By James E. Copple
In a summer of disaster, there’s hope and holy pride in the poignant, modestly magnanimous efforts of African refugee camps to lift our fellow man in need.
The summer of 2017 has had more than its share of natural disasters: Hurricanes Harvey and Irma; earthquakes in Mexico; fires in the Western states; mudslides in Sierra Leone; floods in India and Bangladesh; unprecedented property damage; and an ongoing loss of life. Human migration, driven by war, disease, disaster, and famine, has disrupted millions of lives. Aid-agencies, volunteers, and donors try to keep up with one calamity after another while anticipating the next crisis.
I was writing another check to my favorite charity that survives on disasters, and complaints about donor fatigue were on the tip of my tongue, when I received a humbling and heart-breaking email from Don Gardner, field strategy coordinator of the Church of the Nazarene in East Africa. It was a call for disaster-relief in response to mudslides in Sierra Leone that killed about 1,000 people. Katy Rodebush, Nazarene Compassionate Ministry Coordinator for the Horn of Africa, wrote:
I hope this message reaches you doing well. I am writing to request emergency support … for the recent Sierra Leone natural disaster. Leadership from the Horn of Africa) suggested to NCM leadership (and it was accepted!!!) that all districts across Africa raise monetary support, in addition to prayer support, immediately (hopefully by this month’s end). Do we have your permission to request … a special offering? Thank you for your leadership in this Godly effort.
NCM Coordinator HOA
Gardner’s response: “Absolutely!”
The Regional Office of the Church of the Nazarene located in Johannesburg, South Africa, challenged the churches in Africa to help during this crisis, and the response is good for the soul. From the Area Coordinator for Ethiopia:
Here is the money that came in for Sierra Leone Nazarenes as of today:
Non-Identified Country: USD 450
Ethiopia East: USD 300
Ethiopia Area II: USD 1,121
Non-Identified Country: 150
Grand total: 2,021
The email-chain continues with an incredible message from John Yual, District Superintendent for the Church of the Nazarene serving refugees:
I hope all are doing well in the Lord. We have delayed because of distant communication. Now, the church of the Nazarene in Area 1 has contributed $517. Some of the collections were made maize (food allocation in the camps) in refugee camps, and we sell them and to come up with that amount. David, you can deduct, because it will be difficult to send from refugee camps. Many of our members in refugee camps have tried their best.
Yes, you read that correctly. Church members in refugee camps in the Horn of Africa sold their maize allocation so they could donate to help survivors in Sierra Leone.
Perhaps one of the more compelling messages from the field was from leadership in Addis Abba:
There are several small, remote local churches in Ethiopia Area II that have collected some money but have not been able to wire it to us yet; the nearest bank is 1-2 days travel away from them. Their collections could arrive anytime time in the next week or two. I will keep you posted.
Nearest bank – 1 or 2 days travel for them.
These emails focus on the Horn of Africa, one of the poorest regions of the world, where its people regularly experience the trauma and loss associated with war, civil war, drought, famine, and disease. I have been to these places, and I have witnessed their struggle. I have seen their faith and benefited from their generosity. This region collected a total of $2,538!
What is it about people of faith that takes them to such levels of sacrifice and compassion that they give from their meager means to help people who have lost all means?
The debates in the Western world about who gives; who fails to give; and who fails to give enough seem like the complaints of spoiled brats living in economies that allow us to buy a Starbucks for $5.00 and feel no pain. Compare this to the sacrifice of Africans giving up their meal to help people thousands of miles way – people they will never meet. Yet, they are prepared to “come alongside” the suffering of strangers and, from their poverty, give encouragement and hope.
Today hundreds-of-thousands of people are homeless and feeling adrift in the wake of disaster. Congress will lift the debt-ceiling and add $15 billion for relief in Texas. Florida and the coastal Southeast are next. The Caribbean is a mess, and Central Asia is enduring “one more” catastrophe.
There is something promising about our humanitarian response – neighbors helping neighbors; giving a few extra dollars to our favorite disaster-relief agency that people might find shelter, a shower, a meal, or find the capacity to rebuild.
Does it hurt? Maybe! But not nearly as much as it might hurt my brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa. No complaints from this community of brothers and sisters – only the willingness to give, because the Jesus they follow has met them in suffering and poverty, and they can do no less.
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