3 Million People Affected in Haiti

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the island nation of Haiti yesterday afternoon. By all approximations, as many as 3 million people have been impacted by this devastating quake. Week of Compassion is responding. Through Global Ministries, we will be responding to our partner organizations in Port-au-Prince, CONASPEH and the House of Hope. At this time, communication is still very difficult, but we are receiving reports via text messages and social networking sites. There has not been any contact made, yet, with Patrick Villier of CONASPEH. We are holding him, his family and all the churches who are a part of CONASPEH in our hearts and prayers. 

We have also been in touch with our ecumenical partners through Church World Service, many of whom are also our Global Ministries partners. This morning, via Skype, I was able to touch base with Martin Coria, Regional Coordinator for CWS Latin America and Caribbean. Martin shared with me that the staff of SKDE, another of our partner organizations there, is fine. Some were slightly injured but otherwise everyone is in relatively good physical condition. Church World Service is coordinating a conference call this afternoon for all its member communions so we can best coordinate our relief efforts.  An initial appeal has already been issued. 

ACT International has already had its first conference call this morning, and will be issuing an appeal today or tomorrow. As you know, ACT is the largest alliance of Christian humanitarian agencies in the world. 

WoC is responding through all of these channels to provide the most immediate, efficient and effective response to this horrible disaster as humanly possible. 

To donate to Haiti Earthquake Relief, please click here. Thank you to so many of you who have already responded. We are so blessed to be able to come together as a community of faith to respond to the overwhelming needs of our sisters and brothers in Haiti. They are in our hearts and prayers. This is an absolutely desperate situation. 

What Gifts Do You Bring?

I always dread this time of year, when the decorations come down, the ornaments are put away, and the Christmas music is again replaced with the radio’s latest pop hits. I try to put this inevitable part of the season off as long as I possibly can—but eventually it comes, that terrible moment when I realize that I simply can’t deny it any longer. 

Christmas is over. 

Yes, it’s come to an end, this magical season. I am overcome with the post-holiday blues, suck it up, make the trek back down to the basement to come up with the boxes…Pack it up, Amy! I say to myself. Christmas will roll around again next year; it always does…

But before I actually go downstairs to my basement, I do have one more day of Christmassing. Today is Epiphany, when the wise astrologers from the East came to visit the Christ-Child. Today is actually the 12th—and final—day of Christmas. As we all know so well, they came bearing gifts—luxurious, precious gifts—for the newborn King. Thus, I wonder, too, what gifts might I bring? What gifts might I offer to Christ this year? 

When I was in the Congo this past November, I preached in a church-on-stilts in a fishing village. Folks set up a camp of sorts along the Congo River where they could fish and make some semblance of a living. Fishing means surviving for most of the members of this community. 

After I preached my sermon, translated into the local language of Lingala, I sat back down in my seat and proceeded to watch the members of the church dance forward their offerings. I was overcome by their joy in doing so. I’m serious when I say that they danced their offerings forward. They were thrilled—delighted—overjoyed that they had something to give! This was the highlight of the worship experience! Praise be to God for the opportunity to give what we have! 

And just when I thought it was over, the marvelous African beat continued and they kept dancing. They were invited to give another offering—another offering? I thought. This would never fly in our churches at home! This time they brought forward their gifts for me, the preacher. What? Me? An offering for me?? I could hardly believe it. Their tradition to offer gifts of gratitude for the one who shared the word of God was overwhelming to me. Never has this happened to me in all my travels and visits to preach the Gospel! Wow! 

So I graciously—despite my incredulousness—accepted the three fish that were brought forward. And the long branch of plaintains; the oranges; the money. I felt strange about accepting it, I’ll admit. But I know that to honor the giver you honor the gift. This is what Week of Compassion is all about. 

Honoring the giver and the gift—this is also the best way to honor the receiver.

Friends, I honor you this Epiphany. I honor you for the gifts you bring. I honor you for the offerings you bring to Week of Compassion. I honor you for offering what you have. Most of all, I honor you for giving the best gift of all: yourselves. 

You are your best offering.

Happy 2010!

What Are You Waiting For?

They were there when we got off the plane. They were all along the route as we made our way through town. They were there when we arrived at the church. And at the next church. They were there on the banks of the Congo River, waiting in the rain for hours as we made our way out of the canoe and into their makeshift church. They were there when we visited the school. And at the next school. They were even along the one paved road we bounced upon for hours upon end until we made it to the interior—the rural area outside of Mbandaka. They were there when we visited the hospital. 

No matter where we went, at what time we arrived, or how many or few of us there were, they were there—waiting, with great anticipation. The Congolese know how to welcome. No need to form welcoming committees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for everyone in the community joins in; all eagerly take part in welcoming the stranger. As the new kid in town, I was simply overwhelmed by the hospitality offered—not just when we first arrived, but during the entire trip.
I must admit, it never got old. The moment we would get close to nearing our next destination, I would hear the faint sounds of singing. Their voices, drumming and clapping bid us welcome long before we could actually see our hosts. On many occasions we were not on schedule, but that did not stop our Congolese brothers and sisters—waiting and wanting to welcome us in the ways only the Congolese would, in song and dance and utter enthusiasm. 

It is precisely that kind of awesome anticipation that I wish I felt as I wait for the Christ-child to be born. I admit it; I wish I could continue, year after year, to conjure up that kind of sheer excitement. But let’s face it: we know the story. It’s no longer a surprise! We will find the Christ-child again this year wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Mary and Joseph will have gone through one heck of an ordeal to finally make it there—lucky to find a dirty stable where they could bring their baby into the world. I wonder if their initial fear eventually did give way to excitement—Congolese style excitement, that is—when they finally realized that they truly were going to become the parents of the Newborn King. 

But there was no welcoming committee in the stable. No women in bold and bright colored dresses; no children dancing; no men drumming. I highly doubt that there was anyone there ululating or clapping. No palm branches were waved; no hands shaken. No voices raised, nor was there any singing that could be heard far off in the distance, signaling that we were there, waiting, ready to welcome the King of Kings.
Ironically, the great anticipation with which the Congolese waited and welcomed us could have been deceiving, for I knew that the excitement they felt as they waited for us to arrive should not be confused with the other things they long for: access to health care, medicine, and medical treatment they can afford; sources of nutritious food or opportunities to grow enough of their own food; clean and accessible water; education for all; an end to violence against girls and women; peace across their land. 

O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

Likewise, the pastor from Central Christian Church in Waterloo, Iowa, wrote me on Monday. Do you recall the horrible floods of last year that affected many parts of that great state? As most of us have moved on with our lives, barely remembering this news from 2008, we learned this week that one of our dear Disciples families is still struggling to make ends meet. They have received all the resources possible from FEMA and other community organizations in the area. But after a disaster of this kind, it can literally take years to get back on your feet. This family, one of our own, is still waiting for a full recovery. Waiting to catch up with their overwhelming bills. Waiting to pay subcontractors. Waiting for their life to regain a sense of normalcy. Waiting for peace. 

Thanks to you, Week of Compassion responded to our family in Iowa, just as we faithfully respond to our sisters and brothers in need in the Congo. We respond to those who wait for just the basic necessities of life. Our gifts of compassion are our way of welcoming the Christ-child again this year. They are our way of beckoning him forth into our hurting world—O come, o come, Emmanuel

Now that is something to get excited about…

May you and yours have a very merry Christmas.

2009 Compassion Response Fund Report

We find ourselves in the midst of the Advent season -— anticipating, hoping, and preparing for the birth of the Christ-child in our lives and in our world. How desperately we need him! In my humble opinion, good preparation also includes reflection on what has already been. Each quarter this year, we have provided you with a brief report on all that you have helped us make possible through Week of Compassion. Today we send you our final Compassion Response Fund Report for 2009 (barring, we pray, any major disasters between now and the New Year).
The Compassion Response Fund is an allocation the Week of Compassion Advisory Committee makes each year to enable WoC to respond immediately, effectively and efficiently to requests for emergencies, disasters and other urgent and unexpected needs that arise. For 2009 the WoC Committee has allocated $600,000 for the Compassion Response Fund; it is the single largest item in the WoC program budget. In addition to what is budgeted for the Response Fund, WoC receives designated gifts for the Fund and for specific disasters, countries and situations that further enhance our capacity to respond to emergency needs and appeals. Currently, WoC has made a disaster response on average of once every 2.5 days.

Below is a listing of grants from the Compassion Response Fund and other designated disaster response accounts. Contributions for the Response Fund are needed and welcomed and will be used 100% for emergency response to humanitarian needs in the world. During these difficult economic times, it is the vulnerable, the poor, the diseased and the hungry —- those sisters and brothers WoC serves and accompanies -— who feel the most impact. Thus, it is with great joy we share with you, our partners in this compassionate and critical ministry, the following report. And we thank you, once again, for your courageous compassion. 

Africa: [157,543]
$6,000 - Angola, relief to flood affected
$6,000 - Chad, assistance to IDPs & refugees
$60,000 - Darfur/Sudan, emergency relief
$6,000 - DR Congo, severe storms
$2,500 – DR Congo, aid to displaced
$2,500 – DR Congo, aid to Angolan refugees
$18,000 - DR Congo, crisis
$21,000 - Kenya, famine relief
$11,000 - Liberia, hunger relief
$1,000 – Republic of Congo, emergency
$6,000 - Somalia, assistance to IDPs
$6,000 - Zambia, food relief
$6,451 - Zimbabwe, food security
$1,250 - Zimbabwe, aid for medical clinic
$3,842 – Zimbabwe, water wells

East Asia and the Pacific: [31,250]
$5,000 - Australia, bushfires
$4,500 – China, flood relief
$5,000 - Philippines, northern Mindanao floods
$9,750 – Philippines, typhoon
$2,500 – Philippines, tropical storm/flood relief
$2,000 – Samoa, emergency aid
$2,500 – Taiwan, flood relief

Latin America and the Caribbean: [38,347]
$3,847 - Chaco Region, water project
$5,000 - Costa Rica, flood relief
$7,500 - Costa Rica, earthquake relief
$1,000 – Dominican Republic, fire
$5,000 – El Salvador, floods/mudslides
$5,000 - Honduras, tropical depression
$6,000 – Honduras, earthquake relief
$2,500 – Honduras, political crisis
$2,500 – Mexico, flood relief

Middle East and Europe: [55,500]
$13,500 - Bosnia, long-term recovery
$23,000 - Gaza, humanitarian assistance
$6,000 - Iraq, assistance to IDPs & refugees
$11,000 - Republic of Georgia, post-conflict relief & recovery
$2,000 – Russia, poverty

Southern Asia: [166,750]
$10,000 - Afghanistan, medical care
$6,000 - Afghanistan, drought & food insecurity
$5,000 – Bangladesh, cyclone relief
$5,000 – Cambodia-Thailand, border crisis
$5,000 – Cambodia, flood relief
$31,000 - Indonesia, post-tsunami & earthquake rehabilitation
$25,000 – Indonesia, West Java earthquake
$6,500 – India, flood rehabilitation
$2,000 – India, disaster risk reduction
$13,000 – Myanmar, ongoing cyclone relief
$37,000 – Pakistan, humanitarian crisis
$12,250 – Sri Lanka, assistance to conflict-displaced
$6,500 – Thailand, ecumenical partnership
$2,500 – Vietnam, flood relief

General: [24,000]
2009 Rapid Response Fund
 Indonesia, West Papua earthquake relief
 Madagascar, cyclone recovery
 Indonesia, Talaud Is. earthquake relief
 India, Orissa tornado
 Afghanistan, earthquake
 Cambodia, border conflict
 India, Cyclone Aila
 DR Congo, fire, displacing families
 Nepal, diarrhea outbreak
 Pakistan, religious violence
 Honduras, political crisis
 Pakistan, displacement
 El Salvador, floods/mudslides
 Tanzania, landslide
 India, Tamil Nadu floods

Domestic: [178,296]
$12,000 – Alaska, Yukon River floods
$1,000 - Arkansas, house fire
$1,000 - Arkansas, ice storm relief
$500 – Arkansas, flood recovery
$6,000 – Arizona, emergency water needs
$4,000 – Florida, flood recovery
$11,000 – Florida, long-term disaster recovery
$5,000 - Florida, long-term hurricane recovery
$750 – Florida, house fire
$3,500 - Georgia, emergency heating
$2,000 – Georgia, flood relief
$6,500 – Illinois, hurricane
$2,500 - Indiana, flood recovery
$10,000 – Iowa, flood recovery
$9,000 - Kentucky, ice storm relief
$1,000 – Kentucky, tornado recovery
$3,000 – Kentucky, work in Appalachia
$16,000 - Louisiana, long-term hurricane recovery
$10,000 - Louisiana, ecumenical build
$2,000 – Mississippi, hurricane recovery
$500 – Missouri, tornado recovery
$1,000 – Missouri, ongoing storm recovery
$1,500 – Oklahoma, wildfire recovery
$2,500 – South Carolina, wildfire recovery
$3,000 – Tennessee, tornado relief
$30,000 - Tennessee, hurricane recovery (evacuees)
$250 - Texas, house fire
$5,296 - Texas, hurricane recovery
$1,000 – Texas, tornado recovery
$6,000 - U.S., 2008 spring storms
$7,000 - U.S., 2009 spring storms & floods
$6,000 – U.S., 2009 summer storms
$5,000 – U.S., 2009 southeastern floods
$500 – Virginia, trauma counseling
$2,000 – West Virginia, flood relief

Galveston Blitz Build a United Effort

We have many things to celebrate this week! Although here in the Midwest the snow is falling and the temperature is dropping, there is plenty to warm our hearts during this Advent season.

The Rev. Rebecca Hale, Week of Compassion Advisory Committee Chair, recently represented WoC at the Blitz Build in Galveston, TX. She sent us this dispatch: 

"In 2008, Hurricane Ike devastated many buildings and homes in Galveston, Texas. The substantial stone building of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) escaped significant damage, and the members of that congregation rapidly mobilized to begin using their building as a central aid station for the area. As the congregation began opening its doors to offer compassion for its neighbors, along with other Texas congregations, Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering, the Southwest Region and the Coastal Plains Area of the Christian Church (Disciples) joined with them in efforts to provide relief in the forms of food, companionship, funds, clothing, and volunteer assistance.  

In those very early days, members of Central Christian Church realized that their nearest Disciples neighbor, Second Christian Church (just five blocks away!), was having a very different experience. Shortly after the storm, Carl Zerweck, Director of Disciples Volunteering, a ministry of Disciples Home Missions, heard about Second Christian Church and went to take a look.  

He described the damage as "devastating." The building was almost completely destroyed and was in the process of being condemned by the city of Galveston.
Carl's visit started a journey that ended with the dedication of the newly rebuilt church building of Second Christian Church on November 22, 2009. Volunteers from Texas and Louisiana congregations worked to gut the majority of the building in the fall of 2008. Volunteers from across the country, working with Disciples Volunteering throughout the summer and fall, rebuilt the worship and fellowship space of this congregation. During the rebuilding, First Christian Church, Texas City, TX, and Central Christian Church, Galveston, opened their doors to house and feed volunteers with the help of congregations from across the Coastal Plains Area. During the dedication, prayers of joy were offered, songs with words like "If you can't make it through the storm/how can you say that God's your captain?" took on an added significance, and tears fell in hope and gratitude.

The new building looks beautiful. Second Christian has a wonderful new space in which to live out its mission and ministry for many years. Many people and organizations made this happen - WoC, Reconciliation Ministry, the Coastal Plains Area, Disciples Volunteering, the Southwest Region, and scores of volunteers from across the life of our church. Maybe the most significant partnership that emerged was the relationship between the neighboring congregations of Second Christian Church and Central. One refrain echoed throughout the week: "we had lost touch with each other as sister congregations and now we have found a relationship that has the potential to sustain us both and expand our ministries."  

That was the spirit of the build: great joy at friends found and commitments made to stay in relationship with one another. There was also a deep sense of gratitude for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and what can happen when we come together to care for those who are devastated by events far beyond their control.

On another note, a woman came up to me to thank Week of Compassion. Immediately after the hurricane, she received some WoC funds through her pastor. She said without those funds she did not know what they would have done. Her house was flooded, and while insurance paid for most of the repairs, her husband could not work for four weeks and they would not have had money for food or basic needs during those early days. She said she was already planning on how she would be giving an increased amount to WoC so that others could experience the relief she experienced."

Jazz Carol Fest Rocks in Kansas City

Also to celebrate: Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, recently held their 14th Jazz Community Carol Fest, a fundraiser for Week of Compassion. Featuring many of the best performers from the Kansas City jazz scene, this year's Jazz Fest brought in more than $7000 for Week of Compassion. Over the years, this event has raised more than $100,000 for Week of Compassion.

And wow - jazz renditions of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" "Go Tell it on the Mountain," and "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." What a great way to celebrate the season and contribute toward a Courageous Christmas!

Courageous Christmas

Speaking of which, many of you have asked about alternative giving ideas for Christmas. If you are interested in celebrating Christmas by giving to Week of Compassion in the name of someone you care about, please check out our Courageous Christmas Campaign.

Advent Reflections

And back by popular demand: Advent reflections from The Rev. Bonnie Carenen, former Week of Compassion Intern, currently working with Church World Service in Indonesia. Insightful and inspiring, Bonnie's writing will help you live into this season in new ways.

I hope your Advent is filled with peace, joy, and anticipation.

- Brandon Gilvin

Medical Needs in the Congo

A Post-Thanksgiving Reflection

Click Here To See More Pictures

As many of you know, I recently returned from an amazing journey to the Congo.  Along with my colleagues Sandra Gourdet, Global Ministries Area Executive for Africa; Dr. Eyamba Bokamba, Member of our WoC Advisory Committee; and Susan Sanders, Director of One Great Hour of Sharing for the United Church of Christ, we traveled to both the Republic of the Congo (Congo Brazzaville) and to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo Kinshasa), formerly known as Zaire.  One does not venture mindlessly off on such journeys.  Nor does one come home, dare I surmise, having not become more mindful of what life looks, smells, sounds and feels like to others so seemingly far away.

We spent an entire day in Bolenge, a village not far from Mbandaka, the capital city of the Equatorial Province in the DRC.  Mbandaka is where the 10th Community of the Disciples of Christ in the Congo is located, our historic mission site.  The village of Bolenge is a quick drive from the city and is the site of many more of our historic Disciples missions in the region, including a hospital, a highly reputable high school, a malnutrition clinic and the church community itself.  If you have been a life-long Disciple, chances are you have grown up hearing about Bolenge; I know I did.  

So to walk the ground of Bolenge was almost surreal.  The hospital had burnt down several years ago and I vividly recall responding to this devastating news. WoC and OGHS both channeled resources through Global Ministries to help the destroyed hospital rebuild.  Thanks to entirely local efforts, the pediatric ward has indeed been re-erected and I was able to walk through its halls and rooms.  In a country like the DRC, where Dr. Bill Clemmer of IMA World Health told us that there are 515 health districts in total and an average of only one hospital per district and perhaps some 15-20 clinics, a hospital burning down is beyond distressing.  Among those few hospitals, there is, on average, one doctor per 70-80,000 people in the DRC.  Luckily, Bolenge has a number of doctors on staff although they are, not surprisingly, overworked and severely underpaid.  

Often performing surgeries and other medical procedures in the dark because there is no power and the electrical generator is currently not working, just last week they told me they did a C-section by flashlight.  

I wish I could say that this was atypical, but such is the state of medical affairs the country-over.  Hospitals and clinics in the DRC work under these kinds of conditions each and every day.  In the midst of the realities of poverty, dysfunctional government, and a lack of resources, the folks at Bolenge Hospital still have to find a way to respond to the overwhelming health needs of their community.  And they do it one day, one case, one life at a time.  

Most of the health needs we heard about and saw are things that are preventable.  Malaria is a huge issue.  Blood transfusions are needed but there is no blood bank.  HIV/AIDS is spreading more rampantly.  Malnutrition is a terrible problem, caused by poverty, a lack of clean, accessible water, and a lack of protein in their diet.  Water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid are also widespread.  Another large medical problem in the DRC is maternal mortality.  The number of women dying during or right after childbirth is alarming, many of them experiencing post-partum hemorrhaging.   Or, as is often the case, a woman begins labor but is hours away from a hospital or a clinic and dies on her way.  Add to that the economic reality that most people in the Congo make $1 a day but the average hospital visit (Congolese hospitals work on a fee-for-service basis) is $3.  If you’re among the lucky ones who are able to pay for the visit, you find yourself in the awful predicament of having covered the costs of your diagnosis but are then usually unable to pay for the treatment and the medicines.  Clinics, which are relatively less expensive, also operate on a fee-for-service basis and are often unable to provide people with the medicines they actually need to become well.  

It was clear to me that the Bolenge Hospital staff and the Medical Department of the Disciples of Christ Community in the Congo are committed to care for the people of the Bolenge and Mbandaka and surrounding districts as best they can.  I do not envy their task and can hardly imagine working under the conditions they have to face.  

As I embarked the transatlantic flight back home a few days after my visit to Bolenge, I began to feel a bit queasy myself.  For the next eight hours I sipped only ginger ale; I could feel myself coming down with something.  Luckily, I made it back home before I fully fell ill.  What was first thought to be malaria turned out, by the grace of God, to be a severe case of gastroenteritis.  I missed Thanksgiving.  I missed the Macy’s Day Parade.  I missed turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy.  I missed playing with my beloved nieces and nephew.  I missed my family’s annual Christmas exchange dinner the next night.  I missed the whole stinkin’ holiday.  

But I was home.  And the moment I knew I was really sick, I was able to pick up a phone, call my doctor and figure out what to do.  I was immediately sent to the hospital for tests. I was then sent to an infectious disease doctor.  I was then sent for more blood work in an outpatient lab.  I was driven home by my father and taken care of by my family who surrounded me with Gatorade, love, blankets and prayers.  And I knew my doctor was only a phone call away; the hospital only a drive away; one of the world’s best medical institutions in the world, The Cleveland Clinic, a mere half an hour away.  

My body was far from the DRC.  But my heart ached for them knowing that what turned out to be a nasty stomach virus for me might have easily killed one of my new Congolese friends.

In some ways, this was the most authentic Thanksgiving I have ever had.  

If you are interested in reading more about the Bolenge Hospital, please visit http://globalministries.org/africa/projects/bolenge-hospital.html?log-event=sp2f-view-item&nid=103374912.  To support the tremendous medical needs in the Congo, click here.  Thank you so much!

Prayers for El Salvador

While Tropical Storm Ida made very little noise in the United States, we received word through our partner, the Latin America and Caribbean Office of Global Ministries, of significant damage in several small communities in El Salvador. El Salvador's national government has declared a state of emergency. The official death toll stands at 130 people; many people are still missing. Our partners there, the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod and the Emmanuel Baptist Church, have helped us respond immediately to communities in crisis.

The Lutheran Synod reports that families from the devastated Apopa communities, situated along a contaminated river, have lost their homes; many, if not all, of their belongings; and even their animals. We have responded with emergency funds for materials to repair homes, and for providing mattresses, water and food.

The Emmanuel Baptist Church reports significant damage in the Verapaz district in San Vicente. They said that at least 486 people (half of which are children) were directly affected by the tragedy in the small town of 8,000. Emergency aid for basic hygiene supplies has been disbursed.

We have also responded to the Anémona 2, El Limón, Anémona 6 and El Júpiter communities in the Municipality of San Martin, where more than 28 homes were destroyed, and 224 homes remain at risk. We have responded to requests for temporary housing, food supplies and medicine.
Please continue to keep these communities in your prayers, as they continue their recovery.

Second Christian Church, Galveston, TX, Returns Home

Since  November 7th, a great group of volunteers has been working on a blitz build in Galveston, Texas, rebuilding Second Christian Church & homes of families damaged by Hurricane Ike. Week of Compassion Advisory Committee Chair, Rev. Rebecca Hale, will be on hand, along with Rev. April Johnson, Minister of Reconciliation, and other regional and area representatives, for the dedication of this newly rebuilt sacred space on Sunday, November 22. 

When I spoke to Carl Zerweck of Disciple Volunteering this morning, he excitedly noted that the volunteers are "plugging along and getting things done." Continue to keep the volunteers in your prayers as they "get dirty for Jesus," and on the 22nd, keep Second Christian Church in your prayers, lift them up in worship, or drop them a note, as they begin a new journey as a community of faith.

As for me, I wish I could be there! Unfortunately, while visiting our good friends at First Christian Church in Owensboro, KY, I fell and broke my elbow...so I'm re-adjusting the next week or so as I try to manage life with one less joint (for 4-6 weeks). Amy is still in the Congo, learning tons from our amazing partnerships there, and Elaine is keeping everything afloat. So keep all of us in your prayers this week, as we return, recover, and continue to respond on behalf of all Disciples to the needs of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Thanks for all that you do, as a Whole Church living out our call to be filled with Courageous Compassion!

Brandon Gilvin
Associate Director

Around the World, Around the Year: Where in the World Have We Responded This Week?

Disaster Responses:
El Salvador (2), floods/mudslides
For the full listing of responses made in 2009, click here.

Hope, Healing, and a Hand

A Courageous Compassion Partnership

From its beginning, the Disciples Hurricane Recovery Initiative has adapted to emerging needs and new challenges. Since September 2005, Disciples have given over $4.4 million to Week of Compassion in response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike. At the same time, Disciples continue to answer God's call to "Get Dirty for Jesus!" Nearly 11,100 Disciples volunteers representing 1,124 mission groups have contributed 437,000 hours to the mission of disaster recovery. The value of this volunteer labor is itself worth $8.9 million. The hours are equivalent to rebuilding 175 homes and repairing 10 Disciples congregations.

While the Disciples Hurricane Recovery Initiative winds down at the end of this year, God does not appear ready to let the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) off the hook. Disciples Volunteering, in partnership with Week of Compassion, is poised to help Disciples continue to answer God's call to respond to those hard hit by disaster and partner in mission with neighbors in need. The work of the Disciples Hurricane Recovery Initiative will continue across the Gulf Coast. The work doesn't end there, however. Disciples Volunteering: Disaster Response is expanding its vision. As communities continue to experience and recover from natural disaster, Disciples Volunteering: Disaster Response calls volunteers to be present, offering hope, healing, and a hand in their recovery.

Answer God's call to serve with Courageous Compassion today! Contact Brenda Tyler at 888-346-2631 or visit the website

Keep watching this space for ways you can work with WoC partners.

A Word from the Associate Director

I do my best to take time to reflect when I'm on the road. I've been fortunate over the last few weeks to find myself in a number of places, meeting Disciples from all over the country who are doing their best to live out their call to act with "Courageous Compassion."

  • Getting to know Central California Disciples responding to hunger, severe unemployment and underemployment, and "tent cities" set up by people affected by homelessness.
  • Chatting about Foods Resource Bank with an ecumenical group of Young Adults interested in issues of climate change and sustainable living.
  • Making a couple of trips to the Gulf Coast, asking the big question, "What's Next?" with everyone who dreams of rebuilding not only New Orleans, but the many other communities devastated by disaster here in the U.S.
  • Learning from and being inspired by my colleagues from Church World Service.
  • And perhaps most importantly, answering emails and phone calls that all boil down to the same question: "How Can We Make a Difference?"

The "Hope, Healing and a Hand" Courageous Compassion Partnership is a great way to get involved. Disciples Volunteering can help you serve in the Gulf Coast; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and many other places in severe need of starting over, finding healing, and needing encouragement.  

There are other places, too. All in need of the courage, compassion, and creativity I've seen as I've traveled around, and I'm sure you all see every time you take an extra second looking in the mirror.

Hope to see you out here on the road. If not, feel free to give me a shout.


1.02 Billion

I had the distinct privilege of representing the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at the G-20 Religious Leaders Summit in Pittsburgh this past September.  As faith leaders from across North America, we gathered together to advocate for the now more than 1 billion people on earth who are hungry.  In a world of plenty, it is simply unacceptable—inhumane, really—that our brothers and sisters are literally starving.  So while the world’s leaders met to discuss sustainable global economic recovery, we—as people of faith—reminded them that any recovery must include a commitment to confront the horrifying fact that there are so many people who live in extreme poverty and hunger in our world.  

I hope and pray they heard us.

As I drove home from Pittsburgh, I couldn’t get that number out of my head:  1.02 billion.  This is an enormous number and yet it doesn’t relay the names, stories and faces of all those it represents.  For Week of Compassion and all of us who care deeply about this ministry and how it changes lives, poverty and hunger have faces.  This astronomical figure is not merely a number or a statistic—it is people.  

In my heart, I brought all these people and their lives to the Week of Compassion Advisory Committee meeting last week.  Twice a year, we meet to discern the work and witness of WoC.  This often entails difficult funding decisions.  Some of you may have heard me at some point admit that this job can keep me up at night, as we are confronted day in and day out with a world with such tremendous needs.  How can we respond to them all, especially with limited resources?  

Such was the conversation for the Advisory Committee last week.  We agonized over how to respond to so many appeals—all of them worthy, urgent and significant.  And yet we, too, are experiencing the impact of the current economic crisis as we studied a financial statement that reflected a 15% decrease in giving from last year.  How then, can we respond?  How do we continue to live out our mission to be the relief, refugee and development mission fund of this Church?  

We do so knowing that there truly is enough for everyone.  There is enough.  It just means that we have to distribute resources differently.  It means that we take advantage of the opportunity to reflect, re-evaluate and prioritize.  It means that we keep that figure in front of us:  1.02 billion people hungry on earth.  Those are the people who are most affected by the global economic crisis!  Those are the ones for whom we lay awake at night, tossing and turning and trying to figure out how to share our resources in a way that will change their lives for the better.  

Painstakingly, the Advisory Committee approved a 25% reduction in our final program distributions for the current fiscal year.  For our 2010 budget, the Committee approved a budget 15% lower than what we would have hoped for.  Needless to say, this was heart wrenching for us all.  But it was also a chance for us to think about our own hearts and treasures, knowing that where our treasures are there our hearts are also.  

And even though these are uncertain times, we are all certain about one thing:  our hearts are with those 1.02 hungry people in the world to whom we are accountable.  Ending poverty is not only a socio-economic quest, a security quest, and a moral quest—it is a spiritual quest.  It is a matter of faith.  

Because there really is enough—even for 1.02 billion people who are hungry.  

My sincere hope is that we will all be moved to share out of our “enough” so that others may know what it means to have enough, too.  


Tsunami in Samoa

A sub-sea earthquake appears to be the cause of a massive tsunami some 120 miles off the coast of Samoa, an island in the South Pacific, home to around 475,000 people. The 8.0-magnitude earthquake created a tsunami that eyewitnesses say was around 20 feet high, engulfing buildings around the island’s perimeter.

The Independent State of Samoa sustained at least 110 casualties, while at least 24 lost their lives in the adjoining U.S. territory of American Samoa. The death toll is expected to rise.
More casualties are confirmed on the small northern island of Niuatoputapu, in Tonga.

Rev. Saitumua Tafaoialii, pastor of the First Congregational Christian Church of Samoa in Utah (Disciples of Christ), has informed Week of Compassion that many families in his congregation are currently unable to contact their families in Samoa, as the tsunami has damaged communication infrastructure. He reports that his wife lost several family members during the storm, and many Samoans across the United States are in similar situations.

Through our partners at Church World Service (CWS), we are monitoring the situation, staying in contact with FEMA Region 9 staff and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 
CWS stands ready to provide material resources, training and project development support to the affected areas.

We are also remaining in contact with Rev. Tafaoialii and his church, as they will be able to pass along information about needs that arise from their family and friends affected by the tsunami.

Our prayers of hope and healing go out to all of those who are grieving, living in uncertainty, and beginning the long journey of recovery. We pray that God’s grace will be with each and every person touched by this tragedy.

If you would like to make a contribution for relief efforts in the areas affected by the tsunami, visit the Week of Compassion website to make an online donation or send a check to WoC, PO Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206.