Moving Beyond The Compassion Moment

Moving Beyond The Compassion Moment

Every year on August 19th, World Humanitarian Day, the United Nations shines a spotlight on the millions of civilians around the world whose lives have been caught up in conflict, honoring also those courageous men and women who risk their lives to provide humanitarian aid and protection.

The Baby in the Manger and at the Border: What Paula White Gets Wrong

The Baby in the Manger and at the Border: What Paula White Gets Wrong

My pre-school-aged daughter made a compelling observation as she played with our nativity set a few years ago, rehearsing the Christmas story as it appears in her children’s storybook Bible. “Dad,” she observed, her eyes fixed on the collection of wooden shepherds, animals, “wise men,” and the holy family of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus, “We’re missing a figurine. We don’t have the ‘mean king.’”

How Will the Lens of History Judge Us?

How Will the Lens of History Judge Us?

This Wednesday is World Refugee Day. For many, if not most of us, it will pass by largely unnoticed, especially in the midst of such turbulent times. We are in the middle of a global refugee crisis of unparalleled scale, yet often, it seems we have become accustomed to the pictures and stories of suffering and immune to the pain. Perhaps this is understandable.

Will America Stand Again With the World’s Refugees?

Will America Stand Again With the World’s Refugees?

Today marks the one year anniversary of the refugee travel ban. Hashim, Mariam and their children (pictured) arrived before the ban took effect. 

Enough is Enough

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Writing in 1921 after the first World War, English poet WB Yeats wrote a poem entitled “The Second Coming,“ in which he wrote:

Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats expresses a sense of the social crisis of that time and as I reflected on my thoughts and emotions on our own divisions in America today, on the immigration debates and the ease with which we descend into ugly stereotyping of whole groups of people, I could not but feel a sense of things falling apart in this nation, so richly blessed, to which I brought my own family in 2001. I could not but reflect with sadness on the ugly racist undertones in the discussion over immigration and refugees—especially on the weekend when we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and the progress I used to believe we had made towards racial reconciliation.

As leader of a Christian organization serving the most vulnerable in Haiti and Africa, as well as supporting refugees and immigrants seeking refuge from violence, disaster and oppression, how should I react to the demeaning of whole groups of people? How do I stay true to the convictions of my faith and the call to love one another in a debate that at times seems devoid of hope and nobility, a debate that seems to embrace a dystopian view of the world we live in, a debate that seems to simply divide the world into winners and losers, into my people and ‘other’ people?

As a Christian, I believe that all humans are made in the image of God. And that we are all called to care for the vulnerable and to welcome the stranger. The bible is replete with such stories as was the teaching and example of Jesus.

I have been fortunate to come alongside communities and families in some of the hardest places in the world, to talk with men, women and children who desire the same things we desire, to talk with parents and grandparents who, despite grinding poverty and lack of opportunity, often demonstrate compassion and care for one another that puts me to shame. I have walked the dusty roads of towns and villages in the nations we too easily look down upon from our perch of privilege. I have sat in the homes of people and have heard their stories of suffering, seen their resilience and seen how they can find joy and be thankful to God even in the most challenging circumstances. They have taught me what it is to love, what it is to have faith and what it is to have hope in things as yet unseen. They have taught me humility and blessed me with their friendship.  

To have these people, and in fact their entire nations reduced to a coarse and derogatory narrative grieves and offends me.

Both Old and New Testament Scripture is clear. Our God desires peace and joy for all his people, irrespective of nation, race or tribe. The vision in Revelation 7, the last book of the Bible, is unambiguous: “After that I looked and behold, a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues standing before the throne and before the Lamb clothed in white robes with palm branches in hand crying out with a loud voice, “‘Salvation belongs to to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’”

Unfortunately our politics today appear to promote partisan divisions rather than promoting civility, understanding and reconciliation amongst people.

At World Relief, we respect that many of the issues where we have expert knowledge are complex and that it is possible for people of good conscience to disagree and so we have always sought to elevate not coarsen the debate—to be grounded in both conviction and civility. We have been careful not to further division in our response to policies we believe are contrary to the teaching of Jesus or simply ill–informed.

But when is enough enough? When do we reach a tipping point that requires a different response?

The teaching of Jesus is clear. Each one of us must consider this as a question of personal conscience rather than from the perspective of tribal loyalty or group identity.

And as we do so, we would do well to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we commemorate on Monday.

All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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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.

Love Never Fails

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Sometimes it feels as though the world is on fire.

Each day of 2017 brought a new story that reminded us that we live in a world seemingly settled on top of tinder, full of angry people running around with match in hand. We see the flames of war, terrorism, sexual violence, racism and continued violence against the refugee and immigrant raging around us and growing in intensity.

It could be easy to lose heart, to curl into a fetal position, to pull the covers over our heads and opt out of the whole mess.

Except for this promise: “Love never fails.”

We believe this promise is true because love is the very nature of God and God is eternal. We believe it is true because Jesus lived it and died expressing it. We believe it is true because the resurrection vindicated love and releases it with power in the lives of those who know him. And we believe it because we see it every day in virtually every corner of the world. It is His promise that motivates us to charge into the world with hope, courage and even a fierce determination to fight against the flames.

For nearly seventy-five years and in over 110 Countries we have seen love conquer hatred, evil and indifference. We see this work first in our own lives as God changes our hearts. And then, with your help, we extend this love to literally millions of people around the world.

We see love conquer and endure:

  • In the faces of those from U.S. Churches and communities who step out of their comfort zones to welcome a newly arrived refugee family who have known only trauma, displacement and the deep pain of being unwanted.

  • Expressed through the work of churches throughout the world who bring flourishing where there was despair, and peace where violence ruled.

  • In the heroic work of our staff in the Middle East seeking to meet the needs of the refugee family who will likely never return home, whose children have no school and whose parent(s) have no work, no peace and no hope.

  • In the aftermath of natural and manmade disasters where a blanket, hygiene kit and basic food and water mean survival—and hope.

  • In places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, where love breaks through the pain and isolation caused by sexual and gender based violence, where rape is commonplace and the dignity of women and female children is denied.

Love never fails because it is rooted in the nature of God, it is empowered by the Spirit of God and it is alive in the people of God. People like you who have heard the call to run towards the flames engulfing our world when most, understandably, want to run away.

Love brings courage, resolve and lavish generosity of spirit. This year, we have been humbled once again to be an extension of your love and generosity to the world. Together, we have kept the promise alive: Love Never Fails!

Will you join us once again in 2018 as we extend your love to places and people longing for a tangible expression of the love of God?
 


Through the end of the year, we'll be featuring stories of individuals and communities putting Love in Action—bringing hope to the hurting and shining light in the darkest hours.

Learn more and put your Love in Action today.


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Scott Arbeiter’s proven marketplace skills, pastoral experience, passion for mission and history with World Relief uniquely equip him for his role as President of World Relief. Scott was a partner at Arthur Andersen serving in a variety of functions over his seventeen-year marketplace career. In 2001, Scott resigned from the partnership to serve at Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee, where he became Lead Pastor. Scott has also served on World Relief’s Board of Directors for nearly a decade, including three years as Chairman. After finishing his term on the board in 2015 Scott became a consultant and advisor to World Relief Leadership. Scott has been married to Jewel for thirty-three years and together they have raised three daughters, Kelsey, Jacquelyn, and Karis, all of whom have grown to love and serve Christ in their own remarkable ways.

Love Endures All Things

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"You have to keep holding on to HOPE to keep holding on.
You having to keep finding your HOPE when you’ve lost it, or you lose your way.
You have to breathe HOPE to keep your lungs and your dreams from collapsing.
You have to let HOPE always carry you or fears will carry you away.
And these days? The world needs less fear mongers and more HOPE Mongers.
Fear says our only choices are either fight, flight, or freeze, but HOPE says we always have the choice of optimism, options, and optimizing all things for good.
HOPE mongers knows there will always be obstacles in the way, but there is always still a way.
HOPE mongers believe The Way forward is always greater than any obstacles in the way.
HOPE mongers know there is always a way to get from here to there."


Ann Voskamp


Love in 2017

As I read these words by Ann Voskamp over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the unprecedented year we’ve had at World Relief, and the love, hope and tenacity of our staff. I reflected on what we had been through together as an organization—as colleagues and as friends, often in the midst of hardship and uncertainty. I reflected on this love that has endured all things. And I was reminded of the deep pride and gratitude I have for our staff and volunteers around the world.

Love that "endures all things" is love that hopes in the face of circumstances that often seem dark. In the last year in particular we have faced a world which in many ways seems to have lost its bearings, but we have placed our faith in the Lord and we continue the work in the face of adversity, overwhelming challenges, and even hatred and physical danger.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
— Hebrews 11:1

A Defiant ‘Nevertheless’

We do this following the example of the Apostle Paul.  When Paul writes his letter to the church at Philippi encouraging them to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), he is writing from a dark cold prison cell, where painful chains, cramped quarters and the sickening stench from poor sanitation made sleeping impossible and waking hours miserable. And yet his focus is not this misery but his joy in seeing the gospel flourish. In fact, the words “joy” or “rejoice” are used 16 times in Philippians as Paul calls us, his brothers and sisters, to serve selflessly.

Of course the very same Person who inspired Paul to write those words and to overflow with love and joy in the midst of hell on earth is the risen Jesus. And if you believe in Him and are one of His own, He is with you to give you the very same supernatural, invincible, unconquerable and undefeatable joy and strength that Paul had.

Few of us will likely be called to such sacrifice. Nevertheless, this year across the globe our staff have endured imprisonment, been separated from their families and confronted famine, disease and suffering on a scale we have not seen in many years. At times they have even risked their own lives to serve the most vulnerable. Here in the U.S. in the wake of cutbacks in refugee resettlement, our staff have seen their friends laid off due to office closures, received hate mail and endured threats to their families and homes. As an organization, we have been the target of a constant barrage of vitriol from those who believe that security and compassion cannot co-exist, and that our security is more important than loving our neighbor or welcoming the stranger.  

And yet, we endure all things, in love. And we claim joy as our “defiant nevertheless.”

Hope Mongers

We live in hope. We live on the shoulders of the saints. We live confident in Jesus's victory over the world as we know it. And so we hope, and we endure.

We choose to be “hope mongers” and people who "let our footsteps be our preaching."  We choose optimism and the belief that there is always a way. We choose the path forward, the path of enduring love. Because to us, there is no other path worth choosing.

Whether in the midst of conflict in places like Yemen, South Sudan or Congo where our staff encounter genuine threats to life and limb, or in drought-stricken regions like Turkana, Kenya, where staff spend months at a time separated from families and loved ones to bring hope to communities in crisis, or even here in the U.S., where staff selflessly give of themselves in an environment  that—after years of bipartisan consensus on our obligations to refugees—has in many places turned hostile to our ministry of helping foreign born vulnerable people, we choose enduring love.

Our staff chose to be defiant in the face of adversity and to be bold in faith. To, in spite of their circumstances, choose His joy. They dare to believe in our God, saying, as Swiss Theologian Karl Barth wrote in 1934:

“I will NOT let this beat me. I will make the choice to praise Him all day, every day. Yes, Jesus has allowed this into my life but I will trust Him. What the enemy means for evil, He intends for good. I will not deny that I am in a rough season. I will face it head on in the strength and power of His Name. For as long as I need to walk this difficult path, my spirit will be marked with a blazing NEVERTHELESS for all of earth and heaven to see. Jesus has never known defeat and I will not either as long as I am clinging to Him. He always leads me in triumph!”

Love Endures

All over the world our staff and volunteers choose to get up each day, to come alongside the most vulnerable, to touch people with compassion, to love, and yes, to hope as they serve them, resisting the currents of our time, believing in the goodness of our God and Jesus' call to "love our neighbor as ourselves," choosing the narrow path, choosing hardship in the face of skepticism, hostility and even danger.

And so I want to say thank you. Thank you for your choice. Thank you for your brave and defiant nevertheless. Thank you for your enduring love. The world is a better place because of it.


Through the end of the year, we'll be featuring stories of individuals and communities putting Love in Action—bringing hope to the hurting and shining light in the darkest hours.

Learn more and put your Love in Action today.


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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.

5 Words That Can Change a Nation

 Photo by Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.”
John 3:18   


(ABOVE PHOTO: Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch)


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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.

What is Your One Act of Love?

It's been a remarkable and difficult month for so many people around the world. If you're feeling overwhelmed right now, you are not alone.

A message from World Relief's President, Scott Arbeiter:

As you consider your one act of love in this current season, we invite you to learn more about the areas in which we're currently responding:

Hurricane Harvey Recovery
Hurricane Irma Response
South Asia Flooding
DACA / Dreamer Advocacy Response
Refugee Crisis
Africa Food Crisis

Out of Many, One — The Power and Importance of Integration over Assimilation

 A refugee family is welcomed into their new apartment by staff and volunteers from World Relief's Nashville office. (Photo courtesy Sean Sheridan)

A refugee family is welcomed into their new apartment by staff and volunteers from World Relief's Nashville office. (Photo courtesy Sean Sheridan)

 

“I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands.”  — Revelation 7:9

This is the picture of eternity that the Apostle John paints for us when he writes of heaven.  A beautiful array of colors, culture, languages and peoples. Distinct, yet one in Christ. Once strangers, now integrated and united under God.

The Immigrant Image

Despite the strong political divides facing the nation today, many Christians across the U.S. have accepted God’s call to “welcome the stranger.” Many of us are learning through personal service to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to serve “the least of these” as we would serve Jesus himself, in the process learning more about Jesus himself.

As we do, we see Jesus as he is, but we do not make him in our own image. For we would not share a drink, or provide clothes or make a visit to Jesus only if Jesus was willing to become like us.  Yet, we run the risk of doing just that if we do not consider how we will welcome immigrants into our communities.

The Questions We Must Answer

Two key questions lie at the core of how immigrants will acculturate into a new society:

  1. Are immigrants allowed to be a part of the community and connected to other groups?

  2. Are immigrants allowed to maintain their cultural identity and characteristics?

If the answer to both of these questions is “no,” then immigrants will forever stay on the margins of society. They will not be welcomed as part of the community, nor will they be allowed to maintain their identity.

But even if the answer to only one of these questions is “yes,” then integration will still fail. Because if immigrants are allowed to maintain their own cultural identity, but not allowed to become part of the larger society, they remain a separated group—ethnically, socially and economically.

We’ve Seen This Before

As an example, following World War II, immigrants from North Africa were invited into Europe to help to rebuild war-torn infrastructure and revive cities and towns. 70 years later, many of these groups in France remain separated from French society. This separation has kept entire cultural and ethnic groups from becoming fully-participating members of society, opening up breeding grounds for discontent and violence. Consequently, today, we see native-born Europeans perpetrating acts of violence and terror because they were kept separate from mainstream society in isolated ethnic ‘clusters.’

Integration is Who We Are

On the other side, many in the U.S. today argue that immigrants should be allowed to become part of the community and be connected to others, but only if they give up their past culture and identity in a process of assimilation. Some of these same individuals would state that this has been the way of America since its inception, but an honest look at our history reveals that each new group has enriched and contributed to culture and traditions that have come to be embraced by all. The strength of immigrant generations is that, despite the discrimination they often face for their cultural norms, language and values, they have contributed to what it really means to be American.

Historically, the United States has integrated, at least at some levels, one immigrant group after another – allowing each successive group to become a part of the community and allowing them to maintain their cultural identity and characteristics, which they have shared with others.

For instance, I am not of Irish heritage, but I enjoy the annual tradition of turning the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day. I am not of Chinese heritage, but am grateful that there are many, wonderful Chinese restaurants in my neighborhood. I am not Burmese, but I am inspired to help my neighbors because of the amazing examples of sacrificial service I see in this more recently arrived immigrant group. Far from assimilation, the history of America is one of immigrant integration that we would do well to continue today.

Drawn By Our Values

It is the core American values—those of religious freedom, opportunity, freedom of the press, the rule of law, and participation in government—that draw immigrants to want to be a part of the United States. Many refugees come to the U.S. having been persecuted for their faith, and the fact that immigrant churches are the fastest growing churches in the U.S. shows how much this freedom is valued. The fact that 25% of venture-backed U.S. public companies were started by immigrants clearly demonstrates the commitment to hard work and providing for family. The number of immigrants who willingly go through the long process (minimally 5 years) of becoming a U.S. citizen shows the desire to engage as a part of their new country. They bring these values with them to the U.S., and those values are strengthened in relationships with native-born Americans.

New Americans

But for integration of immigrants into the U.S. to be successful—and to avoid the pitfalls of marginalization, separation and assimilation—the receiving community must be ready to see the distinct gifts and value of these “new Americans.” Love and affinity for one’s past is not a rejection of the values that characterize the U.S. Instead of criticizing or doubting that immigrants share core American values with the larger society, we should build relationships with our new neighbors to see how these values are expressed in the unique culture and traditions they bring. In the United States we are “Of Many, One.”  But true unity is not expressed in dress, or food, or in religious expression. These are the “many” different expressions we have had as a people since this nation was founded. As we welcome immigrants to the U.S., we learn and add their distinct culture to the greater good of this country and find the unity that truly makes us one.

From Every Nation, Tribe and Language

Let us return to the picture in scripture of what this type of integration looks like:

“I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

In this description of the ultimate, eternal society, the distinctiveness of God’s creation is not lost. The Apostle John could clearly identify ethnic groups, language groups and nationalities in those he saw before the throne of God. In this scene God is not being praised by a single, homogenous group, but by one that is made up of the entire array of colors, cultures, languages and peoples God created. They are united in the act of unceasing praise, but they have not lost, nor been forced to deny, the distinctiveness of what God gave them.

For Christians, this is a picture of the eternity we anticipate. The United States should never be compared to heaven, but our history as a country gives us the freedom to begin practicing for that eternity here in our churches and communities. By welcoming those who represent the distinctiveness of God’s creation and learning, together with them, we practice living in a society that is built not on loss of identity, but on glorious sharing together. In so doing our nation can truly be “Of Many, One” and the church can reflect, even here, the eternity for which we long.


Prior to becoming the SVP of U.S. Ministries, Emily Gray served for six years as the Executive Director of World Relief’s offices in DuPage County and Aurora, Illinois. She is a former full-time missionary to Central America and is a founding member of Mission Lazarus, also serving on Mission Lazarus’ board for 15 years. Emily is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, earning a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Abilene Christian University, a Master of Social Work from Boston University, and has completed doctoral hours at the University of Texas at Arlington. She has been married for 30 years to Cary, a Computer Scientist, teacher and scholar of Christian hymns.

Transforming Lives and Communities Through the Local Church

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by Tim Breene
World Relief CEO
 

For years governments and humanitarian organizations have poured money and effort into global aid. With the state of our world today, it’s no wonder people ask, “What has this accomplished? Is there a better way?”

Over seven decades, World Relief has operated in more than 110 countries alongside governments and other humanitarian organizations. Over these years, the successes and failures of our efforts have become clearer.

Humanitarian organizations bring essential emergency aid to those caught up in natural and man-made disasters. They make meaningful contributions to lifting people out of material poverty, reducing preventable diseases and increasing access to education.

However, too much of the public’s focus and money is consumed by crisis interventions and progress is rarely sustained after the initial response. And too often, interventions address only symptoms of vulnerability rather than root causes. They stop at the front door of the home and don’t address what goes on at a familial and relational level. Too often they lead to cultures of dependency, incredible waste, and even fraud and corruption. For all the progress, 1.3 billion people are still living in extreme poverty and—according to a recent World Bank report—these people are becoming far harder to reach.

World Relief believes there is an answer to these challenges. And it lies in engaging the local church and leveraging it to do what neither governments nor social enterprises nor multinational corporations are able to do.

The story of Dr. John Snow, the father of modern public health, is a most illuminative example. During the 1854 cholera outbreak in London, Snow became convinced that the disease was spreading through water contaminated by human waste, but he needed the help of local clergyman Reverend Whitehead to engage with the local community to map the households where cholera had occurred. This legendary collaboration reflected a shared commitment to the health and well-being of all people and an appreciation of the value of trusted relationships and community support in affecting change. It became the basis for modern-day epidemiology and pointed the way to the collaboration we so often need today.

Today—even with scientific and technological progress—the church still has a crucial role to play as it follows Jesus’s command to love “the least of these.”

Most people will remember the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa and the ripple of fear that went around the world. We all applauded the courage of medical workers who bravely served on the front lines and the work of scientists and doctors to develop a vaccine in record time. But less well known, perhaps, was the critical role that faith leaders played to complement and extend the impact of government and humanitarian aid organizations, convincingly documented in a 2015 Report, “Keeping the Faith” by Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tearfund and Islamic Relief Worldwide.[1]

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, the majority of the population are practicing believers, and faith leaders enjoy significant trust and respect. Unfortunately, there was a significant delay in engaging these leaders at the start of this most severe Ebola outbreak in history. As the disease spread, draconian measures were taken which went against cultural values and religious practices, resulting in a widespread public denial of the disease and even hostility towards those who were seeking to contain it. Many of those with Ebola chose to remain with their families and burials were undertaken in secret. As a consequence, the disease continued to spread. Government messaging on the cruel medical realities of Ebola spoke to people’s intellect, but did not create behavior change; rather, such messaging served to push care of the sick, as well as traditional approaches to burials, underground.

Later, once faith leaders became involved, they played a transformational role. Using religious texts, they preached acceptance of Ebola workers and survivors and role modeled this acceptance in religious services. They also helped to drive out the stigma that was destroying community cohesion. Where Ebola-control practices were considered irreligious, it was the participation of religious leaders alone that enabled an acceptance of the necessary changes to curb the spread of the disease.

The HIV/AIDS crisis provides another and perhaps even more compelling example of how critical it is to work with a deep respect for, and understanding of, traditional belief systems in order to impact sustained change. Twenty years ago, most people in Africa believed that AIDS was a plague from God and that it targeted sinners, who were merely “reaping what they had sown.” But then church leaders mobilized, and through the efforts of PEPFAR’s Track 1.0 AIDS Relief Program, they led their communities in reducing the demonization and stigma associated with the disease, encouraging care and treatment of HIV through voluntary testing, counseling and wide antiretroviral [ARV] distribution. Today 10 million people in Africa are on ARVs—a remarkable number when one considers that a mere 12 years ago there were almost no patients enrolled in official ARV programs. (For more details on the role of faith based organizations in combatting HIV/AIDS, see The PEPFAR Report, A Firm Foundation.[2])

Three attributes of church leaders make their influence in these situations particularly effective. First, they are highly motivated to support their communities and do so out of a spirit of compassion. Second, they usually have unparalleled access to, and knowledge of, their communities, especially in hard-to-reach areas where many of the world’s most vulnerable are concentrated. Third, they are trusted by these communities because of their moral voice and long-term presence and commitment. Unlike traditional NGOs, churches have no exit plan.

At World Relief, we truly believe the local church is God’s primary answer to the broken world, and his preferred plan to bring redemption—whether physical, spiritual or social—to his people.

Ephesians 3 states that “His purpose was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”

Through the church’s responses, we see God revealing his wisdom and redemption, pushing the darkness back. We are the hands and feet, but the power and the glory are his.

The same strengths that have made the church such a powerful force for good in the examples above do not stop there. Our experience convinces us that these same strengths, when properly harnessed, create a unique platform for the alleviation of poverty, for long-term community development, for the welfare of women and children, for peace and reconciliation, and for developing resilience to recurring disasters like drought and hurricanes.

Our experience convincingly demonstrates that long-term sustainable solutions are more likely to be truly transformative when we recognize the importance of local ownership and the unique position and moral authority of the local church; when we recognize that poverty is not just economic but that it takes many forms; when we recognize the crushing weight of despair and the power that comes with hope and the restoration of dignity; and when the church acts in unity to serve its community.

This is why the local church is at the heart of our theory and praxis of change. Not only because it is our calling, but because we have seen and been touched by the concrete evidence of its transformative power—physically, socially and spiritually—in our work around the world.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where we are operating our innovative Church Empowerment Zone models, the impact of our work has multiplied throughout villages and even entire communities. We rely on the local church to carry messages concerning health, agriculture, savings, family strengthening, and child development to their neighbors. Our unique model empowers churches and their leaders to realize and fulfill their God-given potential to serve the most vulnerable in their communities, working collaboratively across tribal and denominational lines, and joining in unity with a common vision for their communities.

By building the capacities of church leaders and their congregations, and by enabling them to identify the unique needs and harmful beliefs in their communities, we ensure sustainable transformation comes from within and can multiply and expand once World Relief exits. In this way we are helping to move whole communities from despair to hope, from dependence to self-reliance, from broken relationships to thriving families, and from isolation and loneliness to shalom. We are also ensuring that the local church is not just a convenient delivery mechanism for our services, but the essential foundation of our work—pivotal in how we create real and lasting transformation that integrates physical, spiritual and social development, both individually and at the community level.

Of course, none of this undermines the importance of government and humanitarian NGOs.  In fact, public/private partnerships have never been more important given the multitude and scale of the challenges we face in the world today. And we need to stay open to collaboration with new social enterprises which bring much needed innovation to longstanding and previously intractable challenges.

Just as Dr. Snow and Reverend Whitehead discovered over 150 years ago, each of us have a role to play in seeking the well-being of all people, and we are stronger and better when we work together.

Over the coming months, we will be sharing a series of posts, entitled Perspectives, that demonstrate the extraordinary effectiveness of our Church Empowerment Zone model and how the principles that make it so powerful can also be applied to issues such as economic development, peace and reconciliation, disaster resilience, and maternal and child health, to name a few. These pieces will reveal that there are few other models capable of the kind of impact and leverage that we see when we harness the power and potential of the local church.

 

[1] Keeping the Faith (reliefweb.int)

[2] A Firm Foundation (pepfar.org)


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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.

The Oven of the World — Food Crisis in Turkana North

 The farm at Katong'un is empty because of lack of access to water, due to a rainy season that never came, and rabbits that have foraged on their crops. [Photo courtesy  GI-INC ]

The farm at Katong'un is empty because of lack of access to water, due to a rainy season that never came, and rabbits that have foraged on their crops. [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

“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.

 In Turkana North, the animals that the people of the region rely upon are often the first to suffer and die when a drought hits.  [Photo courtesy  GI-INC ]

In Turkana North, the animals that the people of the region rely upon are often the first to suffer and die when a drought hits.  [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

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.

 Livestock and villagers drink from the well built by World Relief in Katong'un.  [Photo courtesy  GI-INC ]

Livestock and villagers drink from the well built by World Relief in Katong'un.  [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

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.

 A mother and her infant child retrieve water from a well in her village built by World Relief and its partners.  [Photo courtesy  GI-INC ]

A mother and her infant child retrieve water from a well in her village built by World Relief and its partners.  [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

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.”

 A flourishing farm from a World Relief-trained farmer who has access to water because of a local dam. [Photo courtesy  GI-INC ]

A flourishing farm from a World Relief-trained farmer who has access to water because of a local dam. [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

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.

Thank God for Women — You Have Taught Me

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Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.
 

World Relief’s calling does not single out women.

And yet, each year our work impacts around 7 million people, some 80% of them women and children. In sub–Saharan Africa, where the impact of climate change is accelerating and the ravages of severe drought are increasingly common, destroying even the meager livelihoods of the rural farming community, it is women and primarily young girls who suffer the most. In the Middle East, as in many other conflict zones, the violence women have suffered or seen is almost unimaginable. And for those who have courageously left behind all that is familiar, journeying to a new land where culture, faith, language, and economic viability are all unknown, the burden of anxiety—even in the midst of hope—can be crippling.

This picture, the very fodder of non-profit fundraising efforts, tells only half of the story. It does not tell the story of the amazing courage, strength, resilience, selflessness, dignity that I encounter in the midst of such suffering. It does not express the capacity for joy, laughter, and love even in the midst of unspeakable hardship. It does not speak to the role I see women playing in helping transform lives through our savings group programs or acting as outreach volunteers in our Church Empowerment Zones in Africa. It does not speak to the expertise and selfless commitment of our staff here in the U.S.A., the majority of whom are women. Nor does it speak to the fullness of creativity and intelligence that is manifest in our organization when men and women labor side by side in this Kingdom work.

And yet, the reality still stands that we live in a world that continues to give precedence to men and boys over women and young girls. Nothing justifies these injustices nor the denial of equal opportunity to women.

These images give me pause for reflection about the women in my own life and their influence upon the man I am today. I look back on my life and I ask myself: If love is the greatest calling, where and how did I learn to love?   Where and how did I come to understand the limits of worldly success, of competitiveness, and of ambition? Where and how did I learn to see strength as Jesus saw it?

I cannot speak for other men, but for me I learned these things because of women.

Because of a mother who courageously brought up four boys on her own after my father deserted us. Because of my wife, Michele, who always seems to access a deeper wisdom than I can—even when I think I “won the argument.” Because of three daughters, each expressing their own uniqueness and joy of life, while all wired with compassion in their DNA.

So, I thank God for the women in my life, unique in their manifestations of strength and dignity, intellect and wisdom, industry, compassion and generosity of heart, gentleness, and care. And for the life-giving spirit they share so selflessly and often sacrificially.

You have taught me.  

More than 80% of the beneficiaries of World Relief's programs are women and children. Give today to help create a better world for women. 


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.

Separating Fact from Fear in the Refugee Ban


[The following post was written by Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief.]

In today’s connected world, the rapid dispersion of half-truths—and even blatant lies—is disturbing. This is especially true as it relates to the discussion around the ban of refugees to the United States.

As Christians, we should care about this. If truth is malleable, the very foundation of our faith is undermined. The words of Saint Augustine, “Let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master,” are often paraphrased to say “All truth is God’s truth.” Careless disregard for the truth should be unacceptable to us.

For some people, the refugee ban seems an assault on Christian and American values. As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it so succinctly, “There is no fine print on the Statue of Liberty.” At the same time, others see the ban as eminently sensible and a necessary step to protect us from terrorists.

I don’t aim to impugn motives to one group or the other. People hold different views, and the right to those differences and the freedom to express them is not only part of our American tradition, but the very essence of what makes us unique as a nation.

However, what is important is that the opinions that shape government policy are based in truth.

When this administration says we don’t know who refugees are, is this true? When it focuses on the threat of terrorism, is it exaggerating risk and distorting our individual and collective judgment so that we deny those who deserve our compassion?

Experts can debate and disagree as to whether the ban will keep us safe or actually lead to further radicalization and increased risk. However, these are the indisputable facts about refugee admissions, and experts’ judgments need to be informed by them:

  1. The refugee admission process is the most thorough of all entry processes into the U.S.

  2. We do know who these refugees are. They go through a multi-step process that generally lasts anywhere between 18 months to 3 years, and includes fingerprinting, biometrics, retina scans, and multiple interviews by different agencies, including the United Nations, State Department contractors, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. World Relief—the organization I lead that resettles refugees—receives a thorough biographic report compiled by the U.S. State Department on each refugee we receive before they enter the country.

  3. The effectiveness of the process is demonstrated by the fact that, of the roughly three million refugees admitted since 1980, none has ever killed a single American in a terrorist attack.

  4. The Cato Institute’s research puts the annual risk of a refugee-committed terrorist killing on U.S. soil at 1 in 3.6 billion.

  5. Nothing within this executive order would have prevented 9/11, nor the more recent attacks in San Bernardino or Orlando.

  6. At least 5,700 fewer persecuted Christians will be allowed to come to the U.S. as refugees in Fiscal Year 2017 than in Fiscal Year 2016 as a result of the order’s dramatic cut to the overall number of refugees allowed, despite the president’s stated concern for persecuted Christians.

  7. In the past decade, the U.S. has never received more than a fraction of one percent of the world’s refugees annually, and it has received more Christian refugees than those of any other faith background.

  8. Of the 19,324 Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. since 2012, 47% have been children thirteen years of age or under, while just 13% have been men aged 21 through 40.

There are lots of opinions around these issues, but those are the hard facts. So, let me ask you, how afraid do you think we should be of this program? We cannot let fear overpower truth.

As a Christian, I do not believe Jesus died for us so that we could live comfortable lives behind walls, indifferent to the suffering of others. In fact, he explicitly modeled through his life radical compassion for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger, and even for his enemies.

Today let us choose to do as he did—especially for those in desperate need. Let compassion and truth be our guide. Let us not succumb to fear any longer.


Tim Breene is the CEO of World Relief, a global humanitarian relief and development organization that stands with the vulnerable and partners with local churches to end the cycle of suffering, transform lives and build sustainable communities. With over 70 years of experience, World Relief has offices in the United States that specialize in refugee and immigration services, and works in 20 countries worldwide through disaster response, health and child development, economic development and peacebuilding.

 

 

Changemakers in Rwanda — A Story of Light Overcoming Darkness

The following post was written by Moses Ndahiro, Country Director for World Relief Rwanda.
 

Rwanda.

A country as magnificent as it is complex. A place of breath-taking beauty, and of an unthinkably violent history. A marvelous land of a thousand hills, still haunted by an eerie morning fog that sits atop the horizon and whispers of horrors passed; a genocide that shook the world so deeply, it promised, “never again”.

It is a country unlike any other, where God’s creation is on display in all its splendor and diversity. The warmth and hospitality of a people striving to rebuild and rewrite their story. The hope of a history overcome, and of a nation reborn.

And it is a country where God is at work in powerful ways. Where people’s hearts and minds are being transformed through Christ. Where the Church is stepping into its rightful place as the hope of the world. 

It is a story of light overcoming the darkness.


The Church established itself in Rwanda over 100 years ago, and today, more than 70% of the population is in a church building every week. How then, in 1994, did a genocide of such horrific proportions and unprecedented brutality take place? Volumes have been written on the underlying causes, on the immediate events leading up to the genocide and of the failure of the world to take heed of the warning signs. Little, however, was said of the failure of the Church to stand up and protect the vulnerable. Fortunately, that has changed. Today’s Church in Rwanda is quite different from the institutionalized Church of the past. It is vibrant, diverse, and growing. And step-by-step, it has begun to walk alongside its people in their journey from darkness and despair, towards hope and renewal.

World Relief first established its presence in Rwanda immediately following the genocide. Watching the international community respond with one-off emergency interventions, we became increasingly convinced that solutions needed to center on the resourcefulness and hearts of the local people, and that the Church had a unique role to play. Born out of that conviction, World Relief first pioneered its Church Empowerment Zone model in 2011. Founded on our strong belief that transformational change begins with the Church, we began teaching, mobilizing, and empowering local churches and their networks to serve the most vulnerable in their communities. Through sharing and building leadership capacity, we brought churches of all denominations together in one network to unite under a common curriculum and leadership development program, giving them the opportunity to wrestle with common problems, share resources, and join together in a common vision for their churches, families, and communities.

“We do not see one another as enemies anymore. Now we come together as brothers, bringing our strengths together. We are at peace.” – Pastor Museveni

Today, the Church Empowerment Zone model is unleashing the potential of hundreds of churches and communities across Rwanda, building a legacy of hope, generosity, and self-reliance that is sustaining progress. Local churches are no longer simply institutions for Sunday gatherings, but the epicenters of their communities—transforming hearts, minds, and attitudes. Rwanda is a vivid and timely reminder that there is more to religion than just turning up to church. It has revealed how essential it is for our faith to be strongly rooted in a holistic and meaningful understanding of the Gospel. 

One pastor in Bushenge, Rwanda said, “Now we are caring for the poor and most vulnerable. We are creating love where the Devil was bringing hate and division. We are bringing the Kingdom of God down to Earth. Our families are in harmony. And a family in harmony will prosper in everything.”

Over the last five years, we have seen families reunited and health and nutrition outcomes improved. We have seen neighbors, siblings, spouses, children, and friends overcome their challenges and experience renewed and strengthened holistic relationships.  We have seen the transformation of lives.

The story of the church in Rwanda is powerful and inspiring. But it is not the only nation where the church is catalyzing transformational change.

Now is the time for the U.S. church to join in this rebirth. We have a unique role to play in helping African churches increase their capacity, and they have much to teach us about what it means to truly trust in God. When we work together in harmony, uplifting one another, and placing God at the center of our partnership, we have the true potential to transform the lives of millions of vulnerable people.

Changemakers in the U.S. — Love is Our Mission

 Gicheru Njoroge, Case Specialist at World Relief's Atlanta office, assists a recently arrived refugee family from Syria.

Gicheru Njoroge, Case Specialist at World Relief's Atlanta office, assists a recently arrived refugee family from Syria.

The Changemaker series features stories from our work around the world.  It is our hope that these stories will inspire, encourage, and enrich you. The following post was written by Emily Gray, SVP of U.S. Ministries, World Relief.


Over the last year, the word ‘refugee’ has come to symbolize much of the fear, uncertainty, and division plaguing our nation. As our country struggles to grapple with ever-evolving international complexities and rapidly shifting political tides, refugees have, in many ways, become synonymous with this messy, somewhat chaotic and confusing environment. Used as scapegoats, singled out as potential risks to our security, criticized as drains on our economy, and intimidated with threats, their presence in America has too often been devoid of the peace they’d hoped for. In seeking refuge, many have instead encountered hardship, isolation, and even overt hostility. And as the world confronts worsening headlines on a daily basis, often provoking greater impetus to stereotype, the plight of the refugee in America is intensifying.

Despite our nation’s long and proud tradition as an open and compassionate  society, many people now see refugees as a problem rather than as vulnerable people who have suffered horribly in often horrific circumstances. These are people who have needed considerable strength and courage to make the journey to a new beginning in a foreign land, people whose presence can enrich both our culture and society, as well as the individuals and churches that come alongside them in love and compassion. Refugee resettlement touches a deep nerve, but one all too often untouched by the personal experience of befriending and welcoming these vulnerable people.

But there is another narrative about refugees, one that we see everyday at World Relief. It is the story of churches who partner with us to welcome and befriend these refugees. It is a story of love and compassion, one that replaces fear and distrust. 

Because of Christ’s command to us, to love our neighbor and to welcome the stranger, churches across America are responding to the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees with compassion and hospitality. Through joining Good Neighbor groups, donating welcome kits, and hosting ‘Refugee Sundays’, our church partners are providing hope, light, and transformational love to this uniquely vulnerable group of refugees and immigrants.

Glen Ellyn Covenant Church, in Illinois, answered God’s calling to step out in faith and welcome over 150 Burmese and Bhutanese refugees to their congregation in 2013. They did so in striving to follow the example of Jesus, who left the comforts of heaven for the messiness of this world. And something remarkable happened. Pastor Mike Langer explains,

“It was the most powerful thing I’ve ever been involved in. They taught me so much, gave me so much, and I am so grateful to God that He placed them in our midst. We love to see ourselves as a church become more aware of what it truly means to trust God, to be citizens of God’s kingdom, and to understand the radical implications of Jesus’s teachings. Our Bhutanese and Burmese friends helped us to do that.”

In this journey, lay the opportunity for positive transformation not only for immigrants themselves, but for the community that welcomes them and ultimately for the church and the growth of the Kingdom of God. 

Love is our mission. We are called by Jesus to welcome and to love. And we respond in love because we were first loved by Him and because we know that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18.) We offer compassion for those who need our help, stand up as champions for those who are marginalized, and love sacrificially.

Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to answer God’s call to be good Samaritans, and to welcome the stranger. Regardless of what lies ahead, the church must always be ready to educate others about refugees and immigrants, advocate on their behalf, and give to organizations who work directly with these foreign-born individuals and families. We have the chance to step out in faith and literally change the future for refugees and immigrants. Let us answer this calling with courage and conviction.

“The Lord watches over the foreigner, and sustains the fatherless and the widow” (Psalm 146:9 NIV)


How To Make Sure We're Ready for the Next Crisis

What do you do when the tragedies of this world seem like they just won’t stop? What do you do when so many already-vulnerable people suffer even greater hardship?

I think I might already know what you do. Because I’ve seen you do it. And I’m hoping you might do it again. But first, a quick look back at the past few weeks...

When a Category 4 hurricane struck Haiti earlier this month, hundreds of our donors sprang into action, donating thousands of dollars, even as the initial damage reports and death tolls were still being reported.

Then, less than three weeks later, when Iraqi-led forces launched a military offensive to free the city of Mosul from ISIS,  donors once again jumped to the aid of those who were being displaced by the conflict, donating thousands of dollars even as the media was just beginning to report news of the attack.

Thank you, is an inadequate, yet a very sincere response. We are profoundly grateful that you have trusted us to extend your compassion to people in great need around the world. The only reason World Relief is able to so quickly come to the aid of the vulnerable in places like Haiti and Mosul, is because YOU make it possible.

At the same time, I know how critically important it is for World Relief to be ready for the next crisis or disaster.

I know from experience that we best stand with the vulnerable when we are prepared for disaster and crisis before it even happens.

How can you help us prepare to be ready wherever and whenever disaster strikes?

  1. Give a one-time gift to World Relief’s general fund. This allows us to earmark funds for future disasters, as well as provide health and child development programs, refugee and immigration services, economic development and peace-building initiatives to the devastated, the displaced, and the marginalized worldwide. 
     
  2. Commit to give to World Relief on a monthly basis, ensuring sustainable transformation in the areas we work. In over 20 countries, throughout Africa and Asia, we’ve built partnerships with over 5,800 local churches, allowing us to quickly deliver aid and recovery through these partnerships, just like we have over the past few weeks in both Haiti and Mosul.

Once again, thank you all you do on behalf of the vulnerable. Together, let’s commit to never give up, and do all we can to be ready to act.

Scott Arbeiter
President, World Relief

How To Actually Welcome Refugees

 World Relief Atlanta Office Director Joshua Sieweke welcomes Malik, a 9-year old Syrian refugee, at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

World Relief Atlanta Office Director Joshua Sieweke welcomes Malik, a 9-year old Syrian refugee, at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

For almost 40 years, World Relief has been proud to resettle over 270,000 refugees from across the world here to the United States. On average, our offices resettle 650 refugees each month.

Next month we are projecting that World Relief’s local offices will resettle 1,350 refugees.

That means that in October, we’ll be resettling over TWICE as many refugees as normal. The challenge ahead for our local office staff and volunteers in the next month is nothing short of monumental. Which means we’re doing all we can in the next week to make sure local offices have everything they need.

Why?

We know that when we welcome refugees to the United States, the lives and futures of refugees are—quite literally—changed forever.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your help.

Donate to World Relief by September 30 to help support the work of resettling refugees in the month of October.

 
 

This week, I was invited to attend President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees. It was an invitation I felt humbled and grateful to accept, knowing that my attendance represented the tireless work of thousands of World Relief staff and volunteers for almost 40 years. And as I sat at the UN, surrounded by dozens of leaders from over 30 different countries, I was struck by a simple thought...

Without the dedicated efforts of the thousands of staff and volunteers from World Relief and other resettlement agencies, the commitment of these world leaders to refugees would go unfulfilled.

Without our local staff and volunteers, refugees would arrive at airports—often scared and confused—with no one to greet or guide them. But instead, small groups of smiling faces welcome them onto U.S. soil.

Just last month, staff and volunteers welcomed Hashim, Mariam and their two children to Atlanta’s international airport. Having fled their home in war-torn Syria, Hashim and Mariam arrived to the United States longing for safety, stability, and the promise of brighter future for their two children, Malik (9 years old) and Muna (18 months old). As Malik reached up to shake hands with World Relief Atlanta’s Office Director Joshua Sieweke, Josh leaned down and said, “Welcome to America. We’re so glad you’re here.” (pictured above)

We believe that compassion and security are not mutually exclusive. We can honor both. We know that after being displaced from their homes, refugees are vetted by multiple agencies, including the UN and U.S. Department of State, for up to two years. So when refugee families arrive, it is our great privilege to welcome them here.

We don’t just say refugees are welcome, we make sure they actually are welcomed, and feel welcomed.

In the next seven days, you have the opportunity to help us welcome refugees during one of our busiest months to date. If for any reason you’ve been waiting to become a part of the solution, now is your moment.

Since my time at the UN, I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of attention refugees have been receiving in the news. At times I’ve felt discouraged, as voices of fear have tried to convince us that refugees should be seen only as a threat. But other times I’ve been profoundly encouraged, as voices of compassion and hope have risen up. These voices have reminded us that not only is it a moral and Scriptural imperative that we welcome refugees, but also that refugees have the potential to contribute to and enrich our country in countless ways. It’s simply unthinkable that we wouldn't welcome refugees.

Through all of the events of the past week, I’ve sensed that God is clearly at work, moving people in new ways to care for refugees.

I invite you—even as you read this email—to stop for a moment and prayerfully consider if God might be moving in you too.

If so, there’s never been a better, more effective time for you to give than there is between now and September 30.

Give today to ensure that we do all that we can to rise to the challenge of wholeheartedly welcoming refugees.  

For the sake of the refugees and the displaced,

Scott Arbeiter
President, World Relief