Nearly a week has passed since Cyclone Idai devastated three of the most vulnerable countries in Southern Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, and the full extent of the disaster and the needs are still growing.
Ted Oswald, World Relief Sacramento's Immigration Legal Services staff attorney, and Kevin Woehr, DOJ Accredited Representative with World Relief DuPage/Aurora, recently returned from Tijuana, Mexico as part of a team comprised of World Relief staff from across the U.S. advising asylum seekers at the border. Lea este artículo en Español, Aquí.
Ted Oswald, un abogado de la oficina de Servicios Legales de Immigracion en World Relief Sacramento, recientemente regreso de Tijuana, Mexico como parte de un equipo compuesto de personal de World Relief de todos los EE. UU. asesorando a los solicitantes de asilo en la frontera.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Referred to affectionately as the Heart of Africa; rich in resource, culture and beauty. The nation has some of the greatest concentrations of valuable raw minerals in the world, and Eastern Congo, in particular, is fertile and ripe for agricultural development.
So, how is South Sudan? It’s a question that I get a lot these days. From other humanitarians in different countries, from friends who caught a rare headline, from family members who just want to know what is it that I do all day when I say I am going back. It’s a question that is so much more complicated than it seems.
This past March marked the 7-year anniversary of the war in Syria. It is a grim anniversary, marking seven years of loss, suffering and displacement for millions of people across the Middle East.
When the small puddle jumper plane landed on its rinky-dink airstrip, I came to grips with the fact that I was face to face with one of the world’s oldest, most isolated, and yet most intact cultures. I had been a student of Africa for years at that point, but Turkana (the name of the people and their ancestral homeland) was unlike anything I had ever encountered. This would not be ‘business as usual.’
It was 2011 and I was on staff at Wheaton Bible Church. At the invitation of World Relief, our church was considering responding to the food crisis that was gripping Turkana, and setting up a long-term response by equipping the few local churches on the ground to help change their community. I had no idea what was in store for the journey ahead—both for me and the Turkana.
After a 9-hour drive to World Relief’s program area on the border of Kenya and Ethiopia, I realized just how much I had to learn. With roots dating back thousands of years, the Turkana have changed little until the past few decades. With very little Christian witness, the Turkana have maintained their centuries-old faith tradition—one of the only monotheistic traditions in sub-Saharan Africa.
At the center of the very complex life of the Turkana stood something very simple: cows. Cows represented stature in the community. They represented livelihood and economic well-being. Cows were traded between families as part of traditional marriage arrangements. Men created physical scars on their arms to note how many cows they had stolen from neighboring tribes during raids. One woman even told me on that inaugural trip that the pecking order of a Turkana family goes as follows: Men, cows, and then women. And if a man had to choose between his cow and his wife, he would choose his cow.
The importance of cattle is not something that is, by itself, remarkable about tribes in this region of Africa. However, as I entered Turkana on this first trip, I quickly became aware of something quite unsettling: there were absolutely zero cows to be seen.
While always a dry region, the severe changes in climate meant that the land could no longer sustain cows. They had all died. I learned that Turkana historically encountered roughly one period of unseasonable dryness in a 10-year period. However, in a very rapid fashion, their climate had changed dramatically. They were now experiencing periods without rain every 2-3 years .
Cows—the very thing at the center of Turkana life—had been taken away. Without the ability to trade livestock for food, the population—especially children—faced significant hardships. On that first trip, I learned that over thirty percent of the children were malnourished. The communities were being forced to transition from their ancient roots. Pastoralist herders now had to settle down and learn to grow food on plots of land.
To the outsider, this seems an obvious adaptation. But it was and continues to be a radical departure for the Turkana. Learning to grow food in a place with increasing severity of drought and altering their livelihood during the midst of crisis presents numerous challenges. The Turkana were facing the most significant challenge they had ever encountered in their ancient history. Nothing was usual about this experience for me, or for the Turkana.
The realization that your history and belief system could be (at worst) harmful, or (at best) not helpful for the future is a very painful and confusing process. Changing hundreds of generations’ worth of cultural beliefs about what is valuable—beliefs about identity, gender, family and vocation—is no easy feat and no short-term project. This is what the Turkana were faced with; simple interventions and programs would be helpful, but would not help the Turkana transition long-term. There needed to be something more unusual, something more transformational for this group of people.
On that first trip, we met seven small indigenous churches who were responding on the ground and who wanted to expand their reach. Through emergency food distribution and setting up wells and small farms, these churches—many of whom had pastors that could neither read nor write—were trying to do something remarkable. They wanted to help their communities transform their mindset and make the transition to life in a new climate. My colleagues and I could not say anything other than, “Count us in.”
You can view the first several years of this journey in a mini-documentary that was produced by Wheaton Bible Church. The Sunday this documentary was shown was my last Sunday on staff at Wheaton Bible. Coincidentally, I was in Turkana on a subsequent trip when God made clear a calling to my family to move to a different part of the country. Shortly after leaving Wheaton Bible Church, I joined the staff of World Relief.
Now, seven years into World Relief’s project in Turkana, two things are true:
A lot of good has happened in Turkana. World Relief has helped catalyze a movement of change where families are able to thrive, communities are able to flourish and churches are being strengthened and even planted. We now serve 41,258 people through 83 volunteers, 25 local staff and 20 Turkana churches. We are the only humanitarian organization in the area of Turkana where we work. The ministry includes wide-ranging activities such as providing access to clean water, agricultural programs, nutrition training, church and volunteer mobilization and maternal and child health interventions—not counting several more programs on the way.
This progress is worth its own full-length exposé. Working with churches to help an ancient culture transition through the hardest thing it has dealt with in thousands of years is nothing short of an act of God! While many choose to stop short of total transformation, we are compelled to the longer, harder journey.
Turkana is worse off now than it was in 2011. Wait…what? Yes, in spite of all the progress that we have made, it continues to be ‘business as unusual.’ Turkana is facing a new drought wherein it has not rained substantially in over two years. Remember those cows? The Turkana transitioned to small farms and goats. Goats are smaller and need less food and water. This current drought is so bad that even the goats cannot survive. When my World Relief colleagues visit villages, they are greeted with goat carcasses—a reminder of how bad things are. Remember the thirty percent of children who were malnourished seven years ago? Currently in 11 of our 12 operating areas, over fifty percent of people, including adults, are severely malnourished and in need of immediate food aid for their survival.
It has been reported (though not widely) that the world is facing the worst food crisis since World War II . In Turkana and in many places throughout sub-Saharan Africa, this is due to several cycles of failed rains. In places like Yemen and South Sudan, it is due to conflict. In the coming months, World Relief will be writing more on this global catastrophe, as well as our response and the ideas we have about what our enduring solutions to it might be.
A quick detour: The institutions created post-World War II to work in such situations (e.g. the U.N. and the World Food Program) have never been so strained, due to this current food crisis and the global refugee crisis. The global community has cut poverty in half since 1990 , but now it is stretched so thin that many of those gains might be erased .
We can’t let this happen. And we won’t.
Back in Turkana, we are seeking to provide emergency food aid to over 40,000 people through a network of community leaders, churches and volunteers developed by World Relief over the past seven years. We know how to do this. We have the skills, the knowledge and the network. But this effort will cost more than $2 million.
Food aid is simply not enough. The sad reality is that Turkana will continue to experience a worsening climate and more severe droughts like this one. We do not want to stop at giving food aid. We do not want to stop with normal programming—business as usual. We do not want the legacy of our work to be a faded sign on the side of the road. We want to work with the Turkana to help them change and adapt to the world around them. This is why working with churches is so important. Such complete change can only come from within the community and it will take years. This is what makes this work so transformative, so sustainable and so special.
It will not be an ordinary journey. Our hope is that people will come to find their identity in Christ. That women and girls will find dignity as image bearers of God—not as less than livestock. That families will move from being on the brink of starvation to finding solutions that allow them to work with pride as they provide for their children. That churches would be strengthened and planted.
We need partners like you, and churches like Wheaton Bible, who won’t let 20 years of progress in sub-Saharan Africa be erased. We need individuals and churches throughout the U.S. who—in the face of global crisis—will answer Jesus’ call to stand with the vulnerable, to feed the hungry and to help an entire people group transition to a more resilient, sustainable future. We need people who are okay with business as unusual.
As SVP of Strategic Engagement, James Misner helps churches, foundations and individuals stand with the vulnerable in the U.S. and around the world. Leading teams domestically and internationally, James seeks to facilitate meaningful cross-cultural experiences, leading to deeper levels of discipleship. Prior to joining World Relief, James served on the pastoral staff at Wheaton Bible Church, leading global outreach efforts, and also on the outreach staff of McLean Bible Church. James received his undergraduate degree from American University, and a Master's degree from Wheaton College. He lives in Maryland with his wife, Sabrina, and their family.
[The following videos and blog post are detailed updates we've received from Joseph Bataille, World Relief's Country Director in Haiti, about the relief efforts taking place in Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.]
Every year, my wife and I choose a new part of Haiti to explore for our anniversary. Our country is a gem, full of hidden treasures. And every year, we celebrate by uncovering one of these treasures together.
This past July, we explored Grand’Anse. We began with one of the furthest reaches of the region, Anse d’Hainault. The two and a half hour drive from the entrance of the city of Jérémie was scenic, but to tell the truth, it was a bit exhausting. We had already driven 6 or 7 hours that morning to get to Jérémie. We could only hope that this additional 2.5 hour, slow-paced, rocky trek, would be worth it in the end. After all, we would still have to drive back in a couple of days.
We came up on the main stretch of the town of Dame Marie. It was almost evening and the sun was preparing to set. The colors of the sky dancing and glistening as they reflected off of the sea made us forget all about our uncomfortable drive. The people of the town—not accustomed to receiving many outsiders—each watched from the front porch of their homes as we passed by. Life seemed beautiful and simple. Children played in their yards and in the streets. Men tended to boats and nets after a day of fishing. Women conversed and laughed as they finished various late-afternoon tasks or as they braided each other’s hair, while they relaxed on the front porch. All the while, the sun, the sea, and the sky danced in the background. Beautiful and simple indeed. We took in similar scenes for the last half hour of the drive to Anse d’Hainault.
The rest of our visit in Grand’Anse was equally beautiful. From Anse d’Hainault, we traveled to the city of Jérémie. The family of Alexandre Dumas (author of “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”) hails from Jérémie, as do other notable Haitian writers. This historic city is rightfully known as “The City of Poets.” Traveling further to a hidden cove called “Anse du Clerc.” We sat mesmerized by the crashing of waves into the bay as we drank in beauty that few have the pleasure of seeing. All this while enjoying freshly caught fish served over boiled plantains, and of course, fresh coconuts to drink.
Even more beautiful than the scenery, as usual, were the people that we encountered. We met with our friend and my colleague, Esther, when we traveled back to Jeremie. She showed us around over the next couple of days. Each day, Esther’s aunts fought over the “privilege” of getting to feed us. Every home that we visited had a table prepared; they would hear nothing of the meal that we had just eaten two hours earlier. They showed us around proudly, wanting us to love their town and region at least half as much as they do. They would give us everything, if we would ask, but would receive nothing but good company in return. Each evening we stayed with Esther’s godparents, in their home, set proudly in a Garden of Eden by the sea.
Last Saturday, I visited that place again. The house was still there, and so was the sea, but the garden was gone. So was everything else.
The town of Jérémie was full of piles of debris stacked high. All along the ride through other parts of Grand’Anse, I saw homes that I don’t remember seeing before. Each had lost the trees that had once shielded them from view. Nearly all had also lost their rooftops and many had lost walls as well. With Grand’Anse accounting for a major portion of the nation’s remaining forest coverage, it was devastating to see the hills and mountains, literally stripped bare by Matthew’s winds. At the time, with images coming slowly and rarely, I could only imagine what Anse d’Hainault at the tip of the island might look like in the aftermath. I couldn’t bear to imagine what happened to the people of Dame Marie and their simple and beautiful life.
Nothing was the same in the region. That is, nothing except for the people. Esther’s aunt was excited to see us, yet slightly upset that we surprised her, because she didn’t have a chance to prepare a meal for us. She gently scolded her niece for not calling her in advance (although telephone lines were mostly cut off). Esther’s godparents were still the king and queen of hospitality and, despite the devastation, her godfather still wore his usual smile that you can be sure he’s had on his face since childhood. His wife insisted on preparing a goat for us, despite having lost several goats and their garden in the storm and despite the fact that we had brought our own provisions.
When visiting pastors in Pichon last week, the pastors, who had advance notice of our coming, would already have fresh coconuts ready for us to drink or something else for us to “taste” as we walked along the road. We would look to the few trees that were left standing to see if we could figure out where these gifts were coming from, but we found no sign that there was more to come. We were being offered their best. Their last. Their all. And they refused to be denied the opportunity to be hospitable. Wherever we went, there was a sadness in the air, but over and over we were awestruck by the palpable goodness that remained in the hearts of a people who still wanted to hope.
That same charity and goodness has all but become a national phenomenon. Many miles away, on the first Sunday morning after the storm, churches in the capital were gathered as their usual custom. Surely, the faithful came with the usual personal desires that they wanted to ask God to fulfill, but that day, they also shared a common heaviness. Together, they lifted the burden of those suffering after the hurricane in prayer. Many also began collecting funds and items to send to the victims in distress.
In Les Cayes, that same afternoon, our staff met with a group of pastors, all of whom have churches that have sustained damages. As we discussed with them the importance of preaching the gospel by loving acts, together they resolved to see to that the homes of their more vulnerable neighbors are rebuilt, even if it meant that their church buildings were the last to be repaired. We recently met with a group of pastors in Duchity (Pestel, Grand’Anse) who have agreed to do the same.
Late last week, I participated in a meeting with more than 200 Haitian church leaders in the capital. The purpose was to join together collectively to reach out to the affected areas with short, mid, and long term relief efforts. We had similar conversations with our partners in the capital. All of them excitedly agreed that the primary responsibility for relief must go to the local church. In Belle Anse, church leaders are assessing the damages together, while reflecting on ways to help those who were hit the hardest. Immediately after the storm, some even worked overtime to finish a home that they had begun to build months earlier for a single mother of three. After many months of being stalled by various obstacles, they finished the project in only a few days.
I could fill pages and pages with the difficulties and hardships that are still yet to come. But I would rather put a final exclamation point on what I have attempted say so far...
Haiti has a lot of good things. The best of all these things are its people. Haiti is gold. The Haitian people themselves are diamonds—hard-pressed but not hardened, and refined by many years of adversity. When they pull together, nothing is impossible to them.
The local church is full of such gems, and across the country, near to and far from the disaster, they are pulling together. They are helping one another and looking out for the weakest among them. World Relief is privileged to know some of the best of them. They are a light to their communities. World Relief is working closely with these leaders as they help their communities to recover shelters, gardens, livelihoods, and autonomy. But we refuse to let our work to be the basket that covers and hides the goodness and the light of God’s love that is already present. Rather, we are working in such a way to put that light on the lamp-stand, where it belongs, that the world will see their good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:15-16).
The nation is full of people with hearts of servants who are more than ready and more than willing to carry the weight of their vulnerable neighbors. Our job in this time is to help them to find the resources that match the largeness of their hearts and to equip them with skills and knowledge to build back better. Our mission is to help them to accomplish their mission.
That has always been our mission, and it will never change. We empower the church. They seek out the least, the last, and the lost among them, and together we make a world of a difference.
If you have already donated, please consider a second donation to Haiti’s hurricane relief efforts, or a general donation to World Relief’s other work around the world. Also, we invite you to share a link to this page with your friends and family.
Since Monday, when Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti, we've been getting reports from our staff and local partners in the country. The situation grows worse by the day. Please consider taking action and donating today.
Haitian officials are reporting that at least 400 people have died, and the death toll is likely to continue rising. The UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs is also reporting that 350,000 residents are in need of immediate aid.
Because of our longstanding relationship with churches throughout Haiti, World Relief has a built-in system to deliver that aid, one that empowers local leaders in Haiti to lead their own relief efforts.
As the death toll continues to climb and reports of widespread damage and destruction pour in, now is the time to act.
For the sake of the men, women, and children of Haiti, please donate today.
[This post comes to us from a team member in South Sudan, however we’re choosing to keep the author’s identity private at this time.]
In most parts of the world, Independence Day is something to celebrate. It’s a day to remember past sacrifice and to celebrate the victory of a battle hard fought. And yet, last week’s Independence Day in South Sudan was a different story.
July 9—a date that has been celebrated in South Sudan since the country gained independence in 2011—was greeted this year with heightened vigilance, rumors of violence, and little sense of victory. Fireworks did not end in awe-inspiring bursts of color and grace, and families were not underfoot admiring the spectacular display. The color in the South Sudanese sky that night was brought instead by tracer ammunition and accompanied by the reverberating staccato of heavy weaponry.
As we settled into Thursday evening, I could hear the distant bursts of gunfire. It’s been a while since it’s been this loud and this consistent. It’s been a while since tensions in Juba have been this high. That’s why, when my phone rang that night, my brain began anticipating several scenarios. In the end it was a warning from one of my security guards. “Security isn’t good…stay in your compound. I’ve taken shelter with a brother because I can’t make it home.”
I offered my thanks for his update and a few shallow words of encouragement. What can you say when this nation finds itself once more on the edge? Where a slight nudge is sufficient to ignite a conflict with unimaginable consequences.
Friday brought that nudge.
While the details are not entirely clear, here’s what the weekend held. There was heavy fighting on Friday at the Presidential Palace while the President, First Vice President, and Vice President were meeting–resulting in significant loss of life. Saturday was calm by comparison, but Sunday was chaos.
Hundreds have died and thousands have fled. The peace negotiated almost a year ago is over. Staff are at home, reporting fighting in their neighborhoods. They are lying on the floor, hiding under beds, and reporting that they do not know if they will survive the day. I expect the worst.
My heart breaks for this nation and for these people. Please pray for the following:
- Our teams in South Sudan, as we finalize safety and security plans for World Relief staff and volunteers.
- Our work, as the nation spirals back into chaos.
- This nation. It has been reported that war has been declared; we do not know what tomorrow will bring but we trust that this will not be the end.
Because of the generosity of donors, World Relief was able to help Preemptive Love provide food and other essential items to 500 families in Fallujah.
Two weeks ago, Iraqi military forces began ground operations around the city of Fallujah to reclaim it from ISIS. Within the first week, 500 families were liberated but left without food, water, or shelter. However, because of your support, that quickly changed. Here’s how:
Our partners at Preemptive Love Coalition provide aid and relief on the front lines of the war against ISIS. They operate behind enemy lines in some of the most dangerous and heavily militarized zones of the Middle East. As ISIS cuts through the region, leaving death and destruction in its path, Preemptive Love follows behind, giving food, shelter, and essential non-food items to families affected by the conflict.
Two weeks ago, as the Iraqi-led military operation against ISIS drew closer to Fallujah, Preemptive Love anticipated the humanitarian crisis that would unfold as the conflict reached the city. In need of immediate funds to supply aid for thousands of people, Preemptive Love reached out to a number of its partners, including World Relief.
Thanks to the donations many of you regularly make to World Relief, we were able to quickly give Preemptive Love $20,000 to provide food, mattresses, medicine, and hygiene products to the families of Fallujah. Because of your support, 500 families in Fallujah have food! That’s no small accomplishment.
When you make a donation to World Relief, you make it possible for us to fulfill our calling to stand with the vulnerable—both by expanding our operations, and by allowing us to give to organizations like Preemptive Love.
Thank you for your commitment to the vulnerable, and your trust in World Relief. Your support for our organization and organizations like Preemptive Love means the difference between life and death, and between hope and despair for so many around the world.
Editors Note: What follows is an excerpt from another update received from Maggie Konstanski, World Relief's Disaster Response Manager. (Read Maggie's first update.) Maggie writes from Iraq, where she is currently working with local leaders to assist families forced from their homes because of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Editors Note: What follows is an update recently received from Maggie Konstanski, World Relief's Disaster Response Manager. Maggie writes from Iraq, where she is currently working with local leaders to assist families forced from their homes because of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Since last May, this is my fourth month here in Iraq, and I am enjoying being able to come back to friendships and appreciating the comfort of familiarity. Local shop owners know me and are happy to see me, friendships are strengthening and my love for this place grows.
Some things have changed even since my last trip here. The frontline has been pushed back in some places, opening access to some locations and creating new opportunities. There are new tensions, however—new groups being targeted by violence, with civilian communities caught in the crossfire.
Another change is the temperature. Many homes here are built to stay cool in the hot summers, which means they are incredibly cold in the winter. The key to staying warm is to have four walls, a sturdy roof and a heater, luxuries that many of the displaced do not have. It breaks my heart to know that many of my friends are cold through the night, while I enjoy a warm, dry and comfortable night of sleep. These are the disparities that are so hard to comprehend. Honestly, the more I learn, the less I understand.
It is hard to explain, but even though my heart aches over these disparities and the injustice and horrors of conflict, I keep coming back to hope. While the realities of war and conflict are devastating, and the losses many, it is in these same places that I see courage, hope and love on a scale I could never have imagined. I get to spend my days with people who have lost much and suffered deeply, yet daily choose to serve others and build towards the future. I am surrounded by peacemakers. Their courage astounds me.
This week I had the privilege of training a group of local trainers who will train others in facilitating child-friendly spaces, running support groups for youth and providing psychosocial support to their communities. If the love, generosity and courage that I have seen in these people and so many others is any indication, then I believe we can pray for peace and healing with great hope. It is hard sometimes to not despair, but I now can count some of the most courageous people I have ever met as friends, sisters and brothers. What a privilege.
Below is an update from our Disaster Response Manager, Maggie Konstanski, in Iraq. The best way I can think of to describe what it is like being here is whiplash—constantly being thrown back and forth between two extremes you did not know could coexist.