Children of God

In mid-December, as part of an expression of Week of Compassion’s partnership with Foods Resource Bank (FRB), I traveled to two very different states in India,  Bihar and Meghalaya, to see some of the results of the food security programs we support through work with local on-the-ground partners and members of FRB’s ecumenical network.  From the sleepy mountain town of Shillong  to the chaotic bluster of Kolkata, India’s diverse people, landscapes, and cultures absorbed my attention, begged many questions, and gave me much to ponder, even weeks later.

In the Northeast state of Meghalaya, where it was mountainous and lush, we met farmers from several indigenous groups, all of whom were learning new agricultural techniques to help provide consistent food to their households, grow food in more sustainable and efficient ways, and grow vegetables-not only to provide nutrients for their families but to provide farmers with new products to take to market.  From small landholding farmers to landless people working on leased lands, all of the farmers shared stories of success:  enough rice to last a year instead of only a few months, tomatoes that sold well at the local market, and a new sense of dignity.  Farmers told us of their joy, their newfound hope, and how they even shared their new techniques with their neighbors.  

The projects in the drier, less fertile state of Bihar were similar in scope, including agricultural development and the launching of “Self-Help Groups” for women, which encouraged women to save money for their families, taught basic literacy, and provided a mechanism for small loans for household needs.  The women involved in these projects come from either indigenous cultural groups or are designated as “Dalits” in the Indian Caste system.  “Dalit,” a term that connotes their lack of caste status, roughly translates as “Oppressed,” or “Crushed.”  If you’re like me, you learned another term for this group in middle school social studies: “ The Untouchables.”  The cultural groups that make up the Dalit designation have long faced discrimination and have historically only found livelihood in menial labor.  Though the Indian constitution protects the rights of all people in India and land reform provided some Dalit Indians, such as the families we met in Bihar, with land, they still face prejudice deeply woven into their culture and often struggle mightily to make ends meet.  To meet Dalit women who spoke of being able to feed their families year round, and to hear them say how learning to sign their own names has given them a dignity they never before had was powerful, and inspiring.  

In both of the areas we visited, I felt proud of this unique partnership and the opportunities it gives us, as North American Disciples. By supporting this work, we get to make a difference, to help contribute to not only food security but human dignity-to help people once called “Untouchable” live into the name Gandhi used for them: “Harijan,” or “Children of God.”

As I’ve spent the last three years partnering with all of you through the ministry and witness of Week of Compassion, I’ve often considered that there are two dimensions to our work.  The first, as a Mission Fund that supports partnerships and provides relief both in North America and around the world, is technical:  mission stations are built, grants to meet needs are provided, programs training small stakeholder farmers in ways to increase their seasonal yield.  Problems are identified, and what is broken (as best we can, with a lot of sweat, donations, and prayer) is fixed.

But there’s another aspect of our work-we are an expression of Jesus’ vision of the Realm of God:  the longing hope given expression in both Testaments-that one day the wolf will indeed lay down with the lamb, that those who are hungry will be fed, that every tear will be dried, that all will be well.  

In other words, there is the Gospel work-which is not about the technical but the spiritual.  It is about reminding our sisters and brothers that they are “Harijan,” not “Untouchable.”  It is about how partnerships built on mutuality and trust reminds people that they are whole-and holy-even when they have been told, from their first breath, that they are broken, less-than, and not worthy.

And when the two aspects of our work coalesce in the eyes of a mother who signs her name in dignity and who can provide food for her family year-round, we, as a movement of Courageous Compassion, see hope where there was once shame.

We see the sacred hope of the Harijan.

May this hope be our gift, as well.

Until the Son of God Appears

An Update on the Sandy Hook Tragedy

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears. 


Ransom all who are captive here, Lord.  For we seem to be imprisoned in a compassion-deprived society. Confined by our own inability and unwillingness to communicate.  Captive to our own needs and desires, to the exclusion of others’.  Prone to violent acts instead of compassionate conversation and connection.  We no longer know how to pay attention; we barely know our neighbors.

How can we love our neighbors as ourselves if we no longer even know them…?  How can we reach out to those who are in terrible need of our attentiveness and our compassion?  Everyone needs someone to believe in them!  How might we embrace in love those who might otherwise commit such senseless and inhumane acts---before tragedy occurs?

O God, our God, we are in desperate lonely exile here.  We are in exile from ourselves, our neighbors near and far, from our communities, and from our capacity to converse with one another.  Our hearts are now in exile after the vicious exile of 27 unsuspecting, innocent lives.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.  Come and save us.  Jesus, save us.

How do we celebrate Christmas after such senseless violence? After innocent children’s lives were senselessly taken?  After selfless adult lives, those who gave their very lives for the sake of children, how do we now turn to Christmas?  How do families in Newtown, Connecticut gather around the tree, or the table, and somehow—somehow—celebrate what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year?

Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to Thee, O Israel.

But how can there be any joy after what we have witnessed at Sandy Hook Elementary School…?




Sometimes there are just no words.  No answers to our questions.  No joy because the anguish is just too deep.




In the face of the unfathomable, we find ourselves in shock and grief.  Outraged.  Confused.  Left with no other recourse than lament.


Lament we shall:   For the children of Sandy Hook who became all of our children.  And for those who taught and cared for and mentored them who also witnessed the unexplainable.  For their parents and siblings and families who are now in the depths of despair.  We weep and wail and question God; hear now our lamentations…

For if ever we needed peace, we need it now.  O come, O come, Emmanuel, and be with us. Really with us. For we are in such shock that many of us do not feel Your presence.  We need, Lord, to feel You, and to be comforted with a holy and heavenly embrace.  For we need peace. Now.

While the joy of Christmas may elude many of us this year as we find ourselves joining Rachel who wept and refused to be consoled at the loss of her children, we embody Advent.  Our longing is even more poignant—palpable, even, as we cry out for peace.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, for we cannot do this ourselves.  We need a Savior.  Come, Jesus, come, and save us!  Save us from violence. Save us from gutlessness. Save us from ourselves. Save us from our sins.

O come, thou Wisdom who comes from on high, and order all things, far and nigh; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.

Need we any more evidence that we downright need a Savior? We need to be redeemed!  O come, O come Jesus the Christ.  For it is You and You alone who is Our Peace. It is You and You alone who has shown us the ways of peace and nonviolence, how to be conduits of peace, and how to create peace in this mad world.

Hear now our pleas for peace:  Peace in Newtown.  Peace for our children.  Peace in the greater Danbury metropolitan area. Peace in our homes.  Peace across Connecticut.  Peace in our schools.  Peace in America. Peace in our families.  Peace on earth.  Peace in our hearts.  Peace now.  Peace on earth…

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all humankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease; and be Thyself our King of Peace.

As a response to the horrific and senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday, Week of Compassion has sent a solidarity grant to our very own Central Christian Church in Danbury, CT [http://www.centralchristianchurchdanbury.com/].  The Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman, pastor of Central Christian, has been intimately involved in the post-crisis interventions.  Through close partner organization Family and Children’s Aid of Danbury, CT, which is housed at Central Christian Church, Week of Compassion has purchased copies of the children’s book, A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes.  We have also provided funds for play therapy and trauma counseling as needs arise among the community.  Family and Children’s Aid [http://www.fcaweb.org/index.html] of Danbury is one of the leading agencies in the state for caring for traumatized and abused children.  They were the first on the scene at Sandy Hook School.

In addition to A Terrible Thing Happened, bereavement counselors also recommend the book, Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney as an aid in helping children understand death and dying.  For parents to engage in constructive conversation with your children about the recent school shootings we recommend this link from our ecumenical colleagues:  [http://www.northalabamaumc.org/pages/detail/1173].


Donations are welcome as we continue to reach out to this community.  Long after the initial shock the long road to recovery and healing begins.  Please designate all gifts specifically for “Sandy Hook” and we will direct them accordingly.  We also ask for prayers for our own congregation, Central Christian, as they minister to their wider community. While no one was directly affected in our church, they are all deeply impacted by this tragedy.  They are a people of profound faith—even at a time like this.

It is indeed Advent.  It is not merely symbolic.  We are in waiting.  Crying out for peace, for Christ to come.  For Peace to burst forth into this world like never before.

So come, all you who are faithful.  Become that peace as we wait for Peace Incarnate.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears.

Come all you who are faithful.  For God is a merciful God who sends us Peace.  Come…until the very Son of God appears. 

“We Could Heal the Land” - An Update on Haiti

Week of Compassion Associate Director Brandon Gilvin recently returned from Haiti as part of a delegation organized by partner organization Agricultural Missions. The following update highlights many of the learnings and experiences of the group, and is adapted from a recent report by Stephen Bartlett of Agricultural Missions.

From areas as diverse as Leogane in the south, La Verettes and Petite Riviere in the rice basket of Haiti, Artibonite, to various communities of the Central Plateau, members of a recent delegation to Haiti met with farmer-leaders, their communities and families, toured well-worked gardens and fields, and waded through rice paddies to get a picture of food sovereignty in Haiti.

During the visit Hurricane Sandy blew through, dumping heavy rains for three days straight.  Though the delegation had to adjust its itinerary, it was largely unaffected by the storm.  Others did not fare as well.  Sandy destroyed crops, killed farm animals and people in several mountainous regions of the country, as well as in Port-au-Prince.  Climate change, environmental degradation, and a history of agricultural policy with little focus on sustainability or food security exacerbated the vulnerability of those in the path of the storm.

Despite the significant challenges facing the country, the small scale farmers we met not only demonstrated resilience but technical skill and a commitment to community that supported their aspirations for food sovereignty.

Rural women continue to play a key role in the partnerships between Week of Compassion, Agricultural Missions, and local cooperatives of small scale farmers.   Many women use rain catchment and raised "tire" gardens (called the "road to life" gardens) and fruit trees to provide a level of food security and healthy nutrients for an expanding number of families and communities-- incredibly important considering the severe alternating drought and flooding Haitian farmers faced throughout 2012.

The rain catchment systems have greatly transformed the lives of the women heads of household by cutting out hours of walking and carrying water.  A recent micro-credit program funded through Agricultural Missions and supported by Week of Compassion has enabled 240 women in 20 women's agricultural associations across Haiti to set up these raised tire gardens, providing training for two women leaders from each community, who in turn train the others.

Establishing seed banks for local communities was also a key strategy for food sovereignty in targeted communities.  However, following the 2010 Earthquake, many seeds set aside for future production were consumed in order to support approximately 780,000 people displaced to rural areas.  Two years later, communities are catching up, and with the support of grassroots partners, 120 craftspeople were trained in traditional tin-smithing work to produce metallic silos for seed banks, allowing them to store seeds for subsequent seasons.  More than 300 silos for community seed banks have already been constructed across Haiti.

"We could heal the land sufficiently in 25 years to give Haiti a new start and feed ourselves,"
said one leader from a member organization of Via Campesina, the planetary food sovereignty movement representing more than 350,000,000 family farmers across the globe. "Small farmers already feed 80% of humanity and can cool the planet back down too, if given a chance."

Partnerships such as these allow each and every one of us to participate in the healing of Haiti.  Agricultural reform, food security, and food sovereignty take the contributions of people from all walks of life, and thanks to your generosity, this healing continues.

Week of Compassion is proud to partner with Agricultural Missions in Haiti and in West Africa.  Thank you for your courageous compassion as we accompany small stakeholder farmers across the world.  


What is food sovereignty?


Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation.


What does agricultural development have to do with earthquake recovery?

While the 2010 Earthquake caused massive damage in Port-au-Prince, rural areas were affected and also became the destination for hundreds of thousands of displaced city dwellers, straining food resources.  Little to no emergency government aid made its way to the rural areas.

In addition, in terms of development, Port-au-Prince was prioritized over the rural areas for years.  The centralization of the Haitian economy, educational system, and other infrastructure pushed migrants from the rural areas to the city, straining resources, and leading to overcrowding.  While the damage done by the 2010 earthquake would have been massive under any circumstances, overcrowded buildings led to an even higher death toll.

Investing in Food Secure and Food Sovereign rural communities helps not only  provide opportunity in those areas, it also promotes decentralization, inviting the development of other infrastructure, such as school and health systems, as well as mitigating against migration to the densely populated capital city.

Come, Lord Jesus

Come, Lord Jesus, come. I can almost hear the voices of men, women, and children in the Congo bidding Jesus to come and be among them. Yet again, the violence in Eastern Congo is alarming. While the situation in Goma has slightly quieted in the last week or so, we know too well that at any given moment violence could again erupt.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. I can practically picture our sisters and brothers in Syria and Gaza and Israel-indeed, throughout the Middle East. I can see them physically beckoning the Prince of Peace to show up among them.

Many have asked me, “Why respond to a situation that never seems to improve? It seems that no matter what we do, violence and hardship still prevail. Can we truly make a difference?”

Can we truly make a difference, even in a place mired in poverty, conflict, and suffering, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the Middle East?

The answer is a resounding yes. YES!

Not only are we making a difference, but we are also living our faith by responding to the Gospel. As a result of our thoughtful and intentional choices, we make an impact on people’s very lives. People are fed. Bodies are healed. Communities are protected. Lives are literally saved. Why? Because you gave. Because you had faith. Because you understood that even though you may enjoy the basic necessities of life, far too many do not, and until they also enjoy those same basic necessities, none of us are truly leading abundant lives.  

As writer and theologian Frederick Buechner put it, “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It's the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” This is the Ubuntu ethic out of Africa: "I am what I am because of who we all are." Claiming the abundant life that Christ promised all of us: Week of Compassion allows all those who participate in this ministry of sharing to claim the abundant life for themselves precisely because they are able to give, while at the same time offers a more abundant life for those who are in desperate need.

When we give, we are bidding Christ to come.During this season of Advent, this season of arriving, we bid Jesus once again to come. In so doing, we are making a big, bold faith statement that we believe in the power of our Lord and Savior to use us to make a lasting difference in this world. Whether it’s the Congo, the Middle East, the East Coast, or our home communities, we have the power to change lives. Believe it.

For more information on how your gifts and resources are changing lives, please visit these Week of Compassion partners:

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Empower us with Your Courageous Compassion.

 

Celebrate Christmas with Courageous Compassion

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

                                --“In the Bleak Midwinter,” Lyrics by Christina Rosetti

After the barrage of Black Friday sales, the allure of Cyber Monday emails, it’s easy to lose track of what Christmas giving is about.

The extravagant love of a God whose love awakens us from injustice.

The innocence of that love, incarnate in a child, born not in a hospital, not in a warm home, but in a barn, surrounded by farmworkers, travelers from far away countries, and parents who would soon flee, seeking refuge from a threat of violence to their child.

We give because there is something overwhelming about being a child of God, and knowing that each face we pass belongs not to a stranger but to a brother or sister.

We give—not because we love, but because we are loved.

As Christmas approaches, those of us at Week of Compassion are reminded that while our ministry with you is at its heart one of generosity, the approaching season is one in which you may want to give something special to those you care about.

Perhaps you want to honor those who reach out in Courageous Compassion with you.  Perhaps you want your holiday giving to be a way to live out your commitment to justice and new life. 

Perhaps you want to give simply because you are loved.

Whatever it is that moves you, we have teamed up with several of our partners, longstanding and new, to help you give gifts that reflect your commitments to work for relief and development all over the world. Help bring great joy to developing communities--and to your own--by choosing a gift that celebrates partnerships that make a difference around the world, around the year.

Make a Donation in Someone's Name to Week of Compassion

Is there someone in your life who inspires you? Someone who exemplifies Courageous Compassion? This Christmas, please consider making a donation to Week of Compassion in that person's honor. We will send one of the beautiful 'Sharing Brings Joy' Christmas Cards to you so that you can let them know that your gift to them is the gift of JOY! Just follow this link and choose the "Alternative Christmas Gift" option on the donation form.

 Send Your Own Week of Compassion Christmas Cards

The 2012 Week of Compassion Christmas Cards are a wonderful way for you to share JOY with friends and family and make a big difference in the world at the same time. For a donation of $25 to Week of Compassion, we will send you 12 Christmas Cards and envelopes. Just follow this link and choose the "WoC Christmas Cards" option on the donation form.

Church World Service "Best Gift" Catalog

Church World Service’s Best Gift catalog has something for everyone! Give new meaning to your gift-giving this year by honoring that special someone with a donation to the life-saving work of Church World Service. The catalog contains a host of great "gift ideas" that will be memorable and meaningful. Available at no charge, but there is a limit of 20 per congregation or group.

Celebrate a Fair Trade Christmas with Equal Exchange

From ideas for holiday bazaars to  innovative, empowering gifts like the Africa Gift Box, our partners at Equal Exchange offer a number of creative ways for not only sharing exceptional coffees, chocolates, and teas but making a real difference in the lives of small scale farmers and their families.  Through the Disciples Coffee Project, a partnership between Week of Compassion, Equal Exchange, and Disciples Home Missions, farmers receive fair prices for their crops, affordable credit and long term trade relationships with a trading partner they can trust, Equal Exchange. In addition, for every pound of fairly traded products Disciples order through the Project, Equal Exchange makes a donation of 15 cents to food security projects supported by Week of Compassion.

Share a New Light with Prosperity Candle

Our partners at Prosperity Candle offer beautiful candles, the purchase of which directly supports women rebuilding their lives following conflict and natural disaster, including women refugees resettled in the U.S. from conflict countries.  These candles are often poured into beautiful fair trade artisan vessels, or accompanied by other Fair Trade items.  Prosperity Candle even carries a small Week of Compassion travel candle! 10% of all purchases by Week of Compassion supporters also support the WoC Women’s Empowerment Fund.

May your Christmas be bright, merry, and woven with gifts that bring joy when they are shared.  May what you give be truly of your heart. 

It is a season of giving thanks

O come, let us sing to the Lord;  
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  
Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving;  
let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise!


-Psalm 95


It is a season of giving thanks; and as the psalmist writes, to make a joyful noise to our God from whom all blessings flow. We can’t help but be thankful for the opportunity to partner with you. Your generosity has made a difference in the lives of so many, including the following:
  • Working with Disciples Regional Ministries, emerging local long term recovery groups, and Church World Service (CWS), we’ve responded to wildfire damage in Colorado, and tornados in Texas, Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky. And, most recently of course, we have been responding daily to the tremendous needs as a result of Superstorm Sandy. We will continue to stand in solidarity with and support those who have been so greatly impacted by this historic storm.
  • In war-torn Syria, through CWS, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), and the ACT Alliance (ACT), Week of Compassion has provided health care, medical treatment, hygiene kits, blankets, rent assistance, fuel, food packages, clothing, and psycho-social assistance for those who have been displaced by violence. We also continue to monitor the declining situation in Gaza.
  • The Center for Youth Integration in Belgrade, Serbia which has provided safety and education for Roma children often made vulnerable because of their social status. Beyond a sense of security, the Center has helped countless children develop a sense of dignity, self-worth, and hope for the future.
  • In partnership with the ACT and CWS, we have provided emergency food assistance to those living the horrors of famine and malnutrition in the Sahel Region of Africa, including Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, the Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal; the Horn of Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia; and most recently, Malawi.
  • We’ve partnered with Disciples Volunteering and the National Disaster Ministries of the United Church of Christ, as well as a host of local organizations and volunteers to participate in community-based tornado recovery in Joplin, MO and Tuscaloosa, AL. We thank all of you who have who already volunteered and organized work trips to help Joplin and Tuscaloosa rebuild.
For these important partnerships and the ways they have made a difference in the world, we give thanks to God for your gifts that made this work possible.

Because of your commitment to sustainable development projects that empower communities all over the world, possibility exists where it once did not.

Because of your support of disaster relief, communities ravaged by natural disaster and human violence have begun the process of healing.

Because you helped provide a means for their resettlement, refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide have been able to escape violence, instability, and persecution.

We thank God for you and your commitment to Courageous Compassion. We are proud to be a ministry that helps the church live into its call to heal and give hope.

May our songs of joy and work for a better future for all resonate from our very doorsteps to the ends of the earth.

We Will Speak Out: WoC Responds to Sexual and Gender Based Violence

In August of last year I was invited to join an IMA World Health delegation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  While I had been to Mbandaka and areas where Disciples have historic connections, I had not yet been to the heart of the conflict zone—in the Eastern part of Congo, where the atrocities against women are still occurring.  I met some of these incredibly courageous women during my visits to Goma, Bukavu, and Mwenga.  Because IMA supports the Panzi Hospital and Foundation—one of only a couple of hospitals offering reconstructive surgery for women rape victims—we were even able to meet the legendary Dr. Mukwege, a world-renowned doctor in the Congo who has performed literally thousands of reconstructive surgeries to women in the Congo after they have been violated and mutilated.  I was in awe just to be in his presence. 

Through the Ushindi Program, WoC and thus all of us as Disciples are a major part of the work IMA is engaged in there.  The Ushindi Program offers medical assistance to women victims of sexual and gender based violence, along with psycho-social care, legal assistance, and economic/livelihoods recovery assistance.  It is a truly remarkable and cutting edge program. Gifts to the Women’s Empowerment Fundof WoC have contributed to the Ushindi Program. 

We were so touched by our visit to Eastern Congo.  I was able to meet the women, sit with them, speak with them, and sing and pray with them. We wept, laughed, and embraced.  I will never forget it.  I came home determined even more to do something about the issues confronting them---but also to help educate others about sexual and gender based violence.  To think that it only happens to the Congolese is simply naïve and inaccurate.  One in three women in the U.S. have been victims of sexual and gender based violence.  1 in 3.  Sadly, domestic violence and other forms of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) are a quiet curse in our own homes, schools and communities, and an important health issue facing all communities.  

 

As a result, IMA World Health has spearheaded a U.S.-based campaign on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) called We Will Speak Out.  WeWillSpeakOut.US is a faith-based coalition.  As one of IMA’s members, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), represented by WoC, is a part of this coalition to raise awareness about sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and mobilize the faith community to take action. WeWillSpeakOut.US envisions churches joining together to take a stand, teaching their congregations how to support community resources and get survivors the help and support they need for healing. There is strength in numbers, and together we can raise awareness and take action to change the culture of violence that causes so much physical, emotional and spiritual suffering.

The United Nations has designated Sunday, November 25 as the “International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.” All around the world, people will be taking action to raise awareness about the global epidemic of violence that affects all of us. WeWillSpeakOut.US is calling all congregations across the world to dedicate Sunday, November 25, 2012, as SPEAK OUT SUNDAY to dialogue, teach and pray about sexual and gender based violence locally and around the world.  This important day also coincides with the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, observed from November 25 through December 11, 2012.

WWSO.US members have also  joined forces to write a set of thoughtful, Scripture-based sermons (featuring writing by WoC Executive Director Amy Gopp) to help pastors and other faith leaders engage their congregations about this delicate but critical issue. A guide for Christian congregations is available online at http://www.wewillspeakout.us/sermon-guide.   For more resources, visit http://www.wewillspeakout.us/, and follow WWSO.US on Twitter (username wewillspeakoutUS) and Facebook (username wewillspeakoutUS).

Thank you for speaking out.  Thank you, as always, for your courageous compassion. 

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Capital Area, hurricane damage recovery (3)
Pennsylvania, hurricane damage recovery
Utah, church facility damage

Superstorm Sandy Response

United States

As the last remnants of Hurricane Sandy have moved out of the Northeast, the response continues.

At its peak, the storm was more than 1,000 miles wide at its peak and affected the following states: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia. Thousands are reported to have sought refuge in shelters, dozens were killed, and the property damage is massive.

Sandy's most severe impact appears to be in the state of New Jersey and in New York City, where the center of the storm made landfall.  While it will be some time yet before damage assessments are complete extensive damage from flood waters occurred across the nation's largest city in most of its five boroughs. In the Breezy Point section of Queens, more than 100 homes burned when gas from ruptured lines ignited. Firefighters were unable to reach the homes due to floodwaters.

Progress is being made as limited bus and subway operations are being restored. Power is slowly returning to some neighborhoods, though hundreds of thousands are still without power.  A Wednesday evening northeaster is expected to hit the coast, putting the already battered region in harms’ way again.

Elsewhere, Sandy flooded 400 homes in North Carolina. In Ohio, there is flooding along the Cuyahoga, Chagrin and Grand Rivers near Cleveland.  In West Virginia, homes have been destroyed when roofs collapsed due to more than 24 inches of snow falling and communities are now bracing for the flooding that will result when the snow melts. All across the northeast homes have been destroyed and damaged by fallen trees. 

Week of Compassion has been in touch with regional ministries in affected areas, has distributed solidarity grants to many affected churches and households, and continues to collect information about needs.   Our partners at Church World Service have dispatched Disaster Response Specialists to work with state, regional and local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. CWS is providing material resources, including blankets, hygiene kits, school kits, baby kits and clean-up buckets to local agencies in four states: New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

CONCERNING CLEAN UP BUCKETS: CWS appreciates efforts by supporters to help restock our warehouses with material goods, such as CWS blankets, Clean Up Buckets, Hygiene Kits, Baby Kits and School Kits. Information on various kits that can be compiled and donated to CWS can be found here.

Caribbean

Sandy also caused significant damage in the Caribbean.  In Cuba, 11 died, and more than 188,000 homes were damaged. The eastern city of Santiago de Cuba was particularly devastated. A total of 343,230 people in Cuba were evacuated, the ACT Alliance reported.  Our long-time partner, the Cuban Council of Churches, is currently conducting damage assessments in affected areas. The response will include emergency relief to 360 families initially with food and water, and then supporting 1,000 families with psycho-social activities, shelter (reconstruction) and livelihood restoration.  CWS is also providing the CCC with a shipment of material goods that was in process before the hurricane.

In Haiti, Sandy caused more damage than the earlier Hurricane Isaac. Devastating flooding affected northwest Haiti, where we have supported the work of agricultural cooperatives. Severe flooding from Sandy in Haiti has damaged and blocked infrastructure/roads, damaged/destroyed houses, caused loss of livestock and severe damage to agricultural fields, according to ACT Alliance reports.

The latest disaster puts additional pressure on a country still recovering from the devastating January 2010 earthquake. Food security was already highly threatened by the damage caused by Isaac in August. Livelihoods in highly vulnerable rural areas have been lost, and the affected communities have limited capacity to recover without external support. We will be supporting recovery efforts of the Christian Center for Integrated Development, a  partner known by the Haitian Creole acronym SKDE, in northwest Haiti, site of agricultural cooperatives long supported with emergency and development assistance. Initial reports say the co-operatives were severely damaged, with loss of buildings, gardens and livestock, SKDE reports. "These represent the bank account (or wealth) of the poorest," said the Rev. Herode Guillomettre, who heads SKDE.

ACT Alliance and Church World Service are providing emergency family food packages and water provision.  To support the recovery of communities from Maine to Haiti, please remember to PRAY, PAY, and STAY.   At this point, you can best reach out in Courageous Compassion by donating here. Gifts to this recovery are already in action.  We are responding!

Solidarity from Christchurch, NZ

We received the following note in the days following Sandy’s landfall from one of our cousin” churches in Christchurch, New Zealand, whom WoC supported after the devastating earthquake there:

On behalf of the Parish of Linwood Avenue Union Church (Christchurch, New Zealand) I'd like to pass on to you our thoughts and prayers. We have seen reports on the news about the devastating effects of hurricane Sandy on the east coast of the USA. While this gives us a picture, it is hard to imagine the full impact of the crisis and issues now being faced. If we can assist in any way, please let us know.

We have been the recipients of very generous donations from 'The Disciples of Christ' and others which has helped to boost us (and our community) in many ways following our experiences of surviving three major earthquakes. The aftershocks have continued and vary in size (the smaller the better). Plus we were encouraged by the prayers and thoughts expressed by many Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world..

Shalom,
Rev Darryn Hickling
Linwood Avenue Union Church
Christchurch, NZ

Thanks be to God for the kindness, graciousness, and hope that your generosity creates.  You are a movement of compassion amidst so many storms.

To God be the glory.

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
New York, hurricane damage recovery (7)
New Jersey, hurricane damage recovery (4)

Development and Long-Term Recovery
DR Congo, health education
Kenya, school safe zones
Middle East, education, advocacy, training and empowerment of minorities, women, and youth Pakistan, peace education for primary and middle school children
Republic of Congo, women’s livelihoods
Republic of Georgia, vocational education and employment opportunities for vulnerable youth
Serbia, education for Roma street children
Serbia, empowerment for Roma women 

Superstorm Sandy Update

Josh Baird serves as Director of Disciples Volunteering. He provides the following thoughts on responding to the flooding and other damage caused by Sandy:

Disciples Volunteering and Week of Compassion are assessing needs as they are identified in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. We ask you to join in prayer for those who have been affected by this storm, for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones, and for the safety of first responders who are saving lives and restoring critical infrastructure to communities in the United States as well as in many Caribbean nations. There will come a time when help will be needed with clean up and rebuild efforts - and many communities hit by past disasters do need help now. In the immediate aftermath of any disaster, but especially one as wide-spread as this, the best gift anyone can make is a financial donation. Gifts designated through Week of Compassion will be used 100% for the response and recovery. Another important response is assembling kits or clean up buckets through Church World Service (CWS). It may seem like a small thing, but receiving a clean-up bucket lifts a huge burden as people struggle trying to figure out how to even begin restoring their home. CWS has already shipped several thousand blankets, kits, and buckets to affected communities in the United States, and thousands more to the Caribbean. CWS is specifically appealing for blanket donations, due to the large number that have been sent all over the world in response to a series of recent disasters. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated as we the Church offer hope and healing in times of need. 

Superstorm Sandy Response

Having done significant damage last week in the Caribbean, Hurricane Sandy is crossing the Eastern North American coast. The combination of the hurricane, a large low-pressure system coming across the Mid-Atlantic States and a cold front from the north have converged to produce a massive storm that will continue to affect the northeast US and Canada for the next several days.

Effects of the storm include: tidal storm surge from Virginia to Maine; tropical storm winds from the coast to as far west as Ohio; heavy rains from North Carolina to Maine and up into Nova Scotia, Canada; and heavy snow fall (as much as 24 inches) in the northern Appalachian Mountains, in West Virginia in particular; and serious flooding in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Early predicted damage estimates are in the tens of millions.

Hurricane Sandy is already a killer, having caused at least 69 deaths in the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, at least 16 U.S. deaths, and one Canadian fatality.  Across North America, more than 7 million are without electricity, and more than 15,000 flights have been canceled. 

Week of Compassion stands ready to respond.  We are in touch with Regional Ministers in affected areas, all of whom are busy collecting information from congregations concerning the effects of Sandy on their members or communities.

Our partners at Church World Service will provide material resources in affected areas, including blankets, hygiene kits and clean-up buckets, as needed.  CWS also will assist communities in developing long-term recovery plans and provide technical and financial support, as possible.

We are also coordinating with our partners, including the Latin American Caribbean Area Office of Global Ministries, Church World Service, and the ACT Alliance, all of whom are currently assessing needs.   Tropical storm conditions and severe rain and wind affected Haiti from October 23 to October 27, covering all departments of the country. 

In Haiti, severe flooding damaged and blocked infrastructure/roads, damaged/destroyed houses, caused loss of livestock and severe damage to agricultural fields.  Evacuations have taken place in risk-prone zones and certain Internally Displaced Persons camps. New outbreaks of cholera have been reported and more are expected in the coming days. The Cuban Council of Churches, a long-time CWS partner, is conducting damage assessments in affected areas.  A shipment of material goods from CWS to Cuba departed on Oct. 27.

How You Can Respond:

  • Remember, the best response in the midst of a humanitarian crisis is to donate from your financial resources.  Week of Compassion will help you respond in a way that is efficient, flexible, and impactful.  Click here to donate.
  • Donations to the Church World Service Blankets+ program and supporting their clean-up bucket, hygiene kit, and other material resource efforts are also incredibly helpful.
  • Of course, continue to keep those affected by the storm in your prayers.  The clean-up effort will not happen overnight, and will take the efforts of many people.  By teaming up with our great partners, we can contribute in effective, important ways.

The God of the rainbow, the God of healing, the God of hope calls us to respond.  Thank you for your concern for all of those affected.  Thank you for your prayers, and as always, for the generous, Courageous Compassion that moves each of you in word and deed.

This Week's Response

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Texas, emergency refugee assistance

Coffee Cup Compassion

Tilt the scales,
O God of the mustard seed:
That the poor shall see justice.

Share the feast,
O God of Eden’s abundant garden:
That each crop may fetch a fair price. 

Upset the tables,
O God of the upside-down Kingdom:
That the least can benefit from their trade. 

Open our eyes,
O God of life in all its fullness:
That we may learn to walk the way of your son
tilting, sharing, upsetting this world 

Not satisfied
until the products we bring to our table
provide fairness to all who hunger for it.

In your holy name, Amen 

--A Prayer for Farmers adapted from the Fair Trade Foundation

     Photo Credit: Equal ExchangeDid you know that October is Fair Trade Month

Through Fair Trade, farmers are able to earn a fair price for the products they grow, allowing them to support their families, stay on their land and provide care for the environment.  Working in democratically-run co-operatives, small-scale farmers gain control of their own livelihoods and make strides together in organic agriculture and quality control.  With the added income from Fair Trade, farmers invest in education and social services for their communities. 

For several years, Week of Compassion has teamed with Equal Exchange, a worker-owned co-operative offering 100% fairly traded coffee, chocolate, tea, and foods, and Disciples Home Missions to support the Disciples Coffee Project, a fantastic opportunity for congregations to learn about authentic  fair trade, enjoy delicious fairly traded coffee, tea, and chocolate at wholesale prices, and make a difference for small farmer co-operatives around the world. Purchases through the Disciples Coffee project also support the work of Week of Compassion.  For every pound of Equal Exchange products you purchase, Equal Exchange donates 15 cents to Week of Compassion’s Disciples Food Security Fund.

Amy Kay Pavlovich, a Disciple from the Illinois-Wisconsin Region, recently represented Week of Compassion on a solidarity visit to farming cooperatives that partner with Equal Exchange.  If you missed her story in an earlier update, please check it out here.

Equal Exchange Products. Photo Credit: Equal ExchangeWe are grateful for the partnership we have with Equal Exchange, for the opportunities it gives our congregations to support small scale agriculture and food security all over the world, and for the relationships it helps to support through its cooperatives and the Disciples Coffee Project.  If you’re curious about Equal Exchange or want to know more about how to bring the Disciples Coffee Project to life in your congregation, visit the project website or connect with us for more information (weekofcompassion@woc.disciples.org).

We hope you will consider serving Equal Exchange coffee at your congregation’s coffee hour, in your own home, and at the workplace.  It’s an easy and life-changing way to make a real difference in the world. 

Thanks for your courageous compassion!  Compassion begins in our coffee cups! 

 

 

 

 

 

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Appalachian Area, emergency heating assistance
DRCongo, storm damage recovery

Development and Long-Term Recovery
Guatemala, community development and interfaith dialogue for peace
Indonesia, empowering leaders of Christian Church of West Sulawesi 

World Food Day

Our God,

Bless those who toil to bring food to our table,
May they be healthy, productive, and themselves have enough food to eat.
Bless the farmers, farm laborers, the merchants, and those who transport food,
May they be sustained in their efforts and sustain the earth as they labor.
Bless those who work cooperatively.
May we all celebrate Your Spirit in shared work, mutual assistance, and
collaborative economic efforts that can bring forth abundance, joy and hope
everywhere, including right where we live.
Bless the seeds, soil, fertilizer, air and water that enable the food to grow.
May we protect and preserve that which sustains us for generations to come.
Bless our relationship with You and with each other that nourishes our bodies and
spirits.

AMEN

- A “Table Grace” Prayer from Church World Service’s World Food Day Resources

Vegetables grown in the garden of Allisonville Christian Church for the Centenary Food Pantry

On this World Food Day, I am thinking about many prayers.

I am remembering the words of a farmer friend of mine, who--at the height of the drought that struck the U.S. this summer, expressed a wish as he compared the plight of many of his friends that summer to the issue of hunger worldwide.

“I would like to hear the prayer of an African farmer.”

For my friend, such a wish is itself a prayer.  It is a prayer that serves as a reminder that our wishes, our hopes, our fears and concerns do not change that much, no matter our culture or context. In terms of More and more, as agriculture, food markets, and economies in the developed and developing world demonstrate, the question of worldwide hunger is a question of intertwined hope and interdependence.  From famine-ravaged areas in East Africa to food deserts in North American cities and rural areas, hunger is an issue that affects all of our communities.

According to the new UN hunger report released on October 9, 2012, nearly 870 million people, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 (SOFI), jointly published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), presents comprehensive estimates of chronic undernourishment based on data from the last two decades. The facts are sobering.

The vast majority of the hungry, 852 million people, live in developing countries - around 15 percent of their population - while 16 million people are undernourished in developed countries.

It is incredible that one in eight people around the world remain chronically undernourished despite the fact that worldwide, enough food is produced to feed the estimated global population of 2012. Yet, while one out of eight persons remains undernourished, 1.4 Billion suffer from obesity, are overweight, and have developed related non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. In addition, globally an estimated one-third of all food produced is wasted. 

But there is good news.  The global number of hungry people declined between 1990-92 and 2010-12 from 18.6 percent to 12.5 percent of the world's population, and from 23.2 percent to 14.9 percent in developing countries.

The hunger-related target of the Millennium Development Goals is within reach if adequate, appropriate actions are taken.  However, vigilance is critical.  While the number of hungry declined more sharply between 1990 and 2007 than previously believed, since 2007-2008, global progress in reducing hunger has slowed and leveled off.

But what can I do?  It’s a question that quickly comes to mind.

World hunger might seem like a huge issue, but there are things we can all do.

Like my farmer friend, you can pray.  Like my farmer friend, you can tell the story of a world of abundance affected by hunger.  Our Partners at Church World Service have great resources, from prayers and worship resources to educational tools that help us share in our common struggle for food security and food justice. Finally, like my farmer friend, you can partner with Week of Compassion to support our work in sustainable development, emergency relief, and food security.  Such work sustains those in critical situations—helping them get adequate nutrition in the middle of desperate circumstances.  It also helps sustain those learning new agricultural and entrepreneurial skills, helping them address issues of chronic poverty and hunger.  

This work to end hunger is a prayer we say together—not only with words, but with our actions and our resources.  What could be more sacred, after all, than sharing?  What could be more holy than ensuring that all who are invited to a shared table of humanity have enough?

May we, like my friend, always long to hear the prayers of others.  May we, like him, always strive to say our prayers with our very lives.

Peace,

Brandon

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Chicago, emergency refugee assistance

Development and Long-Term Recovery
Egypt, integrated development and conflict resolution
Syria, education and leadership development
Palestine, youth ecumenical movement
DRCongo, medical care and emergencies
Zimbabwe, support for Council of Churches
Philippines, organic hog raising project

Celebrating and Supporting the Girl Child

In a tiny village in Northern India, I met three gorgeous girls.  Barely teenagers, they had that special sparkle in their eyes as most teenage girls do—with their whole lives ahead of them.  But as I listened to them tell me the stories of their lives, I began to wonder just how they were able to sparkle.  After very minimal schooling, they were sent to a factory to work during the prime years of their adolescent lives.  For a solid three years they worked in the factory, day and night, without days off and very few visits back home.  Instead of receiving an education, from which the boys in their village benefited, the girls were expected to work and earn money for their families.  When asked if they were able to support their families on the income they earned from their labor, they looked at me with a flabbergasted expression:  “But we have no idea how much we are earning!  It is not us who are paid, but our fathers.” 

It is in this very village that Week of Compassion, Global Ministries, and partner Foods Resource Bank supported long-term food security and water programs.  Working with folks in the village to dig desperately needed wells for clean, accessible water and then to provide agricultural assistance and training, a community cooperative developed.  After only a couple of years, the villagers were successfully growing their own healthy supplies of food and many families were growing enough to sell the surplus at market.  When I met one of the grandmothers of the girls who would be sent off to hard factory labor, I asked her what her dream would be for her granddaughter if circumstances were different.  The sparkle then gleamed in her eye as she responded, “For her to go to school.”  Her beautiful but shy granddaughter absolutely lit up when she heard her grandma take the words right out of her mouth.  “Yes!  I want to go to school!” 

This is the dream I hear articulated more than any other.  It seems not to matter where I go, girls the world over are eager to learn.  They long for an education, to attend school, and to explore what the world may offer outside of their current context.  They have big dreams! 

The goal of Week of Compassion’s food security programs is to support not only small stakeholder farmers or community cooperatives grow more food, but to grow enough that they can sell the surplus, make a profit, and be able to send their children to school.  While many boys get this chance, it is often the girls who are expected to stay home and work to help the family.  One of the greatest joys is when we see how our Week of Compassion gifts have led to a food secure home as well as an educated daughter. 

Today is the first official International Day of the Girl Child, as commissioned by the United Nations last December.  I am thrilled that the UN and the international community are finally naming the particular plights of girls and that they are focusing on the empowerment and education of girls in an intentional and powerful way. 

Week of Compassion understands that when we help to educate a girl, we help her whole family.  To improve the life of one woman is to change the life of an entire community.  We know that successful sustainable development depends on the education of girls and women. Economic and social development around the world, including North America, depends directly on how we support and empower the girl child.

The Women’s Empowerment Fund of Week of Compassion honors these girls. It serves as a powerful vehicle to channel our resources specifically to improve the lives of girls like these in Northern India.  Individually, you may feel powerless to actually make a difference in the lives of so many girls and women who long for an education. But coming together to share our compassion, leverage our resources, start giving clubs, and commit to improving girls’ and women’s lives means that every single one of us can have an impact.  Imagine the impact we could have as the Church, together, in solidarity with girls across the globe. 

One of my deepest prayers is that we celebrate the girl child not only on October 11, but every single day.  Our future—theirs and ours—depends on it. 

To donate to the Women’s Empowerment Fund: click here.

This Week's Responses

Disaster Response

Great River Region, hurricane recovery

Supporting Somali Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Drought Affected Households

 Ambiah arrived at one of the government registration centers in Dadaab with her baby, Hamsa, her one year child and her mother. Hamsa was only one day old when the family left its village in Somalia to make the long journey to Dadaab. For the 18 days they were on the road, they ate next to nothing, Ambiah said. She often feared her baby would die on the way. Photo Credit: ACT/LWF/Melany Markham

Following the Horn of Africa drought in 2011, the 2012 weather conditions have been seemingly better. However, the damage from recurrent droughts, and decades of conflict, has had negative effects on people’s lives and livelihoods. The below-normal and uneven precipitation during the April to June rainy season, pest infestations, and other factors, led to a significantly below-average 2012 harvest, leaving more than 2 million Somali people in need of emergency humanitarian assistance.

Food insecurity continues to cause hunger and displacement, resulting in increased pressure on already crowded settlements of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) around Mogadishu and in urban areas of Somaliland.  Assessment carried out by Week of Compassion’s ACT Alliance partners confirmed that the IDPs living in affected areas are in urgent need of food assistance as the rising grain prices affects their access to food, and that several regions are approaching emergency thresholds due to the impact of the dry spell.

The Dadaab refugee camps, established in Northeast Kenya, received more than 160,000 new arrivals in 2011, bringing the total population of the camps to 451,500. While there are efforts to provide basic services in new camps, 35,000 vulnerable refugees and 25,000 refugee children in the Kambioos camp are in need of life-sustaining assistance.

With Dadaab close to capacity, a new camp was set up in August last year in a bush-covered area to accommodate around 160,000 more people. The land is now a town of residential tents, toilets and schools. An estimated 30,000 buildings are needed to accommodate all camp residents. Funding is available for only 4000. Photo Credit: ACT/LWF/Melany Markham

While international and local organizations continue to provide humanitarian assistance to conflict and drought affected people across Somalia, and the Somaliland government appealed to the international and local humanitarian community to take urgent action to assist the areas that experienced a dry rainy season.  Week of Compassion’s ACT Alliance partners will continue to coordinate with other international and local NGOs and UN agencies in their respective areas of operation.

Since August 2011 more than 250,000 Somali people in South-central Somalia, Mogadishu and the Dadaab refugee camps have received support from the ACT Alliance, including psychosocial support, water, sanitation, and health interventions, protection of refugees, food and other staples, emergency shelter, emergency education and support for those whose livelihoods were threatened.

Continued efforts are needed in 2012-2013 to meet immediate lifesaving needs, and build the resilience of vulnerable households.  Activities planned include:  food distribution; distribution of dignity kits; water, sanitation, and health interventions; livelihood recovery activities targeting 53,000 households; education and protection activities for more than 25,000 schoolchildren and 35,000 vulnerable refugees in Dadaab.  Because insecurity and safety concerns continue to challenge ACT Alliance work in South-central Somalia and in the Dadaab camps, Alliance members are working with local organizations to better maintain security and respond to ever-emerging needs.

If you’d like to reach out in Courageous Compassion and support the ongoing work of our partners in East Africa, please follow this link.

Choir Robes Available

First Christian Church in Morehead, Kentucky, has recently purchased new choir robes, and would like to donate their gently used robes to a congregation in need, particularly one affected by disaster.  Should your congregation have that need or should you know of a congregation that has lost its choir robes, please contact First Christian Church’s Music Minister, Jonathan Adkins at (606) 784-4836.

Week of Compassion, as a ministry of the entire Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), relies on your generosity.  We give daily thanks for your support.  Your gracious giving provides healing and hope to communities all over the world.

Praise be to the God whose love stretches all over the world, and from whom all blessings flow!

This Week’s Reponses

Disaster Relief

El Salvador, trauma treatment
New Zealand, earthquake recovery
Alabama, tornado recovery
Pakistan, flood recovery

Hurricane Isaac, Joplin, and Clean-Up Buckets!

Last week, we learned that disaster ministry often takes the shape of a road trip.

Josh Baird, Director of Disciples Volunteering, and I spent the week traveling in Joplin, MO, with our colleague Florence Coppola, Executive for National Disaster Ministries for the United Church of Christ’s Wider Church Ministries, and touring areas in Louisiana affected by Hurricane Isaac with Rev. Barb Jones, Regional Pastor of the Great River Region.

It was truly an inspiring trip! We were able to see, first hand, the fantastic work our partners in these disaster-stricken areas are doing, assessed current needs, and made plans with our partners for ways that Disciples and UCCers can plug into the response.

FIRST STOP: JOPLIN

From meeting with Senior Pastor Jill Michel and Kathryn Wilson, Minister of Mission and Outreach, at South Joplin Christian Church to catching up with Rebuild Joplin’s Construction Supervisor Tom Long to brand new Volunteer Coordinator Maria Olson to seeing how Long Term Volunteer Steve Huston keeps things humming, we saw—over and over again—that Joplin is indeed rebuilding, and we are a critical part of the recovery!

Rebuild Joplin has begun focusing on complete rebuilds of houses destroyed by last year’s tornado, providing plenty of opportunities for volunteers from our two traditions to put their skills, whether advanced or novice, to work in 2013.

Bob Dinkins, a volunteer from Saint Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, KS, one of the churches staying at the South Joplin Mission Station, recently posted this video about his experience as a volunteer in Joplin. The video, written as a thank-you for his employer’s generosity with flexible time off to go on a mission trip, does a terrific job of highlighting the work being organized by our partners at Rebuild Joplin and the mission station that arose out of the combined efforts of SJCC, countless volunteers from local churches, Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering, One Great Hour of Sharing, UCC National Disaster and Volunteer Ministries , the Ozark Area of the Christian Church in Mid-America, and the Missouri Midsouth Conference of the UCC.

If you are interested in volunteering in Joplin, contact Joplin Response Registrar Howard Self to learn what dates are open for volunteer groups in 2013.

SECOND STOP: LOUISIANA

From Joplin, Josh and I headed to Louisiana. Partnering with Rev. Jones, we visited several of our churches, First Christian Church of Greater New Orleans in Metairie, LA, which sustained storm damage from Isaac, and is in the midst of cleaning up and repairing damage; Grace Disciples of Christ Church in Covington, LA, which served as a Mission Station as part of the Disciples Hurricane Recovery Initiative following Hurricane Katrina, and First Christian Church, Slidell, LA, which has continued to house volunteers who are working with the Epworth Project, which has provided opportunities for Disciples and others to work in neighborhoods near Slidell and in New Orleans East following Hurricane Katrina.

While meeting with folks in our churches, we discovered a number of things:

  • Though the scale of damage caused by Isaac was nowhere near that of Katrina, more than 30,000 homes in the region were affected. On the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, parts of Slidell, Lacombe, and Madisonville, LA, faced significant flooding, and LaPlace, LA, 20 miles northwest of the New Orleans Airport, was also marred by flood damage.
  • Following Katrina, insurance companies made an important shift regarding policies covering damage in the event of named storms, such as Isaac. Property owners now face deductibles that are based on a percentage of the value of their property, creating a greater burden of financial responsibility for homeowners and church communities, and perhaps creating a need for more volunteers, as deductibles may reach several thousand dollars beyond what homeowners can afford to cover on their own. Rebecca Mowbray of The New Orleans Times-Picayune covers information about this shift here.
  • Most importantly, our churches have a heart for responding to their neighbors in need. All three of our churches voiced their desire to aid the recovery in any way they could.

Following our check-ins with our congregations, we visited with Dale Kimball of the Epworth Project, with whom we’ve partnered on the Northshore. Dale reported that Epworth will not only be providing opportunities for volunteering on the Northshore, but that they are going to be providing logistical and training support for the emerging response in LaPlace.

LaPlace, LA Cleanup; Photo Credit: Rev. Barb Jones

Dale estimated that there will be a critical need for volunteers interested in responding to Isaac-related needs in January-March 2013. Disciples Volunteering, Week of Compassion, and the Great River Region will be working with Epworth to coordinate opportunities for volunteering in the area. Watch for details!

Church World Service Issues Call for Clean-Up Buckets and Other Material Goods

As part of our ecumenical response to Hurricane Isaac, we are asking Disciples to consider supplying Cleanup Buckets and other material resources for Church World Service. Many people in need benefit from these resources. However, the response to Hurricane Isaac is rapidly depleting the supply of buckets. All efforts to replenish our supplies for future emergencies are incredibly helpful, greatly appreciated, and a testimony to what we do as an ecumenical community.

Information on CWS Cleanup Buckets is available at on their website.

As always, we give thanks for the opportunity to reach out to God’s people in the midst of recovery. We also thank all of those of you who support this recovery with your resources. Above all, we are grateful to a God who creates, re-creates, and brings comfort to those who grieve and recover in the midst of disaster.

Peace,

Brandon

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief
Indonesia, Central Sulawesi Earthquake

"We Don't Have Time for That"

Used with permission of Church World Service. Photo credit: Frederic VigneA little boy sits in his usual spot on a bustling city street in Belgrade, Serbia.  His  hands outstretched and his voice droning a repetitious pleading tune, he waits for the occasional coin a passerby may reluctantly offer him. 

This is no life for a child---especially not a deaf and mentally challenged child---who also happens to be Roma.  Harassed and physically harmed by one of the men in the neighborhood where he usually sat, the young boy would return to his temporary home each night bruised and scared.  He endured these attacks for weeks on end. 

Until one day a volunteer from the Center for Youth Integration (CYI) named Marko found him.  Marko is a handsome young man in his 20s with a heart for street children. Having grown up in Belgrade where there is a large Roma community, street children were not an uncommon sight for him.  He now serves as the Outreach Coordinator for CYI, spending a majority of his time in the field identifying and reaching out to Roma children.  In 2010, after much struggle and advocacy, the city authorities finally offered CYI a tiny space in New Belgrade.  Remarkably resourceful, CYI transformed the space into a Drop-In Center for street children and youth.  The very first week it opened 70 children came.  According to Marko, street children have such strong survival skills and social networks among themselves that word traveled incredibly fast.  “Kids on the streets always share with one another; they look out for each other.”

Used with permission of Church World Service. Photo credit: Frederic Vigne

The Drop-In Center now sees literally hundreds of children and youth every single day.  Each child is known by name.  Each child has his or her own shelf; his or her own little space in the world.  They draw, paint, learn to read and write, play educational and recreational games, receive a snack, and find mentors who believe in them and encourage them.  When asked what else would make the Drop-In Center feel more “like home” to them, many of the kids exclaimed, “A washing machine!” 

A washing machine, to do their laundry.  To wash the few clothes they own.  It became clear to me the longer I spent with the bright-eyed kids at the Center that the washing machine meant more to them than just fresh, clean clothes.  It meant dignity. 

Even for a deaf, mentally challenged boy begging on the streets of a struggling Serbia.  By the grace of God, Marko found the boy on one of his visits in the field, combing the streets to identify potential beneficiaries of CYI.  After discovering that the little boy had been repeatedly harassed by a man in the neighborhood, Marko solicited the help of the police.  When the policeman arrived, he took one quick look at the boy and said, “One Roma child, one deaf, mentally challenged child…?  We don’t have time for that.” 

Your gifts to Week of Compassion have been ensuring, for the past two years, that the Center for Youth Integration, through the partnership of Church World Service, has been able not only to make time for these children but also to dignify them.  Used with permission of Church World Service. Photo credit: Frederic Vigne

They are our children. They are the children of God.  And children cannot wait.  As Jesus’ parable reminds us, “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’”  (Luke 15: 5-6)

Your gifts have saved the lives of lost children. They have turned sadness into joy, illiteracy into education, and despair into dignity.  And they have guaranteed that Week of Compassion always makes time for even that one.  That is cause for celebration, indeed. 

 

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief
Virginia, tornado clean-up and recovery

Roma Children and Mothers Go to School

Used with permission of Church World Service. Photo credit: Frederic Vigne

It’s called Makiš, and it’s found on the edges of the Serbian capital city of Belgrade.  More than a decade after the most violent conflict in Kosovo forced many inhabitants out, including members of the Roma community, many of them are still considered Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Belgrade, the largest city in the former Yugoslavia.  Makiš is nothing more than row after row of containers.  But it is “home” to hundreds of Roma families.  The city of Belgrade attempted many times to force these Roma families elsewhere, pushing them to move out from underneath the largest bridge in New Belgrade and then to other settlements, and the contrived container community of Makiš is their latest effort.   

For eight years Week of Compassion has supported the work of the Branko Pesić Primary School in Belgrade through our partnership with Church World Service.  But Branko Pesić is not an ordinary school.  And it is not confined to a building.  It is one of the most innovative, counter-cultural and effective educational and social institutions in Belgrade as it endeavors to educate the Roma community.  This is not an easy task, as the Roma do not traditionally seek formal education or training.  Many live in the streets and beg for a living.  This has been their way of life for generations. Used with permission of Church World Service. Photo credit: Frederic Vigne  

 Poverty-stricken and almost always without legal documents or residence and thus without access to health care and housing, the Roma are one of the most marginalized groups in the societies in which they live.  Usually illiterate and uneducated, the cultural tradition of begging as a livelihood is difficult to break.  Yet, when given the chance, the families in Makiš were eager to learn.  As my colleagues from Church World Service and I walked through the container camp alongside the teachers and social workers from Branko Pesić Primary School, we received a hero’s welcome—all of the children and their parents had learned to trust and love the staff of the school.   When they could not afford to send their children to the school itself, the staff of Branko Pesić brought the school to them.  For the first time, these usually “invisible” children were suddenly seen.  Someone believed in them—even enough to offer them an education. 

Through the help of CWS, the Branko Pesić staff set up a classroom in the tiny one-room building of one of the containers. Classes are in session every single day, including some classes for adults on the weekends.  Thus, in addition to their children receiving a primary and secondary school education, their mothers also have the opportunity to learn to read.  Sanja, a 21 year-old mother of two children who never went to school is now attending literacy classes.  Gordana, a 37 year-old mother of five children said to me with gleaming eyes, “I can’t wait to go to school!”  She will not only learn to read, but she and the other women will also attend workshops on issues such as health and hygiene; life responsibilities; family relations; human rights and citizenship; conflict resolution; legal assistance; and confidence-building.  Sahata told me, “We love the chance to go to school; it’s a dream come true.  We are not used to people giving us these kinds of chances.” 

Their daughters also spoke with me about what getting an education has meant to them. Violetta, age 14, wants to be a hair stylist now.  Indira, age 12, wants to be a teacher.  And Suzana, age 12, can’t wait to become an actress.  She entertained all of us as she modeled for the camera. 

Used with permission of Church World Service. Photo credit: Frederic Vigne

Most inspiring for me was to witness how education truly changes someone’s life.  It is the key to development; the way to a better world.  The needs among the Roma community are constant, but in the eight years of supporting our partnership with Church World Service and the Branko Pesić School, it is clear that our dedication and long-term vision have made a great impact.  Roma teenagers who began as primary school pupils at Branko Pesić are now graduating high school.  Many of these graduates have now found jobs and are supporting themselves and their families. 

Slowly but surely, we are making a real difference in the lives of some of the most marginalized people on earth.  This could not happen without your faithful support and courageous compassion.  Thank you so very much! 

 

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief

Haiti, Tropical Storm Isaac recovery
Dominican Republic, Tropical Storm Isaac recovery 
China, earthquake recovery

Gulf Coast Update

The Situation

Hurricane Isaac left heavy damage behind as it crossed the states of Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. The storm has been blamed for eight deaths: six in Louisiana and two in Mississippi. At the peak of the storm well over 1 million homes were left without power. Work continues to restore power to more than 100,000 customers still without electricity.  Some tornadoes from the storm were also reported; damage, if any, from those tornadoes is still not known.

Very little information is yet available about the numbers of homes damaged and destroyed. A very early estimate indicates the cost of the storm will be more than $2 billion. The number of people sheltered peaked at approximately 9,000 survivors. Six hundred eighty four people are still in shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi and thousands more remain with friends, family, and in motels. Feeding operations continue to operate in the affected states.

Moderate to major flooding occurred from southeastern Louisiana to the western Florida panhandle. Damage assessments are underway in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.  All 64 Parishes in Louisiana have declared a state of emergency. Severe flooding occurred in Plaquemines Parish when an 18-mile stretch of levee was overtopped. Severe flooding occurred in Slidell due to heavy storm surge off of Lake Pontchartrain. Substantial damage also occurred in St John the Baptist Parish and Tammany Parish.  At least 13,000 homes are damaged across Louisiana.

Preparing and Responding

Our partners at Church World Service are continuing to work with state, regional and local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, or VOADs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, and CWS-member denominations and other agencies to determine where material goods are needed. 

Through Church World Service and our wide ecumenical network, Week of Compassion’s response will include debris removal, warehousing and distribution of supplies, emotional and spiritual care, providing personnel for feeding and sheltering operations and volunteer management. When the initial response phase ends, CWS and its member communions — including Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering as Disciples representatives — will assist with the long-term recovery of the communities and the many activities that will be required to rebuild homes, lives and communities.

Week of Compassion has provided grants to families affected by flooding and has scheduled a pastoral visit in partnership with Disciples Volunteering and Great River Region Staff to visit affected communities, local partners, and discuss possibilities for long term and more immediate response.  As we gather information, we will pass it along to you.

Many communities affected by Isaac were impacted by Katrina seven years ago; several of these communities are still recovering.  If you would like to help support our response to Isaac and reach out in Courageous Compassion, you can give here.

Clean Up Buckets

Many people in the wake of disasters benefit greatly from Church World Service material goods such as CWS Clean-up Buckets, Hygiene Kits, Baby Kits and School Kits.  However, the response to Hurricane Isaac will rapidly deplete supplies, especially of CWS Clean-up Buckets. All efforts to replenish supplies for future emergencies are as always, greatly appreciated. Information on Clean-up Buckets is available here.

Recent Responses

Disaster Relief
California, emergency refugee assistance
Great River Region, Hurricane Isaac recovery assistance 

After the Storm: A Time of Assessment and Response

The remnants of Hurricane Isaac are working their way north, leaving behind flooding and significant damage along the Gulf Coast.

Week of Compassion, in partnership with its ecumenical and denominational partners, is currently working to assess the best ways we can respond.  As the waters recede, we will have a better sense of how we will be able to do so.

Our partners in ministry in the Great River Region are keeping in touch with congregations in affected areas, helping us to gather the most up-to-date information we can.  We have been in touch with First Christian Church, Slidell, LA, as that community has received significant media coverage; thus far, no reports of loss or damage are emerging from the congregation itself.  Nonetheless, there will be needs in the wider community of Slidell.  Through our longstanding partnerships, we will be able to contribute when that time comes. 

Likewise, our partners at Church World Service are collecting information, assessing damage and capacities for responding, and will provide direction for an ecumenical response early next week.  Early reports indicate property damage in Mississippi and Louisiana, and some in Florida.  Congregations are invited to help provide clean-up kits and to reach out through Week of Compassion’s Disaster Response Fund.

Through this, we give thanks for your generosity, care, and the concern you have expressed for those affected by Isaac.  Above all, we give thanks to the God who calms the storms that wreak havoc, brings light to the darkness, and calls us to bring comfort amidst chaos.

A Pastoral Note from the Republic of Congo:

Nous suivons avec angoisse et peine à travers les médias,les désastres causés par le cyclonne Isaac. Nous sommes avec vous en prière. J'ai démandé à tous nos P.S P. de faire des chaines de prière pour le peuple americaine en général et en particulier aux victimes du cyclones. Que Jésus Christ nous vienne en aide.

REV G NGOKA

TRANSLATION:

We have followed the news with sadness and grief of the disaster caused by Hurricane Issac. We are with you in prayer. I have asked all our regional ministers to start a prayer chain for the American people in general and in particular for the victims of the hurricane/tropical storm.  May Jesus Christ be our help.

Rev. Georges Ngoka
President and Legal Representative
Church of Disciples of Christ
Brazzaville, Republic of Congo

Hurricane Isaac Update

Hurricane Isaac made landfall last night as a slow moving Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 40 to 80 miles per hour. While it only is producing Category 1 winds, it is a large and wide ranging storm with a significant storm surge that will continue to produce drenching rains from the Florida panhandle to the eastern coast of Texas. The storm is extremely slow moving and is still over the Louisiana coast where it continues to sustain its energy from the waters of the gulf.

The continued storm surge combined with high tides will significantly add to the coastal flooding. Damage assessments cannot start until to storm moves past the coast.  As it moves north, heavy rains can be expected to cause significant inland flooding.  It is also not uncommon for tornadoes to spin off from a hurricane.

The town of Plaquemines, La., (south of Baton Rouge) has been flooded when Mississippi River waters overtopped the town’s levee. Residents are reporting as much as 12 feet of water in their homes. Rescue operations are underway. Mass care sheltering operations are up and running in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Power outages are reported in several states. As many as 500,000 customers have lost power in Louisiana; it will take several days before power is restored. Earlier heavy rains from Isaac drenched parts of Florida and surveys are underway there to determine the storm’s impact. There was flash flooding on the eastern coast of Florida and some storm surge flooding on the western coast.

Week of Compassion has been in touch with Vance Moore, a Regional Pastor for the Great River Region, which includes Mississippi and Louisiana.  According to Vance, our churches and their members have not sustained physical damage, but remain “hunkered down,” as the forecast calls for heavy rain over the next 36-48 hours.  We will remain in contact with the GRR as the storm continues, keeping an eye on communities in its path.  John Mobley, Regional Minister in Alabama-Northwest Florida, also reported no needs emerging out of the coastal areas drenched by Isaac’s rain.

Our partners at Church World Service have dispatched Emergency Response Specialists to work with state, regional and local VOADs (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), partner denominations and other agencies to assess needs and determine how to respond.  CWS will provide material resources, including blankets, hygiene kits and clean-up buckets, as requested. Response Specialists will also assist communities in developing long-term recovery plans, providing technical and financial support, as possible.

If you would like to support these efforts, which may include supporting an appeal for material resources and other needs, please consider a gift to the Week of Compassion Disaster Response Fund

Thanks for your partnership, care, and above all, your Courageous Compassion.