How We See ‘The Other’

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the challenges of racism in the context of World Concern’s work globally.  Here in the US, the issue of race dominates our headlines almost daily. We also bring our own background and experiences to the story.  But as is clear from scripture, Christ calls His followers to an entirely different standard—the standard of how we ‘see’ those different to us.

But race is part of a wider issue. At its heart, it is about how we see ‘the other’ – neighbor, passer-by, enemy.

At World Concern, how we see ‘the other’ is core to our transformational work.

This last weekend I was challenged by something I read in the Bible, in the Book of John, chapter 9.  It’s the story of the encounter with the man who was blind from birth.  In brief, Jesus and his disciples saw this individual, but the narrative has a blunt beginning—the disciples remark, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”  No soft entry, no introduction; rather “whose fault is this?”  Don’t we do this all the time?  We see someone, perhaps of different nationality, perhaps with a disability, perhaps homeless, and we immediately categorize the person.  “They are like this because…” We put them in a category to define them, to perhaps stigmatize, perhaps blame. 

I am indebted to Paul Miller for his insight into this passage from his book Love Walked Among Us:

“The disciples see a blind man; Jesus sees a man who happens to be blind.  The disciples see an item for debate; Jesus sees a person, a human being like himself. They see a sin, the effect of man’s work; Jesus sees need, the potential for God’s work.  The disciples see a completed tragedy and wonder who the villain was; Jesus sees a story half-told, with the best yet to come.”

When we look at someone, do we see a problem, a category, or a person?  We put people in boxes to control our own discomfort, and almost certainly to set ourselves at a distance from them.

In our work, we have this problem, but we try to recognize and remedy it when it happens.  We often talk about “beneficiaries” “recipients” or “the poor.”  Worst, as the world becomes more data driven, we reduce people to a number.

But this innocuous encounter tells a different story.  The disciples saw a blind man; Jesus saw a man, who happened to be blind.  The difference is subtle but ultimately transformative; it humanizes the ‘other’ and opens up the door to compassion and kindness.

World Concern President, Nick Archer, listens to community members in a rural village in Chad. At World Concern, our work starts with listening and learning.

We work in communities of very diverse needs.  Are they poor?  Often, yes.  Are they non-literate? Maybe.  But fundamentally, who do we see, as in really see? It may be easier to categorize, maybe even an automatic reaction; but we try to see the individual who, regardless of what I think or what the world tells me, is made absolutely in the image of God.

Seeing ‘the other’ is core to what we, as the people of Christian faith, are called to. It is what we, as World Concern, are called to. In partnering with us and being part of our story, we invite you into this same journey.

How Practical Gifts Saved and Transformed Angelina’s Life

When Angelina Agol gave birth to twin boys, she was overjoyed. But her joy turned to panic when she realized that her weakened, undernourished body couldn’t produce milk to feed her babies.

Angelina and her newborn twins were starving.

Angelina was worried about her children’s health, knowing she couldn’t feed them.

In South Sudan, where Angelina lives, the vast majority of families struggle to find food to eat. Some are so hungry, they resort to eating leaves off trees to survive.

“There was no food to eat,” she said. “Then, these babies were born and they were suffering. I was not able to breastfeed them… that’s when World Concern came in.”

Local staff assessed the babies’ weight, growth, and nutrition levels and immediately referred them to an emergency feeding program. Angelina and her babies spent 13 days in the hospital-based program, where they were treated for severe malnutrition.

When they were stabilized and returned home, the family received emergency food and financial support.

“We were given soup, milk, fish, tomatoes, and eggplant. I also received food and recovered. I was given eggs and goat’s milk,” she said.

Angelina’s life dramatically improved when she received goats, which provided much-needed nutritious milk and income for her family.

Things really began to improve in Angelina’s life when her family received goats and chickens through World Concern’s Global Gift Guide. In South Sudan, livestock are like having an instant bank account. Not only did Angelina’s family now have milk and eggs to eat and sell for income, seeds and agricultural training, helped them grow vegetables for a stable, nutritious diet.

Her kids and her garden are not the only thing growing in Angelina’s home—her goats and chickens are multiplying too. In fact, her original female goat has given birth to twins—three times! Over a two-year period, her flock grew to 21 goats.  

She started a small business making insulated containers to keep food hot or cold. And she has taught other women to do the same. Entrepreneurs like Angelina are empowered to grow their businesses and increase their income by joining a savings group.

Angelina was empowered to start a small business making insulated containers to keep food warm, and trained other women to do the same.

Through these practical, life-saving gifts Angelina received, she experienced God’s incredible love for her for the first time in her life. And when she was healthy enough to learn about His son Jesus, she opened her heart to Him.

“I have now become a Christian, and I go to church regularly,” she said.

“If World Concern had not intervened, my children would have died, just like other children in this village have died,” said this grateful mom. “I was helped by World Concern. That is why my children are now healthy, and they are living.”

To give practical, life-saving gifts like the ones that helped Angelina’s family, visit World Concern’s Global Gift Guide at www.globalgiftguide.org.  

Angelina’s twins are now growing strong and healthy, thanks to a stable, nutritious diet.

Now That’s Sustainability!

After 10 years, a community well gets an upgrade

Ten years ago, the community of Oltarakwai in rural Kenya, got their first taste of clean, clear drinking water from a new well, built in partnership with World Concern. Everything changed in the community.

Girl at well
A young girl pumps water from the well’s original hand pump.

“During the dry season, when the springs began to dry up, we had to wait overnight to get some water to take home,” recalls Namna Olorupa, a village elder, of what life was like before the well. “We also drew water from open pools which we shared with our livestock and wild animals like hyenas.”

The well was a Godsend, providing safe, accessible water to families for over a decade. “During the 2017 drought the [well] served us and up to 5 neighboring villages. They would carry their water with Donkeys and Motorbikes,” said Namna.

You can imagine the strain on the well’s handpump with hundreds of families from multiple villages using it round the clock. Maintenance on the well became more frequent, and parts for the hand pump had to be replaced often.

New well pump
Joyful community members can now just turn a tap and fill up their water jugs.

But this year, the well in Oltarakwai got an exciting upgrade. With the help of World Concern and Nairobi water company Davis & Shirtliff, a solar pump, tap, and 3,000-liter water storage tank were installed at the well, drastically improving its output and efficiency, reducing maintenance, and saving precious time.

No more long lines of people waiting to fill up water containers at the pump. No more strenuous pumping water constantly, and no more replacing broken or worn out pump parts.

Just clean, safe water flowing from the simple turn of a tap!

women at the well
Mayiani and Noosiruai are thrilled with the new solar pump.

“This solar powered-water project is the best ever,” exclaimed Mayiani Meyagari, a joyful community member. “We no longer have to strain as we pump water like before. With the new tap, we now take less time fetching water. We are now utilizing the extra time in our kitchen gardens and making beaded artwork for sale.’’

‘’The water is very clean… there is now no scarcity even in the dry season,” said Kimanyisho Noolbariko, who also lives in the village.

“We are no longer worried about tomorrow; where our next source of water will come from.”

– Elder Namna

Elder Namna says he sees a brighter future for his village because of the well improvements. “There is so much water being pumped by the solar pump. I see a lot of potential. It can even be used to do small scale irrigation. We are no longer worried about tomorrow; where our next source of water will come from,” he said.

“God has used you to bring this project to us. Every kid that is born from this year will grow up testifying of the goodness of this water.”

– Elder Meyagari
happy elders
Elders Namna (left) and Meyagari praise God and give thanks to those who helped bring this sustainable source of clean water to their village.

Another village elder, Meyagari ole Salankat, credits God for this transformation. “God has used you to bring this project to us. Every kid that is born from this year will grow up testifying of the goodness of this water. This protected water will save us from water borne diseases like typhoid. My village was blessed to have the original hand pump. We prayed for you, and see, God has worked through you … we now have a better water project.”

On average, it costs just $20 to provide clean water to one person. To find out how you can help deliver safe drinking water to a village like Oltarakwai, visit www.worldconcern.org/water

The Vital Importance of Water

Animals drink from a water hole in South Sudan.

During my time living and working with World Concern in East Africa in the 1990s, I remember visiting a community in the Juba valley of Somalia. This village was hundreds of miles from any safe water source, so World Concern rehabilitated a well in the area. As I approached the massive area that surrounded the well, an astonishing sight came into view. Multitudes of people and animals crowded around the water source, trudging through mud to reach the water.

As I watched people drink from this well, it really hit me how critical this vital resource—water—is to human survival, and to any possibility of escaping the grip of extreme poverty, sickness, and hopelessness.

People and animals surround a water point.
People and animals surround a water point in Somalia during the 2011 Horn of Africa famine.

My thoughts shifted to the thousands of other communities who were (and still are) waiting for water. The impact of water-borne diseases on people—of parasitic infections on children—is staggering. Children’s bodies are depleted of nourishment, growth is stunted, and their systems weakened by intestinal worms that suck the nutrients from their food and cause constant pain. Young girls and women spend the better part of each day walking 5 to 10 kilometers carrying 20-liter jugs of water on their heads or backs…

And I asked myself, how can we change this story?

It’s hard to imagine living your entire life lacking water and under the threat of water-borne illness. I only had one experience in Somalia when I got sick from water—and it wasn’t even from drinking it! I had a rule: Never eat salad. As long as I ate cooked food, I knew the bacteria and parasites would be killed in the cooking process. But for whatever reason, I decided one time that the hotel I was staying at was nice enough that I would eat a salad there. Boy, was I wrong. I got so sick. I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say, I won’t ever forget that experience.

The fact is, the tiny droplets of water that had come in contact with the lettuce in the washing process contained microorganisms that I couldn’t see. The hidden danger in the water was invisible.

I learned my lesson, and thankfully recovered in a few days. But millions of people don’t. They live with constant sickness that ravages their health and traps them in a cycle of suffering.

A girl draws water from a pump well.

Their only chance at freedom from sickness and suffering is a sustainable source of clean, safe drinking water. And the good news is, that’s possible. I’ve witnessed the dramatic impact clean water has on lives and entire communities.

We can change someone’s life by changing the quality and purity of the water they drink. I don’t know what else is quite so life-giving as when you give a community water. It actually makes me emotional to say that. When we connect with people at the point of human need, it’s profound.

Africa, in a lot of ways, shaped my theology. And I believe that water is a reflection of God’s goodness to us. The hope and opportunity clean water gives people is so powerful.

Water is life.

Nick Archer in Somalia.
World Concern President Nick Archer lived and served with World Concern in East Africa in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Around the World, Reconciliation with Our ‘Neighbor’ is What’s Needed

One of the most powerful and timeless parables that Jesus told was the parable of the good Samaritan.  The term Samaritan is recognizable in many languages and when used, people understand what it means, even if they’ve never read the bible for themselves.  We even have organizations named such!

But let’s recall the context.  Jesus tells the parable in response to a question by a man trying to justify himself, trying to set himself apart, superior, better. The question? “Who is my neighbor?” 

This itself was in response to the question ‘what is the greatest commandment?’ Love God with all your might, and your neighbor as yourself.  But the man was not satisfied with that.

Jesus tells a parable that utilized one of the most stark and entrenched divisions of his day.  We read this in the 21st century and often think of it as a ‘nice’ story, but in Jesus day, it was anything but nice.  It was pointed, provocative, and definitely insulting to a whole lot of people who thought themselves better.

Why do I mention this?  Because in this parable, we are faced ourselves, in our day, with issues that offend—some would say, insult—certain groups.  Right now, racism has come once more into the foreground, and the people of God are challenged as to how to respond—as they should be.  What will we do?  Will our own prejudice get in the way?

World Concern, in its work around the globe, faces these issues every day.  From the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar to the long-term conflicts between the Dinka and Nuer tribes of South Sudan.  Let’s be honest, the world has a global problem; we here in the US simply have our own variant, rooted in history, which so many of these issues are.

The reality is, the scourge of racism, tribalism, and clannism—systematic oppression of one people over another—is endemic in our world.  It is a virus far, far more damaging than COVID-19.  One of the things that World Concern has learned through our work, successes and failures, is that ultimately, it’s about power and dignity. Who has the power, and who doesn’t, and how do those in power wield that power?  In our Transformational Development work, exposing issues of power, and giving voice to the oppressed, is at the core of what we do.  Valuing the voice of ‘the other’ is central to what we do.

This is ultimately life-changing… people begin to have hope, they understand they have value and meaning, and that all powerful component… dignity. That’s a game changer! People, whether a tribe or an individual gradually realize that they don’t have to always see themselves as the left outs, the bottom of the pile, the worthless.  They have value and meaning.

Many of you who engage with what we do have a hand in these lifechanging encounters. Thank you. You are helping bridge divides that have been in existence for generations.

When Jesus told that parable, he was essentially saying to us, “The equation has to change.”  You no longer have the freedom to love God, yet discriminate against your neighbor due to history, race, color, or whatever other factor you want to add.  This is all our challenge; this is the world’s challenge.

Jesus ended by asking his questioner, “Who do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” To which the questioner replied, “The man who showed him mercy.”  The questioner could not even bring himself to use the word ‘Samaritan’!

And Jesus answered, “Go and do the same.”  May God give all of us the grace and courage to face those prejudices latent in our own hearts.  As you pray for, and give to, the work that World Concern does around the world, pray that our staff and teams continue in humility, wisdom, and the courage to reflect the Good News of God’s work of reconciliation for ALL of us.

“My children are crying for food…”

The Ripple Effect of COVID-19 on the Poorest

For Sokina Begum, a young mom in rural Bangladesh, it’s not the threat of a deadly virus that keeps her up at night – it’s the cries of her children and the hunger pains in her own stomach.

The government lockdown in Bangladesh means her family is crowded together inside their tiny shack that’s part of a slum for landless, poor beggars. It also means she’s forbidden to leave the house to work. Sokina’s husband is crippled and unable to work, and her two daughters, ages 11 and 6, are hungry.

Sokina's family
Sokina’s family had run out of food. With no way to work, she felt hopeless. Just in time, World Concern staff delivered emergency food to her door.

Before the pandemic, she was earning about $2.35 a day collecting fish, which was enough to feed her family and even send her eldest daughter to school. But now, there’s no way to work, and their food supply had run out.

“If I do not work a day, our food and other things are uncertain. It has been more than 25 days. I have no work and I don’t have any savings,” said Sokina. “I can’t go to work anywhere. I am living a helpless life in this situation. My children are crying for food.”

But a ray of hope arrived at her door when World Concern staff delivered emergency food and hygiene supplies.

World Concern teams delivered emergency food packages to 480 families in Sokina’s neighborhood. Each family received 16 pounds of rice, 7 pounds of potatoes, 2 pounds of onions, plus lentils, oil, and salt.

“I believe this package came from God for our survival,” proclaimed Sokina, who believes the food came just in time. “Otherwise, we may have died.”

In addition to food packages, 4,000 masks and 3,000 bars of soap were distributed to families in need. Handwashing stations were also set up around villages, and important Coronavirus prevention information was broadcast over megaphones attached to rickshaws.

Father of four, Shajahan Bayati, also received emergency food and supplies for his family. Within a week of the lockdown, they had completely run out of food. Shajahan tried operating his rickshaw to earn some money, but was sent back home by the police.

Shajahan's family
Shajahan’s family was among nearly 500 families living in extreme poverty in rural Bangladesh who received emergency food and supplies during the country’s lockdown.

He was grateful to receive the desperately-needed food.

“It feels really good at that moment because I had nothing to eat,” he said. “Now we can have three full meals a day for a week and my children will be very happy.”

In Bangladesh, distributions are done house-to-house to avoid crowds, and staff and beneficiaries maintain safe distances and wear personal protection, such as masks and gloves.

Laos Rice DistributionIn countries like Laos, where rural farmers already struggle to earn sufficient income from the rice crops so many depend on for food, the COVID-19 crisis is making matters worse. Food supplies, market pricing, and distribution are all unstable.

To help ensure families have enough to eat, 270 farmers in 8 villages recently received 30 kilograms of rice seeds. Rice banks will be established in the villages, and these farmers will, in turn, 35 kilograms of their harvested seeds so that more farmers can borrow and benefit as well.

Farmer carrying rice seed.“We are thankful to World Concern for giving us this high-yield and quality variety of rice,” said one of the farmer, Mr. Bounkert.

A little girls eats a Nutripacket in Somalia.
Malnourished little ones, like this girl in Somalia, are receiving emergency nutrition to restore their weakened bodies to health.

As the pandemic worsens in developing countries, like Somalia, where COVID-19 comes on the heels of drought and locust infestations, food prices are skyrocketing and livestock herds diminishing. Hungry children received emergency nutrition packets that save lives and restore malnourished little ones to health.

As families and communities in the world’s poorest places do their best to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting social interactions and staying home, the very activities they depend on to survive are also limited, leading to hunger and despair.

With the critical support of donors, World Concern is working to assist families in greatest need and help them survive the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. To donate, please visit: https://www.worldconcern.org/urgent

Bangladesh staff spread message by megaphone
World Concern staff in Bangladesh broadcast vital information about staying healthy over megaphones in areas where there’s no TV, internet, or radio.

Giving Generously, Even in Times of Uncertainty

Though most businesses are being impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, one Northwest business is keeping morale high and not letting up their commitment to giving back and serving others.

Josh Bayles, branch manager at Capstone Home Loans in Lynnwood, Washington, says he’s grateful to be working during this time when so many have lost jobs and livelihoods, but the mortgage industry has not been immune to the current crisis.

“We’ve seen a reduction in the variety of loan options we can offer,” he said. “But our whole team is working overtime, lowering rates through refinances, and helping clients purchase homes. And, believe it or not, people are still buying homes right now!”

In addition to supporting multiple local charities such as the Everett Gospel Mission and Olive Crest, through their employee-funded Community Chest Fund, Capstone is also a faithful annual sponsor and supporter of World Concern’s Free Them 5k.

Capstone Home Loans staff and their families have joined and supported World Concern’s Free Them 5k for years. This year’s virtual event is no different. They’ve set a goal to protect 100 children from trafficking!

“We have a special heart for World Concern and for this cause—helping rescue kids from trafficking,” said Josh. Capstone has formed their own team for the Free Them 5k and have set a goal to protect 100 children from trafficking, exploitation, and harm, through their team’s fundraising efforts.

As some are pulling back from giving during this time of uncertainty, Josh says they’re committed to keeping the spirit of generosity and helping others going.

“My partners and I are men of faith and we trust God with our finances. We want to give our ‘first fruits’ back to Him from our business income and net profits,” he explains. “We have an extra responsibility and privilege to share what we’ve been given with those in need, and we’re grateful our business enables us to do that.”

To sign up for the 2020 Virtual Free Them 5k and join the fight against child trafficking, visit www.freethem5k.org.

How COVID-19 Puts Children at Greater Risk of Trafficking and Child Marriage

We’re all painfully aware of the impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on families, jobs, small businesses, the economy, and nearly every aspect of our lives. The long-term impact and ripple effect of this virus could be devastating for many months.

The impact will be even greater on the world’s poorest families and on those whose lives are already a struggle.

For us, the grocery stores remain open and the supply chain is functioning. Not so in the developing world. Imagine if your only source of income and food was a market where you could sell a goat or other livestock to pay for necessities like food, water, and medicine. Now the government has had to close that market in an effort to stop the spread of the deadly Coronavirus.

“People are not scared of the virus, they’re scared of not having food,” explained one World Concern program manager.

Families who live in countries on lockdown can’t leave their home to work, or sell goods for income.

Now imagine you’re in this situation and you hear of a way to earn money in a city across the border. Someone told you there are jobs there. Your teenage daughter is healthy and strong and can make the journey. So you let her go… not knowing she’ll be sold as a slave into the sex industry.

Or, imagine a wealthier family offers to take your little girl into their home and pay for her living expenses if she’ll marry their son.

People who are hungry will do desperate things.

A crisis like this one that destroys already fragile economies and infrastructures puts those who are vulnerable to crimes like human trafficking, child marriage, abuse and exploitation, at even greater risk.

World Concern’s model of community empowerment is effective in a crisis like this, as we’re able to incorporate COVID-19 messages and hygiene promotion within our community-based programs, such as care groups, nutrition programs, savings groups, and child protection programs.

Our long-term village development work is also proving to be vital in sustaining families and communities during this unique crisis. As families have learned to diversify their livelihoods and sources of income in preparation for crises, and to grow their own vegetables and sustainable crops, they are better able to survive.

Families learn to grow their own vegetables in South Sudan.

Parents who have received vital training and information on the dangers of trafficking and the harmful effects of child marriage are able to lean on that knowledge now more than ever, and avoid these risks, even in desperate times like this.

All the work that has been done—and is being done—in remote villages, crowded urban slums, and hard places beyond the end of the road, with the help of our supporters, is proving powerful and effective through crisis.

If you’re interested in helping protect the most vulnerable girls and boys from the increased danger they now face with COVID-19 and economic impacts in their communities, consider walking or running on May 9 in the 2020 Virtual Free Them 5k to stop child trafficking. Sign up here: www.freethem5k.org

Is fear gripping you? Remember these words …

“But God” … two words that even COVID-19 can’t defy.

When news headlines get worse by the hour. When it feels like an invisible enemy is stalking us. When we are forced to live in isolation. That’s when the words “But God” can break the grip of fear and set us free to look up and see the One who fights our battles for us.

Whenever people in the Bible faced impossible situations, they were reminded that nothing is impossible with God. One of those times was in 2 Chronicles 20 when Jerusalem was besieged by enemies and King Jehoshaphat cried out to God for deliverance. God answered through his prophet and said, “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

The battle we face now is a threatening virus that makes us afraid. And it’s okay to be afraid. Nobody wants to get sick, or worse. It’s normal to protect ourselves and those we love. God knows how we feel.

That’s why World Concern is taking precautionary measures to stay healthy, keep COVID-19 from spreading, and protect the most vulnerable among us.

It’s what we’ve always done in the remote places where we work. In the same way that we train villagers in the prevention of malaria, parasites, and water-borne diseases, we are training them in ways to prevent COVID-19. We take this threat very seriously. And we are doing everything we can to strengthen the health of these precious communities.

We care about your health, too. We are praying for you! Please continue to pray for us and those we serve.

 

When Food is the Miracle You Need

Will you provide a miracle today?

You can’t travel to Fatimah’s (*her name has been changed for security reasons) country, but your prayers and your gifts can change her life.

That’s a miracle. And you can bet that Fatimah needs a miracle right now.

Fatimah’s husband died because of a war that she and her four children still live in. Her city is in rubble, and her family in constant danger. It has gone on for so long that she’s never quite sure who she can trust.

War does that to communities. It isolates. It devastates. It fosters fear.

It’s not just the fighting and destruction. It’s the lack of food and water. When there is not enough to go around, everyone does whatever they can to feed their own children. It’s a natural response as a parent.

Imagine how you would feel if your children were starving and you had nothing to give them. Just like Fatimah, you would search every day for help. You would go outside, even if it wasn’t safe, and you would beg for food and water.

Fatimah and her children have been barely surviving for a long time. She needs someone to help her. Someone she can trust. She needs to know she’s seen and loved.

Fortunately, caring people delivered food to Fatimah’s family. They promised to come back with more, and they did. And they’ve continued to help her.

These trustworthy people were able to deliver food to Fatimah and other needy families because of gifts from people like you. Your gift has restored Fatimah’s hope.

Just $10 provides enough food to feed a starving child for an entire month where Fatimah lives. And now, because of special matching grants, $10 will feed two children for an entire month.

Will you provide the miracle a mother like Fatimah is praying for today? Click here to give.