Church

Church Engagement Is the Best Solution to Humanitarian Crises

Church Engagement Is the Best Solution to Humanitarian Crises

Today is World Humanitarian Day. It’s a day upon which we honor humanitarian workers around the globe, and a day on which we seek to reflect on how we, as global citizens, might respond better, smarter and more effectively to the hundreds of humanitarian crises around our world.

The Church in Congo

By James Misner and Marcel Serubungo In the Democratic Republic of Congo, some say that you can find all of Africa’s problems: weak national leadership, eroding rule of law, HIV/AIDS and protracted tribal conflict. Warring militias use rape as a weapon of war and perpetrate other human rights violations. Children are stolen, forced to become soldiers and used as proxies between fighting groups.

Congolese civilians are caught in the vicious cycles of conflict and disease. Millions have died as a result. Refugees and internally displaced people number into the millions.

But even in the world’s most war-torn regions, the power of Jesus can overcome the horrors of conflict. After years of warfare, the Church in DR Congo is the only social structure standing. It is the only hope of true peace for survivors of violence.

This is the reality of the Church in DR Congo:

  1. The Church is traumatized. Many people in the Church have been displaced from their homes. They’ve fled as refugees, survived grave atrocities, lost entire crops and ran through the night in search of safety. Our Christian brothers and sisters in DR Congo face the same situations that their greater communities face — they’re not immune from struggle.
  2. The Church is resilient. Even in the midst of adversity and unspeakable hardship, the church in DR Congo stands strong! Despite ethnic divisions within the nation, the church builds unity and reconciliation. They’ve refused to give up the pursuit of peace. They continue meeting together, praying together and worshiping God together. In some of the worst poverty and injustice on the planet the church gathers to proclaim the greatness of God! We have much to learn from them as they restore their communities.
  3. The Church is redeeming suffering. None of us can explain precisely why God allows suffering. But we do know that God redeems it — through his hands and feet, the Church. When a woman survives sexual violence, the Church will take her in, provide food and shelter and help her to care for her children. When cultural norms say that husbands should abandon their wives after rape — the Church works to debunk this lie and to reconcile marriages. The Church stands in the gap and speaks out against this injustice — teaching boys and men that women are created in God’s image and are to be respected and treasured.

Wherever there is suffering in DR Congo – the Church is right there, too. And World Relief is there to empower the Church to fulfill its mission: to bring hope to the hopeless and restore justice to the oppressed. As the people of the Church endure suffering, they faithfully follow in the steps of Jesus – bringing healing to their communities as they themselves are healed.

Would you consider making a gift to empower local churches to prevent further gender-based violence and care for women survivors? All donations will be matched by One Day’s Wages. Your gift will be used to provide medical care and trauma counseling for the victims of sexual violence and to raise community awareness about violence against women. Give today at onedayswages.org/worldrelief.

James and Marcel are both members of the church team at World Relief. James serves as the Global Director of Church Partnership. Marcel serves as the Director of Church Mobilization and Peace Building in DR Congo.

Transforming Lives and Agriculture- a Story from Mozambique

Out of the five farmers’ groups in Massingir West, Mozambique, the Chinhangane group was by far the least successful. Aside from one strong harvest in 2010, the group suffered through years of poor growth and broken relationships. Like the weeds that tangled their rows of overgrown crops, conflict and division choked any hope of improving their harvests or friendships.

In their August 2014 meeting, the Chinhangane group learned about the fields of other farmers’ associations in the area that consistently out-performed theirs. They compared the neat rows and flourishing fruits in the other groups’ fields with their own meager progress. After the meeting, their hope and confidence were shaken.

“We were really at the end of ourselves and realized only God can change hearts and attitudes,” said Dr. Pieter Ernst, who’s led World Relief’s health and development programs in Mozambique since 1995. Today, his work focuses on agriculture – a mainstay of the Mozambican economy. Farmers make up 80 percent of the country’s workforce. When fields aren’t producing, the consequences are severe for individual subsistence farmers who rely on their crops to eat and generate income.

In World Relief’s Mozambican farmers’ associations, group members study the Bible together as they learn sustainable agriculture techniques. “We discussed the goal of the church as we find it in Ephesians 4, to have all come to the maturity of Christ,” Dr. Ernst explained. But at the end of the August meeting, he was unsure that maturity, unity or peace would ever come to the group.

But as they reflected on Ephesians 4 that day, something changed in the hearts and minds of the Chinhangane members. Most of them attended church – they reasoned – so why didn’t their fruit, both in their spirits and in their fields, match their belief in Jesus?

Several months later, Dr. Ernst visited the group again. To his great surprise the fields at Chinhangane were nearly unrecognizable. Compared to the other farmers’ groups, he said, “Chinhangane’s field was the best of all, with almost no weeds, healthy tomato plants stacked up neatly in their rows…their attitude was also different.”

The growth of fruit in their fields reflected a deeper level of change that had at last taken place in their lives. “I praised the Lord in my heart knowing that this could only be his doing,” Dr. Ernst said. Since the Chinhangane group’s transformation, 90 percent of the members have already made enough profit to pay back the initial costs to grow this seasons’ crops.

Why Telling the Right Story Makes Change POSSIBLE

“…the making of heroes together is rare. Those of us in the privileged world may subtly think those who suffer are incapable to help themselves or are, in fact, even responsible for their situation. Too often we focus on the wrong story, the story of victims rather than heroes, the narrative of impossibility rather than possibility. When we do, the real heroes are left uncelebrated and we remain unchanged.”

- Stephan Bauman in Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World

At one time, Veng was at risk of being trafficked. His farm didn’t always generate enough profit to support his family, so he’d travel to find odd jobs. While this helped him put food on the table, it left him vulnerable to the traps of human traffickers in Cambodia.

But his story doesn’t end there.

Because he was a local church leader, Veng was trained by World Relief in human trafficking prevention techniques. In the process, he realized his own vulnerability and quickly saw the danger pressing in on his entire community. Veng returned from the trainings and educated his neighbors about the risks of human traffickers. Today, because of his efforts, his church and village stand as a united force against this injustice.

Veng’s story is not only a story of vulnerability – it’s one of heroism and strength. And in Possible, World Relief CEO and President Stephan Bauman’s new book, we discover that it’s also the type of story that will change how we change the world.

When we talk about poverty, suffering and injustice – it matters what story we tell. We can choose between stories of pity or dignity, dependency or potential, need or capacity. We can zoom in on our neighbors’ suffering without seeing their strength. There is danger here, though: when we choose only to see weaknesses of our brothers and sisters, we reduce them to projects or problems to be solved. When poverty is seen through this lens, no one is empowered, honored or lifted up.

But when we see our neighbors through the eyes of their Creator – loved, dignified, and capable of creating beauty out of pain – we empower heroes and become heroes in the process. This is the heart behind our work at World Relief. This is the story we are committed to telling. Our lens is fixed on the difficult truths of injustice, but it also captures our defiant hope that tomorrow can be better.

In Possible, we’re challenged to rethink the stories we tell about poverty and the roles we take in responding to issues of injustice. Possible is a practical guide for learning how to stand with our neighbors on the frontlines of suffering and honor their stories of pain, hope and faith.

Possible, by World Relief CEO and President Stephan Bauman, releases today. (February 17).

3 Reasons to Join Us on the Journey Toward Easter

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Next week, after the Valentine's Day chocolates are gone, we’ll enter into a season known as Lent. For many Christians, this is a time of reflection, repentance and prayer. Leading up to Easter, Lent prepares us to remember what Jesus Christ did on this earth, especially on the cross, and then celebrate his powerful resurrection from death a few days later. We at World Relief will be taking a journey toward Easter during this Lent season and we want you to join us - here are 3 reasons why you should:

  1. It’s simple. To sign up, all you have to do is JOIN. Our staff has created devotionals, prayers and compiled scripture verses to send to your inbox daily. With one click of a key (or one tap of a finger), you can continue on the journey each and every day of Lent.
  2. It’s relevant. The Bible verses, devotionals and prayers shed light on the realities we face in this world – the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ll share stories of what happened in the Bible as well as what’s happening now and what we can learn from each.
  3. It’s empowering. Getting into God’s word daily is good for the soul. Not only is it one of the most powerful tools we have as Christians, but responding to what we read leads us to break bad habits and gain better ones – developing spiritual disciplines that help us year round! The scriptures, stories from our staff and prayers will help you understand the power we have in Christ to change the world…and ourselves for the better.

Families for Life: Reconciling Relationships in India

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“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”

– Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

It’s estimated that more than 2.1 million people in India live with HIV. Focusing on a key cause of HIV/AIDS – broken relationships – World Relief in India works with local churches to prevent the disease from spreading while also protecting and strengthening marriages. In India, pastors are challenging couples in their churches to be more than just two people who pass through life together, but to be partners in ministry to the most vulnerable in their communities.

Pastor Abraham in India
Pastor Abraham in India

“A family ministry – by a family to families is important and strategic”, said Pastor R.D. Abraham. He had taught the Families for Life course to a small group that included four married couples. He had prayed for a meeting like this to take place in his area for a long time when it finally began. During his training, Pastor Abraham was challenged to partner with his wife as he ministered to the people in his church through prayer, house visits, and sharing the gospel.

“We do not involve our wives as we should. The Lord said ‘when two of us agree together on the earth and pray, He is going to hear and answer our prayers’. But we ignore this. Two are better than one and we need to pray together and do the ministry as husband and wife together. Then we will see changes happening and fruits coming in,” Pastor Abraham said. He encourages husbands and wives to attend the meetings together, and those who come alone often decide to bring their spouse to the next meeting.

One couple traveled a long distance to attend the trainings, and now they are hoping to host similar meetings for pastors who live in his area. The lessons of the importance of teamwork in marriage are spreading through the church in India, and families are strengthened for the future.

Empower a Hero: Veng Bun in Cambodia

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Veng Bun is a church leader, father, farmer – and a hero. He lives just outside the bustling city of Phnom Penh, a source and destination city for trafficked men, women and children in Cambodia. People of all ages are bought and sold in this city, then exploited for sex, labor and domestic work. In the past, Veng was also at risk of being sold into slavery. He wasn’t aware that traffickers preyed on migrant workers like himself.

Veng in Cambodia
Veng in Cambodia

Veng grows crops on a small plot of land outside his house, but that hasn’t always provided enough income to support his four children. To make up the difference, he often traveled for jobs as a construction worker or wood-cutter. On these routes, workers become vulnerable to traffickers. This is how many become enslaved for years, working without wages or a chance to go home.

Then, two years ago, Veng attended a trafficking prevention program hosted by World Relief. There, he realized his community’s vulnerability, as well as his own. As he learned about the tactics of traffickers, Veng knew he couldn’t keep this life-saving information to himself. Since he was a church leader, he was perfectly positioned to protect his village. Then World Relief staff equipped him with the tools he needed to educate his neighbors about the risk factors for human trafficking and ways they could prevent it together.

Since then, he’s watched his community grow in trafficking awareness. By shedding light on an injustice that is shrouded in secrecy and conducted under the cover of darkness, Veng is leading a movement that spreads from his church into the greater community. Now, his church and village stand together as a united force against human trafficking. This is what makes Veng a hero.

You can stand with church leaders like Veng as they empower others to confront the deep injustices impacting the most vulnerable. Join the movement today at EmpowerAHero.org!

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

- Acts 20:28

Empower a Hero: Jocelyn in Rwanda

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“Before I joined the savings groups I was alone. I used to walk alone in the fields every day and I didn’t belong,” said Jocelyn, a business owner and mother from Rwanda. But since joining a Savings for Life group, Jocelyn has grown into a confident entrepreneur and member of a supportive community of women. Now, she goes to the market each day to sell her vegetables. The money she earns allows her to provide her eight children with medical insurance – and lend to other women who want to break free from poverty. In Rwanda, Savings for Life groups grow out of partnerships with the local church. Church leaders and volunteers create opportunities that help the most vulnerable develop economic stability in their families and communities. As pastors discover their church’s role in addressing the root causes of poverty, they are motivated to invite their most vulnerable neighbors into groups like Jocelyn’s.

Seventy-two percent of Rwanda’s 20,530 Savings for Life members are women, who are especially vulnerable to economic hardship. But in each meeting, women grow in independence and confidence as they accumulate savings and expand their financial knowledge. They encourage and celebrate one another with each new success.

Jocelyn’s first success came when she opened a produce shop with a loan from her savings group. Now that she can sustainably support her children, she is working to pay it back while lending money to others. “When we come together, we pray, then we open the box which has the money…and collect the social fund for loans,” Jocelyn said. The social fund protects the members from the shock of emergency costs. Small grants are given to cover unexpected medical procedures or home repairs.

Women in Savings for Life grow in deep friendship with one another. As they come out of isolation, they are welcomed into compassionate communities. “This savings group has united us because we pull together and solve problems as one group,” Jocelyn said. Today, Jocelyn is empowered to not only support her own family, but the economic growth and welfare of her entire community.

Check back with us throughout January to meet more heroes like Jocelyn. They’re leading their families and neighbors in the work of justice in some of the most vulnerable countries on earth. You can join the movement today at EmpowerAHero.org!

Why We Empower Heroes

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Madeline Holler is our Communications and Marketing Specialist. She studied International Studies at Baylor University and has volunteered with Christian organizations in Kenya, Uganda as well as locally in the US. As we focus on empowering heroes this month, we want to give you personal glimpses from our staff who are deeply invested in this life-giving movement. This is Madeline’s… I feel insignificant.

The other evening, I was sitting on my couch in my tiny apartment in a small neighborhood of a city of millions. I checked my phone to potentially find a glimpse of significance on social media or looked to my husband for a word of affirmation or two. Checking the news, I read about a man who was stabbed while defending innocent individuals…on a corner I had just walked by.

Why? How can this happen? Why is it that I have food on my table and clean water to drink and others don’t? Why do I have a comfortable life and others face danger every day? It pains me to think about those who are freezing to death in this brutal winter weather, for those who come home to an empty house, for those who have to defend themselves daily amidst war, hate and persecution.

I feel small. What could I possibly do to make this world better?

I see the significance in my work, but in the midst of so much negative news and circumstances, I sometimes struggle to understand the bigger picture – seeing the great things God has planned for me and others. I want to change the world, but I know I can’t do it all, nor was I charged with the call to change every heart and solve every problem.

At World Relief, I have the great opportunity to share stories of what others are doing and spread the word about how local churches around the world are being empowered to serve the most vulnerable. What a radically wonderful call that is.

It wasn’t until recently that I had that overwhelming feeling of understanding what it truly means to empower another human. Someone who has significant need and has devoted their life to changing this world - sustainably forming communities of individuals who spread the love of Christ by providing a meal, growing crops, or helping single mothers raise a family, just to name a few of the ways these heroes are impacting their communities. These individuals give all they have, even when it seems like they might not have much, and we get to journey alongside them and be transformed along the way ourselves.

Because of programs like Empower a Hero, I now understand transformation better. I want to empower heroes throughout the world. I want to be a hero in my community. And World Relief has made it simple for this to happen.

Something is stirring and I don’t want it to stop.

A movement of genuine empowerment is growing and WE can be a part of it.

Join us at empowerahero.org.

The Greatest Recovery Effort Yet

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Joseph Bataille serves as World Relief’s Haiti Country Director. Born in Port-au-Prince and raised in the US, he moved back to his native country after college to work with NGOs and churches as they assisted the vulnerable. The following is his personal account of the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti to its core 5 years ago today as well as the hope he sees in his homeland. I was in the bed of a truck when the ground started to shake. There was a magnitude 7 earthquake going on, yet I hardly noticed. This is partly because I was somewhat distant from the epicenter, but it is also because the “taptaps” that I commuted in to and from work always passed through numerous rough spots. Sometimes they cannot avoid the larger potholes strung along the road. I was used to bracing myself for a little bit of shaking. Aside from that, I had my headphones on and my eyes were closed as I was praying… for my workplace, for my church, for myself, and for the nation.

Then I noticed that the shaking lasted longer than I was accustomed to. I paused my prayer and I opened my eyes to see what was going on. That’s when I noticed that the taptap was actually stationary and I could see a cloud of dust all across the horizon. I had just been in an earthquake. My first reaction was to send a message home, but all communications had been cut off. All I could do is wait to see for myself how everyone fared.

I soon learned that everyone at home was fine. So was my workplace, so was my church, and so was I, but the nation, well, I was confident that God would help us to recover, and perhaps even build back better.

As I worked to lead my church’s relief effort, the days that followed passed like a blur. This was the first time that I had been in a place that was in a 24/7 state of emergency. Setting up emergency clinics, running logistics between several organizations on the ground, dispatching our local Scouts for rescue and clean up missions, organizing the transport of certain victims to a hospital on the Dominican frontier, translating for foreigners. I had my hands full at all times.

In those days I saw and heard of more tragedy than I cared to. Dealing with major injuries and amputations became normal, and I grew accustomed to the stench of cadavers hidden under piles of rubble that were yet to be removed. But perhaps the greatest tragedy that I witnessed was the sense of helplessness that I observed among many of my countrymen. I recall seeing several smaller camps with signs painted in broken English “We have no ting,” “We need help, plese!”

It was true. They needed help. They had lost everything. But the signs written on the walls and on everyone’s faces testified to the fact that we were looking mostly to the outside for help. We weren’t looking to each other. We weren’t looking to the local church. We weren’t looking toward the strength that God had deposited within our own hearts and minds.

While I can tell you many stories of local heroes, I was sad to see that of all of the people who could have given a hand to the relief effort by volunteering their time, their skills, or their knowledge, the vast majority of us “took our place” in tent camps, waiting for someone else to save them and their countrymen. It was almost as if we were used to this role-play from the many tragedies of the past. This, for me, was most tragic.

After the earthquake, World Relief responded rightly with food aid, temporary and permanent shelters, and with efforts to reach out to orphans and vulnerable children. We gave unnumbered thousands of people a much-needed boost back up onto their feet. After five years of recovery, most of the people that we have helped are now back to a sense of normalcy.

If you read the current news about the earthquake relief effort, most articles remind us of the vast amount of physical work that remains to be done. There are places where rubble still remains; there are tens of thousands still living in tent camps and sanitation remains an ongoing problem. However, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are still living with a spirit of helplessness and dependency. This is where World Relief has chosen to focus our efforts.

Tomorrow we will hand over the keys to twelve brand new houses to twelve families in our Orphan and Vulnerable Children program. This is the last official earthquake-related effort on our agenda. From here on out we will be building the hearts and the minds of the ones who God has called to transform this nation. By this, I am speaking of the Haitian people, a nation with thousands of heroes-in-waiting.

This year we will continue our efforts to help small farmers to build up their livelihoods in order to increase their self-sufficiency. We have also chosen to spearhead two new and exciting programs that will help to rebuild the foundations of two of the nation’s most fundamental institutions: the Church and the Family.

In some of World Relief’s other countries of intervention, the Church Empowerment Zone has proven to be effective in uniting churches across a region as they work together to accomplish God’s call to preach the gospel in word and in deed. Through this program, we hope to help churches across the nation to take their rightful place as agents of spiritual, social, cultural, and economic transformation. We want the Haitian community to look first to the church when they look for agents of sustainable development in the nation.

Finally, the family is the building block of a society, and it is the very first institution created by God. By transforming families, we can begin to touch all of the underlying issues in our society, changing the state and the inheritance of the next generation. This is what we hope to do through our Families for Life program. By working in collaboration with the thousands of churches in our network, by building on the successes of many of our former programs, and by working alongside a number of local partners, World Relief hopes to spark a nationwide movement that will transform the life of the Haitian family for the current and the next generation.

In 2010, I was in the back of a vehicle on the outskirts of the epicenter of a disaster. This year, with World Relief, I have the privilege of taking a front seat in the most important “recovery” effort yet: the recovery of Haitian dignity, hope and responsibility.

Haiti faces a great number of challenges, but we at World Relief are very hopeful. Not only do we see and affirm Haiti’s beauty, significance, and potential, but we have also witnessed and can testify that Haiti’s “light” is already here. The light that can dispel the darkness that covers this nation is in the Church of Jesus Christ, which is alive and well here.

The mission of World Relief in Haiti is to help the light of the church to shine brightly. We seek to support the Haitian church in such a way that its light takes its rightful place up high, for all to see, not hidden under the basket of our organization’s accomplishments. In this present darkness, the Church of Haiti will shine, and God will get the glory.

“…Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

Empowering Refugees for the Job Market

Empowering Refugees

Do you remember your first job? Maybe you delivered pizzas in high school, flipped burgers at McDonald’s or folded clothes at the Gap. Having no formal working skills yet, you probably fumbled your way through the interview process and the first days on the job. Now take that potentially awkward experience and imagine how difficult the process of getting a first job can be as a refugee in a new country. One of the most challenging tasks that refugees face is finding employment. With little knowledge of where to look or how to go about applying for jobs, the process can seem overwhelming. But these new neighbors are eager to be self-sustaining and look for opportunities to establish themselves and their families as valued members of their new community.

Partnering with a local church, World Relief Boise recently led a job search workshop, specifically designed for high school students looking to understand more about potential opportunities in their community. They learned about U.S. work culture, employer expectations, how to look for a job, identifying skills and employment history, and had practice interviews.

Volunteers, including a Human Resources Specialist and General Manager from a local restaurant, spent the entire day working alongside refugees. Reflecting on the success of the day, one of the volunteers observed that, “this was beneficial not only for the refugees in attendance, but [also] for our company’s managers (who conduct most of the interviews for us) and would love to get [more] involved in the process as well.”

With the help of these employment workshops, refugees all across the United States have been placed in jobs, growing in independence and transitioning to life in America. Empowering these new neighbors with education about employment in their community provides a foundation for success for everyone involved.

Do you want to help refugees prepare for the job market in your community? To learn more about life-giving opportunities like this, contact a World Relief office near you.

Empower a Hero: Mary in Malawi

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Mary Molo’s greatest joy comes from educating the children of her rural community. But she doesn’t keep this joy to herself. She invites as many others as possible to be a part of her influential work in Malawi. Through her community-based childcare center, Mary brings her neighbors together to serve vulnerable children, many of whom come from HIV-affected families. When people from across the village pool their unique gifts and talents, they can offer children a wider range of physical, emotional and spiritual care. “My advice to everyone is that let us get united towards supporting early childhood education,” Mary said.

The government of Malawi depends on communities to provide their own preschool services, which prepare children for primary and elementary school. When Mary founded her center 11 years ago, she had been widowed and raising her six children on her own. But there was still room in her heart. When the Swaswa Childcare Center opened, Mary soon had even more children to love.

Then six years ago, World Relief Malawi began supporting Mary’s initiative. Her capacity to serve and teach the children of her community grew even more.

World Relief trains church volunteers to become closely-linked supporters of childcare centers. Across Malawi, 34 churches are caring for the children in their communities. Volunteers use their own resources to serve vulnerable children by cultivating gardens outside the centers and using the crops to prepare nutritious meals. This is essential because many children in Malawi are malnourished. Healthy diets support the development of young children and prepare their growing minds for future educational success.

The volunteers have great capacity to love. As they provide emotional and social support, the children develop self-esteem and confidence. In one year, 7,998 children in Malawi were served by World Relief staff, volunteers, churches and leaders like Mary. At the Swaswa Childcare Center, she’s giving the most vulnerable children the strong start they need to become the future leaders of Malawi.

To empower heroes like Mary, join us at empowerahero.org.

Make a New Resolution for Justice – Empower a Hero!

He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth.

Isaiah 42:3-4

At World Relief, we believe that justice begins when we empower the most vulnerable to be the heroes of their own stories of transformation.

World Relief - Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 4, 2014
World Relief - Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 4, 2014

And while it’s not the lead role, you have an important part to play. You’re invited to stand with these heroes and share their stories of physical, spiritual and economic change. Alongside their local churches, these brave women and men are leading their neighbors to overcome some of the worst injustices.

This is why Empower a Hero works (and why you should join us!):

  1. It’s sustainable: When we give out a single meal or a pair of shoes, we only provide temporary fixes to deeper issues. Instead, we need to get at the roots of poverty to make lasting changes. Through Empower a Hero, staff and local churches equip volunteers with the tools and training to become better parents, health workers, farmers or pastors. Then they share their knowledge with others, creating exponential transformation that grows and spreads throughout communities.
  2. It dignifies the vulnerable: Acts of charity have the potential to rob dignity from the poor and imply that they don’t have the strength or ability to lead their own communities out of poverty. But justice sees the vulnerable through the eyes of their Creator: loved, dignified and capable of using their gifts to serve their families and communities.
  3. It’s a movement of the global church: When the church here stands with the church across the world, we can do the work of justice together. Through Empower a Hero, World Relief works with local pastors to awaken their congregations to their God-given role: to proclaim the good news of Jesus in both word and deed. Then, church members are ready to address the spiritual and physical needs of their neighbors.

Throughout January, we’ll introduce you to several heroes who are empowered by local churches to rise above injustice – and who are inviting others to stand with them for change. We pray their stories will transform your heart as well.

Ready to sign up? You can join the movement today at Empowerahero.org!

Celebration, Hope and Giving - Looking Back and Planning Forward

In just a few days, many people around the world will ring in the New Year. It’s a time of celebration, a time of hope and generosity. Here are a few of the things we’re celebrating at World Relief…

Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Though there is still much work to be done for stability and reconciliation to ensue in the DRC, people like Pastor Fabian are paving the way for sustainable peace. Having been kidnapped by rebels himself, he leads his congregation in word and deed as he cares for all people, no matter their tribe or ethnicity.

Pastor Fabian in Congo
Pastor Fabian in Congo

Friendship for refugees in the US.  Remember Michael andAwet? Both originally from Eritrea, they were forced to flee because of violence. Leaving everything familiar, they were resettled as refugees in the United States, where they met and became roommates. World Relief in DuPage-Aurora helped these new friends transition to their new reality in this new environment. Today, Michael and Awet are paying it forward by helping other refugees with transportation in their time of need.

Good local leadershipand forgiveness in Cambodia. Orn Raim is a leader in her community in Cambodia. Trained by World Relief in anti-trafficking and conflict resolution, she’s teaching others in her village what she has learned and seeing deep transformation – violence against women and children has reduced by 90% in her community.

We’ve also welcomed 7,948 refugees out of danger into loving communities in the United States. 147,083 women and men have been equipped to overcome material poverty through Savings for Life groups. 3,100 peacemakers have been trained to resolve conflict at the community level in war-torn areas. And more than 3,000 churches have been mobilized to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed.

Even though we’ve seen incredible progress, there’s much more to do and we can’t do it alone. Will you be a part of this work in 2015 and join us as we continue to celebrate with hope and generosity?

'Tis the Season of Giving

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Every day injustice pours out of news headlines, and we’re inundated with figures that tell a story of a broken world. These statistics of war, modern-day slavery, disease and persecution can seem overwhelming. And we wonder where to even begin to address these issues. But since the Church stands on the powerful hope of Jesus Christ, we don’t have to be overwhelmed. We can take a step back and realize that those overcoming these hardships are like us, broken people created by God with purpose and potential, and then we start to understand that we can unite with them to change the world.

In this, Pastor Andy Stanley reminds us that we have the ability to, “Do for one what we wish we could do for everyone.” Building relationships that last over time and difficulty, growing fruit of lasting transformation and doing justice together are all a part of this “doing for one” love that doesn’t wear out.

When the Deeper Life Bible Church in Malawi joined the fight against HIV/AIDS, the country had one of the highest HIV rates. But they didn’t aim to develop a cure. Instead, the ministry team made a plan based on their gifts: they gave their time and their resources to care for neighbors isolated by HIV. That’s where they met Consolata, a woman suffering from both the social and physical side-effects of the disease.

“No one was concerned with my life and my condition until the ministry team heard my story,” Consolata said.

Then, her neighbors began to serve through word and deed. They fed her. They clothed her. They visited her and included her in an HIV support group. Over time, Consolata’s physical condition improved – and she put her faith in Jesus Christ.

Today, as we commemorate World AIDS Day, we can report that Consolata has joined the same team that first cared so deeply for her. Now, she’ll be the one reaching out to others who are sick and neglected – passing on the gifts she received.

So, who is your “one”? And how will you begin to stand with them this Christmas season? For more information on how you can partner with World Relief and local churches throughout the world to empower the most vulnerable, visit worldrelief.org/donate.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.” - Galatians 6:9

Giving Thanks: From Rose in Kenya

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Kenya is a beautiful country known for its noteworthy economic growth, popular safaris and development in some urban areas. But in the midst of progress, this country of 38.8 million people also continues to experience several challenges, some of which include tensions between different groups of people and in too many extreme cases, aggressive violence. But counteracting this hostility is the local Church. Together with World Relief, local churches in Kenya have been empowering their neighbors with agricultural trainings and forming groups of farmers that look out for the best interests of the community. In an area that has seen too much violence, this unity creates much needed stability and security.

Rose is the treasurer of one such agricultural group in Kenya that meets weekly. They learn the latest farming practices, hone their skills in the field and are trained in good marketing techniques. This knowledge allows everyone in the group to not only grow crops that provide food and a sustainable income, but they’re also able to navigate the selling prices of goods, especially when corrupt businessmen try to take advantage.

“This program has brought me hope,” Rose said. “It has made me realize that I can do more and achieve more. I am grateful that I am a part of the World Relief Program.”

As we end our Giving Thanks series, let’s keep farmers like Rose in our prayers and thank God for the powerful reconciliation he’s bringing through people like her around the world.

To learn more about World Relief’s work, please visit worldrelief.org.

Strangers at Our Table - A True Celebration of Thanksgiving with Refugees

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Life changing moments happen at the dinner table. It was at the table where Jesus Christ shared his last supper with his disciples and demonstrated the transformational grace he was about to provide. It was at the table where some early European refugees and local Native Americans shared a peaceful meal, celebrating the harvest after a harsh season that initiated the first Thanksgiving in what is now the United States. And it’s at the dinner table where many of us will gather this Thursday to celebrate the holiday. But who are we inviting to the table? As we prepare to feast this week, we can’t help but think of the thousands of refugees who might be celebrating this holiday for the first time. But this won’t happen if we don’t open up our homes and welcome these strangers to our tables.

With the help of churches and volunteers, World Relief resettles more than 5,000 refugees each year. Everyone involved shows God’s love by giving their time, talent and treasure to make sure these strangers are welcome. After what is usually a long and grueling process of fleeing extreme hardships in their home nations, the comfort of knowing they have helpful friends in a completely new environment is an answer to prayer for many refugees.

Around the US, churches and volunteers are flinging their doors open to welcome refugees into their communities this Thanksgiving season. Travis Trice, World Relief’s Church Relations Coordinator in Jacksonville, Florida, knows the incredible impact of the work of the local Church: “Every holiday we see refugees’ lives enriched because of the outpouring of love from our local churches in North Florida.  Without them, we couldn’t do what we do.”

So who are you inviting to the table this week? Join us and churches around the country as we welcome the stranger to our table and have them leave as friends. For more information on how to do this, contact your local World Relief office by visiting http://worldrelief.org/us-offices.

Giving Thanks: Leam’s Story of Transformation in Cambodia

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Leam - Cambodia

“I would like to give thanks to God and my parentsfor allowing me to participate with the [children’s] group.” said Leam, an 11-year-old boy in Cambodia. Just over a year ago, Leam was suffering with an unknown illness. Because of his health problems, he had difficulty concentrating in school and was teased by his classmates because of his decreasing size. One day, a friend stepped in to help. This friend had attended a World Relief children’s group where he’d learned valuable hygiene and health lessons, including the common problem of parasites. He told Leam that parasites could be making him sick, and invited Leam to join the children’s group to learn for himself. But Leam was hesitant. He knew the group was run by Christians – church volunteers – and he didn’t want to be converted.

But curiosity got the best of Leam.  When the children’s group volunteers returned to Leam’s village to do an educational puppet show the very next day, Leam watched from a safe distance on the road as children ran towards the meeting area, laughing and cheering all the way.

“After seeing this sight, my heart began to fill with joy,” Leam said. “I was encouraged by a teacher who came to me while I was standing on the pebble road. He smiled at me right away and invited me to see the puppet show. He gently spoke to me. So the heart of hatred has gone from my mind.  I don’t discriminate against Christianity anymore and I decided to join with them. I could learn a lot about disease, morality and forgiveness.”

November 7 blog - Puppet show in Cambodia

One year later, the changes in Leam’s health and heart are still evident. He continues to use the health lessons he learned in the children’s group, like washing his hands, wearing shoes and sleeping under a mosquito net. Because of these changes, Leam is no longer sick and his family’s medical costs have decreased. “I realized that my health is much better than before, and my mental health is also improved. I am now a great student in my class,” said Leam.

This incredible transformation would not have happened without the support of our partners who have stood with us as we empower people like Leam.  So we, along with Leam, say thanks!

A Hero in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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The Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the second largest country in Africa, home to more than 70 million people and over 250 tribes and languages. It shares a border with eight countries, playing an essential role in the economic and social development across the continent. Its unique rainforest and river ecosystems, fertile grounds and high concentration of valuable raw minerals give it nearly unlimited potential. The Democratic Republic of Congo is also home to the largest conflict since World War II. Since 1996, over five million Congolese have died as a result. Others are vulnerable to rebel group activity, extreme poverty, prevalent diseases including malaria and HIV/AIDS, a high infant mortality rate and sexual violence against women and girls ages two to 60.

Where is God in a war-torn country like the DR Congo, where eight out of every ten women is a victim of rape? Psalm 72:14 gives us a promise of his faithfulness in regions like the DR Congo when it says, “He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (NIV).

Rutshuru is a town located in the North Kivu province of eastern DRC. Pastor Fabian is from the Pentecostal Church in Kelengera, Rutshuru territory. At 58 years old, he is the father of 7 children and a true hero in his community. He refused to flee when M23 soldiers advanced. He said he could not leave his congregation behind.

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(Image: Sean Sheridan)

On July 21, 2013, Fabian was taken by rebel soldiers from his home into the bush, without shoes, proper clothes or the ability to notify his wife. His feet were wounded on lava stone as he followed soldiers into the forest. After walking the entire night, he was brought before the Chief rebel and accused of espionage: he had hosted some Tutsi women who were passing into Rwanda, an act punishable by death according to rebel soldiers.

Fabian explained his role as a Pastor and a follower of Christ meant he had a commitment to all God’s children, regardless of their tribe. Fabian only asked that the soldiers not use machetes but a bullet to kill him, explaining that he was ready to be received in Heaven.

The soldiers held Fabian captive for ten days. Without a shirt, he suffered from the cold and insect bites that caused blood to cover his body. He was given two pieces of uncooked root to eat every day. He was repeatedly interrogated. Child soldiers guarded him by night, informing him that they were eagerly awaiting the command to shoot him. Fabian prayed aloud day and night, refusing to let rebels call his community for a ransom.

On July 31, a rebel leader told Fabian he could be free if he left his possessions, including his money. With only a cell phone and an ID card, Fabian was led blindfolded by child soldiers through the night. Fabian awoke the next morning weak, wounded and traumatized, but he was home. His family, community and church celebrated that God had delivered “Papa Fabien” from the “den of lions.”

Those with hope in Jesus Christ know how the battle ends, for Colossians 1:20 explains that through Jesus Christ all things shall be reconciled to God through the peace established for mankind on the cross. World Relief has been present in the DR Congo since 2002, responding to its Biblical mandate to empower the local Church to bring peace and restoration to torn communities through village peace committees.

In reality, World Relief has stepped into God’s pre-existing, ongoing restorative plan for the most vulnerable. And what an honor it is.

Empower a Hero like Pastor Fabian today.

(India) Pastor Daniel's Story

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This is Pastor Daniel Jayachandran, a local pastor in India. He is pictured with his wife, Amutha and their three children. In 2012, he attended World Relief’s Families for Life training and was so moved by the message of healthy marriages that he appointed a new pastor over his church and moved to an unreached area to plant new churches. He disciples other pastors and trains them using the Families for Life curriculum. These pastors often go on to reach thousands of congregation members and people living with HIV. We are proud to empower pastors like Daniel who go on to change their communities with the holistic Gospel of Jesus Christ.