Thank God for Women — Calling All Women

Photo by Marianne Bach

Photo by Marianne Bach

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


Listen, women. It’s been a particularly difficult year. The assaults, insults, and violence towards women in this country and around the world have been devastatingly awful.

Yet, the power, strength, beauty, and creativity found in women continues to rise. I’ve noticed women all around me, called by God, for purposes beyond themselves can’t be contained or shut down. Pastors, politicians, musicians, athletes rising, rising, rising, as they add love and justice and peace and beauty into the world.

Earlier this year, I started a new church — it’s called Sunday Supper Church — because I had heard from God that this is who He made me to be, and that it was time for me to lean into my calling, and follow Him as He made something great. I felt unqualified, insecure, and scared. But God’s gentle voice reminded me day-after-day, that we were in this together, and that because He had made me to do this, He wouldn’t leave or forget to help me.

Because when the call of God is clear, you can’t wait to start. You can’t wait for the day you don’t feel scared. You have to start scared. You can’t wait for permission, or for the negative internal voices to be silenced. You have to start without permission, while the doubtful voices continue to shout inside. You have to create and lead as God intended, because the world needs you and your unique, one-of-a-kind offering.

Women, the world needs us to lead as God intended, specifically in this difficult time, to lead with strength and wisdom and compassion. To stand tall and proud while doing our thing, unwilling to turn back.

As women, we might never have full permission to engage: in church, in our communities, in politics, or in the corporate world. But we’re going to lead anyway––overcoming withheld permission and our internal fears––because our permission to engage and lead comes from our Father. The one in whose image we are equally made.

Because that’s the thing about women.

They are brave and unstoppable, resembling their Maker.

I thank God for this unquenchable, courageous spirit in women.

If God has called you to do something—start a new church, open a business, start a family, travel the world, argue cases in court, train to be an elite athlete, do it! If you’re waiting for the right moment, enough money, everyone’s approval, the system to change, you’re going to be waiting a super long time. Don’t wait. Do your thing.

I thank God for women. Strong, brave, creative, unstoppable women.


Amy Dolan is Pastor of Sunday Supper Church, a new, table-based dinner environment in Chicago that seeks to gather diverse communities together for the sake of creating peace + justice in the city.

Connect with Amy on social! Twitter: @adolan | Instagram @_adolan

A City on a Hill

In his farewell address to the nation in 1989, President Ronald Reagan, borrowing a line from Jesus, described the United States as a “shining city on a hill” for those seeking freedom, a place “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace” whose “doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

Over the course of centuries, the United States certainly has been a place of refuge for many fleeing persecution and “yearning to breathe free,” which is an honorable legacy. But when Jesus talked about a “city on a hill,” he was not referring to the United States of America, nor to any other nation-state. Jesus told His followers that they—those early disciples who would go on to form the earliest church—were the light of the world, which, like a city atop a hill, could not be hidden." (see Matt. 5:14) “Let your light shine before others,” Jesus told them, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

Faced with a global refugee crisis unprecedented in recorded history, now is the moment for the church to shine, not to hide our light. Millions of displaced people, desperate for hope yet reviled and feared by many, will decide what they think of Jesus based on how His followers throughout the world respond to this crisis, whether with welcome, love, and advocacy, or with apathy, fear, and scapegoating. Across the nation and the world, local churches are seeing this moment of crisis as a chance to live out Jesus’ instructions, shining their light, so others may look to and glorify God.

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus told His followers, each of us—you. He continued: "But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:13–16)

Our ultimate hope is that the church would shine its light through the refugee crisis. As we access the same power that rose Jesus from the dead, we pray God’s people would rise up as never before to welcome strangers, each doing what God has called all of us to do:

To bind up the brokenhearted.

To love our neighbors.

To do justice.

To love mercy.

To pray without ceasing.

To practice hospitality, and to learn to receive the hospitality of others.

Maybe just to take a plate of cookies across the street, trusting that smile can overcome a language barrier.

To write a letter to a congressperson, or gently speak up at the workplace water cooler when someone repeats a false rumor about refugees.

Perhaps to forego a vacation to give sacrificially for those whose travels were involuntary.

To stand with our persecuted brothers and sisters, mourning with those who mourn, rejoicing with those who rejoice.

To proclaim the love of Christ in word and deed to those who don't yet know Him.

Our prayer is that as the church lets her light shine and steps into the good works God has “prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10), the displaced of our world will praise our Father In heaven.

___

Adapted from Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir, available on Kindle for $1.59 throughout the month of July. For more about the book including a Bible reading plan and small group discussion guide, visit www.worldrelief.org/seekingrefuge

 

 

 

 

World Relief’s Church Empowerment Zones: This Changes Everything

World Relief’s Church Empowerment Zones: This Changes Everything

Picture a village. Remote, undeveloped, overwhelmed by poverty and characterized by broken relationships. Where malnutrition, illness, and a small number of positive role models oftentimes leave children extremely vulnerable. And where the perpetual cycle of poverty cripples entire generations, decade after decade.

The Magic Years: Care Groups

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My grandson had a birthday recently. He’s two. He blew out candles, devoured cake and ice cream, and tore into presents. His favorite was a large bubble machine that floated huge translucent bubbles all over the room when he blew with all his might.

My work every day at World Relief involves birthdays. We mark them, celebrate them, prepare for them, and advocate for them. No, not birthdays with cake and bubbles, but birthdays with critical significance: the milestone of reaching a precious child’s fifth birthday.

The months of life in a mother’s womb and the first five years of a child’s life are the most critical. These are the years of rapid brain growth, physical, mental, and developmental growth, of early adaptation to our world of disease, of bonding with mother and family, and of discovering personhood, belonging, and identity. These are the “magic years” as described by author Selma Fraiberg. [1]

Too many children in our world never reach their fifth birthdays. In fact, nearly 6 million children under-five die every year. [2] They die prematurely from diarrhea, malnutrition, malaria or pneumonia; all of which are preventable deaths. Today, however, we know how to simply, cost-effectively and radically ensure that no child fails to reach his or her fifth birthday because of these causes.

Recognizing what nutrition experts call, a “Window of Opportunity” to promote nutrition and early development during the first 1000 days of life (counted from conception to two years), World Relief and the communities and churches we work through are seizing this opportunity to protect and nurture these precious children under the age of five. The interventions are basic:improved nutrition for mothers, infants, and children; prevention of life threatening pneumonia and diarrhea;and prevention and early treatment of malaria. Something as simple as hand-washing with soap can prevent persistent diarrhea that may eventually lead to severe dehydration, malnutrition and even death in a two-year old.

So what prevents this life-saving work from saving the lives of more children? How can we reach the millions of children needing this support throughout these early months and years? How can we impact behavior, especially where some cultural practices and a simple lack of knowledge can impede growth and development?

Long ago, a practical solution to reaching large masses of people was proposed by Jethro, a simple farmer whose son God chose to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land—Moses. Today, World Relief and many other NGOs and governments are using the same model Moses initiated…and we call them Care Groups.

Care Groups are an integral part of our Church Empowerment Zone (CEZ) model, pioneered in Rwanda and used across many of our programs in sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia and the Middle East. As a part of the process, small groups of 10-15 community members are formed, trust is built, information is shared, volunteers support one another, and then share their learnings with neighbors in their village. Complete community saturation is the goal and the means through which Care Groups can potentially reach every child under five to ensure they safely navigate their early years.

The implementation and impact results of this biblically-designed approach has a growing amount of evidence-based findings. The peer-to-peer approach has reached over 1.4 million households in more than 28 countries globally. [3] It is attracting public health experts, government ministries of health, and large development funders. And, it is at the very core of what we do here at World Relief.

World Relief’s Pieter Ernst first developed the concept of Care Groups in 1995. In his words:

About 3,500 years back in history, a skilled and educated leader by the name of Moses from a nomadic nation of around 3,000,000 people wanted, on his own, to judge and resolve all the social and many other problems they had as a result of living so close together. Interestingly, in spite of all his education and his close relationship with God, he was unable to see beyond his own experience, and God sent his less educated father-in-law, Jethro, from a distant country to visit and advise him about the advantages of Care Groups. He also gave him some important selection criteria for choosing the right volunteers, and gave him guidance on an accountability that included a supervision structure that would help secure sustainability. Therefore, in reality, Care Groups is a design structure that is 3,500 years old. It is God’s doing… [4]

With a little updating from Moses’ time, today we are pressing our technological age to do what works, no matter how simple it may be. Public health experts who studied eight Care Group projects found that as a result of the group teachings and outreach, under-five mortality decreased by 32%. And the cost per beneficiary per year for such impact? Only US $3-$8. [5]

Once scaling and saturation takes place in communities, the Care Group model allows communities to reach a critical tipping point that has the potential to transform entire nations. As a result, the Care group model becomes an efficient, inexpensive, self-sustaining vehicle for transformation.

It is a future that is bright, and filled with healthy, joyful children, celebrating many more birthdays to come.

 

[1] The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood (Fraiberg, Selma. Simon and Schuster.)

[2] Acting on the Call, USAID, 2017 Fact Sheet

[3] Global Health:  Science and Practice 2015, Vol 3, Issue 3, p. 370

[4] CORE Group Conference for Global Health Practitioners, Silver Spring, MD October 16, 2014, Acceptance Speech by Pieter Ernst for Dory Storms Award

[5] Global Health:  Science and Practice 2015, Vol 3, Issue 3, p. 370


Deborah Dortzbach is the Senior Program Advisor for World Relief. She has been involved in church-based HIV/AIDS prevention and care since the early 1990s. Prior to joining World Relief she directed MAP International's HIV/AIDS programs from 1990-1997. Doborah is the author, with W. Meredith Long, of The AIDS Crisis: What We Can Do (2006), as well as Kidnapped (1975), which chronicles her 1973 abduction with her husband by the Eritrean Liberation Front while they were working as missionaries.

VIDEO: Dyan Comes Home

Approximately 70% of all refugees resettled by World Relief are for family reunification. So when we saw the video below, we were deeply moved. 

Produced last year, "Dyan Comes Home" captures the story of one Sudanese family resettled by Catholic Charities, fueled by the commitment and care of volunteers from The Village Church in Forth Worth, TX.

Having seen similar stories unfold in the lives of refugee families we serve and at airports around the United States, we hope you'll be as inspired as we are to continue welcoming refugees to the U.S. and to make moments like this possible for more families.

World Refugee Day: Love in Action

After fleeing their home in Myanmar and resettling in the U.S., refugees Wai Hinn Oo and his wife, Nang Shwe Thein recently celebrated five years of life in Oshkosh, WI.

After fleeing their home in Myanmar and resettling in the U.S., refugees Wai Hinn Oo and his wife, Nang Shwe Thein recently celebrated five years of life in Oshkosh, WI.

How Loving Our Neighbors Makes Space For Success


For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” — Galatians 5:14

 

Original reporting and photo below courtesy of Noell Dickmann/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin


We can’t wait for June 20th. It’s World Refugee Day and World Relief is ready to join with activists and advocates to bring awareness and focus to issues facing refugees around the globe. We believe that truly loving our neighbor can be the key to moving displaced men and women from simply surviving to truly thriving.

Originally living in Myanmar, Wai Hinn Oo and his wife, Nang Shwe Thein, dreamed of safety and a place to live in peace. They’d spent a decade living in fear, being wrongfully arrested and forced into labor. Hinn decided they could stay no longer. Finally, in the middle of the night, they fled their home. Hopping trains with no water and terrible breathing conditions, they made it to Kuala Lumpur, where they lived as undocumented refugees for six years. But when it was time to give birth to their first child, they knew they needed help. Without an option of returning to Myanmar, and unable to provide adequate safety for their child in their current conditions, they reached out to the UN Refugee Agency. After being vetted for two years, the couple was finally resettled, an ocean away, to Oshkosh, Wisconsin by World Relief. In fact, Hinn and Thein became the very first family resettled by World Relief’s then-new Fox Valley office. And while they felt lucky to be safe, they were unsure if they would be able to survive the unknowns they still faced in an unfamiliar country, with a new culture, and a new language. After years of hiding and running, they couldn’t have imagined the feeling of being welcomed that awaited them.

In partnership with World Relief Fox Valley, members of Water City Church joyfully greeted the family at the airport and provided them with a modest, yet fully stocked, apartment and a “Good Neighbor Team” to fill their fridge and welcome them into their new home and community. In addition, World Relief offered the family ongoing resources, training and education upon which they could build their new lives. Hinn and Thein were welcomed as neighbors into a community of support, which gave them just what they needed to begin the hard work of resettling. They are so thankful for the way a local church on a different continent embraced them and for the continued support and encouragement they have received from World Relief.

At World Relief, we believe that to love is to welcome. That’s why we continue to commit ourselves to resource, support and welcome refugees from all around the world. Loving displaced people means seeing them, not simply as a number or as a group in need, but as unique individuals with stories to be celebrated and honored—their losses and victories, their survival and resilience, and their contributions and cultures.

This past February, Hinn and Thein celebrated a significant milestone as they marked five years of life in Oshkosh—a span in which they started a family, purchased a home and became actively involved in their work and community. Their story is a beautiful and successful example of what is possible when we take Jesus at his word to welcome and love one another as neighbors.

As we approach World Refugee Day on June 20th, we invite you to speak up for refugees—advocate by calling lawmakers and congress members, download a World Relief prayer card and commit to praying for refugees in a specific area, and consider donating to help World Relief show refugees great love by extending a much needed welcome.


Margaret Hogan is a writer living outside of Chicago with her husband, Blaine, and two daughters, Ruby and Eloise. She worked at Willow Creek Community Church as Performing Arts Director for the high school ministry before she left to work as a freelance writer. She currently writes for World Relief, and continues to write scripts, articles, devotionals, curriculum, for churches and nonprofits all over the county. Most recently, Margaret authored The Hope Book for Willow Creek’s Celebration of Hope.

The Current State of Refugee Resettlement in the U.S.

Susan Sperry, Executive Director of World Relief Dupage Aurora, has worked within refugee resettlement for over 15 years. Susan says, “The shocking thing is that many refugees we work with now have been displaced far longer than I have done this work. They are the true experts on the realities of displacement and resettlement, and I encourage you to read stories written by refugees to learn more about their experiences.

Recently, we asked our social media followers to submit questions to be answered by Susan, along with Alison Bell, Senior Resettlement Manager at World Relief Dupage Aurora. Susan notes, “Each resettlement office around the country has threads of continuity and similarity, but also a lot of difference. The responses about local programs for refugees are based on programs offered in the western suburbs of Chicago, and may not fully reflect individual local agency programs.”

 

Susan, can you help us better understand: Who is a refugee?

A refugee is someone who has had to leave their country and can’t return due to persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group.
 

How does a refugee end up in the U.S. and what role does World Relief play?

Refugees are first given “refugee status” by the United Nations, which then refers groups of refugees for resettlement in countries like the U.S. With 21.3 million refugees worldwide according to the UN, the proposal that the U.S. welcome 50,000 represents .002%. The U.S. evaluates these groups and agrees to accept a certain number each year. Then each refugee must undergo a thorough vetting process including security screening, in-person interviews with U.S. officials, biometric screening and medical checks. Only after refugees pass each step will they be admitted to the U.S.

The U.S. Department of State has agreements with agencies, like World Relief, to provide services to refugees who are admitted to the U.S. Services begin from the time refugees are met at the airport as they enter the country and continue as the agency completes all of the government required services and other support services offered through local programs and partnerships.
 

The flow of refugees coming in has decreased dramatically in our city. Are refugee applicants still being vetted anew or has the ban stopped that?  

Refugee arrivals to the U.S. have continued this spring, but have been much slower than usual. Uncertainty surrounding the Executive Order led to a pause in most new vetting of refugee applications, so everyone who is currently arriving was already approved for resettlement prior to the Executive Order.
 

What impact does the Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2017 have as it relates to the 120-Day refugee resettlement ban?

Through two court cases, federal judges halted the implementation of the President’s Executive Order from March, including the 120-day moratorium on refugee resettlement. The administration appealed both cases, and on June 26, 2017 the Supreme Court agreed to consolidate these into one case and hear it in October. In the meantime, the Supreme Court is allowing for partial implementation of the Executive Order.

This means that the 90-day ban on travelers from 6 countries (Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria) and the 120-day moratorium on refugees is in effect beginning June 29. There are exceptions to this implementation; for refugees, the exceptions mean that refugees who are close family members of people already in the U.S. (defined by the State Department to include parent, spouse, child, an adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or sibling) could still be welcomed into the U.S. during this time period.

At World Relief, we advise that anyone with questions about their own situation contact an immigration attorney or Department of Justice accredited representative for specific guidance about what this means for you.


How have the policies of the new administration impacted your day-to-day work?

With the dramatic cuts ordered in the number of refugees to be welcomed to the U.S., we have lost World Relief offices and some staff expertise due to budget cuts. Our work has shifted to a greater focus on expanding our base of funding and our partnerships with churches, volunteers and community organizations. We also continue to advocate with Congress to maintain the programs and funding needed to provide the services refugees need to achieve stability and move toward healthy integration.
 

Are we able to sponsor refugees or refugee families directly?

While individuals and churches can’t sponsor refugees directly, they can serve as co-sponsors with local resettlement agencies to assist in resettling refugees.
 

Do you have any advice on key strategies countries could implement in order to create effective and inclusive communities, thereby enabling productive citizenship for immigrants?

While we don’t have specific advice for other countries, within the U.S. we highly recommend the Welcoming America initiative. This is a great resource for communities seeking to be more inclusive of immigrants and refugees. The Welcoming Pittsburg Plan is an excellent example of how these resources can be implemented.
 

I've often wondered about the children in this crisis. How many have been orphaned and where do they end up?

Over half of the 21 million refugees in the world are children. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) aids refugees and displaced people around the world, including children. According to UNICEF, in 2015-16, over 300,000 children—unaccompanied or separated from families—were registered after crossing borders alone. They often end up in refugee camps, and face possible exploitation or abuse. The U.S. does welcome some unaccompanied children, but also makes a priority of single mothers with children as part of our humanitarian resettlement program.
 

How can those who live in cities that don't see many relocated refugees best help?

There are so many ways you can help!

  1. Share facts about resettlement with others who may not know much yet.

  2. Pray for refugees around the world, and those resettling into the U.S.

  3. Speak up and advocate with your Congressional Representatives, asking them to maintain policies that welcome refugees. Learn more about one specific opportunity June 12-16, 2017.

  4. Welcome everyone. You may not know any refugees, but you likely interact every day with people who face hardships or feel unwelcome. Find ways to give and serve others in your own community, and contribute to making your community one in which everyone feels welcome.

Can you tell us what the first year in America might look like for a new refugee family?

Refugees are faced with completely starting over during their first year, and relationships with people within their own language group and with Americans are vital to their success. During their first 30-90 days in the U.S., refugees receive services to assist them to stand on their feet. These include receiving social security cards, enrolling children in school and starting English classes. During the next three months, adults begin working and learn to pay bills, bank independently and become more familiar with American culture. The latter months are focused on becoming increasingly independent, building stronger English and working toward greater integration into their communities.
 

What kinds of jobs are refugees able to obtain once they arrive in the country? What if they don’t speak English?

Refugees are legally able to work when they arrive to the country, and many begin in entry level jobs in manufacturing, hospitality or meat packing industries, depending on the local jobs available. Even if they don’t speak English, many refugees are able to find their first job with the help of job placement agencies or resettlement agencies.
 

How does World Relief help refugees become economically self-sufficient?

Similar to all immigrants throughout American history, it takes time for refugees to be fully self-sufficient. Initially, refugees are assisted by World Relief or a job placement agency to find a “survival job," usually a low-wage job that helps pay basic bills. From there, we aim to help refugees plan toward future career and financial growth. Learning English is key to long-term financial growth, and World Relief encourages all refugees to continue learning and practicing English. Community volunteers play a key role with both English practice and employment-related networking.  
 

What kind of social services are in place for refugees upon their arrival in the U.S.? Are these services under now under threat?

Initial case management services are provided by resettlement agencies, like World Relief. Longer-term services vary by region, but may include case management, employment services, after school programs, counseling and medical case management. Many communities also provide social services to refugees through mainstream programs or through refugee-specific services offered through private foundations, churches and community groups.

The president sets the number of refugees admitted each year, and funds for services are allocated by Congress. Once Congress drafts initial budget proposals for FY18, we’ll have a better idea of what services may be at risk of cuts.
 

Navigating the complexities of U.S. laws, systems and social services must be daunting for new refugees. How does World Relief help with this?

During their initial months in the U.S., World Relief takes an active role in assisting clients to apply for eligible services and provides orientation to understanding U.S. culture, laws and available services. Volunteers and churches also play a vital role in helping refugees navigate their new country. By partnering with World Relief and refugee families, they walk with refugee friends as they find their way in a new country.
 

Tell us about a typical day for you and your staff in DuPage. Do you work directly with refugees, or are you mostly working on advocacy and settlement logistics?

This is always a fun question to answer, because there are no typical days. Most of our staff works directly with refugees and immigrants, and days may involve the following: home visits; appointments with clients, volunteers or government offices; coordinating service logistics for newly arrived refugees; cultural orientations and trainings; completing paperwork and case notes; and inter-office service coordination. We always engage in a lot of problem solving with the many stakeholders we work with.
 

What other organizations are working with refugees here in the U.S.? What distinguishes World Relief from them?

There are nine organizations that resettle refugees in the U.S., and many others that serve refugees once they have arrived. Like World Relief, many of these organizations are faith-based and work with volunteers. World Relief is the only evangelically-rooted resettlement agency whose mission is explicitly to partner with local churches to serve the vulnerable.
 

Do you do any work with refugees in their home nation before their arrival in the U.S. in terms of preparation and education? Do you work in refugee camps?

While World Relief does work in several of the countries either producing or hosting refugees (including Jordan and South Sudan), we do not have an active role in these locations preparing refugees for U.S. resettlement.


What is the most important message you want to convey about refugees here in the U.S.? 

I have gotten to know Al, a volunteer who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Iraq, and often speaks at events with World Relief. Al’s response to this question sticks with me: refugees want the same things we want. They want peace, freedom and safety. They want to contribute to their new community. They are fleeing the same type of violence that we are afraid of, and they care about the refugee program being safe and secure, just like U.S. citizens do. Above all, they want to build a good life for themselves and their families, and hope for good things for future generations.


Susan Sperry is the Executive Director of World Relief Dupage/Aurora. Previous to her role as Executive Director, Susan served in a variety of roles in the Dupage/Aurora office, including Refugee Services Director, Resettlement Director and Community Relations.

Alison Bell serves as the Senior Resettlement Manager for World Relief DuPage/Aurora and sits on the Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force. With a BA and MA in urban studies, Alison oversees social services and case management for refugees, asylees, and victims of human trafficking served by World Relief throughout DuPage County.

Thank God for Women — Thank God for My Mum

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

My mother was raised in a religious family. She taught me and my three siblings the basics of Christianity and taught us to love people around us. When my father died on the battlefield, my mother was there for us, uniting us as a family—loving and caring for each other even though we had hard times. As a single parent, it was never easy for my mother to provide everything but she made sure we had what we needed.

For many years, my mum worked endlessly to see that my siblings and I got the best education, all while looking for jobs that would sustain us as the needs of our family increased. We always had people from different backgrounds staying with us, and my siblings and I couldn’t understand why. As time went by I came to realize that my mum was always friendly and hospitable to everyone that came by. She wanted to give the best of her time to them.

After the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi occurred, my mother and I moved from Uganda back to Rwanda (where she was born) to get a more stable life—my siblings stayed behind to finish school. For 6 years, we went back and forth between Uganda and Rwanda to visit my siblings because I missed them. I once asked her why she had brought me alone along with her and left my siblings behind. She told me that “I love you so much and your siblings can’t be with us now, but I love them very much too.” It wasn’t long before we were reunited with them for good. In the meantime, my mother had found a job as a nurse at a clinic in Kigali. The school I went to was close to the clinic and after school, I would meet her at work and we would walk home together.

The nature of my mother's relationship with me was not only of a child and a parent but also of a friend and confidant. She encouraged me and made me feel important to her. This made me a very confident person.

Along the way, my mother found salvation and she found new meaning and purpose in life. Life as a single parent was never easy for her, she was constantly striving hard to make ends meet—the weight of that was often heavy. With Jesus in her life, she was so much happier and full of hope because she had found faith.

In 2002, my mother started working with World Relief Rwanda, which at the time was helping people to understand and accept living positively with individuals who were HIV positive. She endeavored to get to know and establish relationships with them, so they could trust her and accept her teachings. As a result of her counseling and spiritual mentoring, these individuals were able to reunite and live in harmony with other people, which wasn’t the case before because a stigma had isolated them. The more she worked and the longer she stayed with them, the more my mother  got closer to the most vulnerable.

The more I saw my mum go every week to spend hours and days with suffering people, the more I learned from the stories she shared about her experience. She always reminded me that even if it doesn’t feel like you have enough to give to the most vulnerable, physically being with them, praying with them and socializing with them provided relief and community for them. For over 15 years, she has always been an advocate of the most vulnerable, and most especially for women in the community.

In 2007, I joined a program called Choose Life at my high school to receive training to then train my peers in the community. I was excited for this opportunity because I was able to reach out to my fellow youth, and because of the stories my mother would tell me about serving the most vulnerable. 

I thank God for my mum and her lifelong impact. Because of her I went on to study Computer Science in college where my passion to serve the vulnerable grew stronger and led me to pursue my second degree in Community Work and Development. She has influenced me to pursue the work I am doing today. 

Bob Allan Karemera is World Relief Rwanda Strategic Partnership Officer for more than 4 years. In his role, he coordinates relationships with with seven church partners and donors, connecting and engaging them in meaningful ways to WR Rwanda’s work. With a degree from Mount Kenya University in Kigali in Social Work and Administration, Bob further developed his passion for community work.

Thank God for Women — A Conversation with Courtney O'Connell

Courtney O'Connell

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


After living and working in South Africa and Zambia, Courtney O’Connell came to World Relief in 2011. With a master’s degree in International Development from Eastern University, Courtney took on the role of Savings for Life (SFL) Senior Program Advisor, supporting program staff in the nine countries where World Relief implements SFL. She loves living in Rwanda, close to where Savings for Life is being implemented, and when she's not working, Courtney can be found running and biking throughout Rwanda's beautiful countryside. Recently, Cassidy Stratton, World Relief’s Marketing Coordinator, had an opportunity to catch up with Courtney to hear how she’s seen World Relief’s Savings for Life program empower women around the world:

Cassidy Stratton: You noted that you had already lived in Africa for 3 years. How did you specifically get connected to World Relief?

Courtney O’Connell: When I was job searching, I knew I wanted to do economic development in Africa with a Christian organization, and so I just went to some of the big names that I could immediately think of. World Relief actually had my current position posted, so without even thinking, or even proofreading, I submitted my resume. And, by the grace of God, I got it.

In my previous work overseas, I had seen organizations that claimed to be Christian on the website, and when I went to the field to see their programs, there was actually nothing Christian about them. And I was not sure if World Relief was like that since I had not seen them overseas. So I reached out to a professor of mine who was writing a book for which Stephen Bauman, the president of World Relief at that time, was submitting a chapter. She forwarded me Stephen’s chapter, which was all about working with the church and the heart and soul of what World Relief is about. As I read it, I said “Man, that sounds really good! And if they are who they say they are then I would totally be in..”

As I left the U.S., I thought, “I’m not selling my car until they prove that they are who they say they are.” Not that my car was nice; it was my Grandma’s hand-me-down Buick. Well, I moved to Rwanda in July of 2011. And I immediately, I fell in love with the way we do our work. Everything Stephen wrote about was true. There truly is a partnership with the local church, and the desire is to see the local church shine, not the organization. And to really infuse and integrate biblical beliefs into programs. To me, that was so unique. I was, and still am, thrilled to be a part of an organization that cares for the vulnerable in the way we do.



CS: Can you tell me more about your current position?

CO: I am the Savings for Life Senior Program Advisor—a program that forms community-based savings groups, where people pool their own money together in order to give loans to each other, charging interest. And after a set period of time—approximately 9 - 12 months—everyone takes back the savings they had put in, plus the portion of interest that they earned. So then it’s a very useful amount of money that a family can use to pay for school fees, invest in their farm, start a business, repair their house and the like. The best thing is that it is all their own money. It’s not like a loan from a bank. And when they go home at the end of this cycle for savings, they have in their hands probably the most amount of money that they’ve ever had at one time. It’s such an empowering program, and it’s great to be a part of it.

World Relief is running this program in 10 countries, and my role is to work alongside the program managers and field staff that are actually running the program. My role is to support them, help set strategies, prepare proposals, and make sure they have all of the tools to run a successful program. It’s cool for me because I get to be pretty close to the action, and I get to walk alongside the staff, the real heroes who are doing the work. Sometimes I feel like a cheerleader, cheering the programs along and helping teams to see what’s possible.



CS: What role have you seen women play in the Savings for Life Program?

CO: In most of the context where we’re working, the women are the glue of the society. They are the strong one’s in the family who make things happen. Unfortunately in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, the traditional gender roles are that the men are the ones who make all of the important household financial decisions and are the controllers of the money. The women are the ones who are tasked to provide for the family on a daily basis, yet they don’t have a lot of authority or even their own money to make things happen.

We hear a lot of testimonies from women saying that it’s embarrassing because they have to go and—they use the word “beg”—their husband in order to get money to buy salt, buy oil, etc. in order to prepare food. If she can’t prepare food then she is not doing her gender role. But in order to do her role within the family, she actually has to ask her husband for help. So it’s this huge power dynamic struggle.

The Savings for Life program worldwide is 80% women. And we see that women are the ones that benefit from this. They say now they do not have to beg their husbands because they can provide for themselves. They have this glow about them—this empowerment, this hope—because they feel like they are now doing the role that they are designed to do. Not only that, but they are also starting new businesses and paying school fees for their children, all things that had only been a dream before.



CS: Can you recall a specific success story of a Savings for Life group?

CO: I remember visiting a savings group at the beginning of their savings cycle, and they said to me, “We’re just poor people and can’t save, so can you give us money?” And then I actually went to visit that same group 9 months later when they were having the day of distribution. They literally had a table mounted with money. You could just see the joy, the hope, the empowerment, the confidence beaming out of them. And they were able to say, “This is our money, and no one helped us do this.” To me, this is what we’re here for. That’s the success. When people say that we can set our own goals and no one else has to do it for us.


CS: Is there a specific woman that has impacted your work?

CO: Another story I want to tell you about is about a woman named Adele. She lives in Burundi, one of the poorest countries where we work. It’s a beautiful country and has a lot of resources, but it also has a lot of poverty and corruption. Adele lives way out in the middle of a village, and Savings for Life comes that way, and she decides that she is going to join. During her first cycle of savings, she was able to buy a goat. This was the very first goat that her family owned. A goat out in the village is first a huge status and second a long-term savings. She was so happy to buy this goat. And by the second cycle of the savings program, she was able to buy a cow. Her family was able to use this cow to plow their fields. The savings group was impacting multiple areas of her life.

A few years after she joined the savings group, the community staff member approached her and asked if she could be a volunteer for Savings for Life, and she accepted. She got trained on how to be a volunteer village agent, and then she went out and started other training groups. Now she’s working in her own community and neighboring communities, helping to teach other people about this program that has been so impacting for her.



CS: How have you seen the savings groups also serve as support groups?

CO: The social aspect of the groups really help. There was a woman in a savings group that became a widow. She ended up moving back to her family, but she had a lot of relational problems and it wasn’t healthy for her stay in the household that she grew up in. And so her savings group actually built her a house. It was their own initiative. World Relief was not part of it at all. It was that this group of women cared for each other so much that they saw their sister in need and did something about it.

To me that is just really powerful how the social aspect of the savings group helps the women walk alongside each other to achieve their goals financially. And to just have social capital and strength. It helps relationships go way deeper.



CS: Have there been any women in your life that have influenced your work and the way you engage with women around the world?

CO: The small group that I’m a part of. There are women here in Rwanda that we meet on a weekly basis to walk through life together. There are challenges of living abroad, and being away from your home culture, and sometimes there are just frustration of life, and to be with other people who you know want the best for you and care about you and ask how they can help you. I have been impacted by that and have found a lot of solidarity and strength from these women.

I liken that to the solidarity and strength other women can get from their Savings for Life group.
  


CS: Why do you Thank God for Women?

CO: I thank God for women because I see the strength that they provide for their families and the hope that they provide for their children. Women are the ones in the family that are able to change course. Their family might have been living in poverty for generations and generations, but if a woman has hope, and has the confidence and the empowerment, then she can change that course for the generations to come.

And I think the real strength in rural communities, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, are the women who are holding everything together, making changes for their families and their kids. I think women are the changemakers in our world.

 

Give today to create a better world for women. 

Kenya Update: On the Horizon of Hope in Turkana

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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.

Thank God for Women — We’re Hiring

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

No one in their right mind would apply for a job that had no vacations, no pay, and a workload that more than doubles around the holidays—especially a holiday in your honor.  More than any other holiday, Mother’s Day evokes the full range of emotions in people.

The propensity for a vast pendulum swing of sentiments is both deep and wide when it comes to Mother’s Day because mothering has so many different stages and phases.

There are the mommas that are in their first few moments of mothering. They are new to the journey and deep down inside they are wondering will I ever sleep again.

There are those in the trenches with little ones that wear the badge of food stains and puke on their shirts wondering, “will I ever take another uninterrupted shower in my life?”

There are those wading in the choppy waters of the testing years of motherhood. You have colored many grey hairs and your knees are wobbly and skinned from praying that your children would find a path that leads them to wholeness and freedom.

There are the single mom’s that are more than deserving of adorning themselves each morning in a super woman cape as they shoulder the responsibilities of being both parent and provider outside of a partnership.

There are those rejoicing with vibrant and fulfilling relationships with their children.

There are those mourning in the grief of a miscarriage, failed adoption, or loss of a child.

There are those walking the desert road of infertility.  Feeling alone and discouraged choking back tears at every other woman’s baby shower and birth announcement.

There are the adoptive moms, foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms that pull children into their hearts and homes and love them as their own.

There are those who experience disappointment, heartache, and distance with their children and this day highlights and underscores the ever-present ache that you carry.

There are those who lost their mothers…and the missing of their own Momma vibrates through their being.

There are those who experienced abuse at the hands of their own mother—and they feel conflicted, challenged and even confused as to how to hold their range of emotions within their being.

There are those who are single and long to be married and mothering their own children and they try to hold their head high on this day when their heart feels tender with unmet desire.

There are step-moms, maneuvering their way through the intricacies of blending families together.

There are those who placed children up for adoption that still hold that child in their hearts.

There are those whose nests have become emptier and they are now steering a new ship with less cargo and the shift in weight has left them feeling unbalanced and uneven.

There are many more categories and complexities and certainly not enough sections in the card department for all the different “mothers” in this world.


Today on Mother’s Day, where we celebrate a job well done, a job that is often thankless & profitless and rarely deposits resources into our retirement funds.

Let’s choose to celebrate one another instead of comparing one another.

Let’s choose to delight in one another and the distinct ways in which we mother instead of disregarding our differences.

Let’s sprinkle praise and blessings and encouragement on all mom’s everywhere instead of remaining silent and secluded.

Let’s see and celebrate our children…. All children that we have the privilege to mother as sacred teachers sent from God that bring with them a spiritual curriculum to grow our souls to deeper levels of perseverance, character, hope and love.

Here’s to you Moms, may you delight in all the beautiful benefits from this crazy job called MOTHERING.

 

Jeanne Stevens is one of the lead pastors of Soul City Church in the dynamic West Loop neighborhood of Chicago, IL. Jeanne has had the opportunity to teach, pastor and speak in to the lives of thousands of people across the US and around the world. Her passion to develop leaders, encourage people to live from the fullest part of themselves and to live boldly give her a unique voice of hope and challenge. You can follow Jeanne on Instagram & Twitter – @JeanneMStevens and become her friend on Facebook – Jeanne Stevens.

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.

Agents of Peace Amid Despair

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by Maggie Konstanski
World Relief Middle East Programs Technical and Operations Coordinator


Last month, I stood in Iraq while looking out over Syria. My heart was heavy. New challenges emerged by the hour and all of our efforts felt insufficient when compared to the immense and ever-growing needs. As I stood in one land and looked out over another—both of which are entrenched in horrific conflicts, my frustration grew. I was overwhelmed by the news cycle that day: violence, terror, hate, persecution and unimaginable atrocities perpetrated against children. And, as violence continues to cause mass displacement around the world, this same news cycle showed many countries adopting increasingly restrictive policies that result in closed doors, preventing the persecuted from finding refuge.

At the end of most days, I find myself crying out questions of why and how long people must be left to languish in such circumstances. I struggle with the knowledge that we’re too often paralyzed when confronted with suffering at such magnitude—oftentimes believing there is no hope, that there is only darkness and that the dawn will never come. Today, too many of us have come to believe that the darkness is impenetrable, the conflicts too entrenched and that our resources are too small to make a difference.

But there is another story. It is the story of a small but persistent church body, isolated and under-resourced, yet powerfully engaged. It is a story of hope and light amidst the darkness.

The Middle Eastern conflict and disruption has been devastating for millions of men, women and children. Yet, this terrible struggle has also given the church an unparallelled opportunity to reach out to their vulnerable neighbors. Though these churches are usually small and often face significant challenges, their leaders deeply desire to serve faithfully and extend love, compassion and refuge to the thousands of suffering around them.

Today—perhaps more than ever—the church in the Middle East has the opportunity to break down damaging historical perceptions and cultural stereotypes, and foster restored relationships in their communities. And as the world looks to see how the global church responds to this conflict, its legacy will be one of love and welcome. It will be a “light for the world.” A town built upon a hill that gives light to everyone and shines a path forward, one of hope and of peace.

I have seen enough to believe that there is no place secluded enough, no place dark enough and no place disguised enough to keep the oppressed hidden from a God who hears their cries. I have seen the church reaching the furthest corners of the most vulnerable communities, identifying the neediest for emergency assistance and connecting them to the services and resources they need. I have seen them reaching the unreached in fearless and compassionate service.

This is a place where I know morning will come. The dawn will break upon us. The sun will rise. Darkness will be vanquished. This is a place where the church is truly stepping out in faith as the hope and light of the world. And I have already seen this light.

I see it in the faces of children who laugh, play and show compassion to others in our kids clubs and safe spaces programs. I see it in the displaced community as they seek to serve one another and make sacrifices for others. I see it in parents here who give up their own lives and comfort in hopes of providing a different future to their children. I see it in families who welcome the refugee, the stranger and share their homes and dinner tables. I see it in the person who forgives words said in anger and frustration, and extends undeserved grace. I see it in the grace, forgiveness and kindness that have been extended to me by so many.

And above all, I see it in the church that chooses to boldly and compassionately reach out, even when they themselves are under pressure and persecution.

We may not be able to end all conflicts. We may not be able to meet all the needs on our doorstep, but we can answer God’s calling and follow the church's lead to love those in front of us. We can work through the church to push back the darkness in our own spheres of influence. We can advocate for more action. We can show compassion. And we can be peacemakers.

Across the Middle East, the church is bringing light to places of great darkness. In the valley of the shadow of death, churches are agents of peace, light and reconciliation in communities entrenched in conflict. To witness their love in action and commitment to guiding the region towards a path of peace inspires me with renewed hope each day.


Maggie Konstanski has been a part of the World Relief team for over 4 years, and currently serves at the Middle East Programs Technical and Operations Coordinator. With a passion for international human rights, Maggie often uses work-related travel as a platform to tell the powerful stories of the vulnerable families and communities we serve.

When God Makes All things New

For Christians around the world, Easter is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise that God is making all things new.

World Relief's mission to empower the church to stand with the vulnerable flows directly from the belief that God can change people’s lives physically, emotionally and spiritually, and that God can also change entire communities, regions and the world.

We also believe that God invites each of us into the process of making all things new—helping restore lives that are broken, bring healing to regions racked by violence and raise up communities currently stuck in cycles of poverty.

As we celebrate Easter this year, may we be grateful for the new life that Jesus’ resurrection makes possible for each of us. And may we be encouraged to join God’s work of making all things new in the world by standing with the vulnerable.

We invite you to learn more about how you can stand with the vulnerable and partner with us as we join in God’s work around the world.

May you, your family and friends enjoy a meaningful Easter!

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 — Heroes in the Fight for Justice

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

A few years ago, a dear friend gave me a book titled, Women Are Heroes. It is filled with beautiful portraits and stories of women around the world whose very existence is heroic. I flip through it often and I am constantly inspired by the resilience, strength and grace that women posses.

You don’t have to look very far to find disturbing statistics about women across the globe. Women, on average, still make less than men. We are more prone to being victimized by sexual violence. We have less access to education. The list goes on. But somehow, despite all of the data, there are women who continue to defy the odds—fighting for justice in their communities, raising families with inadequate resources, building businesses out of nothing, and striving for educational opportunities to not only better themselves but the people around them as well.

My line of work has afforded me the privilege of traveling all around the world and wherever I go, I am always in awe of the women I meet.

I have visited with women in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Women who have lived through atrocities of war and sexual violence against their bodies. But in spite of all they have experienced, they continue to work towards the healing of themselves, their own, and the healing of other women in their communities. These women speak of forgiveness, hope and peacebuilding in their communities.

I have listened to women in Kenya share how they started a savings group so that they could pay for their kids’ uniforms and school fees. They were soon able to start their own businesses, and then began to pay the school fees for other children in the community who were in need.

I have sat with women from both Israel and Palestine as they shared their painful stories of loss, what forgiveness looks like and how they can begin to lead their communities to understand the narrative of the “other.”

I am surrounded by countless women—many whom I am honored to call friends—here in the United States who have committed their lives to advocate for those who suffer under the oppression of racial, gender, and economic injustice.

When women are not allowed to fully express their God-given potential, it is affront to our Creator and a disservice to all of humanity.

Throughout history, countless women have ignored the limitations that society has placed on them and fought, against all odds, for the opportunity to flourish. Women like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai, Yuri Kochiyama, Berta Cáceres, Katherine G. Johnson, Septima Clark, the millions of refugee women around the world—the list goes on. These women have blazed trails, smashed ceilings, fought countless battles so that the next generation could dream bigger, soar higher and achieve things they never thought to be possible.

The fight for women's rights means equal rights for all. Women work for the betterment of families, communities and nations. There is a deep understanding that we are all connected to each other and we all rise and fall together.

So today—and every day—I thank God for women. The dreamers, troublemakers, peacemakers, bridge builders, trailblazers, ceiling crushers, and image bearers of the Creator. The women who see injustice in our world and refuse to stay silent. Those who work to infuse radical love and hope into our world.

Women are heroes and I stand on the shoulders of the ones who have gone before me, and I link arms with the present day warriors. Together, we continue the fight for justice for all people.


Chi Chi Okwu is a Senior Church Advisor for World Vision USA—working with churches and parachurch organizations to build strategic partnerships focusing on community development and relief work globally. She is passionate about issues relating to faith and justice specifically in the areas of race, gender and reconciliation, and enjoys speaking and writing on those topics. Chi Chi currently resides in Chicago and enjoys traveling, cooking, watching sports and spending quality time with friends and family.

Thank God for Women — The Village Nearby

 

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

The Village Nearby is an chapter from The Mother & Child Project: Raising our Voices for Health and Hope—compiled by Hope Through Healing Hands’ Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide.

 

Deborah Dortzbach currently serves as World Relief’s Senior Health Advisor. Her extensive background in international public health has equipped her to oversee maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, child development, adolescent health, and anti-trafficking programs for over twenty-five years.

In 2015, Zondervan published The Mother & Child Project: Raising our Voices for Health and Hope, featuring personal stories from women around the world—including Deborah’s. Her story covers her work in the late 1970s, and journeys through a time when she was held hostage while pregnant. She applauds the strength of the women who surrounded her at that time. We thank God for Deborah and the work she continues to do to empower women. Here’s an excerpt her story...


I thought I would deliver my firstborn child by myself in a makeshift lean-to on a windswept hill far from a health facility. I was terrified.

There was no one to give me prenatal care. No one to coach me. No one to talk to about my fears.  No emergency backup for complications. No one except…soldiers, hovering.

I am a nurse and was taken hostage while pregnant by the Eritrean Liberation Front and held in a remote, desolate location near the Sudan border. One day, as I wandered in allowable short distances, I discovered others like myself in a nearby village. They were Tigre women, clustered around each other as they framed their nomadic huts. Some were pregnant; some had children tugging at their long, faded skirts as they stretched straw mats over simple poles. One woman stood alone. She had no children and looked sad and abandoned.

I went to them, and we chatted, each in our own mother tongue, as together we thrust grass mats over the acacia sticks, bounced babies in our arms, and laughed at each other’s strange expressions. I put their weathered hands on my bulging bump of baby, and they seemed to curiously question, “What are you doing here?”

I have had many years now to reflect on that question. I was eventually released, received good medical care, and delivered a healthy baby boy. But my newfound friends were never freed from the captivity of unsafe motherhood and the future opportunity to participate in decisions about their families and their own well-being. Were I to return to the same hill today, I wonder if they would ask me the very same question, in the past tense, and what my answer would be. “What have you done, for us?”

The Tigre moms and millions like them, let us know that before us is a choice—to improve maternal health, or to actually increase maternal harm through just doing nothing. While we get genuinely interested for a brief season or for some project silos in maternal health, we all know the deeper issues of behavior and structural change take time and perseverance. Our commitments must be unswerving and unending.

Fundamentally, as Christians, we work and strive to improve maternal health because it’s about valuing who a woman is as God made her and treasures her, not because of a role or function, marital status, maternal status, or even because of need, as great as that may be. Needs and resources will come and go—but the intrinsic worth of woman as God sees her, will always warrant our highest efforts to esteem her and fight for her equality and full expression of honor, dignity, safety, and health.

The account in the Gospels[1] of the bleeding woman healed by Jesus demonstrates this. The unnamed woman, bleeding for 12 years, was stigmatized, spiritually ostracized, extremely weak, and economically impoverished. Yet, drawn by the working of Christ in her life, she ventured into a crowded social space and touched Jesus. He cared so deeply and so thoroughly for her, that He allowed her blood-impure status to spiritually defile him. It instantly healed the woman.

What a beautiful picture for us of the spiritual healing soon to come through the defilement Jesus took upon himself on the cross! God chose the body of woman through which to be born (Mary) and now the body of a woman to bring a foreshadowing of His healing power through death. Can there be any doubt He loves, treasures, honors, and redeems women and seeks to bring His redemption and completeness to all humankind in brokenness and suffering?


[1] Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48

Join us as we support those whose work raises the value of women and provides the opportunities for growth and progress.

Thank God for Women — Saving Funds and Communities

*Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

*Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

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

 

As a pastor’s wife in rural Kenya, Elizabeth Ewoton saw glaring financial needs all around her community. She decided to lead by example, using her influence to mobilize 15 local women to join a community savings group at Full Gospel Church in Lokitaung, Kenya, which had implemented World Relief’s Savings For Life back in 2014.

Savings For Life is a holistic, community-based savings and credit program that offers safe and reliable financial services to people who are often excluded from more formal banking institutions. As time goes by, consistent savings allow participants access to appropriately-sized loans, without impossible fees and interest rates. This allows members of the group to take care of daily household needs and to establish and invest in their own income-generating activities.

Prior to Elizabeth's involvement, no one had ever heard of working together as a community to save their own funds. But one woman, Hellen Esekon, caught Elizabeth’s vision and decided to give it a try.

Both women’s families soon benefited substantially from the Savings For Life program, as each gained access to money to pay unexpected school fees for their daughters. Both Elizabeth and Hellen say there is no way they would have been able to pay the fees—which were demanded on very short notice—if it weren’t for the savings group.

Elizabeth, who is now chair of the group, and Hellen have become bold advocates for the Savings For Life program at Full Gospel Church. They have experienced first-hand the transformation and security that comes with financial stability, and they want that experience for others as well!

Give to World Relief to create a better world for women.

Thank God for Women — Defiant Love

*Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

*Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

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


Six years ago, I was sitting at a small, unsteady table, in a room that was oppressively hot. Aamiina, a young refugee woman sat across from me. A few months prior to that, the word “refugee” had not really been part of my vernacular, but it was now an everyday term.

We opened the room’s small window to try to let in a breeze, and the cacophony of the streets soon invaded any sense of peace and quiet. Aamiina began to share her refugee journey—a story of sorrow, suffering, and loss.

To this day,  I have never been able to repeat what I heard, though I can still remember every detail. I still think of the two daughters Aamiina lost—one to death, and one to kidnapping. I wonder if her daughter is still alive somewhere, and if she knows how her mother longs to find her.

When Aamiina finished her story, she said something that I will never forget: “All the people that did these things to me, they want me to hate. But my act of defiance is to love.”

Amiina’s love and gentleness defied all odds. Despite such loss, Aamiina later took young women under her wing and loved them as if they were her own daughters. Her love changed these women. Her love changed me.

Since that day, I have met many women like Aamiina in some of the most violent corners of this earth. I have connected with mothers from Syria, who have made dangerous journeys across deserts and seas to seek refuge for their children. I have cried with women who have pulled their children from beneath the rubble of destroyed homes, schools, and hospitals. I have witnessed young women who have had to discontinue their education because of conflict, and instead have chosen to invest in the education of children in their communities. I have seen young women return to their destroyed homes, and begin the courageous work of rebuilding, even in the midst of uncertainty. I have seen women volunteer long hours to serve others, even when their own needs were profound. I have watched my friend—after ISIS killed everyone in her family except for her younger sister—work long hours to pay for her sister’s education.

These women inspire and fuel much World Relief’s work in the Middle East. We work with Syrian women who volunteer in Child Friendly Spaces, providing psychosocial, education, and health support to children. We partner with women in Iraq who provide support to children and youth in their communities. We stand with women that are working to rebuild their communities and restore livelihoods to their families as they return to cities in Iraq.

Women are leading, creating, and defining the work that we do across the Middle East. I am profoundly grateful to know these women and to witness the work that they are doing.

The women World Relief partners with and serve have taught me to love courageously. Love is not weakness in the wake of hatred and violence. Love is not passive. Love—like my friend Aamiina shared—is an act of defiance. The love of women across the Middle East is driving out darkness, and making the way for peace.

I thank God for women because women defy the darkness.

I thank God for women because in places of destruction, women rebuild, restore and reclaim peace.

Give to World Relief today.

Together, we can create a better world for women like Aamiina.


Maggie

Maggie Konstanski has been a part of the World Relief team for over 4 years, and currently serves at the Middle East Programs Technical and Operations Coordinator. With a passion for international human rights, Maggie often uses work-related travel as a platform to tell the powerful stories of the vulnerable families and communities we serve.