An Especially Hard Sunday Morning

Flowers and other mementos are left at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Flowers and other mementos are left at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

It’s a known reality that Sunday mornings are an ‘experience’ for young families. Getting everyone up, ready, and out the door for church provides numerous joys and challenges. For me, this Sunday morning was particularly challenging.

On one hand, it was full of joy. My two-year-old daughter had spent her first night in the ‘big girl room’ we have been preparing the past few weeks. We were woken to the joyful scream of, “I slept in my room!” Laughter is a great way to start the day. 

We went through the normal morning routine—family cuddles in bed, breakfast and the ritual Sunday morning playing of VeggieTales 25 Favorite Sunday School Songs!, in which my daughter gets ready, eats breakfast and plays all while singing along with ALL 25 SONGS. 

On the other hand, my wife and I would both sneak away with our phones to read the updates on what had happened 142 miles down the road from us in Charlottesville, VA—a weekend getaway for those of us who live in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. metro area. 

I sat at my kitchen table with my coffee, watching my daughter and wife play and sing on the floor. So much joy. But on the phone in my hand were pictures of people with torches marching with through the streets who did not think that my wife and child—the daughter and granddaughter of Ugandan immigrants—were worth the same as those of us who are white. So much hate. 

It was an especially hard Sunday morning.

I wanted to share thoughts on what was wrong, on how it could be addressed. I wanted to experience the joy in my house and join the lament happening across the country. I didn’t want to dive into politics and policy, but speak to the church. I offer not solutions, but perspective and I am choosing to do it through the eyes of my daughter, and her favorite Sunday school songs.

This Little Light of Mine

As followers of Jesus we know that we are to be light in the darkness (Phil 2:14-16). But so often the darkness surprises us. It shouldn’t. There is real evil and hate in the world. It stands against everything that is good. It stands against people realizing their full potential as image bearers of God—with dignity, purpose and vocation. It specializes in dehumanizing each and every one of us. This weekend we saw just a glimpse of it. 

This same darkness keeps people trapped in systems of injustice, perpetuates generational poverty and causes us to fear people who are different from us. What we saw this weekend is born of the same darkness we find in a brothel full of sex slaves, an encampment of rebels training stolen children to be soldiers, the violence plaguing Syria, the shooting on the street corner or in the expanding opioid crisis.  It is vile, it is disgusting and it is not far from any of us. This darkness, when combined with our personal flaws and sin, is dangerous and pervasive. If we let ourselves be surprised by it, then it will consume us.  If we pretend we are immune to or above this darkness, then we are blind. 

Shining our light means that we expose darkness for what it is—evil. If we are to be light, we need to call out racism, white supremacism, Nazism and xenophobia as evil, expose it as evil and let the light of God cleanse it. May the church do just that this week. May we realize the power in naming evil while at the same time recognizing the long journey ahead toward rooting it out. Yes, public policy and political leaders have a role here, but we don’t control them—we control ourselves, our families and our churches. Let’s start there. 

This is My Commandment

This is my daughter’s current favorite song. “This is my commandment that you love one another that your joy may be full.”

The hate we saw perpetuated this weekend was committed by people who, we can argue, do not have much joy. Their obsession with dehumanizing people of color, immigrants and people of different faiths consumes them. They are angry and bitter. 

Let’s not become like them. 

This morning I found myself full of two types of anger. First, righteous anger at the injustice. But also, an unholy anger directed towards the people who marched. I hate what they did. They frighten me. With highly armed people who are this passionate, I worry about the safety of my wife, daughter and soon-to be born son. But I cannot let myself hate them. If I do this, I become just like them and give up my own humanity. Hating them will rob me of the joy that I believe God wants me to experience.

Yes, I should be angry—we all should. But let’s afford them what they seek to take away from others.  Let’s extend to them the love of God. 

Let us also not forget the many, many people of all colors and creeds who are afraid this week. My prayer for the church is the same prayer that we try to teach my daughter: “God teach us to love you more, teach us to love each other more and teach us to love people who are different from us more and more each day.” If the church would seek to understand this simple, yet high, calling we could change the world. 

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

At the end of 25 Sunday school songs sung by vegetables you would think that I would have been done.  Most Sundays you would be right. But this Sunday, right now, as I am writing this, the vegetables are singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and I have tears streaming down my face.

The chorus goes: “Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarm, leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.”

Why tears? There have been too many mornings like this one over these past few years. Mornings that alarmed me. Mornings where I grieved, lamented and cried out to God asking, “Why do You allow this hate to continue, why don’t You root it out right now?” Mornings praying that my family would be protected from the narrative of hate in the world. Mornings coming to grips with the fact that the world treats me differently than it treats them. The painful and confusing reality that I, James, am privileged in a way that causes people to treat me in a more favorable way than they do my wife, daughter and soon-to-be son. Mornings feeling demobilized, confused and not knowing what to do.  

Why tears? Reality sets in. We might not always be safe; it is not guaranteed to us. The promise of a future reality being sung in the song does not govern this present day. But I know how the story ends and can live in light. I see the picture of the people of God gathered from every tribe and tongue. I see a throng of distinctly different people, celebrating one another’s heritages, cultures and histories. I see that same throng unified in adoration of the One who made it possible for them to finally, after millenniums of strife, come together. They come together in celebration of the One who is Light and who once and for all will do away with darkness.

Immigration is Changing the Face of Christianity for the Better

Photo courtesy Esther Havens

Photo courtesy Esther Havens

For me, immigration is not a political issue or a policy issue; it's a very personal issue. My own family's history has fundamentally shaped who I am as an American, and who I am as a Christian. And as an American Christian, my fear is that the conversation about immigration in this country has become so political that we have missed out on what God is actually doing through the migration of millions of people and may potentially miss the unique missional opportunity that is in front of us.

From Korea to the United States

I am the daughter of two Korean immigrants.

My father was born and raised in South Korea when Korea was in the midst of a significant war. My grandfather was a reporter for a newspaper, and during the beginning of the war, the military was targeting media personnel. When my father was three years old, soldiers pushed him aside as they went upstairs into the house, found my grandfather and pulled him out of the house. My father never saw his father again.

A few years later, my grandmother came to faith in Christ because of American missionaries sent to Korea at that time. Although my father and his mother were desperately poor and alone, they read Scripture and prayed together, and that is what sustained them during this troubling time without my grandfather. Sadly, my grandmother got sick and passed away, so at 7 years old, my father became an orphan.

As an orphan, my father heard about the United States of America, and knew that if he could make it here, he wouldn't be defined by his poverty or the fact that he was an orphan. After high school, he entered into a national car repair competition where he won first place. This was his golden ticket, his opportunity to move to a country he saw as the land of opportunity.

Migration Today

I know that my family is not unique: it's estimated that there are over 200 million individuals around the world that are migrating from one place to another to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families. And about 60 million of these individuals are people who are refugees or those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. This is the greatest number of refugees and displaced since World War II.

But the history of displaced people stretches back much farther than the mid 20th century. In fact, forced migration runs through the very fabric of history itself.

A Biblical View of Immigration

From Genesis to Revelation, the entire Bible is fundamentally a book about immigrants and about immigration. In fact, almost every single Biblical character in the Bible was an immigrant at one point in another.

Abraham—who is considered the father of our faith—was called by God to leave his home and to go to another land that God would show him. Abraham didn't know where he was going or how he was going to get there. Becoming an immigrant, leaving behind everything that he knew, would be a test of God's faithfulness to him and his family.

Ruth was a Moabite woman and a migrant worker gleaning barley in the fields when she was noticed by Boaz. Boaz noticed her as a migrant worker, as someone whose character and dignity was worthy of respect and of love. And it was through her experience as a migrant that she was able to meet the love of her life.

Joseph was a victim of human trafficking. He was sold into slavery by his brothers and was transported across borders, and that fundamentally shaped his experience as an immigrant.

Jesus the Middle Eastern refugee

Perhaps the greatest immigrant of all in Scripture was Jesus himself. He was a single, male Middle Eastern refugee. He fits into every category of an individual whom we have said that we don't even want to come into our country. So my question is: “If Jesus were born today, would we as a country even welcome him into our community?”

Immigration: A missional opportunity

At World Relief, we've resettled over 300,000 refugees from all parts of the world. We've resettled individuals from Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan—places where it's very hard for the Church to thrive.

What we have found is that the mission field is not just overseas anymore. Because of migration to the United States of America, the mission field has literally arrived in our own backyards. It is an incredible opportunity for the church.

Dr. Timothy Tenent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, said: “86% of the immigrant population are likely either to be Christian or to become Christian. And that is far above the national average.” He said that "The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America. This group of people we want to keep out is the group that we actually need the most for spiritual transformation. We shouldn't see this as something that threatens us. We should see this as an incredible, missional opportunity.”

The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America.
— Dr. Timothy Tenent, President, Asbury Theological Seminary

It isn’t only refugees who have never heard the Gospel who are coming to the U.S. Many refugees are arriving with a vibrant Christian faith that is renewing the life of the church. Refugees and immigrants are not just the recipients of mission, but they are also the agents of mission.

As an example, Abundant Life Church in San Antonio started with a few hundred members but within the span of five years grew to over 1,300 members, offering both English and Spanish-speaking services. The immigrants coming into this church community are actually reviving the spiritual life of the church. And it's not just these small immigrant churches that are experiencing tremendous growth and spiritual renewal. Megachurches across the country, like Willow Creek Community Church, are also experiencing a transformation and revitalization of their ministries.

A test of faith

When we talk about immigration, I believe it's not just a test of our politics. Our response to immigration fundamentally is a test of our faith, what we fundamentally believe about the gospel and about people who are made in the image of God.

Are we willing to risk our own comfort and security to welcome our neighbors into the kingdom of God? Do we really actually believe that Jesus died for people of all nations and of all ethnicities and of all cultures and of all languages? Because I believe if we do, we will choose to welcome and love the very people the world wants us to hate. In fact, when we as a church love and welcome the very people the world wants to marginalize, we will advance the mission of God.

 

This post was adapted from Jenny Yang’s talk at Cru 17. Watch the entire talk.


Jenny Yang provides oversight for all advocacy initiatives and policy positions at World Relief. She has worked in the Resettlement section of World Relief as the Senior Case Manager and East Asia Program Officer, where she focused on advocacy for refugees in the East Asia region and managed the entire refugee caseload for World Relief. Prior to World Relief, she worked at one of the largest political fundraising firms in Maryland managing fundraising and campaigning for local politicians. She is co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate, serves as Chair of the Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) Africa Work Group, and was named one of the “50 Women to Watch” by Christianity Today. 

“I will not forget you, God has placed you in my heart.”

Some time ago I spent a week in a Middle Eastern country visiting with Syrian refugees. Day after day on that trip, I sat on concrete floors in crumbling urban apartments with Syrian women and their children. Each time I looked into the women's faces, their empty eyes told the silent stories of losses and grief.

In Syria, these women had been comfortable, middle class women, just living their day-to-day lives. Then suddenly, one day, they were running for their lives. They had watched their friends and family members die. They had seen their communities exploding, literally. So they did the only thing they could. They grabbed their kids and crossed country borders in the middle of the night, sometimes with bullets chasing them, in search of some kind of future. In search of some kind of hope.

Fortunately, many of those women ended up safely in the neighborhood where I was visiting, where a church I knew very well was providing food and basic necessities for these refugee families. On the last day of my visit, the pastor asked if I would speak to 200 of these women. He explained how they came to the church once a week to get bags of food and to let their children play in a safe place. While the children played, the mothers attended meetings where they’d learn how to deal with grief, how to help with their children’s trauma, and how to adapt to a new culture.

With the help of a Palestinian Christian friend who translated my words into Arabic, this is what I said to the women:

“I wish I didn’t have to stand up here in front of you. I would much rather sit beside you on a cushion on the floor and have a cup of tea with you. I would love to snuggle your baby in my arms. And I would love to hear your story. I know you each have a sad story, and if I heard it, I know I would weep. I know you are good and loving women. And I’m sorry you have lost so much. I am sorry you had to flee to a country, a city, and a house that’s not your own.

I can imagine in your own country, you were strong women who graciously served others.

I can imagine you making delicious food and sharing it with your family and friends.

I can imagine you caring for your mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers and friends, just like I do.”

That’s what women do. We are compassionate. We give. We serve, protect, and work hard to make the world better for the people we love.
Wherever I go in the world, I discover we women are a lot a like. We may have different clothes, hair, religion, culture or skin color, but in our hearts we are the same. That’s why we can look into each other's eyes and feel connected. We can talk without using words. We can smile, we can hug, we can laugh. And sometimes we can feel each other’s pain. While I was with those women, I prayed that God would help me feel their pain. And oh how I wished I could remove it, or help them carry it.

“Your Faith Has Healed You”

I told the women gathered before me that while I prayed for them the night before, I was reminded of the story in the Gospel about the woman who had been sick for many years. No one could heal her body or comfort her mind. People had given up on her and were ignoring her. But she believed Jesus could heal her if she could just touch his robe. So she pushed silently through the crowd that followed Jesus. She was afraid he would turn her away if he saw her, so she stayed quietly in the shadows. Finally, she reached out and touched his robe.

Immediately he stopped, “Who touched me?” He asked.

“Power has flowed out of me and I want to know who touched me.”

She was afraid, certain he was angry and would punish her, but she felt compelled to answer, “It was me. I am the one who touched you!”

The crowd hushed, anxious to see what this great man would do.

Jesus simply looked into her eyes and said, “Daughter your faith is great. Your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

I told the women that when I read that story I wondered why Jesus stopped and made that frightened women speak up, and I prayed for God to help me understand.

This is why I think Jesus stopped: I believe Jesus wanted that woman to know he saw her.

She wasn’t just an anonymous person in a huge crowd. She was an individual woman and he saw her.

Jesus knew she was suffering and it broke his heart. He called her daughter so she would understand how much he loved her. He said she had great faith in her God and he honored her for it. And he healed the wounds of her body and soul.

As a Christian, I believe Jesus shows us what God is like. He shows us that God sees each of us as individuals. He calls us sons and daughters because he loves us. He honors our faith because he knows it can make us strong. He cares when we suffer. He wants to bring healing, comfort, and peace into our lives. Some verses in Scripture even tell us that Jesus weeps, which means that God weeps, too. He weeps for all of His suffering children.

“I Will Not Forget You”

Then I looked at the women seated before me and said this,

“I wish I could end the war that’s ravaging your country. I wish I could gather all the money in the world to make your lives easier. I wish I could bring back all that you have lost. I can’t do any of that, but I can do this: I can go home and tell others what I’ve seen. I can tell people how you are suffering and how amazing Christians are lovingly walking with you. Both you and your Christian friends need the prayers and support of Americans. And I will tell my friends that.

"I will also tell my friends how beautiful, strong, and loving you are. I will tell them you are women of deep faith, women who adore your children and grandchildren, just the same way I adore mine. Women who sacrifice willingly for those that they love.

"I will tell them that when I look into your eyes, I see that we are all a part of the same human family, all created and loved by God. I will not forget you. I will pray for you. I will tell your stories. I will weep when I hear anew of your suffering, and I will rejoice over any goodness that comes your way.

"Truly I will not forget you. God has placed you in my heart.”

It was over three years ago that I met those women.  Since then I have told their stories many times. They and their stories continue to break my heart, but they also compel me to action.

One final story has impacted me greatly...

After their home was destroyed by rockets, Hana and her children fled Syria to relative safety in a neighboring country. There they found leaders like Saeed and Clara providing help and hope for refugee children. I hope that as you watch, their story inspires you as much as it inspired me.


More than 80% of the beneficiaries of our programs are women and children. World Relief works through local churches to protect, celebrate, and raise the value of women by taking a holistic approach—addressing immediate needs and harmful belief systems simultaneously. Learn how you can join us and create a better world for women.


Since 1975, when Lynne & Bill Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church, Lynne has been an active volunteer in the compassion ministries of the church. She has served with ministry partners in Chicago, Latin America, Africa, and more recently in the Middle East. Increasingly, Lynne is partnering with women in conflict zones who are committed to reconciliation, peacemaking, caring for refugees, and creating a better future for their children. Lynne is actively engaged with a grassroots organization, One Million Thumbprints, which raises awareness and funds for women suffering from the violence of war in Syria and Iraq, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In recent years she has traveled repeatedly to the Middle East to meet with Syrian refugees, Iraqis displaced by ISIS, and Israeli and Palestinian women working for security, dignity, and peace for all the people living in the Holy Land. Lynne and Bill have two grown children, Shauna and Todd, one son-in-law, Aaron Niequist, and two grandsons, Henry and Mac, who run the family. 

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Immigrant Image

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

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

The Questions We Must Answer

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve Seen This Before

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

Integration is Who We Are

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

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

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

Drawn By Our Values

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

New Americans

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

From Every Nation, Tribe and Language

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

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

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

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


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

VIDEO: The Hope House

We are called to care for our neighbor, both American and foreign-born.

“To care for both/and. Not either/or. But both/and.”

That’s the message Pastor Bill Bigger preached to his church, Hope Valley Baptist in Durham, NC, as the congregation underwent a 5-month discussion and discernment period on whether to build a temporary shelter for incoming refugees on the church’s property.

“I preached on the biblical call to welcome the stranger, and to be a neighbor to people regardless of their background…” Bigger recalls. And despite initial congregational concerns, 84% of the church voted in favor of building Hope House last year.

“It’s my faith in God that shapes my commitment to refugees,” Bigger explains.

Watch Hope Valley’s story in this video recently produced by UNHCR:

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

the-magic-years-photo.jpg

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!