Last year, East Africa was hit with the worst food crisis on record since 1945.
In 2008 my wife and I were in her childhood home of Kenya when violence after the country’s election broke out—resulting in the death of over 1,100 people and the displacement of thousands more. As we witnessed the devastation in the lives of our friends and the Kenyan people, we felt called to act. And in 2013, ahead of the next elections, we returned to Kenya to participate in peace and reconciliation workshops and a peace march with local pastors. In the Kibera slum of Nairobi, and in Molo, in the White Mountains—two places where some of the worst inter-tribal violence took place—we saw communities embrace forgiveness for acts committed against one another. We saw tears shed and commitments made to be followers of Jesus first, Kenyans second and tribal community leaders a distant third. The subsequent elections were largely peaceful and celebrated as an important step forward. And so it was with great sadness that we learned this year’s elections in July had once again been disputed—largely along tribal lines. Following the Kenyan Supreme Court ruling that the elections needed to be re-run, the country was plunged into an economic crisis as investors and others fled the resulting uncertainty.
Coincidentally, this weekend found us back in Nairobi just days after the re-run election, only to find the country more deeply divided and polarized than ever and facing an uneasy peace. The root causes of the turmoil are being hotly disputed amongst factions and there is little desire for compromise amongst the political elite. Meanwhile, the working poor—those living barely above the poverty line—are seeing their already fragile lives caught in the political cross fire, escalating rhetoric and disappearing livelihoods. Tales of violence and killing abound, though much of this will never surface in the mainstream media because what happens in and around the slums of Nairobi and the most rural parts of the country is only partially recorded.
A Challenging Question
So what, you might ask, has this to do with America?
On Sunday my wife and I listened to a Nairobi pastor preaching into the crisis, explaining the ways in which we as individuals can either calm or inflame a crisis. He laid out five characteristics that he believes make this current Kenyan crisis perhaps more profound and harder to resolve than previous ones. After all, Kenyans stared into the abyss in 2008. They are naturally peace-loving and optimistic people. Surely it could not descend into serious open conflict again?
As is often the case here in Africa the Pastor used a colorful metaphor to catch his congregation’s attention – and ours. He identified five characteristics that polarize and inflame crises, characteristics that each one of us can too easily embrace. And he called us to examine our own hearts, challenging us with this question:
“Are we promoting unity, as we are called to do by Christ and the apostle Paul, or are we so entrenched in our own beliefs and self righteousness that we are actually promoting division and fueling crisis?”
The 5 Characteristics
An attacking mouth — Insensitivity to the reasons others might hold a different view, and worse, an incapacity to understand how our positions and words might make them feel. By our words we don’t just express disagreement, we attack, discredit, inflame, and in so doing—polarize.
Blind eyes — Ignorance. An almost wilful blindness to the complexity of issues that often underlie people’s different views; a willingness to accept the narrative that corresponds to our own preference without examining facts that would be uncomfortable.
Cold shoulders — Indifference to the plight of others, so long as “I am all right”. The opposite of love, this Pastor suggested, is not hate—it is indifference. His argument? At least if you hate someone your emotions are engaged. It is worse to be relegated to the status of non-person, someone whose concerns and views are simply irrelevant to you and your view of the world.
Dead ears — Inflexibilty. An unwillingness to re-examine one’s own views, a preference for certainty, even when it is misplaced, over inquiry and uncertainty.
Empty Hands — Irresponsibility. Denial that one might have contributed in any way to the crisis, instead searching to always put the blame elsewhere, and to always find scapegoats.
Does the Shoe Fit?
In the most sophisticated nation in the world we might assume that none of this applies. But I must ask, can we truly open the newspaper each day, watch the news, or scroll through twitter, facebook or other social media and not recognize that perhaps “the shoe does fit us too?”
Disagreements in human relationships are inevitable, yet just as marriage disagreements do not have to lead to breakdown, neither do they have to in civil society.
But genuine reconciliation requires a heart that is open and a willingness to forgive and reconcile. Indeed, the ability to reconcile is one key sign of a maturing Christian faith.
And so I challenge us as we look to the deepening divisions in our own society. Do we have something to learn from this courageous Kenyan Pastor, challenging his followers to recognize their own part in the crisis and examine their own hearts, attitudes and behaviors?
“Little children let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”
(ABOVE PHOTO: Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch)
Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.
Elias Kamau is the World Relief Country Director for Kenya. In the video below, he discusses the World Relief approach to sustainable change.
We at World Relief often spend 2-3 years in a community before introducing technical programs, because we believe and recognize that transformation must happen from the inside-out. We know that in order for behaviors to change, belief and value change must first lead the way. And that that change must be rooted in local leaders, addressing local challenges, with local solutions.
Too often, Elias notes, the international community expects instant and easy solutions to massive challenges. But it is vital that we take our time in finding the right solutions, rooted in culturally appropriate lessons, in order to address causation, not just effect. We must come alongside communities, at the right times, with the right local voices, seeking not to solve, but to understand. We must understand the unique values that drive action. That spectrum of understanding, Elias says, is vital for success.
Single-focus, short-term interventions fail to ensure sustainability – in fact, they often breed dependency. Yet through a holistic, nuanced, roots-based approach, harmful beliefs and behaviors can be changed, driving sustainable life-giving results.
We believe the video above gives insight, and helps bring to life, how this kind of transformation happens. And at World Relief, we believe this approach is the only way to achieve lasting change in a community.
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.
By Christina Klinepeter
World Relief VP of Marketing
With millions of people on the brink of starvation, Africa is facing the largest food crisis since 1945. While antecedents to the people’s hunger vary based on their specific context and location, one of the contributing factors to the hunger in Kenya’s northern part of Turkana county has been the lack of significant rainfall over the last two years.
A Land of Beauty, Resilience and Need
Turkana county, where I recently visited, is a land of beauty and resilience. Its vast, low-profile landscape set amidst the arid and extremely hot climate of Kenya sits along the longitude of the Equator and is sparsely populated by a pastoralist and semi-nomadic people, living off the land and their animals. Colorful beads layered around the women’s necks, bodies wrapped in vibrant material, and tiny hats sitting atop the men’s heads, distinguish their ancient culture’s traditional fashion from the skinny jeans worn by hipsters in modern cities around the world.
World Relief, has been on the ground in Turkana since 2011 when the region experienced its last food shortage. At that time, childhood malnutrition had reached one-third of the population. Through mobilizing networks of churches and local leaders, as well as through coordinating supply chains, that number was cut in half.
Now, in spite of our collective efforts to prepare the region to endure famine-like conditions, that number has once again skyrocketed to over 40 percent of the population. The lack of sufficient rain has simply lasted too long.
Two Girls and Their Goat
In an emotionally gripping moment during our team’s recent visit to the area, we came across two young girls, no older than 10 years old, who wisely stopped on the side of the road in order to slaughter their family’s goat before it died and the meat became inedible. We watched as these sisters worked together and harvested the meat to take back to their family. I couldn’t help but think about my 10- and 11-year-old sons and how they and their peers’ average day in the U.S. compares with the stark reality of children in Turkana. And yet these girls exhibited their strength, wisdom and capacity while carving away the fur of the goat, carefully organizing the goat’s skin, bones and meat into resources to be used in their own right, nothing wasted. Unfortunately, more than 60 percent of the region’s goats, sheep and cattle have succumbed. And the people know that when they’re animals die because of the dire conditions, that they are next.
Most Recent Update
More recently Ric Hamic, Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor, visited Turkana North to help roll out World Relief’s disaster response project, as well as identify and register beneficiaries. He reported back, sharing a bittersweet story after meeting Mama Lobek and a compassionate, generous, hard-working woman in her thirties named Ngasike.
Mama Lobek and her surviving five children are victims of the food crisis in Turkana North as well, and like other pastoralist families in the area, the drought has killed their goats and completely destroyed their livelihood. Lobek’s husband abandoned them years ago when she experienced some illness, leaving her as a single mother to both provide and care for the family. And now with the current environmental conditions, Mama Lobek is starving.
Months ago, Lobek and her children walked for days from her home village to reach Nakitoekakumon. Even though she had no family there, she thought the family would be able to find food because it is a bigger village. The first day she arrived, she met Ngasike. Ngasike saw how the family was suffering and was immediately moved to help them.
Asked why she took in Lobek and her family, Ngasike replied “I had compassion for Lobek because I am a Christian and because I was an orphan myself. I have suffered before, and I know what it is like.”
But Ngasike is also a victim of the drought and has limited resources, herself. She runs a very small shop, selling some small goods to her neighbors. “When I sell something, I am able to buy food for Lobek.”
A mother of four children and supporting others in need, Ngasike worries that she won’t be able to provide for them all. “When I don’t sell anything, I am not able to purchase additional food because I am fearful my children will go hungry, too.”
At this stage of chronic undernourishment, Lobek is able to talk and to stand, but not much else. “It is only hunger that has made me sleep like this,” says Lobek. Still struggling to get food, she now weighs less than 84 pounds. Ngasike has committed to continue caring for Lobek until she recovers or until she dies, a likely outcome due to the food crisis in Turkana North. Of course, both women hope that doesn’t happen. “I will accept God’s will for me, but I hope to see my children grow up” says Lobek.
On the Horizon of Hope
Through our work on the ground and with our local church partners, both Lobek and Ngasike were recently enrolled in World Relief’s project for emergency food assistance. Soon they will start receiving a small monthly stipend, designed to help vulnerable families like Lobek’s and Ngasike’s decrease hunger in their households.
Also, some rain has fallen in Turkana North during the last few weeks. While it created temporary flooding because the ground was too dry to soak in the rapidly falling rain, thankfully the people in the region have experienced a bit of relief from the water. Still, the rain that came was not enough. With dry weather and food crisis conditions expected to remain through the rest of the year, limits to available resources will determine how long these families can be assisted. Ultimately, with increased funding, World Relief could expand and extend the food assistance project, and is committed to recovery activities toward the end of the crisis to help people re-establish their livelihoods and regain self-sufficiency.
Where do we go from here?
In the West, it can be easy to operate out of the busy pace, be consumed by social media, the news, the divide in our country, and forget that people across the world don’t have access to basics like food and water. Hearing first-hand accounts of the reality on the ground in places like Turkana North can be overwhelming and leave us to wonder if there is a way to make a dent in the enormous need from an ocean away. Admittedly, I have never felt the helpless ache of true hunger, wondering in desperation if I would ever eat again. I have never looked into the eyes of my wilting children as they wonder why I won’t feed them. This is the reality of the unearned privilege that most of us reading this were born into.
The question now becomes, what is our collective responsibility? What should our response be?
The first answer to that question must be to spread awareness. In this time of political division, soaring rhetoric and accusations of scandal, it’s difficult for any message to break through the noise. This is understandable, but unfortunate nonetheless. And still, we must find a way to spread awareness. That starts with each and every one of us.
Secondly, this can be an opportunity for all of us to lend a helping hand. World Relief is working around the clock to serve Turkana’s most vulnerable, but the truth is that humanitarian efforts in the region are vastly under-resourced. There is so much more that could be done to deliver lifesaving essentials to those who need it most if we only had the means to do so. I would encourage everyone reading this to consider giving, if and when you can.
Thirdly, we can put pressure on our leaders in Washington and at the UN to step up their response to the crisis. USAID-OFDA and the UN’s humanitarian operations are unequaled in size and scope of funding, and they are instrumental in resourcing and coordinating local NGOs with staff on the ground in affected areas. The more our collective attention is on Africa; the more they see news reports and articles about the crisis; the more people are talking on social media; the more likely they are to act with urgency.
It is important to stress that the people of Turkana North are highly self-sufficient people. They aren’t looking for handouts, yet many have come to the painful realization that if the rains continue to fail them, or if outside help doesn’t come quickly, they simply won’t make it. But because of World Relief’s long-term commitment to the people of Turkana North, our objective is to see them through to recovery.
To learn more about the food crisis in Kenya and Africa at large, visit this page, and consider donating to further our capacity to change the trajectory of children, individuals and families in Africa.
Christina Klinepeter is World Relief's VP of Marketing. Before joining World Relief in 2015, Christina worked at SOM, the global architecture, engineering and urban planning firm, spent time at CannonDesign, helped launch Hard Hat Hub and ran her own design consultancy.
“Just another field trip,” I said to myself before we set off for Turkana. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
It is hard to imagine a more isolated, inaccessible or hostile terrain than Turkana North, right up on the Kenyan border with Ethiopia, where World Relief is the only international NGOs to have a permanent presence in many parts of the region.
“The oven of the world—even the stones on the ground are blackened by the heat of the sun,” one pastor said to me as temperatures soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Travel between communities is difficult. Distances are considerable and there are no real roads and no cars, except for those belonging to aid workers or security forces.
The Turkana are pastoralists and semi-nomadic, living off their herds of goats, donkeys and even camel. But this way of life is now colliding with global warming and the human response to it. The land will no longer support the growing population and its flocks of goats, even in the best of times when the rains come as predicted twice a year.
And this is not the best of times.
The people of Turkana face devastation in the face of a drought that began almost a year ago when the long spring rains fell only sparsely. Each passing month without rain has made their lives more precarious. For 18 months, there has been almost no rain, so that now inexorably an impending crisis has graduated to an immediate and acute one.
As we drive from community to community we see dead and dying animals in many places; we see children suffering acute malnutrition; we hear stories of wells dried up and we hear prayers for rain. But even if the rains come now, it is too late. It will be months before the impact of the rains will return life to a sustainable level. More likely, the rains will simply make more places inaccessible, as flash floods in the dry riverbeds sweep away what few bridges there are and make the dry riverbeds impassable. And if the rains do not fall again later this spring, it is difficult to imagine the scale of suffering we will see unless the international community steps in.
This is not the first time the people of Turkana have faced such a crisis. Since the last drought in 2011, World Relief has been working with both U.S. and local church partners to build community resilience by developing more year round water supply through drilling wells and building sand dams to save and store water, as well as by introducing desert farming techniques so that the Turkana can grow vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, onions and watermelon to improve nutrition and make the population less dependent on their livestock—their animals who are the first to suffer and die when a drought hits. And there has been visible progress in many places, simply not enough and not in enough places to withstand this climatic onslaught in a region that too easily could be seen as “God-forsaken.”
But God is here.
The poverty and rigors of life in Turkana North are hard to imagine, but there is resilience and pride too. The children are the same as children everywhere—curious and ready to smile and engage at the first sign of interest. And they love to sing and dance. It is a reminder that we are all made in God’s image and all precious to Him.
The task ahead seems gargantuan, but the the Church is present, growing and bringing hope to these people. There are leaders in local churches in Turkana whose desire to bear witness to Jesus and to change the lives of their people—both spiritually and physically—is palpable. Those whose receptivity to learning is impressive and who welcome the expertise of World Relief and our partners on the ground.
As one partner put it: “There is a future. And although the future is uncertain, one thing is certain—these people have been touched by the love of Christ.”
For much of the last year, a food crisis of epic proportions has been growing across much of the African continent—in places like Malawi, Mozambique, Burundi and Sudan as well as Kenya. Tens of millions are at risk. But with so many crises in the world today and more turmoil in the world order we have seen since the end of the Cold War, the food crisis in Africa has largely gone unreported.
My prayer is that the vivid images we captured in Turkana last week will capture the hearts of God’s people everywhere and that we will rise up in compassion not just for the people of Turkana, but all the starving people across Africa.
Donate to provide immediate food assistance and nutrition outreach to the people of Turkana.
Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.
“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”
Women make up nearly half of the world’s population, yet in too many cases sexual violence is used as a weapon of war, the HIV/AIDS rate among women is far too high and vulnerable women are often prey to human traffickers.
But mothers and daughters are an integral part of society who not only deserve to be treated well, but also deserve a chance to empower others they already influence in their communities. Empowering women means families are cared for, good nutrition is provided, the growth of economies and reconciliation happens.
As the world celebrates International Women’s Day this weekend, we want to focus on some of the women we know who #MakeItHappen in their communities – normal, everyday women who have been empowered to change the world.
Heroes like Yalala in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) who defy the odds to overcome violence and bring healing to her war-torn country.
Or Emily in Kenya who serves as a community health worker ready to care for her neighbors living with HIV and educate her friends about preventing the disease.
And Orn Raim in Cambodia who’s leading her community against domestic violence and human trafficking.
These women are turning the tide of history as they use their skills, experiences and passions to influence their communities for good. They #MakeItHappen by simply and sacrificially loving their neighbors. These are the heroes of this generation who are making a better future.
Let’s honor these women.
Let’s celebrate them.
Marriage. A sacred bond between a man and a woman. A bringing together of two people who choose to love one another. A divinely instituted covenant. These definitions give a pleasant picture of what marriage can be. But as we all know, relationships of any kind have their challenges. And most married couples will tell you that while marriage can be wonderful, the snapshots of this sacred bond aren’t always picture-perfect.
Finances are one of the main culprits in this strain on relationships, interrupting an otherwise beautiful picture of love. Whether it’s different opinions about how to spend money, lack of finances or a lack of good economic opportunity in the city where you live, couples throughout the world deal with some of these issues on a regular basis.
Beatrice and Joseph are one such couple who know all too well how much finances can impact a marriage. A young Kenyan couple in their 20’s, they have 3 children and live in a country where nearly half of the population live on less than $1.25 a day. Dealing with some of the every-day challenges married couples around the world face, living in an area where the economic opportunities are minimal can exacerbate an already sensitive situation.
After major disagreements about finances that nearly ruined their marriage, Beatrice and Joseph were at a breaking point. But then, hope came in the form of a savings group.
Joining World Relief’s Savings for Life groups, they were able to pool together what little they had with others in their community and rebuild their family. Savings and small loans from the group allowed Joseph and Beatrice to expand their business and pay for expensive healthcare costs. To complete this picture of unity, Beatrice and Joseph’s marriage became stronger, as the economic burden lifted and the savings groups provided good encouragement and accountability.
While Savings for Life groups economically empower the vulnerable, they offer so much more relationally, spiritually and emotionally. Beatrice is grateful not just for the economic opportunities that come with being a part of a savings group like this, but also for the renewed strength of her marriage and family it’s provided, reaching far beyond her pocketbook.
This month, we’re discovering what Savings for Life means to women and men in some of the most vulnerable places on earth. Check back with us each week to hear their stories of hope – and stand with us today as we pursue lasting change through economic development.
By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
- Proverbs 24:3-4
Savings is more than just money – it’s freedom, empowerment, and community.
And for Lana Sitole, a Kenyan mother of ten, Savings for Life also marks the start of changed lives.
Savings for Life groups open doors of economic opportunity that are too often closed to the most vulnerable, especially women living in rural areas. At weekly meetings, groups of neighbors pool their existing resources – a few dollars at a time – into a group fund. Then they build their savings, broker small loans and study God’s word in community.
In every corner of the world today, savings and loan groups aren’t hard to find – there are an estimated 250,000 savings groups throughout sub-Saharan Africa alone! Lana has tried out several different groups near her home, but she believes Savings for Life stands out from the rest.
At Savings for Life, all of the money exchanged comes only from the pockets of the group members – not outside lenders. To Lana, this is a key difference. It means that the members themselves are casting the vision for transformation in their communities.
Savings for Life members borrow small sums from their group to start businesses or invest in their farms – then use the profit to send their children to school or regularly provide them with protein-rich food. Some groups even set aside some of their savings to care for widows, orphans and neighbors who are sick in their communities.
When Lana borrowed a loan from her neighbors to build a new house, her family changed in the process too. As she moved from a house made of mud and grass into a strong, iron-walled home, Lana saw a new side of her husband. Although she typically earns her own money from selling milk or jewelry, he now looks forward to lending to her. He trusts that she’ll bring the money back from the savings group with added interest. Other men in the community are so impressed by their wives’ financial wisdom that they’re joining savings groups of their own!
One shilling, one home, one family at a time, change – powered by community members – is sweeping through Lana’s village. It starts at Savings for Life.
This month, we’re discovering what Savings for Life means to women and men in some of the most vulnerable places on earth. Check back with us to hear their stories of hope – and stand with us today as we pursue lasting change through economic development.
Emily Seteyio is dedicated to reducing the high infant mortality rate in Kenya, and she’s going the distance to make it happen. She used to regularly walk six miles to protect just one baby from HIV. More than 1.6 million Kenyans are living with HIV, but pregnant women and their babies are especially vulnerable to the disease. Prenatal care and hospital births reduce the chances of mother-to-child transmission. But neither of those are common practice for women living in remote areas.
Because doctors and nurses are out of reach, rural women often turn to traditional birth attendants to assist them during labor. Unfortunately, many attendants don’t have the proper equipment or training to prevent HIV transmission between the mothers and infants under their care.
So Emily stands with the vulnerable women of Kajiado, Kenya. She empowers them with the resources they need to have safe deliveries and healthy babies – even when the mothers are HIV positive. Since 2012, she’s served as a community health worker after training from World Relief Kenya. Emily volunteered for the role because she was concerned about the mothers in remote areas who were without access to quality care.
Emily visits mothers in their homes and counsels them about the benefits of giving birth in health centers. “In the hospital, there are gloves and equipment that prevent the spread of HIV from the health caregivers to the mother and child,” Emily said.
Pastors often serve as vital links between community health workers and vulnerable mothers. Through collaboration with a local pastor, Emily was able to make sure one high-risk woman had transportation to the health facility for the birth.
But during her pregnancy, Emily would regularly walk six miles from the health facility to the woman’s remote village. Since she was HIV positive, Emily encouraged her to give birth in a health center so her baby could live free from the virus.
Eventually, the woman delivered a healthy baby boy in the health facility, despite her high-risk pregnancy. This wouldn’t have been possible without Emily’s dedication – and the support of the local church.
Check back each week in January to meet more heroes like Emily – women and men standing for justice in the most vulnerable places around the world. Join the movement at EmpowerAHero.org today!
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.
By Allison SchroederWait a minute...Isn't this the Ten for Congo trip? Why Kenya?
One of the hardest things about being an advocate for a particular place -- especially a place as complex as the Democratic Republic of Congo -- is that you have to take into consideration difficult things like international relations, globalization, and regional politics. It is never an easy task to stand for the vulnerable. God calls us to difficult places with complicated contexts.
Part of what has drawn Lynne and the Ten for Congo team to spend a day in Kenya is an understanding that Kenya is a part of Congo's context.
Let me explain what the team will be doing in Kenya because it's quite exciting on its own. They're taking advantage of the opportunity to learn from and speak into efforts to end and prevent inter-ethnic violence in Kenya, especially around elections. The team will be participating in a World Relief-organized peace summit with about 150 Kenyans -- among them church leaders, business owners, and a group of young adult leaders. The event offers a chance to stand for peace -- not only peace in a single country, but peace in the entire region.
Following Kenya’s last presidential elections held in December of 2007, the two main political parties heavily contested the results of the poll. The disagreement over the election's outcome, among other complex factors, contributed to an outbreak of violence across Kenya, primarily affecting the poorest parts of Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, Kisumu, and other areas of the Rift Valley and Nyanza Provinces. Inter-ethnic violence killed more than 1,200 people and displaced about 600,000. The next presidential election will take place in early 2013, and there is much concern that there will be more inter-ethnic violence; in fact, since independence from Britain in 1963, there has never been a peaceful transition of power in this country.
The Ten for Congo team recognizes there are several reasons to participate in the Peace Summit tomorrow. For one thing, as a part of the body of Christ, it is incumbent upon us to stand together for the sake of peace. World Relief's Director of Spiritual Formation, John Gichinga, who is Kenyan and resides in Kenya, says, "Tragically, unless the church learns new skills, based on God’s word, the cycle of violence may remain with us." It is the WHOLE church that needs to learn new skills. The Kenyan church, the Congolese church, the North American church. All of us.
Not only is it the right thing to do for the church to stand together as one body. It's also a good strategy for supporting Congo. How? In a nutshell, what happens in Kenya affects the entire region. If we want peace in Congo, peace in Kenya is critical. A report from the World Policy Institute explains that Kenya is home to numerous refugees, is a regional hub for the United Nations, and is an important economic actor in East Africa. If it heads toward war and disintegration, it will upset the entire region's efforts to find stability and peace. Continued violent conflict in Kenya will likely lead to accelerated capital flight, poverty, illegal arms trafficking, and more.
So it’s complicated. There are no quick fixes. But I am reminded of a few verses in Lamentations that offer hope:
"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:21-23, NIV translation)
We are not consumed by the complexities and the heartaches of war-torn countries! We stand on Christ the Rock. We are called by (and we call on!) the Christ who teaches a transformational and revolutionary way of life in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”(Matthew 5:9, NIV translation).
For all of these reasons, Lynne and the whole team are “stopping by” Congo’s neighbor Kenya. May they (and all of us who join the team in spirit) remember and honor the Prince of Peace on this and all parts of the journey.
Allison Schroeder is World Relief’s Church Partnership Director based in Baltimore, Maryland.
By Gabe LaMonica, CNN (CNN)–World Relief, a Christian evangelical aid organization, is collaborating with Kenyan churches and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stem the tide of acute malnutrition across the northern region of Kenya called Turkana.
Famine today "is rarely mentioned anymore," said Don Golden, a senior vice president for World Relief based out of Baltimore. It is a word reserved strictly for Somalia, he said.
Yesterday was a difficult day to process for our team. We saw two villages that spoke of their complete lack of resources and livelihoods, and their almost total reliance on scant relief food and assistance from a few non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the distant Kenyan government. This vulnerable and disempowering situation has left many Turkana people wondering what the future holds for their children and their way of life. Will they be able to return to the pastoral life that they have lead for generations now? Is a nomadic, pastoral life sustainable or possible in today’s world of state borders, urban living, land titles, and chronic drought?
These are difficult questions that need to be asked for the long-term food sustainability of this arid region. However, to see and be a part of this future, first, the people of Turkana need food and clean drinking water. This is crucial.
Today, in Lokitaung in north Turkana, we hope to see the food distribution that was supposed to have happened yesterday. Maize and beans, brought over difficult roads and long distances, should help feed families for a few weeks, but as many share food with their extended families and neighbors, this food will be depleted well before the next food distribution.
This morning, Don Golden – World Relief’s SVP of Marketing and Church Engagement – is meeting with local pastors to hear and discuss the challenges that their congregations and communities are struggling through. Pray that as we meet these leaders and community members we can better understand not only the current urgency of their hunger and vulnerability, but also how World Relief and the Church can begin to stand for and serve the immediate and long-term needs of Turkana.
In many ways, this morning saw the pinnacle of our media trip journey to Turkana. After days of traveling, we reached the northern district of Lokitaung – any farther north and we would be in Ethiopia. In this remote area, the need is great, but today the most immediate of these needs is acute hunger. 3 surrounding villages – some as far as 4 miles away – walked to a church in Lokitaung to receive maize, beans, and cooking oil. Local pastors and community leaders played an integral part in not only the selection of the most vulnerable in their communities but also the logistics and physical hand-to-hand action of giving out vital food supplies. To accurately describe the mixture of emotions and tensions felt throughout the shuffling, patient lines of men and women is impossible. Often it seemed that murmurs of anticipation to receive food quickly turned to cries of anxiety as some feared they would get nothing and continue in hunger.
While we know that hundreds and thousands more in northern Kenya need food assistance, today we must look to Lokitaung for hope and inspiration. Today in Lokitaung, Turkana hundreds received food for their families.
Much of today was spent in the car, bouncing and jostling our way across the vast and sometimes desolate plains of rocks and dust in northern Turkana. Our intention was to detour to a small village, meet with the community there and then head to Lokitaung where World Relief’s northern Turkana food distribution operations will be based. However, as things do, our plans were significantly slowed down by rocky, rough terrain, mechanical problems, a flat tire and, oddly, a curtain of rain that turned the road into a slipper river. In our car, Pastor David, a man of great heart and vision, guided not only our path, but also gave us great insight into the way of life the Turkana people live. He himself is a Turkana, the group of people for which this northern Kenya region is named after. For generations now, the Turkana have been nomadic herders of cows, goats and camels. Their lives were lived on the move to find pasture and water for their herds. As we continued to speak with Pastor David, it became clear that the pastoral livelihoods of the Turkana people is under serious threat not only from shrinking natural resources but also from a complete shift in the structure of their community.
We inquired about the temporary homes clustered into villages that we saw periodically as we traveled. Pastor David informed us that congregating in villages is in fact not the norm for the people of Turkana. “A Turkana in a village is a Turkana that has no livestock to tend and therefore has given up”.
We stopped at one village and spoke with a group of men, women and children that congregated underneath a large acacia tree. An elderly woman stood and with great fervor told us of the hunger that grips their village. Pointing to the other side of the cluster of huts, she told us that the fresh graves were there, we could see them if we wanted. Later that evening on our way back though that village we saw the new piles of earth that lined the road – 8 people have died in the last month. However, many are reluctant to speak up over these deaths, as they fear the government will further neglect their food assistance needs.
We continued driving north until our car could go no further. We were almost to the border of Ethiopia, with Southern Sudan not too far to the west. “Here”, Pastor David informed us, “Is the poorest village in Turkana”. This bleak title, however, seemed to be a descriptor of circumstances rather than spirit as they greeted us with dancing and song. Their stories were similar to others in Turkana: loss of livestock to drought or raiders, lack of clean drinking water, limited assistance by aid and development organizations and marginalization from Kenyan society. The youngest children, born in the last few months of drought, and older adults that often pass their food on to the younger children showed the most visible signs of malnutrition.
This morning we return to our dusty vehicle for another day of driving. But today is different, because first of all we are here. We are in Turkana, and we are meeting and listening to the stories and realities of the families and communities that are most affected by this food crisis. We are going to Lokitaung, which is another full day’s drive towards the northern edge of Turkana near the Ethiopian border. This area is extremely remote and only faintly connected by a rough road to Lodwar, 10 hours away by car. It is in part because of this difficult accessibility that the World Food Program (WFP) identified this area and requested that World Relief focus one of its food assistance programs here.
The road from Kitale to Lodwar – World Relief’s hub of operations in Turkana – is bone-jarring. The distance is around 180 miles in total, which could be a manageable 3 hour drive on any tarmac road, but on this road riddled with potholes and mostly devoid of any smooth surfaces, the journey was a hot and dusty 8 hours. Our team has begun to understand one of the many logistical difficulties of getting food assistance to such a remote and poorly connected region. Not far from the border of Turkana region, we encountered an overturned truck that lost control around a sharp curve in the road and rolled down into a steep ravine. The truck looked like a twisted and battered box of metal, but we were told that miraculously the driver survived. A closer look at the surrounding wreckage revealed that this truck carried a full load of maize and beans to communities in Turkana that desperately needed food. And in hopes that some food could be salvaged, workers under the watchful eye of a policeman, painstakingly gathered maize and beans scattered across the banks of the ravine. This food is precious; it could not be wasted.
We are finally in Lodwar, Turkana. The land, in sharp contrast to the rain-fed countryside only 180 miles south, is rocky, stark and dry. Every riverbed we drove through was a sea of parched sand. We saw a few locations with a pump-well or perhaps a small muddy pool of leftover rain water, and around these water sources we saw families with their livestock. There homes, domes of twisted sticks and straw, were temporary – just suitable enough till the water dried up and they are forced to move on. This has been the pattern for hundreds of years for many in Turkana. But with chronic drought, land disputes that inhibit nomadic movement and marginalization from mainstream Kenya society the complexity of “food security” seems daunting and will require a much more integral and long-term intervention than acute food assistance. Yet, as thousands face starvation; this is where we must start.
We will be in Turkana today! After traveling for almost 3 days now, we will finally arrive at our intended destination. It’s hard to know what to expect, when Turkana has occupied too little of the world’s attention when it comes to the unfolding food crisis in East Africa. Images of Somali refugees in the overcrowded Dadaab camp on the eastern Kenya-Somalia border are the icon of this crisis. Yet, in Turkana, acute malnutrition in children under 5 is over 30%, which classifies it well within the definition of a “crisis”.
This largely undocumented crisis is why the World Relief media team is now headed to northern Kenya. The full, complex picture of Turkana, its people and current food crisis will be hard to fully capture, but we can begin to now. We can also listen to the stories of those not yet heard, and pass them along to you, in hopes that you will pray with World Relief and the Kenyan Church as we move to be the hands and feet of Christ in Turkana.