by Josh Baird, Director of Disciples Volunteering, a partner of Week of Compassion
The Valley Fire wasn't the only wildfire in Lake County, CA, this year, but it was the most devastating. Over a two-week period in mid to late September, it burned over 76,000 acres of land and destroyed nearly 2,000 structures, including 1,300 homes. At the height of the fire, more than 20,000 people were displaced from their homes. United Christian Parish in Lakeport, a congregation affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), served over 1,500 people as a day shelter. For three weeks, the church offered people a hot meal and canned food items to take with them, a change of clothes, computer access, gift cards for gas stations, a tent if they needed it, and, most importantly, someone to sit and listen to their story. Many who came to the church had escaped the fire with little more than the clothes on their back.
Now, nearly two months after the fire was contained, signs of devastation are still evident - especially through the charred trees that remain standing, dangerously, with blackened trunks and brown needles. In most of the county's impacted communities, places like Loch Lomond, Adams, Hobergs, and Cobb, it is harder to see the devastated homes. Dotted across a rolling, wooded landscape, these homes were burned to their foundations, reduced to cinders and ash. In other communities, like Middletown, where the woods give way to a more pastoral landscape, it is possible to note the haphazard path of the fire through the dead or felled trees, vehicles reduced to their scorched metal frames, and, in many places, cleared lots where homes once stood.
Rev. Shannon Kimbell-Auth, pastor of the United Christian Parish, was our host for the morning. She shared about the church's involvement as a day shelter. She led us through the devastated communities. She talked about the people who were impacted, the homes lost, and the ways that the community is working to recover. She gave thanks for early solidarity grants received through Week of Compassion and shared how those gifts enabled her church to respond to the immediate needs of its members and its neighbors.
Near the end of our drive together, traffic was temporarily stopped by a construction crew. As we waited, Shannon pointed out across a field, past a series of scorched cars and dead trees, next to a collapsed building, to where a trailer could just be seen. Shannon reflected that the morning had been relatively normal for her family - and how odd that felt. It felt odd, because they haven't had many normal mornings over the past two months; and it felt odd, because she knows so many families in their community are displaced, or living in temporary housing like this trailer, facing an uncertain future. As she shared her concerns, I suddenly became aware of the music playing softly over the car radio. This was the first time I remember hearing Christmas music during a visit with a recently devastated community, one still working to turn the corner toward recovery. The contrast between the hopefulness of that song and the devastation before us was jarring. Yet it struck me how perfectly appropriate it was, a reminder that the light of Christ comes into the world even in the darkest of times - and a reminder of our need to bear the light with compassion as we offer hope, healing, and a helping hand:
"A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels' voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night
O night divine."
Stories from Partners
These two personal stories from Church World Service were written by participants of development projects funded by Week of Compassion.
Nicaraguan Farming Success
My name is Soraida Gutierrez Gutierrez, and I am one of the agricultural promoters of the Church World Service food security and nutrition program funded by Week of Compassion in Nicaragua.
When I started the program, I was a single mother farming small pieces of land with great effort. I became a project promoter in October 2014. I am now the secretary of the community council and belong to a group of organized women. I also work with the leadership of the school student council in my community, San Miguel, in the municipality of Puerto Cabezas or Bilwi.
I used the knowledge that I gained through the AMC program to produce basic grains more efficiently, particularly maize and the common bean. Before, my plot was not properly organized. Now that I have learned these new techniques, I combine up to three crops. I have discovered that this leads to better care, control over bad herbs, better pest control, lower rates of theft and a nicer looking plot. I also began to rotate my crops to better conserve the soil.
I really want to improve my life, so I have also started a small garden with mint plants that I sell for extra income in the market in the town of Puerto Cabezas. I learned this from my mother, who is currently the largest producer. We market our produce together.
As an agricultural promoter, I made the commitment to pass what I learned on to four farmers. I share not only knowledge and experience with them, but also vegetable seeds. Two of them have already planted these seeds in their gardens or plots.
Dominican Passion Fruit Flourish
My name is Adolfo Almanzar, and I am a farmer from the community of La Altagracia in Sabana Grande, Dominican Republic. I have lived here for 40 years. I am married and have a son and three daughters. I started producing passionfruit six years ago, and I have never felt so happy as now.
Thanks to a Church World Service program funded by Week of Compassion, I now grow passionfruit. I used to only handle cash every 15 or 20 days, but now that I sell passion fruit I can have cash if I need it almost every day. People often wait for me at home to buy passionfruit when I return from the field in the afternoon. There are also businesses that have told me to call whenever I have enough to sell. For that reason I try to motivate my friends so that we can meet the growing demand we already see.
In the past three months, I have harvested 3,500 units worth $131—money that has allowed me to help one of my sons who is in school. I have also been able to buy more food for my family.
There has been a strong drought this year. Like other farmers, we had to carry water on a motorcycle from the community to the fields. In the morning, my children would carry water for the plants, and I would do it in the evenings. Thankfully, this is no longer necessary because it is raining quite a bit in the area.
I also have a part-time job at the local dairy. Combined with my income from selling passionfruit and occasionally selling vegetables and other crops, I can say that I manage well economically.
As a community leader, I have made a commitment to support other farmers so that they too can undertake the cultivation of passionfruit with efficiency. There are already many farmers in my community who are interested in planting this and other crops, and we have enough knowledge already to know that we can do it well.
We hope that the program can move forward to support many other families.
Middle East Trip
Week of Compassion and Ecumenical One Great Hour of Sharing are leading a trip with Global Ministries to visit partners and see sights in the Middle East. If interested, please contact Week of Compassion at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-713-2442 for more information. Visit http://www.weekofcompassion.org/s/Middle-East-trip-WeekofCompassion-DOC-4ejf.pdf for an informational flyer.
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