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.
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.
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.
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.
“The population here is really in need. But I cannot send you any pictures due to communication issues. This is all I can send …”
The view of Hurricane Matthew from the International Space Station was like something out of a horror movie. For a brief moment we saw a swirling mass, its eye menacingly clear, devouring the land underneath.
The above images were taken less than a day after the aerial shots from the space station and while they are some of the first images to come from Haiti, they clearly show what happened under that gruesome storm cloud.
That’s where Pierre is.
Haiti is once again under attack. Six years after a massive earthquake tore apart the flimsy infrastructure and killed more than a quarter million people, Haiti is back on her knees.
Friends, we must not forget Haiti … our neighbors … our friends … people like Pierre.
The true devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew is still unknown. And that’s a frightening thought. Because when a disaster strikes within our own shores we have the capability, and the resources needed to respond. We spend money. We rally together. We pray. We stay strong.
But when a disaster like Matthew hits a country as impoverished as Haiti, everything is wiped out—communication, electricity, utilities—it’s near impossible to send for help.
“Almost everything has been destroyed by the strong winds,” Pierre says. “All the trees have fallen. The winds tore off all our roofs.”
That’s why we must respond, and respond quickly and generously. Not because we’re asked, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Because as humans, we have a responsibility to help our brothers and sisters in need. Alexis is one of the few people that we’ve been able to speak with. She was sharing an evening meal with her family when her roof lifted off and disappeared into the stormy sky. Scooping up her daughter Alexis ran to the nearest shelter, a church, and waited for the hurricane to stop.
“I was very afraid to go outside because the wind was so strong. I saw a lot of damage on the road. I saw metal sheets from houses carried by the wind.” Alexis whispers.
There is not a lot a media coverage about Haiti.
The death toll stands at 842 but will almost certainly climb.
The number of homes, buildings, businesses, and farms lost is unknown.
There are only a few photos that show the devastation.
But that’s not because the damage isn’t there—
The reality is that there are people in need. There are families mourning the loss of loved ones. And countless people are scared, and in desperate need.
So as Hurricane Matthew gathers strength and barrels its way towards more developed regions, we have but a short window to focus our attention on Haiti. On people like Pierre. And Alexis.
These people are there. They just can’t ask for help …
A little before noon on Saturday, April 25, a huge chunk of rock sitting miles below the busy Nepalese villages moved, and unleashed a 7.8 magnitude shock wave that tore through the Kathmandu Valley.
The quake was shallow. And so as the giant rock shifted, the rocky ground above splintered violently and threw tons of debris onto the lowland communities. Entire villages were destroyed in just minutes. Homes became rubble. Infrastructure toppled. Cropland ruined. Livelihoods lost. And life in Nepal was forever changed.
Over 8,000 people were killed that day. Another 21,000 severely injured. Everyone affected. Within hours, the nation of Nepal had collectively called for help. And with your help, World Concern answered.
In the days that followed this tragic event, you joined with thousands of others to reach out and lend support to World Concern’s emergency response in the region. It was your swift action that kept hope alive for countless desperate, and homeless families.
Your gifts were immediately used to provide emergency assistance to the hardest hit areas. These essentials literally meant the difference between life and death. The destroyed villages were difficult to reach, with winding mountain roads blocked by fallen rocks. But driven on by your prayers and the need in each village, rescue teams pushed on and rapidly distributed food, water, and shelter materials to hungry and frightened families.
As the months passed, and many organizations had long since left, World Concern remained committed to the Nepalese people, and the rebuilding process. But it was only thanks to you that this was possible. And on the anniversary of this disaster, your gifts have helped a staggering 24,276 people.
“I am so thankful for the people that joined us in supporting the recovery efforts,” says Chris Sheach, World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response. “Donations were made immediately, and our partnerships across the United States and Canada, and in Nepal, enabled a quick response.”
Today, those same donations are empowering each community to grow and work together with local churches to restore the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the families affected.
“It’s amazing to work with the local church in Nepal, and helping them be the hands and feet of Christ to their neighbors.” Chris says. One woman even started attending church for the first time after the church reached out to her.
Anita is a young mother that has benefited from this relationship. She watched as her home crumbled, then sheltered with her family under a thin piece of plastic until supported your gifts, the local church, provided her with materials to build a metal shelter. It was temporary, but it kept them safe, and protected from the rain and wind.
“We thank God, and the church for providing,” Anita exclaimed.
As we remember the day the earth shook in Nepal, we thank you for helping survivors like Anita write a new, and hopeful story. World Concern continues to serve in Nepal and remains committed to working with our Nepalese partners in building the resilience of their people.
Pushing my shopping cart hurriedly through the supermarket aisles, I paused briefly to glance at my watch.
Four-thirty. Great, I still had time to get what I needed and make my doctor’s appointment.
Weaving past carts filled with food, expertly avoiding strollers,
and randomly placed boxes, I barely slowed down to grab each item off the shelf and toss it in my cart. I was on a roll; a can of peanuts, lightly salted of course … a bag of washed potatoes … risotto rice … a bunch of fresh celery … a dozen free-range eggs … and the list went on.
Within ten minutes I’d finished my shopping, proudly looking at the pile of groceries that now spilled over the side of my cart. I’d checked off every item on my list, and managed to find a checkout aisle with less than four people waiting. I am the greatest shopper in the world.
Out of breath, I now stood impatiently in the checkout line, waiting to now unload everything that I’d just put in. Well, at least they would repack it for me. It was around the time I was contemplating whether I wanted the 2 for 1 candy bar offer that I thought of April. Not the month, but a little one-year-old girl I’d been reading about earlier that afternoon.
Before my frantic trip to the grocery store, I’d spent a few hours with little April. She lives with her mom in a small village in Myanmar. I wasn’t physically sitting with her, but reading her story it sure felt like it. I read about how this precious one had been sick for over six months. That’s half her life.
Her mother shared April’s story with a colleague of mine, and told of how hungry they both were. She earned enough to buy the very basics; rice, and a few vegetables every now and then. But they were never fresh, and something always had to be sacrificed in order to afford them. It was clearly April’s health.
I unpacked my cart, haphazardly placing each item on the belt as the checker scanned, and dropped them in a paper bag. My thoughts were not on whether my eggs were cracked, but firmly focused on April, and the dire situation she was in.
April and her mom had been screened for malnutrition, and the results were not good. In villages across Myanmar (and elsewhere in Asia and Africa), World Concern staff visit children like April and test them for malnutrition and other illnesses. It’s a free service, and the results (while often shocking) can save a child’s life.
I read about how April’s mom carried her to the mobile clinic, sitting quietly on a chair and waiting for the volunteer to call them. April did nothing but cry; not a wail or an impatient tear, but a whimper, as if there was simply nothing left to cry about. Her mom did everything she could to comfort April—making faces, singing, and bouncing her on her knee—nothing worked. So she sat there, totally defeated, and waited for her daughter’s name to be called.
When it was April’s turn to be seen, the nurse first weighed April in a sling, kind of like a hammock, recording her weight before moving onto the next, and most
important test. The nurse delicately threaded a paper tape around April’s upper arm. This measures the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) and diagnoses the level of malnourishment according to a color scale—green is considered healthy, yellow shows that the child is malnourished, and red indicates severe and acute malnutrition.
April’s arm was in the red. And by a long way.
The cheerful grocery checker had almost finished packing my groceries, but at this stage all I could think about was April, and all I could hear was the beep … beep … beep … beep … of my food being scanned. Then I saw my total.
I quickly moved my eyes to my two bags of groceries. How is that $181.91?
Little April was starving, and here I am buying $181.91 worth of groceries. Her tiny immune system simply didn’t have the energy to keep on fighting, and so it was slowly giving up. She needed nutritious food, and quickly.
Thankfully, that’s exactly what World Concern is doing for hungry children in Myanmar and other communities like April’s. So after the clinic visit April’s mom was given an emergency food kit and told lovingly to come back when the basket was empty to receive more.
The basket they carried home that day was filled with locally-sourced, highly nutritious, fresh food—a bag of potatoes … nuts and beans … rice … fresh vegetables … free-range eggs—pretty much everything that I’d just bought.
And the cost of the emergency food kit? Only $22. I could feed 8 hungry children with what I just bought.
Collecting my receipt and trudging out to the car, I cringed at the abundance that was around me. Food was readily available. I had money to buy it. And I was about to visit my family doctor.
Later that evening I spoke with my son about April, and how we could give a hungry child basically everything I’d bought at the supermarket, for just $22.
My son is seven, and his response to me was exactly what ours should be:
Sarah Kaczka is a social media intern at World Concern and will be posting on the blog this summer. As a sophomore at Wheaton College, she is interested in journalism and humanitarian aid, and hopes to use her love for storytelling to spread Christ’s love and encourage others.
As an avid reader and aspiring writer, I am fascinated with the art of storytelling. There’s something about a good story that pulls directly at my heart strings, and they often stick around in my mind for days after I hear them. Besides a riveting plot, intriguing setting, and a memorable cast of characters, a good story ultimately requires purpose and development, challenging the reader to consider a new idea or way of thinking. I especially love ones that have a redemptive ending.
Kahinur’s journey is definitely one of those stories.
As a mother living in a crowded urban slum in Bangladesh, Kahinur feels helpless to care for her infant son who has been sick for months. Her little boy likely has intestinal worms caused by the filthy environment and lack of sanitation in the slum where they live. These parasites suck the nutrients from her baby’s food and keep him awake all night, crying in pain.
This sweet little guy rests his head on Kahinur’s shoulder as she talks. His eyes are half closed, and his thin body is limp in her arms.
“I took him to several places for treatment, but nothing is working,” she pleads. Beads of perspiration cover her worried brow. The stifling afternoon heat causes a nauseating stench to rise from the garbage piles in the slum.
“I don’t know what will happen next with my son, and I am scared,” cries Kahinur. “If I fail to provide, then I fear my son could die.”
Parasites, like the ones attacking her baby’s body, can lead to malnourishment, diarrhea, and even blindness. And they stunt the development of a young child, causing permanent deficiencies if left untreated.
I can’t even imagine the fear Kahinur must have been facing in that moment, or her desperate frustration at not being able to provide relief for her son. Here in my suburban home, I am blessed to have doctors and hospitals nearby, never once having to worry about not having access to medicine.
Thankfully, Kahinur’s story continues. After receiving the 44-Cent Cure (deworming medicine), Kahinur’s son was fully restored back to health. Now Kahinur’s overwhelming worry is replaced by joy, and her tears are replaced by peace of mind and gratitude.
As much as I wish the story could end here, the truth is that there are thousands of families still suffering from parasite infections in Bangladesh. And their cries for help are not fictional – they are heartbreakingly real.
But the good news is, it isn’t hard to help. For a small handful of pocket change, we can provide medicine that changes lives. Isn’t that exciting? When I first heard about the 44-Cent Cure, I couldn’t believe that providing immediate relief for sick children could be that simple – but it is. Learn how to get involved and partner with World Concern today.
In Christ, our stories are beautiful ones of redemption and hope. Our stories are important – they shape our identities and are the means by which we connect with one other. It’s so exciting to think that through organizations like World Concern, the story of an American college student, like me, can intertwine with that of a woman in Bangladesh like Kahinur.
How does your story empower you to take action and make a difference in the lives of others?
This is the last of five posts covering key principles in ministry with the poor intended to help churches move from transactional to transformational ministry. In the previous post, we discussed the fact that we are all created to be creative.
5. Transformation through Relationships
“The tasks we think are so critical are not more important than the people God has entrusted to us.” – Sherwood Lingenfelter
Are you like me at work and keep your “To-Do” list within arm’s reach? I’m probably a little weird, but I find it cathartic to scratch stuff off that list. Sometimes I keep scratching through it a little longer than I need to.
Unfortunately, I think we often treat ministry with the poor like a “To-Do” list. We make it more about crossing things off our list than we do about the people themselves. In your church, is it more common to see drives for shoeboxes and back packs full of schools supplies, or mentor programs that focus on being with people? Ask most outreach pastors and they’ll tell you that close to 100 people will sign up to provide a shoebox for every one person who agrees to volunteer for a weekly mentor program.
We forget that poverty is ultimately about people, and ministry is relational. We tend to focus on the material problems rather than the people themselves. “See a problem, Fix a problem.” If ministry with the poor is relational in nature like other types of ministry, shouldn’t it look more like small groups at our churches?
At World Concern, our community development process starts, in most cases, with several months of meeting with the community and its leaders. We want to hear the story of their village, ask them about their vision for the future and their struggles that keep them being where they want to be.
Then, we begin to work with them on the goals they’ve set by building on what they already do well. Seeing lives transformed in this way takes time and requires walking with people patiently through the ups and downs of life. It’s not a quick fix, but it is lasting.
In my next post, I’ll tell you about how World Concern pulls these five principles together in our community development process by telling you the story of one village.
The resounding question in everyone’s mind today is, how much more can Haiti take? With more than one million people still homeless after January’s quake, and a recent outbreak of deadly cholera that has now claimed the lives of more than 400 people, a tropical storm that could dump 10-15 inches of rain is the last thing Haiti needs.
World Concern Haiti staff are preparing for the worst. During the storm, which is expected to move through the area early Friday, staff members have been instructed to take shelter, making sure their cell phones are charged, and to have a fresh supply of water, food and batteries on hand. In the hours leading up to the storm, they’ve been assembling emergency kits and tallying shelter materials for families in the areas we serve. Tarps and tents won’t provide much protection during the storm, but they will be needed immediately afterwards to replace damaged shelters. Tarps are among the items included in the emergency kits.
Getting emergency supplies to people will no doubt be a challenge, and coordinating this is a major effort. The practice of cutting trees in Haiti for firewood and charcoal has left the land vulnerable to mudslides. Heavy rain could wash out roads and make reaching people in need difficult.
Many of the areas where people are currently living in camps are low-lying and previously uninhabitable because of the flood risk. Flooding could also worsen the spread of water-borne disease, including cholera.
Some people take comfort in the fact the storm currently appears to be slowing and not strengthening much. However, forecasters note the danger of increased amounts of rainfall with a slower storm that lingers over Haiti.
We’ll keep you posted on our response in Haiti as we’re able to communicate with our staff there. Until then, we appreciate your prayers.
Ache is a strongly built woman. The skin around her eyes is smooth in spite of the graying braids that lie half hidden under her head covering. Her face wears a look built out of determination and survival and years of waiting. She has been in this camp in eastern Chad since 2004. She knows she may never go home.
In Sudan, she tells us, she lived in a large and prosperous village. She had a beautiful life: fields of millet, sorghum and peanuts along the wadi, gardens rich in choice, and an irrigation pump to lighten her work. Her three children were free to go to school, and together the community built a preschool so mothers could have time to rest and socialize.
Her house was made of adobe, with a metal roof: safe from fire, a good place to store her dowry chest and gold jewelry. She would travel to weekly markets in nearby towns, selling grain or vegetables and bringing home clothes, shoes and school supplies. Her husband traveled to the big cities and returned bearing sacks of sugar. In Sudan, Ache was free.
And then, everything changed. Ache’s face goes still and hard as she thinks about the hate campaign that started the troubles.
“The janjaweed came to our village with guns and fire. They stole our cattle, slaughtered our donkeys and burned our fields. As they broke down our granaries and houses we ran for our lives, scattering into the bush, I in one direction and my husband in another,” she said. “So many of our neighbors and our family members didn’t escape. Men and women, elderly and babies; their bodies lay untended, unburied for days. When the janjaweed finally left we buried the dead in pits and mass graves. I had only my clothes and my children. I had only the hope of reaching some other village before we were lost to hunger and thirst.”
Eventually, trucks came from the NGOs. They rounded up batches of refugees and drove them several days to the camp. Bewildered and traumatized, Ache’s family waited under plastic tarps. “But there were no guns. There was peace, and a place to rest,” she recalls.
When they first arrived in the camp they were lent a small plot to farm, but without access to water it failed. Now her husband spends most days looking for day labor in town. Sometimes he is lucky. Sometimes they resort to selling part of their daily ration. Her 16-year-old son has left the camp to look for work somewhere unknown—probably back in Sudan, although at last news he was still in eastern Chad. One day she will find him, if she can get the money to travel after him.
She focuses on the blessings in the camp: her daughter spreading sorghum from the distribution rations to dry in the sun; the gate into her neighbor’s yard and the gourd plant that reaches over it. She wonders whether she will ever again have the chance to plant and reap her own fields.
“What I wish for,” she says with a trembling voice, “Is a chance to work. Last year, when World Concern was here, I worked on the rock lines. I had money to buy a pot and meat to share with my neighbor. We are not the same tribe, but we live together. We shared out my work days and the money.”
“Thank you,” she says, “for coming so far, for leaving your families and coming to help mine. Surely God will bless your generosity.”
Story by J. Gunningham, World Concern Program Support Officer, Djabal, Chad
Everyone can picture a hundred different types of disasters and what disaster relief means. They’re often featured in news reports. Many of us have also been victims of one type of disaster or another, big or small. World Concern works in many places around the globe that are especially prone to disasters. Poverty and vulnerability go hand in hand.
If there is a flood in the US, we generally have insurance and a bit of savings. If there is a fire, there are firemen. When our children are ill, we take them to the doctor. To prevent the worst of illnesses, we have vaccinations available. In our large and blessed country, if there is a drought in one part of the country help can come from another part across a vast network of paved roads, or reservoirs can be drawn on through another network of pipes and canals. When we lose our jobs, there are usually unemployment benefits. Above all, there is stability, security and peace in our land.
Imagine how much more frightening the world would be without any of this. In such places, World Concern is often enough the only help at hand.
Although we can picture so many different types of disasters – floods, hurricanes, droughts, wars, earthquakes – we often think only of hand-outs as a response. But there is so much more that can be done.
In our responses to disaster, World Concern tries to help people not only recover their goods, but also their homes, livelihoods and hope for the future. We strive to help whole communities prevent crises from becoming overwhelming disasters, to reduce their vulnerability and increase their ability to cope. Above all, we work to help people to find the face of God during some of the worst moments of their lives.
I’m writing this first blog posting on a plane, leaving the cold, damp, dark days of late autumn in Seattle, heading to the glaring, baking semi-desert of eastern Chad in central Africa. Join me over the next few weeks as I work alongside our team in Chad, serving families who have literally lost everything in the Darfur conflict.
Early this morning, I joined a couple of co-workers for an unusual event in front of World Concern’s international headquarters in Seattle.
Hammering by streetlight, we finished placing 1,000 wooden crosses into the ground, each with a red felt ribbon.
Today is World AIDS Day, a time when the general public joins humanitarians to consider the enormity of the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
5,500 people will die today and another 6,000 will be infected. More than two million people will die this year because of AIDS.
The first 500 crosses went into the ground smoothly Sunday afternoon, then we finished in the darkness Monday morning. Hammering was easy. What’s difficult for me is the realization that 1,000 crosses doesn’t even account for one day of deaths due to AIDS. It’s about the number of deaths in four hours.
What has surprised me in my research of AIDS is that three out of four people who die from AIDS live in Africa, more specifically, sub-Saharan Africa, which is approximately the southern 3/4 of the continent. In this incredibly poor area of Africa, the rate of HIV/AIDS is often between 10 and 60 times higher than in America. Seven countries have rates over 15 percent. Generations are dying.
I am proud of World Concern’s work with those affected by HIV and AIDS. We provide humanitarian relief for those with HIV and AIDS, as well as others affected by the virus, including AIDS orphans. Since 2004, World Concern touched the lives of more than 150,000 people AIDS orphans, and nearly 40,000 caregivers. Our AIDS work includes the countries of Haiti, Zambia and Kenya.
I hope that the crosses help show the reality of AIDS. It is not something to be ignored. Most importantly, it is something you can help change, but supporting organizations like World Concern that have a direct, positive influence on the lives of poor and desperate people.
Feel free to come by today, if you are in the Seattle area. The display will be up today, and gone tomorrow. Of course, the challenge of HIV and AIDS will remain after World AIDS Day, and for that, we ask the you remember those affected by AIDS year-round.
World Concern is located on the campus of CRISTA ministries. The address: 19303 Fremont Ave. N, Shoreline, WA, 98133.