Rev. Erin Wathen, Associate Director for Marketing and Communications
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.