The tiny grave that broke my heart

A few weeks ago I made an urgent trip to South Sudan.

As much as you can prepare to visit a country that’s been ravaged by war, and now has over two million of its people displaced … I simply wasn’t ready for the scale of this crisis.

The statistics alone are overwhelming—thousands of people killed, more than two million displaced, 700% inflation—but when you realize there are real stories behind these numbers, it takes your breath away.

I was hiking back out to the road after visiting a remote World Concern project when I saw her.

She was standing alone beside a simple mud hut, so I slowly began walking towards her. As I came closer, I noticed she was standing next to two mounds of dirt … graves. One was dry and sunbaked. The other was smaller, and piled with fresh dirt.

I looked up at her, searching her face for signs of what had happened. Her name was Uduru.

In whispers she told me that her husband had died a year ago. But then, her eyes shifted to the tiny, fresh grave. She said that just a week ago she buried her sweet 2-year-old boy. He had died hungry, the victim of a combination of malnutrition and a water-borne disease. On top of his grave were two tiny plastic shoes, this grieving mother’s only physical memory of her baby boy.

Buried next to his father who died one year ago, Uduru buried her precious 2-year-old son just two weeks ago.

Uduru has three other children, each one is fighting to survive. I couldn’t speak. And just held this poor woman in my arms as she wept.

South Sudan is in the midst of a catastrophic food shortage, where thousands of people are on the brink of starvation.

It’s in places like South Sudan where World Concern is working to meet the urgent needs of people like Uduru and her children.

But we can’t do it alone.

We’re working through local churches to reach families displaced by the crisis with emergency aid—tents and tarps for shelter from the rain, mosquito nets to protect them from malaria and other deadly diseases, hygiene kits, and life-saving food. But sometimes there is just not enough, and that’s why your help is needed.

Decades of fighting in South Sudan will have a major impact on future generations.

The crisis in South Sudan is very real. During our emergency distribution I held a small child in my arms. He was probably only 3 years old. His pencil thin arm told me that he is already severely malnourished.

His mother had been standing in line all day but sadly by the time she got to the front of the line, our supplies had run out. We simply didn’t have enough to meet the need. She came to me pleading if we had more. She had been left out. I looked at her and the others behind her that had the same question. In faith I told her, we will be back.

A decision no parent should have to make

Imagine having no choice but to sell your child in order to survive…

That is the anguishing decision Nirmali, a young widow, faced. Alone and desperately struggling to provide for her children, Nirmali was given an offer by evil predators; she could have a well-paying job as a housemaid if she sold her 3-year-old son into slavery.

This is a choice no parent should have to face. Ever.

In Sri Lanka's coastal regions, boys are more likely than girls to be forced into prostitution for child sex tourism.
In Sri Lanka’s coastal regions, boys are more likely than girls to be forced into prostitution for child sex tourism.

What Nirmali didn’t realize is that she and her precious toddler would no doubt be sold into trafficking or forced to work as slaves.

It horrifies me to think of what happens when a child is trafficked. Imagine the terror a 3-year-old feels being torn from his mother’s arms by the hands of criminals—then forced to beg on the streets, work endless hours as a slave, or be abused by pedophiles.

This my heart, and it breaks God’s heart. I cannot sit passively and do nothing.

At World Concern, we hold child protection as a top priority in our programs—especially in Southeast Asia, where sex trafficking and child labor are rampant.

We focus our efforts on prevention because protecting children from these horrific experiences before they’re harmed is critical. Sexual abuse and slavery leave deep scars … sometimes beyond healing.

Nirmali’s older son, who is just 8 years old, is the real hero in this story. He is involved in our Child Safety Program in Sri Lanka. When he learned about how traffickers present deceptive job offers to vulnerable moms and children, he immediately alerted our staff about the offer his mom had received. We were able to intervene and rescue his 3-year-old brother before he was sold. I thank God for this.

The “price tag” traffickers placed on Nirmali’s toddler was $1,000. But it cost just $40 to educate Nirmali’s older son about the danger of trafficking and protect him and his younger sibling from becoming victims.

$40. Isn’t a child’s life worth that?

Children in Sri Lanka draw pictures to express their feelings in our program.
Children in Sri Lanka draw pictures to express their feelings in our program.

Our Child Safety Program provides a safe haven for children to heal from trauma, learn about child rights, and learn how to protect themselves from harm. We also provide an opportunity for teens and young adults to learn life-long skills to earn income safely. We give them alternatives, so they know they have choices and a path to a better future.

If you’d like to give $40 to protect a child like Nirmali’s from becoming a victim of trafficking, you can donate here: www.worldconcern.org/safety.

Please pray with me for the safety and protection of God’s precious children.

An Invitation to Prayer from our President

At World Concern we work hard to alleviate the suffering of the poor and provide the tools that will empower them to lead full and productive lives. I am so incredibly grateful for your partnership and support that makes this important work possible.

I’m writing today to share something that has been on my heart recently. I care deeply about the poor and vulnerable in the world, and I know you do too. I cry with the mother who cannot feed her child. I grieve with the father who has lost all means of providing for his family as war rips through his village. My heart breaks for precious children who will not grow to their full God-given potential because their little bodies are ravaged by preventable diseases.

I am moved by compassion to make a difference in all of these areas. At the same time I am keenly aware that so many of the obstacles that we face in reaching those beyond the end of the road cannot be overcome by hard work alone. We absolutely need the intervention of God. We need the Lord to move on our behalf providing, protecting, and enabling us to do this work.

With this in mind, I am committing myself this year more fully to prayer. At World Concern we are all about seeing lives transformed from poverty to the abundance of life. We also know that the work of transformation is a spiritual work and therefore must be approached by spiritual means. In Psalm 127:1 we read, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” This means that our hard work alone won’t accomplish all we hope to see. We need God’s help.

World Concern staff around the world begin each day with prayer. Will you join us this week as we ask God to help us fulfill His mission through us?
World Concern staff around the world begin each day with prayer. Will you join us this week as we ask God to help us fulfill His mission through us?

World Concern is joining all of CRISTA Ministries in dedicating this week to prayer and fasting, and today I invite you to join us. Please pray that God would bless the mission of World Concern as we labor to serve those who are precious to His heart.

Specifically, please pray:

  • that World Concern would extend its witness both with those we serve and those who partner with us in our work.
  • that World Concern would extend its reach into more communities where the vulnerable are at risk.
  • that God would miraculously provide qualified staff and ample resources to expand our reach and witness.

Drop me a note and let me know that you will add World Concern to your prayers this week.

Forgotten by most, but not by God

Some of the precious children I met in Sri Lanka.
Some of the precious children I met in Sri Lanka.

Greetings from Sri Lanka! I’ve spent the past week and a half seeing our projects, meeting our dairy farmers, and spending lots of time with our Children’s Clubs – a safe haven for children at risk of trafficking.

I have two stories that really stand out to me that I want to share with you in the hopes that they will touch your hearts and encourage you today. You make this possible and are just as relevant in these stories as our staff on the ground.

We met with a family from the “untouchable” caste. The four children were abandoned by mother. Their father was killed in the war. The grandparents are caring for the children as best as they can. The grandmother is blind and the grandfather crippled, making supporting this family nearly impossible. Both of them received their injuries from the war.

This is the little girl I met.
This is the little girl I met.

One of these four children is a precious little girl who is being abused by local fishermen. Some days they don’t have food to eat. The day we visited was such a day. The little baby was cared for by the older sister (8 years old). He just cried and cried.

World Concern is intervening in this small community of 15 families. We have plans for small gardens, goats, Children’s Clubs, and other life-giving, life-saving interventions. Before we left, we prayed for this sweet forgotten family. Forgotten by most, but not by God, and not by World Concern.

Tonight we stopped at the hut of a young mother. She has five children. They have absolutely nothing. The clothing on their backs is all they have and when it is washed they have nothing to wear until it dries. The father too was killed in the war. This mom has no hope and tragically tried to take her own life and the life of her baby. The little one died. She survived. She is completely broken in every possible way.

Our compassionate staff is working with her and her situation. I wish you could have seen the tender way they met with her, cared for her, and prayed with her—it would have brought tears to your eyes as it did mine. They will look after her needs and the needs of her family, walking with her for the long journey.

FaithWorld Concern is the hands, feet, and face of Jesus here. This is why we do what we do. And we couldn’t do any of this without you. Thank you for partnering with us.

I have never been more humbled and committed to our mission. Pray with me that the Lord will bless this work. It is a light in many dark places.

Investing in Disaster Risk Reduction Saves Lives

My dad used to always say, “It’s better to build a guardrail on a curve than a hospital at the bottom of the hill.” As an adult, I’ve come to understand that wisdom of his words. We all want to rescue someone after they’re hurt. But isn’t it better to protect them from harm in the first place?

Today, as the president of World Concern, I have an opportunity to put my dad’s wisdom into practice. Our focus is on disaster risk reduction: equipping vulnerable communities for a disaster before it happens, and taking practical steps to minimize its destructive impact.

We work to provide infrastructure within and around a community to protect its residents from disaster. This is far better than repeatedly helping them rebuild… and grieving with families who have lost loved ones in a devastating earthquake or hurricane.

Mercila no longer fears disaster in her village along Haiti's northern coast. She is helping her community prepare for future disasters.
Mercila no longer fears disaster in her village along Haiti’s northern coast. She is helping her community prepare for future disasters.

Mercila’s story is a great example of how communities can protect themselves.

“When there is flooding, the houses fill with water and people lose many things. When there is a hurricane… houses are destroyed,” said Mercila, a young mom who lives in Haiti. Hurricane season comes every year, and her village’s precarious location along Haiti’s northern coast leaves the entire community vulnerable to frequent natural disasters.

Her one-year-old son’s safety weighs heavily on her mind. “My dream for my son is to let him grow up in Anse-á-Foleur where disaster will not impact our town again.”

Mercila's village of Anse-a-Foleur has a new storm shelter where families can go to stay safe when the next hurricane comes.
Mercila’s village has a new storm shelter where families can stay safe during a hurricane.

World Concern is taking action to keep everyone in Anse-á-Foleur safe. We’ve trained Mercila as an emergency responder for her village. Now, she is teaching her entire community, passing along all the disaster preparedness training she’s received.

The community was equipped to establish an early warning system to alert villagers of coming danger, and built rock walls along the river to prevent flooding. They also constructed a storm shelter, so families will have a safe place to go when a hurricane is near.

“Because of the activities of World Concern, Anse-á-Foleur has become a new town,” Mercila proclaimed. “We are not afraid about anything.”

Mercila no longer fears disaster,

but many others in vulnerable communities are living in the path of destruction. Families in Bangladesh, for example, know that the month of May brings another cyclone season… and certain destruction. Together, we can help them prepare and survive.

Kanomrani's family lives in a coastal village in Bangladesh that is in the direct path of cyclones. You can help protect a family like hers from the storms ahead.
Kanomrani’s family lives in a coastal village in Bangladesh that is in the direct path of cyclones. You can help protect a family like hers from the storms ahead.

World Concern will always be there for those who are suffering after disaster. But it’s a wise and critical investment to protect vulnerable moms, dads, and little ones from future disasters.

You can help protect them. Give online at www.worldconcern.org/savelives  

 

Eye Contact: Seeing a woman’s story in her eyes

A young girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A young girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

As I walked through a village ravaged by drought and famine, I saw women scavenging for scraps of firewood that they could barter for food to feed their families. I met a young mother who couldn’t have been more than 14 years old. She had two small children to feed and care for, and barely enough food to give them. She went hungry that day so that they could eat. Our eyes met and I reached out to squeeze her hand. In that moment I knew what sacrifice looks like.

In rural Kenya, I met a little girl named Zincia who was in sixth grade and was the only girl left in her class. All the other girls had dropped out of school by her age—some forced into early marriages. Others dropped out simply because there was no water source in their village. Their families needed them to fetch water. This duty consumed six hours of their day, round trip. It is a hard and dangerous chore that leaves no time to even consider school. But one brave little girl managed to grab onto a hope that education would provide for her a better life. I met her eyes and I was humbled by her dedication.

A mom in Haiti.
A mom in Haiti.

In Haiti, I had to force myself to look into the eyes of a mother who lost a child in the earthquake. The same day she buried her child she was out looking for work. She had three other children who needed her. There was no time for self-pity or even for grieving. Her children depended on her and so she got up and did what she needed to do so that they would eat that day. As our eyes met, I was no longer a humanitarian; I was just a mom who saw my sister’s suffering.

Through my work with World Concern, I have walked in some of the neediest places in the world. It’s hard to see some of the things I see … until I remember that God sees each of those that suffer and He knows them by name. Sometimes what I see makes my cry. Sometimes I want to look away… But I am always amazed by the resilience and strength I see too in the women I meet. And they—my sisters—are worthy of respect and dignity, not pity.

A woman in South Sudan.
A woman in South Sudan.

March 8 is International Women’s Day. The first International Women’s Day was observed in 1911. Now, more than 100 years later, the need to see, recognize, and respond to the issues women face in developing nations remains great. They each have a story of sacrifice, resilience, hard work, and determination. And, I am committed to maintaining “eye contact” with them until they and their daughters are truly seen.

The Lasting Impact of Living Out our Faith

I had an amazing answer to prayer I want to share with you. I have been out traveling for the past two weeks, first at a conference in Haiti, then meeting with donors in the U.S. I ended the trip with a meeting with a foundation in Colorado.

The foundation wanted to meet World Concern’s new president and hear my vision for the future of World Concern. During the meeting, the executive director asked me how World Concern lives out our Christian faith in our work. I explained the challenges of the different contexts where we work, and mentioned to her that one of the ways we express our faith is during staff devotions in all of our offices around the world.

The executive director became very excited as I shared. She told me that she had met a young woman in Colorado who was from Laos. She was here studying and was working part time at a Christian agency. She was intrigued by how this young woman had become a Christian, so she invited her to lunch on her last day in the U.S. before returning home to Laos.

The young woman explained that in 2007 she had worked as an intern for a Christian organization in Laos, where every day they prayed and read from the Bible to start the day. During this time she had opened her heart to this Jesus she had heard about through those devotions, and gave her life to Christ. The executive director was so moved by this story that she wept in the restaurant and thanked God that there were agencies that truly lived out their faith in places like Laos.

She asked the young woman to send her a CV so that she could introduce her to her daughter, who also worked in Laos. At this moment in our meeting, the executive director searched through her files and found the CV. There on the CV was the name of the organization that through their daily devotions had led this young woman to Christ.

It was World Concern.

I cannot even begin to explain how moving this experience was for me and for this executive director. I am so grateful the Lord allowed us to see his work.

That young woman from Laos was only involved with World Concern for a few months and now, all these years later, she continues to live out her faith. However you are connected to World Concern—as a staff member, a supporter, or a beneficiary, let us believe that God will continue to go before us in extraordinary ways and supply our every need. Surely He is able.

My Christmas prayer

Christmas is that busy time of year with parties, shopping, and time with family and friends. It holds so many memories for me personally. As a child, my brothers, sisters and I stayed awake half the night in anticipation. We were up before dawn rushing to find presents under the tree.

Now, so many years later, the wonder of the season hasn’t left me. I anticipate the joy of spending time with our newest grandchild, just one month old.

Jacinta in S. SudanAs we celebrate this special time of year, it is a wonderful time to remember that God himself came to earth. What is so extraordinary is that He chose to identify with the poor and marginalized. He gave up all of His splendor, was born in a stable, and laid in a manager. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 we read, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor.”

The heart of God is close to those who are poor, forgotten, and alone. Of all the classes and peoples on earth, He chose to identify with them. He lived and walked among them. He knew their pain and struggles. He opened His arms to bless and heal them.

As the president of World Concern I am keenly aware that God continues to walk with the poor. He does that through you and me. I see it every day.

This Christmas, amidst all the joy we will experience, let us pause and remember. Join me in prayer for the poor and marginalized—those close to God’s heart.

Merry Christmas and God bless you.

P.S. Shoot me an email and let me know you are praying: jacintat@worldconcern.org

 

My First Day as President

From the moment I woke up on October 1—my first official day as President of World Concern—I was struck by God’s presence and the clarity of walking in His will.

My journey to this role has been a lifetime in the making. Today I can look back over my shoulder and say, “of course.” Of course, that situation or that trial prepared me for this. And, of course, God had a plan.

Jacinta in Kenya.
I am immensely blessed to be called to walk alongside the people World Concern serves.

I didn’t always see the way as clearly as I do today. But that’s the faith journey. We don’t always see; we don’t always understand, but we walk in faith.

I’m excited as I look at World Concern’s incredible life-transforming work, which I get to be a part of. I find meaning as I labor alongside men and women, who are called to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of the poor and marginalized. And, when I look around at the support of so many donors, so many praying friends, so many concerned churches and individuals, I feel immense hope. Yes, the task is great, but there are many who are called to this work along with me.

I am also incredibly humbled by the opportunity to raise my voice for those who are overlooked, exploited, or in desperate need around the world. I am motivated to use my voice to remind myself and others that today there are little babies without adequate nutrition, families without clean water, and young women vulnerable to the evils of human trafficking.

At the same time, I am excited to share the ways God is using each of us to bring hope into their lives in big and small ways. And, I am committed to remember that God always uses regular people, like you and me, to accomplish His plan.

World Concern has fabulous programs, sound relief and development strategies, and years of experience working in some of the most difficult places on the planet. Today, I am grateful for the wonderful legacy that I join. But more than all of this, today I am reminded of the blessing it is to express the loving heart of God to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. May I do so faithfully, as I assume the position as President of World Concern.