost grasslands, fence-lines, and cattle. 

Rev. Aerii Smith pastors two Western Kansas congregations-First Christian Church Dighton and First Christian Church Utica. Both towns were affected by the fires. Pastor Aerii knows Week of Compassion is "built for disasters" and quickly reached out through the Kansas Region to coordinate support. She was pleased that the process "was simple and easy" and, within three days, congregants who had damage to their properties received support.

With the recovery process only in it's nascent stages across multiple Kansas counties, Week of Compassion has been coordinating with Rev. David Dubovich of Park Place Christian Church in Hutchinson, to support long-term recovery through the Reno County VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster). The church was able to receive and distribute Church World Service clean-up buckets arranged by Week of Compassion and deliver a Week of Compassion grant to the VOAD to help restore water and electrical access and begin other repairs. One retired couple with limited means received assistance with the reconnection of their electrical box. When a VOAD team visited their home to check in and deliver cleaning supplies, the couple remarked, "Thank You is not even a [big] enough phrase to thank everyone for what they have done to help us."

Rev. Smith notes that the most daunting part of the recovery is restoring the scorched land; "It won't be good for grazing for months at least, and maybe years," she explains. This means the long-term impact on the community will be extensive. Despite the challenges, Rev. Smith has seen God acting in her community in the weeks after the fires. "People from neighboring states and communities have been donating hay to sustain the surviving cattle, and the recent rain has readied our community to safely receive it." These events are reminders "that God is here and with us."

The churches she pastors are also taking an active part in reflecting and spreading God's love in the aftermath of the fires. Motivated by their faith and desire to be more active in mission, her congregations typically take fifth Sundays to participate in service projects. At this end of this month, they plan to serve those who lost fences, homes, or other property in the fires. 

Although there remains much work still to be done, Disciples have already made a positive difference through the support of Week of Compassion and the presence of local Disciples congregations in Kansas. For Rev. Smith, the Week of Compassion grants helped her congregations feel "some small sense of hope from our larger Christian community, from our larger Disciples of Christ family." In turn, they and other Disciples across Kansas are offering a sense of hope to their neighbors.

Painting Futures in Morocco

Splotches of white paint stand out brightly against the rich blue of the men's jumpsuits when we meet them at the church in Casablanca. With paint-rollers still in hand, they greet us and introduce themselves. Modestly, at first, then with increasing confidence, the five men display the products of their work--the church parsonage, beautifully repaired and repainted.

In each room, the man responsible for the work draws attention to a detail, from the stucco around the fireplace in the living room, to the creatively repurposed newsprint wallpaper in the guest room, to the doorframes and molding in the entryway. As they guide us through the house, Freddie, their teacher, explains to us through a translator that the men are about to complete a professional formation course in house-painting. The month-long course is part of the Hand-Up For Migrants aid program operated by the Evangelical Church of Morocco, a Week of Compassion partner through Global Ministries.

Thousands of migrants and refugees come to Morocco, some from the Middle East and most from Sub-Saharan Africa. They come hoping to escape poverty and violence, and possibly to continue their journey into Europe. Just 9 miles of ocean separate the Northern tip of Morocco from the southern tip of Spain. The crossing is an expensive and risky endeavor, in rickety boats helmed by smugglers. All four of the men we met had tried to cross more than once--one man had attempted the journey no less than ten times before deciding to stay in Morocco.

Though many migrants come with the hope of a better life in Morocco or of passage to Europe, they often find themselves trapped in a life of poverty and persecution. Unable to continue to Europe, unable to return home, and faced with barriers to employment and few job prospects, many resort to begging on the streets to meet their basic needs.

The Hand-Up For Migrants aid program promotes self-sufficiency and dignity for refugees and migrants in Morocco through emergency material aid, micro-project loans, and vocational training. Freddie, himself an immigrant to Morocco, leads the house-painting course, emphasizing mastery of a variety of skills and techniques. He travels miles from his home, suspending his own business for several weeks in order to teach others the trade of house-painting. The men he trains receive certificates to affirm their proficiency, increasing their prospects on the job-market.

Thanks to the Hand-Up for Migrants program, these men have hope of providing for themselves by their skills, instead of relying on handouts on street corners. For some, this may provide a means to return home. For others, it is a means of survival in Morocco. For them all, it is a chance for independence in a life of few choices. It is a chance to work with pride, the paint splotches on their coveralls marks of the future that is possible. 

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.