Syria: Compassion into Action

Peter Makari is the Executive for the Middle East and Europe Office in Global Ministries.  Peter recently returned from the region and prepared this update for Week of Compassion.

The Syrian war is now three years old.  It has claimed the lives of more than 120,000 people and has forced more than 40% of the Syrian population (over 9 million people) from their homes--they are living either as internally displaced persons, or as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and several other countries in the Middle East.  Many of the refugees are children--some of whom will never see family members again.  The tragedy is of an incomprehensible magnitude, yet global attention to the crisis has not nearly been adequate to meet a portion of the needs. See this video for more information.

Church partners in Syria and neighboring countries have been involved in offering humanitarian assistance--food and water, clothing, shelter, and medical assistance--as well as support for programs such as interfaith peacemaking.  Dr. Mary Mikhael is an ordained elder in the National Evangelical [Presbyterian] Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL).  She is helping to coordinate the NESSL’s response to the crisis, and asks us to “pray for peace and reconciliation and for an end soon to this human tragedy.”

Week of Compassion continues to contribute to the efforts of our partners in the Middle East directly and through global church networks ecumenically. In January, the Disciples’ General Minister and President Sharon Watkins was among a gathering of Christian leaders from Syria and the around the world. They wrote in a statement that, “Our concern is for all people affected by the indiscriminate violence and humanitarian calamity in Syria. Innocent children, women and men are being killed, wounded, traumatized and driven from their homes in uncounted numbers. We hear their cries, knowing that when ‘one member suffers, all suffer together with it’ (1 Corinthians 12:26).”  To act on that concern, we must continue to support relief for the hungry and thirsty, the refugee and the displaced, and the children of Syria.

Since 2012, Disciples through Week of Compassion have provided more than $165,000 to assist the relief efforts of our local and ecumenical partners in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.  Your support of WoC makes this possible. Thank you.

DISASTER IN THE NEWS

Week of Compassion is currently monitoring the mudslide in Arlington, Washington, and will respond as needed. We have been in touch with regional and local Disciples pastors and will meet needs that emerge.  Our partners at CWS have let us know that the community has plenty of material resources such as clothing and food to meet the needs of those displaced.  There will be needs for Long Term Recovery, and both CWS and Week of Compassion will support that process as needs emerge.

Today’s Responses:  

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance 
Pennsylvania, Church Water Damage

Wine to Share, Water For All: A Dispatch from Springfield, Missouri

Rev. Caleb Lines, Rev. Emily Bowen-Marler, Rev. Jenn Simmons and Rev. Geoff Weinman serve Disciples churches in Springfield, Missouri.  In February, they worked with their congregations to organize a “Wine to Share, Water for All” event, supporting water projects through our partners at Church World Service (CWS).  For more information about how you might organize your own event, check out these recommendations.

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“Aren’t we supposed to be turning water into wine?  Isn’t it the other way around?”  This was a common question asked by several of those introduced to the concept of turning wine into water. As the twenty/thirty-something pastors shared about the idea of a fun evening out with friends tasting wine while making a difference in our world, people were skeptical--at first.  The more people learned about the event, the more people were fascinated and excited to be a part.

Four Disciples churches in the Springfield, MO area (Brentwood Christian Church, Central Christian Church, National Avenue Christian Church, and South Street Christian Church) came together on February 22 to sponsor a wine tasting event and silent auction. The hope of the churches was to promote community and support global water projects through the work of Week of Compassion.  The vision of the pastors was to pull together resources, the strengths and talents of congregations, and stand together to support this important cause. Partnering with a local business and host, Vino Cellars, provided a fantastic venue for the event.

While preparing for the event, the clergy shared information concerning water issues with their congregations and the wider community.  People had the opportunity to learn about wells, cisterns, sand dams, clean water delivery and hygiene systems in East Africa.  Clean water projects make a difference in communities and the lives of individuals.  They celebrated and gave thanks for the work Week of Compassion and their partnerships, especially with CWS.

Many remarked how much fun it was to get out for a date night, meet other Disciples from other congregations, learn about the needs for clean water and ways we can contribute, and support the work of Week of Compassion.  As the night ended, people raised their glasses and asked, “Are we going to turn wine into water again next year?”  

CWS GOOGLE HANGOUT FOR WORLD WATER DAY

World Water Day, March 22, is right around the corner! Join Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery and CWS water experts as they talk about what access to safe, clean water means to mothers and families around the world and how we can ALL help. RSVP here to join the conversation.    

DISASTERS IN THE NEWS

Week of Compassion recently responded to the needs of Disciples affected by a gas explosion in New York City and a fire at South Austin Christian Church in Austin, Texas.  Whether large or small, when disasters occur, Week of Compassion stands ready to respond.

As we respond, we are grateful for your partnership.  Your generosity is what makes our ministry work!  If you want to put your Compassion into Action, consider a gift to Week of Compassion.

Today’s Responses: 

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Texas, Church Fire
South Sudan, Refugee Support
Sudan, Refugee Support
Jordan, Syrian Refugee Support
New York, Gasoline Explosion Support (6)

Grateful for Compassion

As the "official" Week of Compassion offering season draws to a close, we give thanks for the hundreds upon hundreds of congregations across the United States and Canada for their support of Disciples compassionate work and witness throughout the world. We rejoicein the several reports we are receiving of strong offerings from congregations and are posting those stories on the WoC Facebook page.  In the meanwhile, we are concerned about the overall impact of this year's severe winter weather on giving as throughout the month of

February and early March many congregations had to cancel worship or saw diminished attendance because of the snow, ice and bitter, freezing cold -  right when so many of our churches celebrate their partnership with WoC. Unfortunately, there has been no "freeze" on the violence in Syria, Congo and South Sudan; no "freeze" on hunger in the Horn of Africa and Haiti; no "freeze" on typhoon recovery work in the Philippines or tornado recovery work in the Midwest; no "freeze" on the needs of farmers in Honduras battling coffee rust or farmers in Zimbabwe needing water for their crops. One could go on. . . .

Please remember that gifts can be made to Week of Compassion any time during the year through your congregation, and gifts that are made directly to Week of Compassion - either by mail or online - can easily be credited to your congregation as well. 

We are gratefully for your generosity and compassion, and you can be sure that many, many more will be also.  Lententide blessings. 

Gratefully,  
Johnny Wray, Interim Executive Director

SEARCH FOR WEEK OF COMPASSION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CLOSES MARCH 16, 2014

The full job description including desired qualities is available here. Applications will be accepted through March 16, 2014.  Questions regarding the Week of Compassion Search may be directed to Dr. William Lee, Search Committee Chair, c/o Beth Sullivan at bsullivan@disciples.org.

Today's Responses: 

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Oklahoma, Church Flood Damage

Responding in Syria and We Will Speak Out Invitation

While the showdown in Ukraine has diverted media attention away from the ongoing civil war in Syria, the humanitarian crisis in this Middle Eastern country continues and has surely become one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world. The latest reports put the number of civilians killed at more than 120,000. The number of people who have been uprooted and displaced is estimated to be as large as 8 million (out of an estimated total population of 23 million). Many of those have fled to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey - countries ill equipped and resourced to shelter such an influx of refugees. Meanwhile, in Syria itself millions of people lack access to water, medical care, food, shelter and other basic humanitarian needs because of the continued fighting. Entire neighborhoods, communities, even cities have been destroyed.

In the midst of this catastrophe, members of ACT Alliance (Action by Churches Together) are providing life-saving relief to hundreds of thousands of Syrians within the country itself and in host communities in Jordan and other neighboring countries. Similarly, local church partners of the Disciples are providing relief and care where and when they can. In response, Week of Compassion, on behalf of North American Disciples, continues to provide support to the ACT appeal as well as grants through Global Ministries' Middle East and Europe Office to local partners in the region. Just this past week, grants were made to the Fellowship of Middle Eastern Evangelical Churches for food and shelter assistance to 500 internally displaced Syrian families and to Beit Sahour (East Jerusalem YMCA) for psychosocial care to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

During this Lenten season, may we remember all the people affected by the war in Syria, pray for peace, pray for our partners working to bring help and hope, and support the responses Disciples are making through Week of Compassion.

We Will Speak Out Event During United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

On March 12 2014, during the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Church Center United Nations will host "Meeting the Millennium Development Goals: Engaging the Faith Community to Address Sexual ad Gender Based Violence," a parallel event sponsored by We Will Speak Out.US.

For more details about the event, please follow this link. If you are in New York or close enough to come in for the day, consider this important, free event.

Through our partnership with IMA World Health, Week of Compassion is a founding member of We Will Speak Out.

Today's Responses: 

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance

Burundi, Flood Relief
Jordan, Syrian Refugee Support

Development and Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation

Texas, Refugee Response
Democratic Republic of Congo, Skills Training and Micro-Industry

Tiny Houses put Compassion into Action

Recently we have received several great stories from congregations that are living out their partnership with Week of Compassion in the most creative and imaginative ways.  If one needed another reminder that the genius of Week of Compassion lies in the partnership with our congregations, here is another one.  Thanks to Pastor Ed Taylor, David Ricks and the folks at First Christian Church, Gibson City, Illinois for this one.  

David Ricks is a senior in high school and a member of First Christian Church in Gibson City, Illinois. David had a "tiny" idea. In adding his skills as an artist to his vocational interest in architecture, David became interested in the concept of tiny houses. 

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Tiny houses are a response to the desire of many to simply downsize their living space.  The result can be simplified living in a smaller space.  A typical tiny house would be 100 to 400 square feet. This movement continues to grow as an alternative for personal use and as an expression of compassion in ministry with the homeless.

David's personal interest led to conversations with his pastor, family and the Disciples Men's Fellowship. With encouragement, he designed a house with featuring 144 square feet or 8 'x 18'. Details were important in creating a space that is efficient, yet comfortable. 

Interest has grown in David's home congregation. With church board endorsement, the "Tiny House Project" will incorporate David's design with volunteer labor by his church, school class and the men's fellowship. A project team of youth and adults will address building site, permits, and funding.

The best part? After the house is complete, it will be auctioned off. Profits from the auction will be given to Week of Compassion as an expression of solidarity with those hungry for a clean, safe and secure place to live. 

10 Ways to Put Your Compassion into Action

While this year's Week of Compassion offering was celebrated February 16-23, 2014, our work goes on all year! Want to know how you can partner with us throughout the year? Check out this list on social media site BuzzFeed

From The Heart of the Congo

Our Partners at IMA World Health are presenting "From the Heart of the Congo," an important event featuring Louise Bashige, an inspirational woman working on the front lines of addressing sexual and gender based violence in one of the most challenging places on earth. Hear her first-hand account of powerful stories from the field and of impactful programs that are changing the world.

The event will be held Thursday, March 13, 2014 at the Chesapeake Baltimore, in Baltimore, Maryland.  More information is available here.

Today's Responses:

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance

Burundi, Storm Response
Virginia, Church Fire Response
New York, Storm Response (4)
New Jersey, Storm Response (2)
Syria, IDP and Refugee Support

Search opened for Week of Compassion Executive Director

The Office of the General Minister and President (OGMP) seeks a dynamic and innovative leader to serve as the Executive Director for Week of Compassion.  The Executive Director serves as a member of the OGMP team with primary responsibility to oversee the relief, refugee and development fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). As the main avenue for Disciples disaster response giving, Week of Compassion also supports refugee assistance, sustainable development and humanitarian projects through denominational and ecumenical partnerships around the world.

The full job description including desired qualities is available here. Applications will be accepted through March 16, 2014.  Questions regarding the Week of Compassion Search may be directed to Dr. William Lee, Search Committee Chair, c/o Beth Sullivan at bsullivan@disciples.org.

Responding to Tornados in Indiana

The Buchanan family of Kokomo, IN, recently experienced damage from a tornado that struck their community.  They offer the following reflection on how Week of Compassion’s response helped them get started on the road to recovery:

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Since I was a small child the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been a part of my life.  My mother moved from Arkansas as a young woman to Indianapolis to work at the original Disciples Mission building as a secretary.  After she met my dad, they moved to Kokomo and raised my three sisters and me at South Side Christian Church. South Side gave me a firm faith foundation that inspired me to attend Eureka College. There I studied Religion/Philosophy and Psychology and went on to study at Brite Divinity School until my life took a different turn.

Today I am back in Kokomo and a member at South Side. Recently something happened that I never in my wildest dreams thought would happen. On November 17, 2013, my husband, Jim, and I returned home from picking up Cassie (the child we are adopting) from a weekend of respite, only to find our house severely damaged by a tornado. We were in total shock, and Cassie was overwhelmed. Glass was all over the back family room. A tree sat on top of my father-in-law’s van. The shed that held all of our Christmas decorations was flattened. Windows were broken, trees were down, and the roof was in shreds.

We were able to coax our two dogs and two cats out of their hiding spots and get them to safety. We found a place for our animals and Cassie for the night and my husband and I returned home to sleep. We didn’t know they had evacuated our neighborhood. We just didn’t want to leave our home in this condition. The next morning the extent of the damage to our house and neighborhood hit us as we walked out and looked around. While Tornados had always been something on TV happening to other people somewhere else, this time it was in Kokomo—and it was happening to us. I can’t even describe the shock that hit us as we looked at the houses that were damaged in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood was the hardest hit in our city. I had already talked to our minister and a work crew from our church was coming to help. God’s blessings had already started. They could do what I couldn’t because they weren’t in shock. By evening, our house was secure and our insurance had put our family in a hotel. Becky Sundquist, our minister, called that night and told us another amazing thing: Week of Compassion was sending us a grant to help with recovery. You can’t imagine how great that was to hear. Although our insurance company was paying for our hotel and eventually would cover expenses, we had a number of expenses to cover. Your grant made that possible.

I have been a Disciple all my life, and I have given to Week of Compassion when possible, but I never imagined I would be a recipient of a Week of Compassion grant. Of course, I never imagined I would live through a tornado either! Words cannot express our thanks. We hope soon to be on the giving end of disaster recovery, but for now please accept what we can give: our thanks and prayers.

May God bless the work of Week of Compassion!

Thanks, 
Karla, Jim and Cassie Buchanan

Search opened for Week of Compassion Executive Director 

The Office of the General Minister and President (OGMP) seeks a dynamic and innovative leader to serve as the Executive Director for Week of Compassion.  The Executive Director serves as a member of the OGMP team with primary responsibility to oversee the relief, refugee and development fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). As the main avenue for Disciples disaster response giving, Week of Compassion also supports refugee assistance, sustainable development and humanitarian projects through denominational and ecumenical partnerships around the world.

The full job description including desired qualities is available here. Applications will be accepted through March 16, 2014.  Questions regarding the Week of Compassion Search may be directed to Dr. William Lee, Search Committee Chair, c/o Beth Sullivan at bsullivan@disciples.org.

This week's responses:  
Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance 
South Sudan, Public Health/Health Care Support 
Missouri, House Fire 
Development and Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation 
Bosnia, Interfaith Dialogue

Week of Compassion Partners Work for Peace in Syria

A United Nations-backed international conference is currently bringing together members of the Syrian regime and opposition forces with the aim of ending the war in Syria by creating a transitional government and discussing an unprecedented humanitarian response.  Leading up to this meeting, UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, joined church leaders from various Christian denominations in Geneva. John Nduna, General Secretary of the ACT Alliance, a Week of Compassion partner, was present.

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Josef, a young refugee from Syria, seeks shelter in one of the camps hosting millions of others like him. Photo Credit: ACT Alliance/Lutheran World Federation/Magnus Aronson

“(This gathering in Geneva) is a unique opportunity to stop fighting,” Nduna said after the meeting. “All the parties should step up to this responsibility and accept that they will have to compromise certain positions. If this chance is missed, I am afraid the war may go on for much longer.”

“It is remarkable that we have come this far in the conflict without clear steps towards stopping it. I urge all parties to stop executions of civilians, to implement a ceasefire and to respect all humanitarian principles.”

Through ACT Alliance, Week of Compassion has helped provide emergency assistance to displaced Syrians and host communities since war began in 2011.  This has included provisions of health care, food, shelter and education to almost half a million Syrians both within the country and in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, primarily in refugee camps, as well as to communities hosting refugees. 

The UN estimates that 6.5 million people are internally displaced and a total of 9.3 million need humanitarian assistance, nearly half of whom are children. Nearly 2.2 million refugees have been registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Over 100,000 people have been killed and many more injured, and civilians in Syria are facing a severe lack of food, water and access to health care. 

“International humanitarian law stipulates that the wounded and sick should obtain medical care without delay” said Nduna. “Parties to the conflict need to take all possible measures to ensure the necessary medical care and the protection of patients. Hospitals need to be weapon free zones. Geneva II needs to ensure that international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles are adhered to.”

In addition to humanitarian aid, Nduna challenged the nations in attendance to work for peace: “The international community must put more efforts towards finding a political solution and peace in order to avoid the suffering of millions.”

Week of Compassion staff continue to monitor the situation on the ground in Syria, which remains violent even as talks continue.  As the ACT Alliance responds, so will we.  In addition to keeping Syria in your prayers, please consider responding to the needs of refugees and others displaced by the ongoing conflict by putting your Compassion into Action and partnering with us.

Monitoring Domestic Issues

Week of Compassion is also continuing to monitor issues across North America, including wildfires in California, ongoing needs connected to the recent chemical spill in West Virginia, and any needs that may emerge from the bitter cold across the Northeast and Midwest.  As needs emerge, we will respond.

This week's responses:

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance

Virginia, Food Security

Georgia, Emergency Refugee Assistance

California, Emergency Refugee Assistance

Philippines, Typhoon Relief 

El Salvador, Volcano Relief

Nepal, Cold Wave Relief

Development and Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation

Oklahoma, Long Term Tornado Recovery

North America/United States, Ecumenical Poverty Initiative

Extreme Winter Weather in North America and Conflict in South Sudan

Monitoring the Polar Vortex 

As record-breaking cold makes its way across North America, Week of Compassion staff have been in touch with Regional Offices to assess needs among our congregations and the communities they serve.  At this point, nothing has been reported.  If there are needs in your congregation related to the Polar Vortex, please be in touch with your Regional Office or the Week of Compassion staff and we will respond.

Conflict in South Sudan

Over the past few months there has been tension within the South Sudan ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). In July last year, President Salva Kiir reorganized his entire cabinet including the dismissal of his Vice President, Riek Machar. On the evening of 15 December 2013, violence erupted in Juba amongst the military and this has led to the current hostilities between the "rebels" and SPLM.   The circumstances around the violence starting are still unclear, but most reports indicate that what started out as a political crisis has now mutated into an ethnic-based conflict. 

Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya all anticipate an influx of more than 20,000 refugees per country should the conflict escalate.  Through our partners in the ACT Alliance, Week of Compassion stands ready to provide assistance and shelter to all those, including many women and children, who are displaced by violence.  As more details emerge, we will keep you informed.

Your generosity makes a difference. To support Week of Compassion efforts all over the world, please consider a gift here.

Glory to the God who wages peace where there is conflict, and hope where there is none!

For Nothing Is Impossible with God: A Goodbye Update from Your Minister of Compassion

To carry a child.  What must that feel like?  Having never had this experience, I marvel at Mary each and every Advent season.  So young, so innocent, and so unsuspecting-she was chosen to carry the Christ-child.  How unlikely!  The God of Surprises taps the most ordinary, unimpressive of people to give birth to the most extraordinary and impressive of all beings ever to grace the planet.  It just doesn’t make sense, does it?  How is it that a poor, unwed, teenaged, Palestinian girl was the one God picked? 

And can you imagine how Mary felt?  The utter shock!  Visited by an angel and informed that she, despite the fact that she was a virgin, would carry and give birth to a child who would change the course of history... she had to have been terrified and confused.  For what must have been many long months of pregnancy-waiting, wondering, and watching her body and spirit change, Mary received the news of the angel with grace and faith.  Somehow, she trusted.  She may not have understood-how could she?  She may not have been necessarily ready to accept the news, either.  But she found it within herself to show up, somehow capturing the vision God had for her and the life she was now carrying inside her very womb.  To put yourself in Mary’s position is a profound act of spiritual discernment. 

Perhaps this is the process of Advent.  To come to an understanding that just as God chose the most unlikely of candidates to usher in a new era, so God does throughout history.  Only this time, this Christmas, it’s us God has chosen.  It is actually us that God has picked to carry the Christ-child.  It is us God has tapped on the shoulders, kissed on the foreheads, and lovingly looked into our incredulous eyes and said, “You’re it.”

What are you carrying deep within?  How are you nurturing that which you feel growing inside of you that is just what God needs you to offer the world?  What are you about to give birth to?  What are the contributions and gifts that you and only you have been called to bring to life? 

The miracle of Christmas is not Mary’s alone.  The miracle of Christmas is about you and me. It is about all of us carrying and caring for the Christ-child and all that represents:  hope, peace, joy, and love.  These are the miracles of Christmas that each of us have been created and called to bring to life.  Just as our sister Mary was called to do, so long ago, in a poverty-stricken village where no one would have ever expected the Prince of Peace, the Savior, the Christ, to have been conceived.  

For if you listen closely, you, too, will hear the voices of angels whispering to you, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God...for nothing is impossible with God.”  Nothing at all is impossible with God.  Talk about Good News! 

That’s the kind of Good News that deserves to be shouted from rooftops and mountaintops-the only Good News that has the power to shift the course of history, make enemies friends, extend grace and life in all its abundance, and transform fear into Love.  This is the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ-whose example of Light and Love we have been offered and have been given all we need to carry it into a world that so terribly needs it.  This is the Good News that Week of Compassion offers our sisters and brothers in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan; youth in Pakistan who are now receiving a peace education; indigenous communities in the Chaco Region of South America who now have clean water; and families in Colorado, Oklahoma, Missouri, and New York who have been accompanied back to some semblance of a normal life after experiencing tremendous loss, tragedy, and devastation.  In the midst of constant human suffering and need, Week of Compassion is Good News embodied.  This ministry is a miracle in and of itself, because those who contribute to it profoundly understand that our offerings enable miracles.  They are miracles in the lives of those who receive them, who have also been created and called by God to carry the Christ-child, to bring something beautiful to birth, and to contribute to a world that is also theirs.  

In the past eight and a half years of my ministry with Week of Compassion, I have met many-a-Mary.  I have met the poorest of the poor. I have traveled to places where, at first glance, it seems as though the darkness has won out over the light.  And then I looked closer-to encounter the people inside those dark places, only to find that it was them whose light never allowed the violence, oppression, and suffering to overcome them.  Instead, it only made them stronger.  They have taught me what it means to live a life of faith, completely surrendered to God, and to wholeheartedly trust in the God who chooses, over and over again, those whom the world rejects.  

I dedicate this, my last update as Executive Director of Week of Compassion, to the Marys of the world.  There are no words to express my gratitude to them for teaching me that there is truly nothing-nothing-impossible with God.  Their capacity to love in the midst of hate, to forgive in the midst of war, to hope in the midst of despair, and to dance in the midst of suffering have changed me forever. 

I also thank you, our steadfast and faithful friends and supporters.  You make miracles happen.  Truly.  It has been the honor and profound privilege of my ministry and life thus far to serve alongside you.  As I continue my ministry of compassion with our primary partner organization, Church World Service, I am able to let go only because of the tremendous staff colleagues and friends I have been blessed to work with:  the Rev. Brandon Gilvin, my associate, the Rev. Dawn Barnes, our administrative assistant, and the Rev. Johnny Wray, our resource development associate.  As I take my leave now, Johnny will serve as your Acting Interim Director until a new Executive Director is called this next spring.  Needless to say, this is a somewhat bizarre, intense, and emotional season for me.  At the end of my every day, it is the response of Mary to the angel Gabriel that I hope also to faithfully and passionately utter, whether as Minister of Compassion or elsewhere:  “I am the Lord’s servant.”  

I love this denomination with all my heart and soul, and could not be more proud to have served what I consider to be its shining star:  Week of Compassion.  Please know that your gifts not only change lives, they often save lives.  My most earnest prayer and hope is that this ministry continues to give birth to miracles the world over, and that we never doubt that with God, nothing at all is impossible.  

May you and yours celebrate the miracle of birth this Christmas season, and may you receive the most profound gratitude and love this outgoing Minister of Compassion can offer you...

Your friend and servant,

  

The Rev. Amy Gopp Vigne
December 19, 2013

This week's responses:
Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Illinois, Tornado Damage (2)
Iraq, Church Flooding

Updates on Oklahoma and Joplin Tornado Recovery

Registration for Disaster Recovery in Oklahoma

Week of Compassion is thrilled to announce that registration is now open for Disaster Recovery in Oklahoma.

Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering, and United Church of Christ Wider Church Ministries Disaster and Volunteer Ministries will be coordinating efforts with the Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Project, Oklahoma United Methodist Disaster Response, and other local partners to help volunteers put their Compassion into Action.

Projects will be part of the community’s comprehensive recovery effort. The focus will be on home repair, rebuilding, and new construction, but may also include community renewal projects, such as the re-planting of trees, and other meaningful work in support of partner agencies whose services were impacted by the tornado. These projects will be identified locally by the Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Project.

Week-long Mission Trips in 2014 will begin the week of April 7. Mission Groups will arrive on Sunday evenings and depart by Saturday morning. Work days are Monday - Friday.  Housing and Hospitality will be extended by local UCC and DOC congregations, and there will be room for 20 volunteers per week. Registration is $100 per person, with a $25 nonrefundable deposit.  Check with the Registrar with questions about availability or register for your top two preferred weeks. Registrations will be honored in the order they are received.

For more information about volunteering in Oklahoma, please visit the Disciples Volunteering siteRegistration forms are available here.

To contact Pam Small, UCC/DOC Disaster Ministries’ Registrar for the Oklahoma Response, call 812-453-3995 or e-mail psmall66@gmail.com. 

A Day of Celebration in Joplin!

Rev. Jill Michel of South Joplin Christian Church submitted these pictures and note following the dedication of a special project that has been part of the Joplin recovery:

Sid and his dog, Scooby, were welcomed home on Wednesday, December 11, 2013.  Rebuild Joplin, South Joplin Christian Church, Farmer’s Insurance and Mennonite friends were there to celebrate with him, remember his story, and present gifts. 

The home that Sid lived in at the time of the tornado had been his lifelong home.  He has resided at that location for nearly six decades.  So, agreeing to have his home torn down and new one built in its place was no small decision.  But, three months after the house was begun, Sid is excited to call this new place home and is grateful for all those who participated in its building.

While our Disciples and UCC volunteers have been working with Rebuild Joplin for over a year and half, Sid’s is the first house that we’ve fully sponsored giving both financial support and volunteer labor from foundation to finish.

Thank you to our partners from UCC and Disciples churches across the United States who made their way to Joplin to be part of this project.

This week's responses:

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Egypt, Emergency Repairs
Syria, Food Assistance<
Development and Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation
Egypt, Ecumenical Relations

A Fair Trade Pilgrimage

Ercilio, our host, showed us his son's wedding picture.  It had been years since he had seen his son, who had made his way from their small farm in the Dominican Republic to Germany where he worked as a mechanic. Ercilio hadn't met his daughter-in-law, but he had this picture. 

He held it to his chest. 

Mi Corazon, he said, and looked up to the stars. Ramon Antonio Mosquea, a CONACADO farmer, breaks open a Cacao pod (Photo by Ashley Cheuk, Equal Exchange)

I came to be Ercilio's houseguest as a part of a delegation visiting the National Confederation of Dominican Cacao Producers (CONACADO), a co-op of 8,000 small-scale organic cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic. CONACADO is a pioneer in organic and Fair Trade cocoa, and the World's leading exporter of certified organic cocoa. Equal Exchange, Week of Compassion's Fair Trade partner, has worked with this farmer organization for 11 years.

One of the goals for this trip, and others Equal Exchange has led over the years, is to help the US public see and appreciate the hard work, skill, investment and years of perseverance that are required to produce top-quality organic cocoa. Another goal is to allow the delegates to see first-hand the benefits of the farmers' co-operative business model, and those of Equal Exchange's Fair Trade practices. Equal Exchange introduced the Fair Trade food and beverage concept to the US in the 1980's and sources approximately 99% of its imports from small-farmer co-operatives. 

The visit took us not only through the technical aspects of cocoa production, which included helping harvest cacao pods, learning about the fermentation and drying process, and visiting CONACADO's top-notch production facility, but it also took us into the lives of the families whose farms produce the raw material that makes its way into the Fair Trade chocolate that is served by many of our Disciples congregations.  We spent time in meeting with farmer associations, listening to their hopes, aspirations, and concerns, as well as enjoying the generosity and hospitality they offered as they opened their homes to us.  And no one was more hospitable than Ercilio.

WoC Associate Director, Brandon Gilvin, tries his hand at harvesting Cacao (Photo by Ashley Cheuk, Equal Exchange)

Ercilio showed us around his farm, letting us taste raw almonds, fresh fruit, and of course, cacao. We shared both rich, spicy homemade drinking chocolate and an Equal Exchange chocolate bar made with cocoa that originated from CONACADO farms, and we asked and answered one another's questions -How much does a plane ticket to the United States cost?  How long ago did your wife and sons migrate to look for work?What do you think of the Boston Red Sox? How much do people pay in the United States for a chocolate bar like this?

Our conversations with Ercilio, whether over breakfast or a late night game of dominos, reminded us of just how central relationships are to the fair trade model; how aspiration, security, migration, and the value of family intersect messily in the lives of farming families; and why human dignity and investment in an entire community are essential parts of a just economic exchange. 

By working through co-ops like CONACADO and offering Fair Trade Premiums, Equal Exchange's Fair Trade model not only provides  individual farmers with a fair price for their labor and product, but economic empowerment.  As we spent time together, CONACADO farmers told us that before the belonged to the co-op, they were often at the mercy of cacao brokers.  They sold their cacao at the price the brokers quoted.  Now, they told us, they were aware of the market price, and by working together as a co-op, they had more leverage, more opportunity, and dignity.

We toured a computer lab in a local community center, and visited a community water project, both of which resulted from the investment of Fair Trade premiums managed by the Co-op and its local associations.  Farmers told us that the education of their children was more easily affordable and that there are new jobs that flow from the successes of the co-op and farmers.  Younger people do not have to leave the community as often when seeking certain kinds of education or training. In turn, more of them are staying in the community. And that means there is a greater skill based residing in the community. Less often do people, or businesses like the co-op, need to go outside the community to hire, or contract, for certain kinds of skilled work.  The impoverishing, vicious downward spiral of de-population had reversed itself-an incredible achievement.

As I've reflected on this trip since returning to the states, my thoughts have turned repeatedly to Ercilio and his family. What can fair trade mean to a family?  Earning a livelihood, sure, but it can also make migration more of a choice than necessity for future generations.  It can mean the slowing-or even the virtual end-of a community's "brain drain" as the best and brightest are able to benefit from a thriving organic, fair trade farming operation.  I can't think of a better way to put our Compassion into Action than supporting this sort of work.  It gives us a real opportunity to make purchases that express our values as people of faith, building partnerships that  give a farmer like Ercilio the opportunity to hold his children-his heart-much closer in the future.

--Brandon 

You are Inspiring!

If you have participated in the Disciples Coffee Project you have invested in the lives of farmers like those who are members of CONACADO, and your purchases have also helped to support food security and other projects supported by Week of Compassion.  Your purchase has counted twice!

 

Cacao Pods and Equal Exchange Bars (Photo by: Ashley Cheuk, Equal Exchange)

 

Over 10,000 congregations, schools, and groups use our products every year, and each one has a story to tell about how they learned about Fair Trade, got their program started, and found support in their community. Now, Equal Exchange has a new web page to broadcast those stories far and wide! Get inspired atwww.equalexchange.coop/programs/customer-stories.

Do you have a story to tell about your experience with Equal Exchange? Email your story to jrazsa@equalexchange.coop. 

This week's responses:

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Texas, Emergency Grant
Illinois, Tornado Damage (5)
Development and Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation
Guatemala, Human Rights Education
Mexico, Job Training for Persons Living with HIV and AIDS
Mexico, Water for Life
Paraguay, Economic Development Initiative for Women
Democratic Republic of Congo, Water for Life
Democratic Republic of Congo, Medical Supplies
Hungary, Refugee Community Center
Egypt, Human Security and Youth Empowerment
Afghanistan, Orthopedic Workshop and Physical Therapy Center
Bangladesh, Community Development (2)
Vietnam, Cleaner Villages
Serbia, Inclusive Roma Education
Republic of Georgia, Tblilsi Youth House
Pakistan, Peace Education
Kenya, Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation
Uganda, Safe School Zone
Tanzania, Cervical Cancer Prevention

Grateful

The tiny table in the middle of the one-roomed house was piled high with as much as it would hold and then some-plastic plates were stacked upon other plates so that everyone gathered around that one and only table would have something to eat.  In one of the most remote villages in Kenya, where drought and famine had claimed the lives of not only animals and crops but also people, Week of Compassion was welcomed.  There was a special seat at that table just for us.  The only chicken the family had eaten in weeks if not months was offered to me as guest.  In the midst of not having enough, somehow they seemed to make something out of virtually nothing.  

After the ritual hand-washing with a bar of soap passed around and precious water poured over your hands by the female hostess, the rest of the family was instructed to lead us in prayer.  I joined them as they prayed for the gifts of the earth and for all the blessings bestowed upon us as a human family, a Christian family, and a Kenyan family.

Their prayers weren’t especially original or moving in and of themselves.  What moved me, rather, was the attitude in which they offered those prayers.  Never before had I witnessed such an attitude of gratitude.  

There were no words wondering where the next chicken or meat would come from.  No pleas for more plantains or avocadoes.  Nothing mentioned about having more clean water.  Instead of praying for what they did not have, they gave God thanks for what they did have.  

And they meant it.  

I have been around many Week of Compassion tables in the last number of years.  Some are quite tangible, such as this tiny table in a remote village in drought-stricken Kenya.  Others are the tables that we do not see yet know are no longer empty because of our sharing.  

As we gather around the Thanksgiving table tomorrow, I can’t help but think about all the tables, both seen and unseen, that we as Week of Compassion have set.  Thanks to you, we have provided sustenance, nutritious meals, agricultural development, wells and systems that lead to adequate clean water, tools and training, seeds, and paths to food security for individuals, groups, and communities the world over.  This is the table we set.  As you prepare your Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, I hope you’ll set the table knowing that it is not the only table you set...and that you remember the many tables that are now plentiful because of your gifts of compassion.  
 

I am reminded, too, of the table Jesus prepared in that upper room, surrounded by his disciples.  Let us not forget that before he broke the bread to feed his friends, he first blessed it, giving thanks for it, and then made sure there was enough of it for all to be fed.

May your table be blessed with good food, and may it nourish your body and spirit, empowering you to ensure that all have enough to eat.  May you celebrate all the blessings that are yours.

Happy Thanksgiving from Week of Compassion.  

This week’s responses:

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance

Illinois, Tornado Damage (33)
Philippines, Typhoon Recovery
USA, U. S. Storms, Floods, Tornadoes and Wildfires
Indiana, Tornado Damage
Pennsylvania, House Fire
California, Church Vandalism

Development and Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation
Texas, Long Term Recovery in West