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!

 

Wildfire in California and Hurricane Harvey Reflection

Situation Update: California Wildfires                                                                                   

Seventeen separate fires are burning in Northern California in the areas of Santa Rosa, Napa, and Sonoma. 13 people are confirmed dead, and 150 persons are reportedly missing, according to reports at midday today. More than 1,500 structures and 73,000 acres have burned. Geyserville Christian Church opened its doors yesterday to take in evacuees.

Smoke is causing health concerns across much of the state. In conversation with Week of Compassion staff, one pastor described the smoke that has blown west from the fires, blanketing the coast and causing the sun to appear red.

Another fire in Orange County, California has burned over 7500 acres and required evacuations for thousands of residents. A report this morning from the Orange County register indicated two dozen homes have burned. Among those evacuated are several members from First Christian Church, Orange, though the church building is currently in a safe area. Disciples-affiliated Chapman University, also in Orange, reports that campus is "safe but smoky." Operations are suspended and classes are cancelled for the health and safety of staff and students.

Week of Compassion will continue to be in communication with regional and local churches and partners to provide support as needed. We join in praying for all who are affected, all who are working to contain the fires, and all who will work for recovery in these communities. 

 

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Reflections  on recent South Texas Pastoral Visit

By Rev. Terri Hord Owens

"How long must your servant endure?"  Psalm 119:84                                                                                                           "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you..."- Isaiah 43:2 (NRSV)

As I traveled to Houston, Corpus Christi, Beaumont, Katy, Aransas Pass, Lake Jackson, and other areas in Texas recently hit by Hurricane Harvey, I was blessed to talk, pray and eat with Disciples pastors and laity.  Week of Compassion had been present on the ground, and everywhere we went, Disciples expressed gratitude for the checks for congregants and members. Their gratitude for your generosity was palpable and abundant.  The presence of regional ministry staff was steady and sure.

In the midst of inexplicable disaster, I shared the importance of lament.  In the Psalms we find expression for every facet of human emotion. David felt close enough to God to on one hand, shake his fist, asking "Why?"  "How long?"  But David always ended in praise.  In a sense, he released his fist, opening his hands in praise to a God whom he knew was always there.  For some, the work of "muck and gut" had already taken place, and they were awaiting final word from insurance adjustors.  In several cases, the estimated damage fell below the policy deductible-yet another blow to those who had flood insurance, yet without benefits.  Some churches were stripped to the studs, having gutted their entire sanctuaries and building.  Many pastors' homes had flooded, and they were managing their own recovery alongside that of their congregation.  "It's not losing the stuff that matters; it's the memories attached to all the stuff", one pastor shared.   Piles of drywall, carpet, furniture and cherished belongings in front of homes everywhere reminded us of just how much had been lost.  And so we hugged, prayed, sang and ate together, reminding each other of God's love in the midst of the storm.

Alongside the affirmation and thanksgiving that God had seen them through, I also saw tears on the faces of saints whose faith in God over a lifetime stood despite their tears.  For some, it was the first time that disaster had touched them.  For others, Harvey represented one of many factors that shape their daily existence, always on the edge of insecurity.  Churches that had been spared extensive damage had organized relief efforts and served as supply stations for the entire community.  Churches whose entire buildings were unusable were allowing themselves to consider how ministry might look differently going forward, how God might use their rebuilt physical resources in a different way for the future.   And as I saw weariness and the fatigue that comes with the trauma of such disaster, I also saw that spirits were reaching upward, desiring to offer God praise.  

There will be a time of rebuilding, a time when Disciples will be welcomed to mission stations to support the long-term recovery.  In the meantime, Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering and other General ministries such as DCEF and Pension Fund, will be there to support the long road to rebuild.  As we lament yet another natural disaster that has ravaged another community, we lift our voices in both lament and praise, knowing that the God we serve is able to hear both, and will be there with us as we together work to reconstruct homes, churches and lives.  God is with us; the storm will not overtake us.                                                

Life Abundant in the Broken Places

By: Virginia White, WoC Contributor

With the floods in South Asia, the earthquake in Mexico, and the hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean, this has been a particularly frightening and heartbreaking month to turn on the news and witness the havoc our planet is wreaking on neighbors near and far. For Week of Compassion, the relief and recovery ministry of our church, which is charged with bringing Christ's comfort, power, and hope to all those suffering from these devastating events, it has been a particularly challenging, and yet, grace-filled, month.

   The Velasquez home in Houston

The Velasquez home in Houston

This week our General Minister and President, Rev. Terri Hord Owens, joined Rev. Caroline Hamilton-Arnold (Associate Director, Week of Compassion) and Josh Baird (Director, Disciples Volunteering), along with other Southwest Region leadership, in South Texas to be present with the communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey.  

There they met Disciples like Pastor Hector Velasquez of Iglesia Cristiana El Redentor who have lost much in the storm.  Water seeped in through the exterior walls at Pastor Velasquez's church, leaving major, costly damage, and he and his wife's home was severely flooded. Nevertheless, in the face of these challenges he and his congregation "felt the embrace of the Church" and found strength in that embrace. Both, his family and his congregation received support from Week of Compassion and other ministries: supplies, offers for labor and other assistance from many churches across the country.

   Member Angela Wright shows Rev. Owens damage at University Christian in Houston along with Pastor Darnell Fennell

Member Angela Wright shows Rev. Owens damage at University Christian in Houston along with Pastor Darnell Fennell

Others, like Pastor David Dear and lay members at First Christian Church Aransas Pass, suffered only minor damage to their church building, yet nevertheless, decided to fully commit to becoming involved in the broader community recovery efforts. Knowing that "to do nothing would certainly be sinful", David and lay leaders from FCC Aransas Pass organized to provide assistance to their neighbors.

Revs. Owens, Hamilton-Arnold and Baird also met a family from First Christian Church Katy who had been evacuated from their rapidly flooding home by "three random guys in a bass boat." As they waited for over two-weeks for the water to recede from their home, in partnership with their church, they chose to serve their neighbors in need. They sorted donations and welcomed other families seeking shelter. They also delivered supplies in the neighborhood and cleaned out homes as they became accessible. Through it all, they did not let their suffering stop them from responding to the suffering of others.

As the congregation of FCC Katy went deeply into serving their community, they also made new connections with neighbors previously unaffiliated with their congregation. People came into their church to volunteer with the congregation's recovery programs. In the weeks since the storm, congregation members report seeing some of these new faces in worship.

In each of these stories, God's abundant ability to empower, heal, and offer life anew, even in the face of overwhelming devastation, is evident; as is our always present power and our gift, as God's children, to serve and help our neighbors in need.

   Pastor Bruce Frogge shows how high the water got in Cypress Creek Christian in Spring,TX

Pastor Bruce Frogge shows how high the water got in Cypress Creek Christian in Spring,TX

One woman, recalling the crews that went out from churches to clean out flooded homes concluded: "I just don't know what people do without a community like a church, without a group of people to come and help."

Her statement underscores just how vital our words and our actions as the Church-as those who are committed to bringing the good news of resurrection to places of destruction and death-are, especially after disasters. In the short-run we are there to provide shelter, prayer, and sustenance; in the long-run we are there to stand with communities as they rebuild and reimagine their livelihoods and lives together, providing supplies, labor, and ongoing encouragement.

Yet, with so many disasters happening, seemingly constantly, it is easy to become discouraged.

As I write this, we know that Hurricane Maria has devastated Puerto Rico, where power has been knocked out for 3.5 million people, and is expected to remain out for 3 to 6 months. We do not yet know the numbers of lives that have been lost; and the situation continues to develop. Maria continues to strengthen over warm water, endangering other low-lying islands. We know that over 200 lives were lost in Mexico City earlier this week, while more remain injured in hospitals, and entire neighborhoods have been destroyed. We know that earlier this month, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, millions in Florida suffered from heat, darkness, and hunger, and hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed. We are right to mourn for these pains and losses, even as we also take solace in the fact that we are present there, and can continue to be present there, mending and healing, through Week of Compassion.

As Rev. Owens has encountered families impacted by Harvey in Houston, she has drawn from the wisdom of the Psalms. She says, "We see in the Psalms an affirmation of our full range of human emotions. We can cry, and yell, and shake our fists and ask God, 'how long, O Lord?' Yet, at the end of the Psalms David releases his fist in praise--affirming that God is who God says God is, that God is with us."

We know that God is with us, and God is who God says God is, when we experience God's presence even in the midst of our suffering. Sometimes this looks like a helping hand, sometimes it looks like a check from Week of Compassion, sometimes it looks like a phone call, checking-in, offering help.

Just as it is currently in south Texas, Week of Compassion has been in contact with our partners in Mexico and Florida, assessing the damage, and offering assistance as needs are identified. Currently, Week of Compassion is seeking contact with partners in Puerto Rico and will be providing assistance there in the months and years of recovery ahead.

Inspired by God's enduring, loving, presence, Week of Compassion, and by extension, ourselves, will remain in these places for the long-haul. Though the obstacles we face are immense, if we choose to act together in hope, inspired by God's abundant love, and to give of ourselves and resources graciously, then we need not despair, but will find life even in the most broken places. Thanks be to God.