Food Security Is Everyone's Issue

Seven-year old Habiba Hassan Nur, who with her family recently arrived from Somalia, cooks a meal of beans in a new extension of the Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya. Already the world's world's largest refugee settlement, Dadaab has swelled in recent weeks with tens of thousands of recent arrivals fleeing drought in Somalia. The Lutheran World Federation, a member of the ACT Alliance, is manager of the camp, and in July opened this new extension to begin housing the newest refugees. Photo: ACT Alliance

Food security means that people have access to food that is both affordable and nutritious and do not live in hunger or fear of starvation.

For the last several days, I’ve been attending the Foods Resource Bank Annual Meeting in Des Moines, IA. Part family reunion, part seminar, the FRB Annual Meeting is one of my favorite meetings. For one, it attracts an incredibly diverse array of people: our ecumenical partners like Church World Service; farmers and other folks who support our local growing projects and whose hard work and imagination provide funding for food security projects all over the world; and international guests who have great firsthand stories to share about their work addressing hunger in places like Bolivia, Zambia, and Sierra Leone.

Of all of the things that were helpful about this meeting, there were two things that struck me about it. For one--despite the scant coverage it has received in the media--everyone wanted to talk about the famine in the Horn of Africa. Many of us gathered, whether ecumenical partners, staff, or growing project team member, have been in this region, fallen in love with it, and are deeply—deeply—troubled by this famine and its impact on people. As we have reported over the last several weeks, people from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are facing significant needs: lack of food, lack of water, and an increasingly desperate refugee situation as people search for both. Presenters alluded to the famine in panel discussions, participants prayed for the displaced and hungry as we gathered for meals, and in informal discussions, we all discussed the ways our organizations were responding—and how we might work together to do even more.

Second, I was thrilled by all of the young people I saw at the meeting. Youth who managed their own growing project. Youth excited about making a difference in the world, talking about how we all have a responsibility to work alongside food insecure communities. A teenager who traveled with her dad to Bolivia to see firsthand the agricultural development work she had heard about in church. Her voice, her experience, and her hope for the world were truly inspiring.

Then, as I was taking a quick moment to check my email and the Week of Compassion Facebook page, I noticed that Nathan Hill, Minister of Church Life at East Dallas Christian Church, had written a new blog entry focusing on the famine and had even taken his youth group on a mission trip where they learned about hunger-related issues, sustainable development, and how the systems we rely on to deliver food offer incredible abundance—but are also incredibly fragile.

When I asked Nathan to reflect upon what his youth group experienced, he wrote:

Our youth got a firsthand look at the disparities in different parts of the world and how we are called as people of faith to make good choices for our bodies and for our neighbors. Already, this knowledge is opening up possibilities of ministry and connections in our community, like finding a local beekeeping project in another part of Dallas, feeling more personally connected to famine in the Horn of Africa, and inviting the church to do away with Styrofoam products. In addressing hunger in such a real way, the stories of Jesus feeding the hungry crowds became real to them.
Encouraging his youth to explore ways they can build on their newfound passion for working for a world where everyone has access to sufficient, nutritious food, Nathan asked them—as well as everyone else who reads his blog or visits his Facebook page—to consider partnering with Week of Compassion to respond to the famine in East Africa.

If you, like those of us who gathered in Des Moines or the youth of East Dallas Christian Church, are concerned about the people of East Africa, you, too, can join our movement of Courageous Compassion.

The people of East Africa are our neighbors. Right now, our neighbors need emergency food and other famine-related help. The regions in which they live will also require careful responses that help communities develop and sustain themselves. We, through our network of committed partners, can contribute to both. This is our work.

Let’s get to it.

- Brandon

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Swaziland, drought relief

Development and Long-Term Recovery
DR Congo, women's income generation

“It’s What Makes You Get Up at 5 AM”: Responding In East Africa

Click here to view video.

As the first major drought and famine of the 21st century threatens 11.6 million people in the Horn of Africa, Week of Compassion has responded, utilizing our relationships with trusted partners Church World Service and the ACT Alliance.

As you have likely noticed in scant media coverage of the region, the drought situation in the Horn has reached crisis levels. According to USAID, some 2.85 million people currently require humanitarian assistance in Somalia.

Unprecedented numbers of Somalis are crossing borders into neighboring countries. In June alone, more than 55,000 people fled across the borders into Ethiopia and Kenya--three times the number of the preceding months. Thousands of people are taking huge risks every day to walk hundreds of miles, hoping to reach the safety of refugee camps and feeding centers. They are being forced to make appalling choices, including leaving weak and disabled loved ones on the road to certain death. Famine is expected to be declared throughout the entire southern Somalia region within days.
CWS and ACT Alliance implementing partners Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are taking the lead in our shared response in the region. NCA’s work is featured in the video above. The following dispatch from ACT communicator John Davison highlights LWF’s emergency and post-emergency programs at three of the border camps at Dadaab, which currently house some 358,000 refugees, with more arriving daily. Your generosity makes this response possible. 

Sagul Mohammed Omar, 24, has just arrived with her five children in the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. Tens of thousands of refugees have fled drought-stricken Somalia in recent weeks, swelling what was already the world's largest refugee settlement. Photo: ACT/Paul Jeffrey

The day begins early for Soraya Musau at Dagahaley refugee camp.

She is out of her tent by 5 AM, waking her staff for another demanding day. By this time newly arrived refugees from Somalia have already begun to gather outside the gates of the compound, seeking food, water, basic necessities – and hope.

The camp is one of three in the Dadaab complex in eastern Kenya. Dagahaley is now receiving the most new refugees – on some days more than the other two camps combined. The highest figure at Dagahaley alone was 1536 in one day, while the total for the three camps has reached more than 60,000 since the refugee emergency was declared on June 6.

Welcoming new arrivals
The crowds are mostly patient and quiet as they wait to enter the reception centre. Some carry bundles of belongings. Many have nothing but their children. All are hungry and exhausted after a journey from Somalia that can take more than three weeks on foot.

For Soraya and her 11 staff, the task is a daunting one.

In the next few hours, all these people have to be guided through the newly-constructed reception centre. Their names will be recorded by government officials. Everyone will be given a colored and numbered wristband, entitling them to food for 21 days and a selection of other goods, such as jerry cans for water, cooking pots, sleeping mats and other essentials to ensure their immediate survival.

Their children also will be inoculated and receive milk, shoes and clothing donated by the local Muslim community, complementing the aid donated by the international community.

Most vulnerable
The first task of the team, however, is to quickly identify the most vulnerable people in the crowd:  unaccompanied children, those with an old person, or someone with a disability. They are brought to the front to begin the process first.

The remaining crowd is then divided by family size, with the largest going first. Men on their own go through last, many impatient to be reunited with their wives and families who traveled before them from Somalia.

It is a long, tiring, dusty process for all involved. And it is a process that is replicated by staff at the other two camps of Ifo and Hagadera.

Tempers do occasionally fray, but most of the refugees seem to lack the energy for any form of confrontation. Soraya has only one security person in her team to help with crowd control, although there is a big security presence in the reception centre itself.

Untiring engagement
After eight weeks of this punishing routine, where the day can go on until 11 PM, all the effort is taking its toll.

“Both myself and the staff are really worn out,” says Soraya, the day before reluctantly leaving for a well-earned week’s break at home. “But I really don’t want to leave my centre.”

One incident in particular has made a great impact on her. On June 30 riots broke out among the new arrivals outside Dagahaley. Two people were shot dead by police and a further 18 injured. The staff was evacuated and the reception centre remained closed for two days. But these inevitable procedures had tragic consequences.

“A family had travelled for 22 days and arrived at 4 AM. But one of their children died in the night: a one-and-a-half-year-old girl. When I woke up and found that, it was heartbreaking,” says Soraya.

But she adds that they have to carry on and remain functional, otherwise they are of no use to the refugees.

“A case like that really shakes you. But on that day 1318 people came, so you didn’t have the time to respond emotionally,” says Soraya. “At the end of the day you do recall and recount what you have seen. It’s what makes you get up at 5 AM.”

In the midst of tragedy, we give thanks not only for the ecumenical relationships that make such responses possible, but also for your support and partnership. These efforts to bring relief and offer long-term solutions to those suffering are a testament to your hope and generosity. If you wish to reach out in Courageous Compassion, please consider contributing here.

For more reports from East Africa, please follow this link.

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
New Zealand, earthquake
New Hampshire, resettled refugee assistance
South Korea, mudslides
North Carolina, church fire

Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation
China, water project

Digging for Hope: Japan Journal

Associate Director Brandon Gilvin visited Japan in June as part of an ecumenical delegation monitoring our relief efforts in the country. This update includes a report and reflection on the relief efforts he encountered on that trip.

The smell was overwhelming. We had just gotten out of the van in Rikuzentaka, a fishing village on the coast of the Iwate prefecture in Japan, and everything around us smelled intensely fishy, reeking of saltwater and death. 

The tsunami had decimated Rikuzentaka, killing more than 8,000 people, and displacing or otherwise affecting more than 30,000 others. 60% of the area’s medical doctors were affected, further weakening a damaged response infrastructure. 

The rural areas affected by the tsunami, generally poorer with a much older population than Japan’s metropolitan areas, face serious challenges in rebuilding their local economies, which often were dependent on the production of factories destroyed in the wake of destructive water.

But as waves struck these factories, it was not only the local economies that were left damaged and vulnerable. Waves crushed a seafood production plant in Rikuzentaka, covering nearby streets with dead fish, waste, and oil. Because the tsunami struck in the winter, the waste was merely one detail among many of a complicated, large-scale clean-up effort: but the weeks wore on and summer approached, rotting fish drew bugs, and a district of Rikuzentaka that once housed the livelihoods of so many became a serious threat to public health.

Through our partnership with Church World Service, Week of Compassion is supporting the Nippon International Cooperation for Community Development (NICCO), which, in addition to providing psychosocial services and other care for survivors, is leading efforts to clean and disinfect the areas where Rikuzentaka’s fish processing plant once stood.

For an afternoon, we joined a NICCO-sponsored team responsible for clean-up, which included an entomologist who studied and cataloged insects infesting the rubble from the tsunami, helping other teams to determine the most effective approaches for clean-up and disinfection.

We then visited the station where the rubble was transported and disinfected, before being taken away to be properly disposed of.

In the weeks that have followed my return from Japan, I’ve told as many people as I can about this aspect of NICCO’s work. For one, I was fascinated by how intricate the process was, how attuned to detail the NICCO staff was, and how, while an essential part of the recovery process, public health issues like disinfecting insect-infested rubble are rarely the sorts of things that we focus our attention, energy, or media strategies on.

But such issues are part of a comprehensive strategy that takes long-term recovery seriously, and it is for this reason that I am thankful for partners such as Church World Service, who focus on long-term recovery, invest in sustainable futures for vulnerable communities, and seek out partners with local knowledge, invaluable skills, and the trust of their communities. 

As I made my way back to our van, stalking my way through the muck of ocean and factory waste, I found myself feeling as grateful as I was disgusted. The generosity of all of you—those who pray and give and along with the people of Japan—enables us to reach out in Courageous Compassion, to find hope amidst heartache, and to develop solutions that serve so many people left vulnerable in the wake of disasters. In the weeks that have followed, as I have watched your generosity serve the vulnerable in other places -- Joplin, MO; Kenya and Somalia; Birmingham, AL -- my gratitude has not waned. It has only grown stronger.

Thank you for making a difference. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Church World Service has provided a report on this recent trip on their website.  Please check it out as well.  

For more information about the economic issues faced by rural communities in Japan following the tsunami, please check out this article.

For more video of Brandon’s trip to Japan, drop by his YouTube Channel, which you can find here.

Responses Made the Week of 7/18-7/22/11

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Oklahoma, wind damage
Somalia, drought relief
Ethiopia, drought relief
Liberia/Ivory Coast, humanitarian crisis
Malawi, flood relief
South Sudan, emergency preparedness
Pakistan, flood emergency

Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation
East Africa, water and sanitation

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
East Africa, drought relief
Kenya, drought relief
South Sudan, humanitarian assistance

Drought in East Africa the Worst in Decades

After walking up to 1000km to escape conflict and drought, exhausted new arrivals pile their belongings and wait in queue to register at the ACT-run Dadaab camp in north Kenya. They will then have to find somewhere to settle for the night. Photo: ACT/LWF/Lokiru MatendoThis year marks the driest period in the Eastern Horn of Africa region since 1995, with the lowest level of rainfall in more than 50 years. As a result, food security -- the access and availability to food -- has deteriorated for most households in all arid and semi-arid regions in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia as well as other countries in the region. In a word, the situation has become a crisis. Crops have failed, large numbers of livestock needed for survival have perished, and local food prices have increased substantially. 

Earlier this week, the United Nations declared that famine exists in two areas of southern Somalia, southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle. (Famine is declared when acute rates of malnutrition exist among children, exceeding 30 percent; when more than two persons per 10,000 die daily; and when people are not able to access and sufficiently utilize food and other basics.) In all, more than 10 million people in East Africa are affected by the drought. In Somalia, some 3.7 million people are now facing a crisis, while in Kenya the total number of those estimated to be affected is up to 3.5 million.
Among the characteristics of this crisis: Deepening food insecurity in pastoral areas and in urban poor settings; the rate of acute malnutrition among children in these areas is steadily increasing; and Kenya is experiencing an unprecedented influx of refugees fleeing drought conditions from Somalia.
Thus, Week of Compassion is responding through our partners Church World Service (CWS) and the ACT Alliance. Both agencies are focusing work on both immediate relief and longer-term food security/nutrition and water initiatives. Our response is focused in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.
In Kenya, CWS-implemented work is focused on the Mwingi and Kibwezi areas and will include immediate relief work (for five months) involving provision of family food packages, Unimix nutritional supplement for children under the age of five and water tinkering. In the longer-term, CWS will initiate food security/nutrition/livelihoods efforts and permanent water initiatives that are part of our already-existing disaster risk reduction initiatives in Kenya.
ACT Alliance member organizations have determined that Somalia will be the largest area of focus for the overall ACT response in terms of the amount of assistance, because Somalia is a country "where little other than non-governmental organizational (NGO) support will exist and the situation of people there is the most dire," said Donna Derr, who heads CWS's development and humanitarian assistance program. CWS will only be directly responding in Kenya, she said, but it is the agency's hope "to generate enough support so that we can contribute to the efforts of ACT members responding in Somalia and Ethiopia as well."
Our efforts in Somalia are focused on contributing to the work by fellow members of the ACT Alliance: Lutheran World Federation and Norwegian Church Aid. Our work in Ethiopia is focused on response efforts by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus Development and Social Services Commission, a long-time partner of CWS.
This situation is extremely serious and life-threatening. For Week of Compassion to support this much needed relief effort, we call upon your courageous compassion. To donate, click here. Thank you in advance for your prayers, concern and generosity.
For more stories on the current situation in East Africa, visit:


Week of Compassion Takes Over the Country Music Hall of Fame

by Richmond Williams

As music filled the atrium of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Week of Compassion honored Disciples and partners at a “Compassion Hall of Fame” event on the evening of July 10 as part of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

“In a town like Nashville, it just made sense to utilize the resources here,” said Amy Gopp, Week of Compassion’s executive director since 2008. “With musicians among us and a place like [the Hall of Fame] down the street from the Assembly, we knew that people would leave feeling like they were part of Week of Compassion.”

Gopp said that while many Disciples are aware of the fund’s disaster response and humanitarian aid, Week of Compassion also works for long-term sustainable development around the world. In an average year, the fund disburses $3-4 million in aid from special offerings.

In a sermon earlier Sunday at a local congregation, she pointed out the timing of this weekend’s independence for the people of South Sudan, and the tireless efforts and partnerships of Disciples over a period of many years.

Sunday’s event was designed to thank Disciples for their long heritage of giving, and to highlight other key partners with whom Week of Compassion works to accomplish its mission. While the museum setting allowed attendees to see artifacts from country music -- such as the telegram used to announce Hank Williams Jr.’s birth – they were also able to view educational displays on the Foods Resource Bank, Division of Overseas Ministries, Act Alliance, Disciples Volunteering, Refugee & Immigration Ministries, Church World Service and IMA World Health.

At the reception and earlier at the Sing It! concert in Plenary Hall, Gopp reminded each attendee that they, as individuals, were a vital part of the “Hall of Fame.” She noted that the dollars that members and churches give to Week of Compassion translate directly into wells, irrigation systems, nutritious food, hospitals, schools and training.

During the concert, the audience was able to see a scrolling list of the hundreds of projects that the fund has been involved with since the 2009 General Assembly.

Since that Assembly, Week of Compassion has been strained by a notable increase in the frequency and severity of large-scale natural disasters, from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, to the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and domestic disasters such as last year’s flood in Nashville and tornadoes throughout the country. Gopp noted that environmental trends indicate that natural catastrophes will continue to occur in the near future, requiring an unprecedented level of vigilant response.

Many of the same musicians from the evening’s concert – which also benefitted Week of Compassion – entertained the reception as the night progressed. Andra Moran, Craig Wiseman and Gabe Dixon – all Disciples artists with strong ties to Nashville and musical success “beyond the church” – lent their talents at guitar, piano and singing at the festivities.

While the event had an educational component, it was also intended as a way to “give back” to the individual members and clergy who contribute to Week of Compassion.

“We partner with the people in the pews,” said Brandon Gilvin, the fund’s associate director. “They are the heart and soul of Week of Compassion.”

Richmond Williams lives in Nashville, Tennessee, is a member of Woodmont Christian Church, and works in advertising/marketing. He volunteers regularly with Mobile Loaves & Fishes and Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health. He served as part of a volunteer press team that covered events at the 2011 General Assembly.

2011 2nd Quarter Response Fund Report

The Compassion Response Fund is an allocation the Week of Compassion Advisory Committee makes each year to enable WoC to respond quickly to requests for emergencies, disasters and other urgent and unexpected needs that arise. For 2011 the WoC Committee has allocated $471,449 for the 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.

Below is a brief report of grants made from the Compassion Response Fund and other designated disaster response accounts through June 30, 2011. Contributions for the Response Fund are needed and welcomed and will be used 100% for emergency response to humanitarian needs in the world.

Africa: [27,000]
$5,000 – Angola, flood relief
$5,000 – Chad, refugee assistance
$12,000 – Liberia/Ivory Coast, humanitarian aid
$5,000 – Madagascar, Cyclone Bingiza

East Asia and the Pacific: [97,500]
$10,000 – Australia, flood relief
$82,500 - Japan, earthquake/tsunami
$2,500 – New Zealand, earthquake
$2,500 – Philippines, fire damage

Latin America and the Caribbean: [125,684]
$11,000 – Brazil, flood/landslide recovery
$10,000 – Colombia, flood relief
$50,000 – Haiti, medical needs
$52,184 – Haiti, housing
$2,000 – Mexico, assistance to pastor’s family
$500 – Mexico/U.S., winter freeze

Middle East and Europe: [33,000]
$6,000 – Egypt, emergency assistance
$6,000 – Iraq, Iraqi refugee crisis in Lebanon
$21,000 – Libya, humanitarian aid

Southern Asia: [18,500]
$5,000 – Indonesia, Mentawai Is./tsunami
$2,500 – Indonesia, assistance to displaced
$11,000 – Sri Lanka, flood/cyclone relief

General: [12,000]
$12,000 -- 2011 ACT Rapid Response Fund
 Cambodia/Thailand, aid to displaced
 Tanzania, bomb explosion
 Malawi, flood relief
 DRC, cholera outbreak
 Nepal, refugee camp fire

Domestic: [168,880]
$1,000 – Alabama, storm damage
$11,250 – Alabama, tornado relief
$295 – Arizona, resettled refugee assistance
$500 – Arkansas, flood relief
$750 – Arkansas, tornado relief
$100 – Georgia, storm damage
$647 – Georgia, resettled refugee assistance
$1,000 – Georgia, church fire
$11,350 – Great River Region, pastoral care
$1,000 – Florida, storm damage
$4,225 – Illinois, flood relief
$750 – Kansas, tornado relief
$3,450 – Kentucky, flood relief
$1,000 – Louisiana, storm damage
$1,500 – Michigan, mission station support
$200 – Mississippi, tornado relief
$1,500 – Missouri, flood relief
$41,075 – Missouri, tornado relief
$2,500 – Montana, flood relief
$750 – Nebraska, flood relief
$9,500 – North Carolina, tornado relief
$2,500 – Oklahoma, fire damage
$7,750 – Oklahoma, tornado relief
$1,700 – Tennessee, storm damage
$4,750 – Tennessee, flood relief
$750 – Texas, resettled refugee assistance
$11,088 – U.S./Mexico, emergency needs
$26,000 – U.S., 2011 spring storms
$6,000 – U.S., 2011 Missouri River System Floods
$1,000 – Virginia, fire damage
$8,000 – Virginia, tornado relief
$5,000 – Washington, fire damage

A Surprise Amidst the Rubble: Looking at Volunteers in Japan

Associate Director Brandon Gilvin is in Japan this week as part of an ecumenical delegation monitoring our relief efforts in the country. He sends back this report and story:

Amidst the rubble, you always find surprises.

A child’s toy, a family photograph, an eight track tape last played decades ago.

Surprises that add up to tell the story of someone’s life.

That’s what three international volunteers for Peace Boat, a Church World Service/Week of Compassion partner responding to the tsunami effort in Ishinomaki, Japan, found themselves reflecting on.

Ishinomaki sits along the northwest coast of Japan, and was devastated by the March 11 tsunami that hit the coast. Water rushed in two kilometers from where the tide normally hits, wreaking havoc, destroying businesses, houses, and lives, leaving layers of muck, waste, and devastation. Three months later, the devastation remains vast. However, thanks to the Courageous Compassion of all of you who have contributed to this response, there are surprising signs of new life amidst the muck and heartache.

Affectionately called ”Junior” since he worked alongside his father in responding to the earthquake that struck Kobe, Japan in 1995, Peace Boat Project Manager Yamamoto Takashi is on a mission. Since Peace Boat set up its response effort in Ishinomaki, almost 3000 volunteers from both Japan and the international community have contributed more than 25,000 working days to the relief effort. They have fed the displaced, helped fisherman repair their nets and boats, cleaned the remaining houses in the area, helped clean up temporary housing for those transitioning out of emergency shelters, and have even hosted a rock band that peppers its sound with the traditional music of Ishinomaki.

As we stand in a particularly devastated area of Ishinomaki where empty lots stand as ghostly reminders of houses that once stood, and a ruined school and devastated cemetery fill out the backdrop, I marvel aloud about the power of water. How it can break steel. How it can break hearts.

Junior’s response was to nod.

“It is hard to believe,” he tells me. “I grew up with images of the nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sometimes I think that it is what I am seeing when I look around. I know it’s not, but it is hard to believe.”


Following the March 11 tsunami,Week of Compassion not only received generous gifts from so many of you, but we were inundated with emails, notes, and other messages:
“I wish I could volunteer.”
“I just want to give all of Japan a hug.”
“What more can I do?”

Truly, the thing that makes the most difference is your generosity. Without your gifts, the relief effort could not have come to fruition. It is your support that has helped make the volunteer efforts of Peace Boat possible, and brought life back to communities like Ishinomaki. Your support has been the backbone of this response, just as the supply of volunteers has provided its hands and feet.

You have helped provide a place for someone like Seiko to volunteer. A Japanese woman who had been working in Burkina Faso but who came back to her home country to volunteer, Seiko has found herself inspired by the local people she has worked alongside as they have provided the displaced with foods and other supplies. The heart and hope of those literally looking out for their neighbors became precious, surprising gifts.

“I feel like I want to help them more,” Seiko says.  “As much as possible.”

What a gift—what a surprise--to find among a town turned to rubble. 

Gifts to the Compassion Response Fund help us respond to disasters—large and small—quickly and in a flexible, efficient way. To contribute today, follow this link.

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Japan, earthquake/tsunami
Georgia, resettled refugee assistance
Michigan, mission station support
Kentucky, flood relief
U.S., Missouri River System Floods

Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation
Croatia, women's empowerment and peace-building

WoC Supports Health Systems Strengthening in South Sudan and Recovery Efforts along the Missouri River

As South Sudan prepares for official independence next week, WoC’s primary health care partner, IMA World Health, is busy working with the South Sudanese government to increase access to essential health care for millions of people. IMA, supported by WoC, is proud to be playing such a key role in advancing health in this new nation.

IMA’s Sudanese staff is working hard to help bring health care services to the people of South Sudan, but conditions are difficult and safe housing is in short supply. Please keep our IMA colleagues and partners on the ground in Sudan in your prayers and thoughts. For more information on how your WoC gifts are at work in the Sudan, visit IMA’s website. It is a privilege to be a part of this critical work during this time of exciting but uncertain transition in the history of Sudan. 

Missouri River Flooding

As we move into summer, numerous communities have been devastated or impacted by severe storms and flooding throughout the Missouri River drainage area. States impacted include Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Missouri. The city most impacted is Minot, on the Souris River (also called Mouse River) in western North Dakota. In this town of 36,000 people, over 12,000 have been evacuated from homes that are now sitting in over 6 feet of flood water.

Reconstruction of damaged and failed levees is not expected to be completed until mid-July, when water levels are expected to recede. An additional 1,000 people have been evacuated in Ward County, where Minot is located. Other towns affected in this area are Sawyer and Velva, ND. In Iowa, 1200 people have been evacuated from the town of Hamburg as the Missouri River tops the last levee protecting the town. In Council Bluffs, IA, the levee is still holding, but mandatory evacuations are in effect due to the rise of interior ground water behind the levee system.

The flooding in the Missouri River Valley will continue throughout the summer as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water from the Gavin’s Point Dam in SD and five other dams that are filled to capacity. Missouri River levels are expected to remain about 6 feet above flood stage in Nebraska and Iowa and as much as 10 feet above flood stage in Missouri. As the continued high water stresses the levee system to the point of failure, more communities will be flooded.

Our primary implementing partner, Church World Service, has already shipped 200 Emergency Clean-up Buckets to South Dakota. More are needed. To assemble Clean-up Buckets, please visit here. More requests are being processed, and many more requests for material goods are anticipated, as the waters recede in July and people return to their homes and begin the muck-out and clean-up process.

In addition, CWS Emergency Response Specialists are monitoring the many situations and remain in contact with federal, state, local and voluntary agencies. The Emergency Response Specialists are also in communication with churches and faith-based organizations to assist them in organizing immediate and long-term assistance. CWS will be considerably involved in the long-term recovery process in the damaged communities. CWS has worked with agencies in the affected areas in the past to establish and train long-term recovery groups, and these efforts will continue. CWS will be in contact with state, regional and local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) partners to determine where needs exist for training and disaster recovery project development.

Thank you for your courageous compassion—it enables us to respond, each and every day, to people in need, such as these communities close to us along the Missouri River region but also in places as far away as Sudan. Praise be to God!

Compassion Hall of Fame

Join us at the Country Music Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 10 for an Open House from 5:30 pm – midnight! Visit the “Compassion Hall of Fame” as you enjoy light fare, good fellowship, and meet the people who help us accomplish all we do around the world, thanks to your gifts.  For tickets, visit here.

See you there! We give thanks for your partnership.

You Are Making an Impact: An Invitation to Celebrate and to Pray

One of the reasons I love our General Assemblies is because they offer us the space and time to gather together. It seems simple, really. But it is always an unforgettable time. I leave Assembly feeling renewed, rejuvenated, and deeply loved. What could be better than seeing friends from across the United States and Canada and realizing that we are so much more than friends, but family? We are a church family. A community of faith and friends and fellow sojourners. Members of God’s precious family whose particular tribe happens to be called Disciples. 

Week of Compassion is, of course, just one expression of who we are as those Disciples. Each of you makes Week of Compassion what it is. It would not be as powerful as it is without you—for it is you. Your gifts not only support our very own Disciples tribe when we are in need (and that has been often this year); they also support those who may not be a part of our own Disciples family but who are our brothers and sisters across the globe who are also God’s children. We celebrate the many ways we have made a difference in the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of people around the world. 

General Assembly is the perfect opportunity to celebrate, with all of you, how we have made an impact on the world. We have made a difference! We have responded after floods in Nashville, an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Joplin, and flooding across the Midwest. We help make it possible for girls to go to school across Africa and for their mothers to have access to water so they don’t have to spend a majority of their day walking to fetch water for their families. We provide tools and seeds to small stakeholder farmers throughout Central and South America so they can grow their own food and feed their communities. We support the strengthening of health systems and services throughout the developing world so people get the medical care they need to lead productive lives. This is all something to be celebrated!

Thus, we extend this sincere invitation to you to celebrate what you have accomplished through your gifts to Week of Compassion. Join us on Sunday, July 10, for an Open House at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. Our event this Assembly is not a traditional meal, or dinner, but rather an Open House. There will be heavy hors d’oeuvres. The doors to the Hall of Fame will open at 5:30 pm and will remain open until midnight! The place is ours. So feel free to come and go as you like—your ticket will provide you full access to the Hall of Fame and will allow you to leave to go to the WoC Benefit Concert that same evening. After the concert, we hope you will return to the Hall of Fame to hear some of the same musicians in a more intimate setting. You will also be able to meet representatives from our partner organizations so you can see and hear for yourselves firsthand accounts of the life-saving work you are engaged in through Week of Compassion.

If you are not able to meet us at General Assembly this year, we invite you to pray with us for this special time of family reunion and celebration. You will be missed! Please lift up other current prayer concerns, too: the tenuous situation in the Sudan; ongoing relief and humanitarian efforts in Libya and across the Middle East; recovery and healing for so many across the South and Midwest of the U.S., that those affected by severe weather will find peace and home again; for Haiti and Japan as they rebuild; and for our own Church as we strive to serve and love God by serving others at an extraordinary time in history such as this.

We value each and every one of you and thank you for your courageous compassion. Together, we are making a difference. 

Praise be to God! 

With love,

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief
Arkansas, tornado relief
Missouri (2), tornado relief
Alabama, tornado relief

Come, Y'all! Week of Compassion at General Assembly

We hope to see many of you at General Assembly in Nashville! If you’ve never been to Nashville, prepare to be delighted! Nashville is a dynamic, diverse, and vibrant community. Because it is the Music City, Week of Compassion is excited to host our event at the beautiful Country Music Hall of Fame. Trust us: even if you are not a country music fan, you will fall in love with this museum! It is an extraordinary and unique expression of our country’s history through music. If you were to come as a tourist to Nashville and were to buy a ticket to the Hall of Fame, you’d pay between $22 and $30 for a ticket. But the tickets to our Week of Compassion Open House at the Hall of Fame are $25! So, come, experience the Country Music Hall of Fame and, at the same time, visit our Compassion Hall of Fame! You will have full access to the entire Hall of Fame! 

Learn more about all the work and ministry that YOU have enabled through Week of Compassion. Come and see and hear how you have supported the incredible work that we do each and every day:  responding to human need and suffering. Come and experience, as we have never shown before, the ways we are truly changing the world. We are making a difference. An impact. And we are doing so because of you, with you, and we do it together for the betterment of God’s precious world. 

So come, have some fun, take a trip down memory lane and listen to the soundtrack of so many of our lives at the Country Music Hall of Fame, and do so while supporting and celebrating the ministry we all share as Week of Compassion as you visit our Compassion Hall of Fame. This is an open house style event, so you can come and go as you please, before and after the benefit concert which will be held in the main plenary hall that same night. After that concert, you’ll be invited to come back to the Hall of Fame to listen to more music from our favorite Disciples musicians from Nashville:  Gabe Dixon, Andra Moran, and Craig Wiseman. And once you’ve bought a ticket to the Week of Compassion event, you’ll have access to the Hall of Fame any time between 5:30 and midnight! 

We’ll see you in Nashville! For tickets, click here.

General Assembly, Thoughts From Joplin, and Long-Term Recovery Training

The Compassion Hall of Fame at General Assembly

Week of Compassion is taking over the Country Music Hall of Fame. That’s right! At this year’s General Assembly, on Sunday, July 10th, we will be hosting our very own “Compassion Hall of Fame,” an evening of celebrating with our valued partners, enjoying light fare and great music together. 

You can also enjoy a special concert benefiting Week of Compassion on the same evening from 7-8:30 and return for more opportunities to celebrate and meet some of the many inductees to the Compassion Hall of Fame. To buy your tickets, find out about Week of Compassion related workshops and other events, follow this link.

A Reflection from Joplin, Missouri

Being a person in my sixth decade of life, I remember when my mother would put out her blue CWF Blessing Box -- the blue hard plastic box, not the paper boxes used today at times. It was a reminder of the faith story she would tell me about the “least coin.” And then we would put coins into the box; it seemed like forever before they would be collected. But year in and year out we would remember the story and place coins in the box, wondering how they might be put to use.

On Tuesday last week I was walking with Jill Michel, the senior pastor of South Joplin Christian Church. We were visiting some of her members’ homes -- at least the places where they once stood. We came to the home of Avis Stiles, 91 years young. Her children, Amy Duell of Colorado and Richard Stiles of Kansas City, were at the home, looking through the splintered wood that once made up her walls and the shattered furniture they used to sit on during their visits home. 
We stood in a circle, sharing stories of how “Mother” tried to make it to the bathroom during the tornado in search of a safe space. All of a sudden, however, the front door disappeared and the walls crumbled. 

When she realized where she was, she was almost waist deep in the remains of a shattered home. Neighbors had to lift her out of the pile and take her to the hospital. Now her children had orders and a list of things to find as they scoured the remains of a lifetime.

On this day the request was to look for her CWF bag, a Nicaraguan cotton bag where she placed her keepsakes from years of meetings. As we were talking about the “ladies of the CWF at South Joplin,” I casually looked down in the center of our circle. There, as we gathered on a pile of debris, I caught a glimpse of a familiar blue box. I wondered how many coins had found their way into it over the years. 

Even in the midst of destruction we can be reminded, if but for a moment, of the many blessings we have received and the grace that has nurtured us.
We know the continued blessings of a church family, of friends, and of strangers. Those who, in the midst of these terrible moments, bring grace and blessings through Week of Compassion, through Disciples Volunteering and through the day-to-day dialogue of help—we know them all. We also know the words oft-repeated among Disciples at times of disaster: Pray, Pay and Stay. But it is hard to stay when our friends are in need. We are thankful for those words and the continued actions; the blessing they give in moments such as these. And thoughts of gratitude well up and words cannot capture them. But to all who have prayed, stayed, traveled and given in many ways…thank you, thank you, thank you.
- Dr. G. Mike Weinman, Area Minister
  Ozark Lakes Area, CCMA

Southeastern Missouri Long-Term Recovery Training

Continuing CWS's response to the record-breaking floods and tornadoes across the country this spring, Emergency Response Specialist Bryan Crousore will be meeting with and training local ministers, social services agency personnel, public officials and other interested persons from southeast Missouri next week.

Identical sessions will be held on Tuesday, June 14, at the SE American Red Cross, 2430 Myra Dr., Cape Girardeau, MO, and on Wednesday, June 15, at the United Methodist Church, 1307 N Main, Sikeston, MO. The training will cover all aspects of Long-Term Recovery and will prepare these groups to form, manage, and operate long-term recovery groups for the three counties in the flooded areas of southeast Missouri.

Please pass the word to any churches or other contacts you have in this area and encourage them to participate. The training is a free gift of Church World Service, with logistical support by FEMA, and open to persons of all faiths (or none). Registration is not required. There will be a nominal charge for lunch at the Cape Girardeau location. Lunch will be provided by the host church in Sikeston.

Questions? Please contact Bryan at

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Missouri (3), tornado relief and recovery
U.S., 2011 Spring Storms
Georgia, resettled refugee assistance
Georgia, church fire
Mississippi, tornado relief
Angola, flood relief

Write These Words on Your House: Joplin, MO

It had barely been a week since the tornado hit Joplin, MO. Josh Baird, Director of Disciples Volunteering, and I arrived in Joplin around 10 on Monday morning and found our way to First Christian Church. In the heart of Joplin’s downtown, First Christian was not hit by the tornado, and had generously opened its doors as an emergency refuge immediately following the storm’s passing. Since then, the church’s family life center had been transformed into a center of activity, where donations for the battered but resilient community are collected, sorted, and distributed. We quickly found Fay Blevins, the pastor at First Christian; Jill Cameron Michel, the minister at South Joplin Christian Church; Tyler Whipkey, her student associate; and Michael Weinman, Minister to the Ozark Lakes Area of the Mid-America Region, and gathered together in Fay’s office for a time of prayer, discussion, and brainstorming. It was, as it has been every time I’ve made some sort of pastoral visit following a disaster, humbling.

Jill, Tyler, Fay, and Mike all shared with us the things they had seen over the last week. It was incredible to sit and listen to four pastors, whose words were filled with both worry and wisdom, speak to what it means to minister in a time of such devastation and what a long-term recovery might look like, how to develop local partnerships for responding over the long term, and how we, as Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering, could be supportive and help facilitate connections with the wider church and resources for long-term recovery. We spent time with a few church members who, like the pastors, spoke of a deep love for their community as they described the ways they were pitching in—whether that meant searching through debris for loved ones and strangers, or whether that meant organizing the volunteers who showed up with baked goods, bottled water, and bags of clothes to donate.

Then we headed out. The devastation was incredible. “Matchsticks and splinters,” were the words that Josh used to describe the houses shredded by the tornado’s vast path of destruction: a path that worked its way northeast from the southwestern edge of Joplin. Some houses were still standing, and I saw on many of them the haunting spray-painted symbols that I first encountered in areas of New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina.

The quick tags left by rescue crews to mark what crew has searched which house and what--or who--they have found tell brief, quick, sometimes painful stories: 

“3 Bodies Found”
“2 Animals Safe”
“All Clear.”

As we traveled streets once wooded, now bare, and I saw those—and other markings...

“God Bless Joplin”
“Thank You!”
and a simple
“Rebuild” mind went back to the Shema, perhaps the central prayer in morning and evening prayers in Judaism, recorded in Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Driving around and seeing response teams and volunteers from all over the country, made up of everyone from Mennonites to Muslims, I began to conflate the sacred words of covenant and care found in the Torah and written on one’s doorpost with the words cast across brick and plywood in Joplin, because amidst all that destruction, those symbols and spontaneous outpourings of hope and care seemed prayerful. There was something sacred about that spray paint.

We made our way to South Joplin Christian Church, which stood at the northern limit of the storm’s path. South Joplin had lost a roof and sustained significant damage, but was a flurry of activity as the restoration crew provided by their insurance company gutted rooms, pulled up carpet, and made plans for repair. In a Sunday School room, scrawled on a blackboard for what must have been a lesson on the Psalms just hours before the tornado hit, were the words “O GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD; CALL ON HIS NAME”

An unintended but serendipitous prayer for Joplin. Gratitude and hope amidst tragedy. Resilience marked in spray paint and chalk. 

Thanks, indeed, to God.


What Can I Do to Help Joplin?

While many of the needs in Joplin are vast, donations need to be targeted. Bottled water and clothing, for example, are no longer being collected, as distribution centers are stocked beyond capacity. We will be working with First Christian and South Joplin to meet strategic needs in Joplin. Donations to the Compassion Response Fund and Designated Tornado Funding will be used not only in the immediate response, but also to support long-term recovery efforts in Joplin, whatever shape those take. You can always respond online.

I Want to Volunteer!

Joplin is inundated with volunteers. Disciples Volunteering is not currently scheduling volunteers, but is exploring long-term response in both Joplin and Tuscaloosa-Birmingham, Alabama. While it may be frustrating to not have a mechanism for responding in a hands-on way at this stage in disaster response, the work of DV is targeted:  long after the media’s attention has waned, we work to respond. Whether it is in Nashville, Lake Charles, or Cedar Rapids, Disciples may not be the first to arrive, but we always strive to be among the last to leave. Josh Baird’s advice rings as true in Joplin as it does in the wake of other disasters. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact Disciples Volunteering or Week of Compassion.

This Week's Responses

Missouri, tornado relief and recovery
Montana, flood relief
Japan, earthquake/tsunami
Libya, crisis
Haiti, housing reconstruction
Louisiana, pastoral care
Oklahoma, tornado relief

Reaching Out to "Each as Any Had Need": Deadly Twisters Devastate Joplin Disciples

Damaged sanctuary of South Joplin Christian Church

The numbers coming out of Joplin, MO, are overwhelming. 

According to news reports as of this morning, 123 people were killed by the tornado that ripped through Southwest Missouri this past Sunday, making it one of the deadliest tornados in the state’s history. Property damage is estimated in the millions, and the loss of life and livelihood will inevitably have a catastrophic impact on this close-knit community. We have been in touch with South Joplin Christian Church and Joplin’s First Christian Church. Many, many families from those congregations have lost their homes. Others have sustained extensive damage. Each and every member has a neighbor or friend or relative who is suffering unbelievable loss. The situation can only be described as devastating—with so many of our own Disciples families gravely affected. 

With the needs mounting, we need your help and hope.

Already this year, close to 500 people have been killed by tornados—far higher than the average. Communities have been affected in Mississippi, Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Texas and Oklahoma. Every time we reach out on behalf of those suffering in the wake of unbelievable damage, you have responded out of generosity, solidarity, and compassion.

Amidst all of this seemingly unending destruction, we invite your continued support. At this stage, the immediate needs of our church members are the most critical for us to meet, and there will be much more for us to support in the recovery process:  local long-term recovery committees; interfaith and ecumenical responses; Church World Service, as they respond to spring storms across the Midwest and South; and collaboration with Disciples Volunteering to discern how to best provide Disciples congregations with opportunities to serve in tornado-ravaged communities.

Your generosity is the beating heart of Week of Compassion’s response. We are incredibly grateful for the sustained impact your Courageous Compassion provides. Thank you for all that you have contributed and provided to communities you may have never even visited. Week of Compassion is what it is because of you. We respond immediately and effectively because YOU respond.

We have no idea what this disaster-filled spring will continue to bring. Contributions to the Compassion Response Fund will enable us to prepare for the worst, so we can continue to reach out to “each as any had need” (Acts 4:35).

We thank God for each of you, and we pray for all those individuals, families, congregations, and communities struck by tornados and severe weather this spring.

Tornados Hit Joplin, MO

Joplin, Missouri, a sleepy college town in Southern Missouri, was struck by a massive tornado on late Sunday afternoon. Initial reports indicate at least 89 fatalities and 2000 buildings damaged or destroyed, including homes and places of business. St. John’s Regional Medical Center was also hit, and is currently unable to offer medical services. 

Week of Compassion has been in contact with First Christian Church of Joplin and South Joplin Christian Church. South Joplin was damaged by the storm, and several members have been affected. Though the homes of several members of First Christian sustained damage, the church itself was not damaged, and operated overnight as an emergency shelter before Missouri Southern State University set up a more extensive shelter for storm victims. FCC is operating as a drop-off point for supplies for those affected by the tornado.

First responders have immediately leapt to work, and Joplin is inundated by volunteers. Those involved with the initial response are clear:  Self-deployed volunteers will not be helpful. There are some very specific needs for skilled volunteers, such as medical professionals. Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering staff are currently planning on making a pastoral visit in the coming weeks, and will assess needs and ways we can respond to the entire community at that time.

For now, the best way that you can respond is to “Pray, Pay, and Stay”:  pray for all of those affected, that they might find healing, hope, and support. Provide a donation to Week of Compassion’s response fund, which will go to meet immediate needs and long-term recovery initiatives. Finally, wait. There will be opportunities to lend a hand. However, now is not the time for unskilled volunteers. 

Thank you for all that you do—for your hope, your prayers, and your Courageous Compassion.

Tornados in Alabama: "Do Come Back"

Church sign in Alabama 

The main drag of Eclectic, AL, a town of just over 1100 people, was abuzz with activity. FEMA and National Guard representatives had set up in an unused commercial space, processing paperwork and asking and answering questions. Right next door, a warehouse was packed with donated clothing, household goods, cleaning supplies, and food. Volunteers organized and sorted these goods under the watchful eye of Stacy, whose kindness, energy, and sheer will to help her community permeated the room. As a woman walked out the door, she turned and thanked Stacy and all of the volunteers for their efforts, and told Stacy that she needed a few more things to set up a temporary home, as hers had been destroyed by the tornado.

"I may come back for a few more things," she said, wearily, a little embarrassed by her needs.

Volunteers in AlabamaPutting her arm around her, Stacy was direct, but full of love. 

"No, No, No. Not 'may come back.' Do come back. Whatever you need."

Josh Baird of Disciples Volunteering and I had come to Alabama just the day before. From Birmingham to Montgomery, we spent time surveying the tornado damage and visiting with some area churches involved in the recovery effort in order to see how Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering, and these caring, resourceful congregations might partner to help-not only in meeting immediate needs-but by supporting efforts for long-term recovery.

The recovery in Eclectic, supported in part by volunteers from First Christian Church, Montgomery, was but one of our stops.

Alabama tornado damageWe toured neighborhoods demolished by tornados in Concord, Pleasant Grove, and Pratt City. We visited First Christian Church, Birmingham, where church members had quickly responded by collecting and transporting water and other supplies to those affected by the tornados. In Tuscaloosa, which saw massive damage when the tornados touched down, we met with a number of churches in the immediate area, all eager and hopeful, knowing that there must be a way they could respond. 

It was a trip that was both hope-filled and heartbreaking. We heard gripping stories, catalogued needs, and marveled at both the ways in which communities have already responded and the tremendous needs that remain. It was a remarkable witness to what caring congregations can offer, and a testament to the possibilities of partnership between different ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Yet there is much work ahead of us. In terms of the disaster response timeline, it is very early in the process. Long-term recovery committees are yet to form. Potential community-based partners are slowly emerging. The initial cleanup is still in full swing, and Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering are doing what we do best: looking for ways to support an efficient, long-term response that continues to meet needs long after the news cameras have left. 

As a ministry of your church, this is what we do. As Stacy might say, "There's no 'may come back' about it." Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering will be there for the long haul.

The Birmingham-Tuscaloosa-Montgomery area was not the only place affected by the tornados. We have been in communication with our churches in Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee about needs that are emerging in our churches and communities across those regions. From Smithville, MS, to Cleveland, TN, we are working to respond in helpful, efficient, responsible ways.
View Videos: Video #1 | Video #2

Flood Watch along the Mississippi

In a season filled with disasters, we are continuing to monitor communities along the banks of the Mississippi River. We have supported a community ministry in West Memphis, AR, to provide food and supplies to those affected by flooding, and an effort of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, Memphis, TN, to provide housing and food for those displaced by flooding. As the swelling river continues to barrel south, we are monitoring the situation and will respond as necessary.

If you would like to join with us in responding to the many needs that have arisen this spring, we welcome your donations, either made online or by check to WoC, PO Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206.

As always, we thank you for your commitment, your support, and your Courageous Compassion. Your generosity reflects God's love and care for those hurting, in need, and in flux. 

Giving in the wake of a disaster

The sun is shining brightly as I write. The temperature is in the low 70’s heading toward the high 80’s before the day is done. As I look out my office window there is nothing to suggest that it is anything other than a beautiful spring day in Memphis, Tennessee.

Looks can be deceiving. The Mississippi River is already overflowing its natural banks, and the water is rising. The river was supposed to crest on Wednesday at its second highest level in recorded history. Now we are being told that it will crest sooner and, likely, higher than we were being told yesterday. And it is not just the mighty Mississippi that is a threat. As the water flows south at flood level our local tributaries are expected to back up and even flow backwards as their water has nowhere to go forward.
Like I said, it looks like a beautiful spring day in Memphis. But it is not. And it is going to get worse, much worse, all while the sun is brightly shining. Many Memphians have been evacuated from their homes. That number will rise in the hours to come. And those who seem to be hit the hardest, at least so far, are those in already challenging economic circumstances. The challenges of recovery will be long and hard for many.   
In the midst of all of this I have a deep and growing concern. Up and down the even mightier than usual Mississippi River there is, and will be, flooding and ruin for many. Memphis is a big, well-known city. It is a tourist destination. It is a relatively easy place to get to. It is not too difficult for the national media to cover Memphis. I wonder who is covering the smaller towns and the farm communities already under deluge. I worry, too, that Memphis has been covered by television for days before the really hard flooding hits. Once the river crests and all the pictures have been taken of the water at its highest, will the media leave?  
In Alabama folks are still looking for bodies of still missing tornado victims. The death toll there continues to rise.Yet most of the national weather related coverage is taking place in Memphis.  Two weeks ago Tuscaloosa was the sexy place to cover. Now it’s Memphis. Soon it will be parts of Mississippi and then Louisiana.  New Orleans, still trying to recover from Katrina, will likely become the next big story.   
Though it has been some time since I have served as a disaster relief coordinator for Church World Service, I think much of what I learned then still holds true. I know, too, from my past work as a member of the Week of Compassion Advisory Committee there are some responses that are more helpful than others. With that in mind I humbly offer the following advice and encouragement.
First of all, do respond to what you are seeing. Almost always the best response is making a financial contribution to an organization with some background in disaster response. Week of Compassion fits that bill. Unless you are on the scene already, the best thing you can do is make a financial contribution to help with recovery and relief.  Money can be moved into an area quickly. It costs nothing to move it near a disaster area to purchase services and items near the scene. Those who know what they are doing can get exactly what is needed and do it quickly.  Giving money also helps the local economy of the area that will need money to help in the recovery. Money is almost always the best early response.
Second, if you do give money, place the least number of restrictions on your gift as possible. You may think it is a wonderful idea to give a gift to purchase diapers for babies. Let’s say you write a check for $100 specifying the money be spent for diapers.  Someone has to track that money, making sure it is only used for the purpose you have specified and that the diapers are dispersed to those who actually need them. In the midst of a crisis, don’t tie the hands of those who are “on the ground” and know what the critical needs really are. Don’t create extra work for those already working hard.
Another related challenge of specifying exactly how your contributions are to be spent is this. Let’s say you send a contribution and specify that it should go to “flood relief in Memphis.” I love Memphis. We’re going to need a lot of help here, but if you limit where or how the money can be spent then that is the only place it can be utilized. There is a still a need in Tuscaloosa. If most people specify their gifts for Memphis, other places with great need may get left out of the equation.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)’s Week of Compassion has a fund which channels money to disaster relief and recovery called the Compassion Response Fund. When I want to make a contribution in response to a disaster, I make a gift directed to this Response Fund. There are funds for development work and refugee assistance, as well.  If I am responding to news of a disaster I direct my gift to the Response Fund, but give the leadership overseeing the fund the freedom to use my gift where most needed. My encouragement to you is to give the experts and local leadership some freedom and trust to be good stewards of the gifts you give without tying their hands too much.
Another piece of strong advice I would give. Do not go to a disaster area uninvited and without prior arrangements.  When you get there you are going to want clean water, food to eat and a place to stay. You are likely to be competing for those very things with the people you mean to be coming to “help.” There will be a time for volunteers. That time almost always comes later, not during the disaster itself.
Related to that last bit of advice, do not take things to a disaster site that have not been requested.  And when a request comes, take good stuff. Those who deal with disasters often refer to something called “the secondary disaster,” the unwanted, unneeded people and stuff that require more work to deal with than any benefit offered. Secondary disasters always arise from well-meaning people, but they are a serious problem. Don’t contribute to the disaster. Don’t bring unrequested items unless you are certain of what you are doing. Remember, money always works!  
Finally, it is a good idea to know who you are giving to and through. There will be lots of organizations with their hands out.  Some will be good. Some will be total scams created to capitalize on the good hearts of potential donors. Do a bit of research before you give your money away. Week of Compassion has a proven track record of effective and efficient stewardship. I encourage you to give to our trusted and true Week of Compassion. Give generously, and give wisely. 
-Rev. Dan Webster
Faith Christian Church
Memphis, TN

Nashville: One Year Later

Nashville, May 2010. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gentner/Getty Images)
For I am about to create new heavens
   and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
   or come to mind.
                     -Isaiah 65:17

A year ago, Nashville was hit by a devastating flood. I remember watching the disaster unfold through my Facebook feed, wondering why my Nashville-based friends were reporting rising waters, vulnerable neighborhoods, and wondering why I couldn’t find any coverage on the national news. 

So I did what we do, as Week of Compassion, in these situations. I got on the phone. I chatted with our Nashville churches. Information started to come in—a bit at a time at first, and then more and more. Soon enough, we got a picture of the enormity of the flooding, and we responded.
We reached out to families who lost their homes, and we reached out to the Regional Office of Tennessee, which was itself severely damaged. Working together with our partners with Disciples Volunteering, we devised a plan for bringing in volunteers from all over the country. Bellevue Christian Church and Eastwood Christian Church generously offered their facilities as mission stations for housing and feeding volunteers, connections were made with local long-term recovery organizations, and as a church, we got to work responding.

A year later, Nashville is in much better shape. There are neighborhoods you’d never guess were flooded just a year ago. However, there are plenty of places that remain untouched, in disrepair, standing as testaments to the trauma of a year ago.

And so we remain there. Disciples churches continue to send groups to help with the recovery efforts. Disciples Volunteering continues to find ways to make the recovery effort more efficient, provide volunteers with meaningful work, and bring hope to the households to whom they lend a hand.

Even as we have watched the recent swath of tornados tear through the Southeast, Nashville has not been far from our minds here at Week of Compassion. Last week, while preparing a sermon, I spent a lot of time thinking about the words from the third section of Isaiah, which I included above. The prophet’s words were for a people with a cultural (or in some cases, literal) memory of exile in Babylon, frustrated that their rebuilding was not as easy, as conflict-free, as joyful, as they thought it would be. Imbued with a sense of vision that Walter Brueggeman describes as “Prophetic Imagination,” the prophet’s words reflect faith in a God who remains present—no matter the tragedy, no matter how weighty the recovery seems—and who continues to create a hope-filled future:

I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
   and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
   and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
   or the cry of distress.
                       -Isaiah 65:18-19

May it be so in Nashville, in Tuscaloosa, and all over the world—wherever there is need, disaster, or heart-break.
           - Brandon

Damage from Severe Weather

After tornados cut a deadly swath across the South on Wednesday, Week of Compassion immediately began responding to initial needs emerging out of Disciples churches across Alabama and Georgia. While we've not heard of any damage to church buildings, nor of any deaths among church members, several families have reported homes that have been damaged or destroyed. Phone systems in Alabama have been down most of the day, but information is continuing to come in, bit by bit.

The same weather system has caused damage to two churches in Kentucky and to the homes of several church members in Tennessee. 

We have responded to these needs and stand ready to offer more help as they continue to emerge. Thanks to your generosity, Week of Compassion is able to respond. If you would like to contribute to help meet the needs of families who have experienced damage from tornados across the South, please follow this link.

We are also continuing to monitor the potential for flooding across the Midwest and mid-South. Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and communities across Southern Illinois, Western Kentucky, and West Tennessee are all preparing for the worst. We are prepared to respond—as always. 

Volunteering:  Ready, Set, Wait!

Disciples are a caring bunch. We’ve been inundated by phone calls and emails from folks across the country, generously offering their time, skills and energy to help respond to the tornado damage in Alabama. At this time, there is no Disciples-related mechanism for offering immediate response. In time, there may be an opportunity to volunteer. For now, however, there are more effective ways to put your concern into action. According to Director of Disciples Volunteering Josh Baird, "The urge to show up and offer assistance is wonderful. But unless you're completely self-sufficient - which means traveling with all the food, water, ice, gasoline, and cash you're going to need - and you already have a place to sleep and shower, you can wind up doing more harm than good. Consider the local church that is scrambling to find temporary housing for families and individuals who lost their homes in the disaster. Then the call comes in: 'We're coming to help. We just need a place for the five of us to stay.' The burden on that church is not lifted, it's increased. Following any disaster, it is critical that we wait until the local community is ready to receive our assistance before we show up."

Donations to Week of Compassion designated for tornado response will not only provide relief to folks who have sustained serious damage in the wake of this tornado, but also will supply the needed resources should Disciples Volunteering be able to mount a volunteer effort in the region. Along with your prayers, a gift to help with the response is the very best way you can respond right now.

Week of Compassion’s partner, Church World Service, will also be providing clean-up buckets, hygiene kits, and blankets as needed. This will likely deplete their supply. To learn more about donating buckets, blankets, or kits, explore this Church World Service webpage.

We continue to give thanks to all of you who have given generously of your resources, all of you who have expressed concern through phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages, and all of you who continue to find creative ways to reach out in Courageous Compassion. Carry on!

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance

North Carolina, tornado damage
Alabama, tornado damage
Tennessee, storm damage
Kentucky, storm and flood damage
Arizona, resettled refugee assistance
Texas, resettled refugee assistance

Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation

Global, poverty relief for older persons

For a complete listing of responses made in 2011, click here.

Tornados and Flooding in Missouri

Week of Compassion is currently monitoring Saint Louis and Poplar Bluff, Missouri, after a weekend of severe weather.

A tornado struck Lambert-Saint Louis International Airport, causing significant damage and closing the airport. Neighborhoods in Maryland Heights, a suburb of Saint Louis, were also affected. Thus far, there have been no reports of Disciples churches or members affected. We are keeping a close watch on the situation to see if needs emerge, and we are currently exploring ways to partner with the Disciples Southeast Gateway Area Office in order to offer a wider community response.

Nearby, the small community of Poplar Bluff, MO, is facing what is being described as an “imminent failure” of a compromised levee along the Black River. 1000 of the approximately 17,000 residents have been evacuated. Week of Compassion has been in touch with the two Disciples churches in Poplar Bluff, and we are keeping abreast of the situation. Rain is continuing to fall in the area, so the levee’s ability to hold may not be known until later this evening.

Please continue to keep the community of Poplar Bluff and all others affected by severe weather this year in your prayers. This is certain not to be the last instance of severe weather to impact a community during the current storm season. If you would like to help us prepare for upcoming responses, please contribute here.

Thanks, as always, for your partnership in this ministry. Your support helps provide relief for folks facing displacement and recovery from these—and many other—disasters.


As We Approach the Cross: Reflections for this Holy Weekend

Over the last week, Week of Compassion has responded to tornado and flood damage in North Carolina and Virginia, and has been keeping an eye on storms across the Midwest. We are currently monitoring raging wildfires in Texas; through the Regional and Area offices of the Southwest, we are in communication with our congregations. Currently, we have no reports of damage to churches or homes of church members, only acres of severely damaged land. We continue to keep all of those recovering from severe storm damage and those in areas where the fires continue to burn in our prayers, and—as always—stand ready to respond should other needs emerge.

Maundy Thursday Reflection 2011

The Rev. John Richardson serves as Regional Minister for the Christian Church in North Carolina. John is also the former Chairperson of the Week of Compassion Advisory Committee. We thank John for his Holy Week reflection, especially poignant after last weekend’s destructive tornadoes in the North Carolina region. 

I was sharing in a time of fellowship, prior to worship, with our new congregation, Open Hearts Gathering Christian Church, in Gastonia, North Carolina, when I first began to learn how bad the destruction was last Saturday from the multiple tornados that raced across eastern North Carolina. One of the members of Open Hearts Gathering showed me a story on his iPad which reported a death in Raleigh where a tornado touched down. As we all know now, there was much more death and destruction from Sanford to Bertie County and beyond.

As I drove home from Gastonia on Sunday, having heard on television and via the internet more about the devastating winds, I thought to myself, “It will not be long before I receive a phone call from Pastor Lula Brown.” I did not know what Lula would do, but I knew she would do something in response to the April 16 disaster. And so, when I spoke with Brandon Gilvin, Associate Director of Week of Compassion, on Monday morning, I requested a $500 emergency solidarity grant for the yet-to-be-determined disaster response ministry that Pastor Brown would be undertaking. 

Lula Brown, pastor of New Fellowship Chrisitan Church (Disciples of Christ) in Williamston, North Carolina, has been an angel to so many following previous disasters in North Carolina, and on the Gulf Coast--where she sent a tractor-trailer load of brand new mattress-box spring sets, complete with new sheets, pillows and bedspreads-- to families who lost all they had in Hurricane Katrina.

Just as I expected, my phone rang on Tuesday morning. I picked it up and the voice said, “John, this is Lula Brown. I didn’t sleep much last night. I was praying about what to do to help the families in Bertie County. I know they will all need beds to sleep on when their houses are rebuilt. So I’m going to get a tractor-trailer, park it on our church parking lot, and put a big sign on the side that says, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I am going to starting raising money for 50 new box spring-mattress sets, bed frames, sheets, pillows and bedspreads. It will take awhile, but I believe it can be done by the time they are able to move back in their houses.”

I said, “Lula, I knew you would call. Week of Compassion has already been in touch with the Regional Office and has sent an initial $500 emergency solidarity grant for your disaster relief project.”

Lula said, “Oh, thank you. Another person has given me $200, so we have a good start. I’m going to call my resource for the mattress and box springs today. We’ve got to fill up that trailer.”

I do not know of a better message I could have received in Holy Week than the message I received from Lula on Tuesday. I do not know of a better message for Maundy Thursday than the servant-ministry of Pastor Lula Brown as she leads us in fulfilling Jesus’ command to “Love one another.” Thank you, Pastor Brown. 

When we are at our best, reaching out to others in need, without asking, “Who are you? Why do you have this need? Where do you come from?” that is when we are most Christ-like. We know there is a need, and with compassion, we respond.

I believe sharing in such ministry—helping individuals we do not even know—is how we begin to understand that when we gather around the Lord’s Table, everyone is welcome—without any pre-qualifications. All are welcome because everyone is a child of God. Everyone is created in the image of God. Everyone is loved by God.

May our tables, at home and especially in the sanctuaries where we worship, have all the family of God gathered-round for wine and bread—for Good News, which I believe is summed up in one word: Love!

Good Friday Reflection 2011

Good Friday is the moment when grace meets grief, when we confront the violence and destruction of the world head-on, and when we meet God in the wake of human suffering.

For many of us all over the world, the violence and destruction of Good Friday is not merely something to meditate on. For the refugee fleeing civil war, for the village trapped in the cycle of poverty, and for the city surveying tornado damage, grief and uncertainty are as real as it gets. 

It is the midst of such uncertainty that the psalmist’s cry--“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”--seems so apt. No wonder the Gospels record Jesus crying out this same prayer. 

The ministry of Week of Compassion is built on the Church’s commitment to respond to need in the midst of dramatic damage and sweeping uncertainty, to share signs of grace, healing, and hope when all seems lost. On this Good Friday, we invite you to pray a prayer of hope and solidarity with all those who face destructive forces of weather, human conflict, and poverty.

In Canadian singer songwriter James Keelaghan’s “Cold Missouri Waters,” he tells the true story of a wildfire and the death of several first responders. He tells this story as one in which grief, grace, and hope intersect. As we spend this day thinking not only about the violence of a first century execution, but conflict and uprising in Libya, ongoing relief efforts in Japan, tornado clean-up in North Carolina, and raging wildfires in Texas, we, too, pray that our grief may not only be tinged with hope, but that it may be overcome with God’s healing grace.

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance

U.S./Mexico (2), emergency needs
Virginia, tornado damage
North Carolina (2), tornado damage
Japan, earthquake/tsunami
Philippines, fire damage
Sri Lanka, flood relief
Indonesia, assistance to displaced persons
Colombia, flood relief
Iraq, Iraqi refugee crisis in Lebanon

Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation

Haiti, housing project

For a full listing of responses made to date in 2011, click here.