Changemakers in South Sudan — Establishing a Place of Peace and Love

This month, we’re sharing stories from our work around the world.  It is our hope that these stories will inspire, encourage, and enrich your lives this Christmas season. The following post was written by Darren Harder, Country Director for World Relief South Sudan.
 

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me;
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.

With God as our Father, brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother, in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now;
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow

To take each moment and live each moment, in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

The lyrics to this beloved Christmas hymn seem to ring truer with each passing year.

Peace. Something that has too often seemed unattainable in 2016. A year that has been difficult, contentious, and violent both here in the U.S. and around the world. A year that has challenged us all as individuals, as parents, spouses, friends, colleagues, even as Christians. Now, as we draw near to the end of the year, we long for a more peaceful 2017, one filled with love and with hope for a better tomorrow. 

Amidst this darkness, what better time to look to stories of incredible hope where peace can indeed triumph against the odds? Stories that encourage and inspire us. Stories that show us we can rise above our doubts. Stories like the one of the Church in war-torn South Sudan. 

Though pushed from international headlines by the tragedy of Syria and the horrifying images streaming almost daily out of Aleppo, few places have more tragic histories or precarious futures than South Sudan. After decades of civil war with North Sudan, the world’s youngest country was born to great fanfare and hope in 2011. But that hope did not last long. In 2013 violence broke out, between supporters of the President and former Vice President of South Sudan. Over the last three years, ethnic-based killings have taken place on all sides, accompanied by growing demands for vengeance. According to the U.S. Institute for Peace, nearly 4 million South Sudanese face severe food insecurity, and more than 2 million have been displaced by the war. 

The stories circulating in international media, paint a bleak picture of South Sudan and its immediate future. Even bleaker are the suggestions from the diplomatic community that the situation could get worse before it gets better. Despite multiple efforts to broker peace, South Sudan, like too many other places around the world, now faces impending catastrophe. Militias are mobilizing along ethnic lines, hate speech is circulating on social media, and international human rights groups are now documenting widespread human rights abuses.

And yet, against this dark canvas of suffering, fear, and forced displacement, one area stands out, determined to be a place of peace and love. This place is Ibba, a county in Western Equatoria State, where World Relief South Sudan is partnering with Church leaders, determined to become a light amidst the darkness.

In Ibba, World Relief is working in collaboration with local Churches to build homes for the elderly and the sick, run agricultural trainings to increase harvests in order to feed the hungry, and start savings groups. We are training women and young mothers in fostering peaceful family environments and in other life skills. Above all, we are focused on working together to organize spiritual activities that help build the unity of the Church, enable them to share each other’s burdens and challenges, and share in peaceful solutions. 

On November 20, 2016 a joint prayer service was held at St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Parish of Ibba, which brought together more than 3,000 people from across the region for over eight hours of prayer and worship. It was the first time that four Christian denominations, namely ECSS/S, Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Seventh Days Adventists, have come together to worship in Ibba. Church leaders preached messages of peace, unity, and collaboration. Many announced it was the first time in their lives that they’d seen such unity, and challenged the congregation to take the message of peace home to their neighbors.

As I watched the church come together as a unified body of believers, to pray for their communities and to serve the most vulnerable, I reflected on how much we can learn from our brothers and sisters in South Sudan who are doing the hard work of peacemaking each day.  Even though insecurity exists in neighboring counties, Ibba has remained calm, and I have no doubt it is due to the leadership shown by the local pastors in Ibba. I thank God for them daily and pray that they will continue to find their voice as they become beacons of light in their suffering communities.

Now and in the coming New Year, let us stand up for change. Let us join together with these peacemakers. Let us come alongside them to learn from them, to stand with them, and to give to them, so that they may increase their capacity for peace in South Sudan and beyond. Let us find peace on earth, and let it begin with you.


Join a community of Changemakers—ordinary people who step out in faith to do extraordinary things. Visit worldrelief.org/change to double your impact during the month of December.

Changemakers in Rwanda — A Story of Light Overcoming Darkness

This month, we’re sharing stories from our work around the world.  It is our hope that these stories will inspire, encourage, and enrich your lives this Christmas. The following post was written by Moses Ndahiro, Country Director for World Relief Rwanda.
 

Rwanda.

A country as magnificent as it is complex. A place of breath-taking beauty, and of an unthinkably violent history. A marvelous land of a thousand hills, still haunted by an eerie morning fog that sits atop the horizon and whispers of horrors passed; a genocide that shook the world so deeply, it promised, “never again”.

It is a country unlike any other, where God’s creation is on display in all its splendor and diversity. The warmth and hospitality of a people striving to rebuild and rewrite their story. The hope of a history overcome, and of a nation reborn.

And it is a country where God is at work in powerful ways. Where people’s hearts and minds are being transformed through Christ. Where the Church is stepping into its rightful place as the hope of the world. A nation transformed by the word of God, and by His good and faithful servants.

It is a story of light overcoming the darkness.


The Church established itself in Rwanda over 100 years ago, and today, more than 70% of the population is in a church building every week. How then, in 1994, did a genocide of such horrific proportions and unprecedented brutality take place? Volumes have been written on the underlying causes, on the immediate events leading up to the genocide and of the failure of the world to take heed of the warning signs. Little, however, was said of the failure of the Church to stand up and protect the vulnerable. Fortunately, that has changed. Today’s Church in Rwanda is quite different from the institutionalized Church of the past. It is vibrant, diverse, and growing. And step-by-step, it has begun to walk alongside its people in their journey from darkness and despair, towards hope and renewal.

World Relief first established its presence in Rwanda immediately following the genocide. Watching the international community respond with one-off emergency interventions, we became increasingly convinced that solutions needed to center on the resourcefulness and hearts of the local people, and that the Church had a unique role to play. Born out of that conviction, World Relief first pioneered its Church Empowerment Zone model in 2011. Founded on our strong belief that transformational change begins with the Church, we began teaching, mobilizing, and empowering local churches and their networks to serve the most vulnerable in their communities. Through sharing biblical teaching and building leadership capacity, we brought churches of all denominations together in one network to unite under a common curriculum and leadership development program, giving them the opportunity to wrestle with common problems, share resources, and join together in a common vision for their churches, families, and communities.

“We do not see one another as enemies anymore. Now we come together as brothers, bringing our strengths together. We are at peace.” – Pastor Museveni

Today, the Church Empowerment Zone model is unleashing the potential of hundreds of churches and communities across Rwanda, building a legacy of hope, generosity, and self-reliance that is sustaining progress. Local churches are no longer simply institutions for Sunday gatherings, but the epicenters of their communities—transforming hearts, minds, and attitudes. Rwanda is a vivid and timely reminder that there is more to religion than just turning up to church. It has revealed how essential it is for our faith to be strongly rooted in a holistic and meaningful understanding of the Gospel. 

One pastor in Bushenge, Rwanda said, “Now we are caring for the poor and most vulnerable. We are creating love where the Devil was bringing hate and division. We are bringing the Kingdom of God down to Earth. Our families are in harmony. And a family in harmony will prosper in everything.”

Over the last five years, we have seen families reunited, church attendance increased, and health and nutrition outcomes improved. We have seen neighbors, siblings, spouses, children, and friends overcome their challenges and experience renewed and strengthened relationships in Christ.  We have seen the transformation of lives.

The story of the church in Rwanda is powerful and inspiring. But it is not the only nation where the church is catalyzing transformational change. As renowned British journalist and self-declared Atheist, Matthew Paris, writes,

“I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

Now is the time for the U.S. church to join in this rebirth. We have a unique role to play in helping African churches increase their capacity, and they have much to teach us about what it means to truly trust in God. When we work together in harmony, uplifting one another, and placing God at the center of our partnership, we have the true potential to transform the lives of millions of vulnerable people. 

We ask that you join us as Changemakers this Christmas.


Join a community of Changemakers—ordinary people who step out in faith to do extraordinary things. Visit worldrelief.org/change to double your impact during the month of December.

Changemakers in the U.S. — Love is Our Mission

Gicheru Njoroge, Case Specialist at World Relief's Atlanta office, assists a recently arrived refugee family from Syria.

Gicheru Njoroge, Case Specialist at World Relief's Atlanta office, assists a recently arrived refugee family from Syria.

This month, we’re sharing stories from our work around the world.  It is our hope that these stories will inspire, encourage, and enrich your lives this Christmas. The following post was written by Emily Gray, SVP of U.S. Ministries, World Relief.


Over the last year, the word ‘refugee’ has come to symbolize much of the fear, uncertainty, and division plaguing our nation. As our country struggles to grapple with ever-evolving international complexities and rapidly shifting political tides, refugees have, in many ways, become synonymous with this messy, somewhat chaotic and confusing environment. Used as scapegoats, singled out as potential risks to our security, criticized as drains on our economy, and intimidated with threats, their presence in America has too often been devoid of the peace they’d hoped for. In seeking refuge, many have instead encountered hardship, isolation, and even overt hostility. And as the world confronts worsening headlines on a daily basis, often provoking greater impetus to stereotype, the plight of the refugee in America is intensifying.

Despite our nation’s long and proud tradition as an open and compassionate  society, many people now see refugees as a problem rather than as vulnerable people who have suffered horribly in often horrific circumstances. These are people who have needed considerable strength and courage to make the journey to a new beginning in a foreign land, people whose presence can enrich both our culture and society, as well as the individuals and churches that come alongside them in love and compassion. Refugee resettlement touches a deep nerve, but one all too often untouched by the personal experience of befriending and welcoming these vulnerable people.

But there is another narrative about refugees, one that we see everyday at World Relief. It is the story of churches who partner with us to welcome and befriend these refugees. It is a story of love and compassion, one that replaces fear and distrust. 

Because of Christ’s command to us, to love our neighbor and to welcome the stranger, churches across America are responding to the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees with compassion and hospitality. Through joining Good Neighbor groups, donating welcome kits, and hosting ‘Refugee Sundays’, our church partners are providing hope, light, and transformational love to this uniquely vulnerable group of refugees and immigrants.

Glen Ellyn Covenant Church, in Illinois, answered God’s calling to step out in faith and welcome over 150 Burmese and Bhutanese refugees to their congregation in 2013. They did so in striving to follow the example of Jesus, who left the comforts of heaven for the messiness of this world. And something remarkable happened. Pastor Mike Langer explains,

“It was the most powerful thing I’ve ever been involved in. They taught me so much, gave me so much, and I am so grateful to God that He placed them in our midst. We love to see ourselves as a church become more aware of what it truly means to trust God, to be citizens of God’s kingdom, and to understand the radical implications of Jesus’s teachings. Our Bhutanese and Burmese friends helped us to do that.”

In this journey, lay the opportunity for positive transformation not only for immigrants themselves, but for the community that welcomes them and ultimately for the church and the growth of the Kingdom of God. 

Love is our mission. We are called by Jesus to welcome and to love. And we respond in love because we were first loved by Him and because we know that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18.) We offer compassion for those who need our help, stand up as champions for those who are marginalized, and love sacrificially.

Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to answer God’s call to be good Samaritans, and to welcome the stranger. Regardless of what lies ahead, the church must always be ready to educate others about refugees and immigrants, advocate on their behalf, and give to organizations who work directly with these foreign-born individuals and families. We have the chance to step out in faith and literally change the future for refugees and immigrants. Let us answer this calling with courage and conviction.

“The Lord watches over the foreigner, and sustains the fatherless and the widow” (Psalm 146:9 NIV)


Join a community of Changemakers—ordinary people who step out in faith to do extraordinary things. Visit worldrelief.org/change to double your impact during the month of December.

How Much Is Enough? Thoughts from Jeff Shinabarger

“It’s better to give than receive.” In a world that’s commercialized and in a season that’s oftentimes defined by excess, it’s important to get back to the heart of what the season is all about: Christmas is always a great time of the year to think about giving to others, to both family and friends, and to vulnerable people around the world. 

In the book More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, author Jeff Shinabarger shares practical stories of people who combat personal excess with heartfelt and generous giving. Jeff is a social entrepreneur, a designer, and a creative director. He is the founder of GiftCardGiver.com and Plywood People, an innovative community addressing social needs.

At this time of the year, many of us want to do all we can to stand with the vulnerable. But it’s also easy to feel like we can’t do as much as we’d like—or anything at all. But what if, as Jeff suggests, our ability to make a difference could be impacted by asking ourselves the question, “What is enough?”

Out of our excess we can address needs. But it begins with defining what is enough. What is enough?

It’s a subjective definition that we all have to ponder at some point in life. Unfortunately we’ve diminished the idea of generosity to money; too often we think we are generous only when we are giving money.

But what might you have in excess that has nothing to do with money? Excess clothes? Excess social capital? Excess amount of square footage?

We can ask the question, “What’s enough?” in every aspect of life. And if we choose to live with less, we gain the opportunity to give more. 

Consider these easy moves:

  • Look into your kitchen pantry or cupboard and set aside five cans of food. Deliver them to the nearest food bank in your area, and have a conversation with the person receiving your donation. Chances are, you will learn something new, and it will make you think differently about your next meal. Share your experience with a friend. Food is a basic and essential need for survival, and it’s one of the best things you can distribute to those in need. In Africa, there is a concept known as ubuntu—the profound sense that you are human only through the humanity of others; that if you are to accomplish anything in this world it will be in equal measure due to the work and achievement of others. Part with your surpluses and overloads, and feed your soul.
     
  • Go to your closet and drawers and pull out every piece of clothing that you own. Count the items. Sort them. How many days could you go without wearing the same thing twice? Are you satisfied with your number, or do you have excess? If you feel you have too much, then decide what is enough for each category of clothing. Then pare down your garments to meet your reasonable number, and donate the rest to a charity or sell them at a resale shop and use that money to make a donation to help the vulnerable. Kelsey Timmerman says, “The people who make our clothes are poor. We are rich. It’s natural to feel guilty or apathy or reject the system that does nothing to help. This quest is about the way we live; because when it comes to clothing, others make it, and we have it made. And there’s a big, big difference.”
     
  • Dump all the change everyone in your family has accumulated. Count it up, organize it roll by roll, and give it to an organization that’s working to help lift someone out of poverty today. G.K Chesterton wrote, “There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”
     
  • Keep an ‘excess bin’ in your house. Keep it for anything that you are not actively using anymore, and that could contribute to fill the needs of others. This bin can then be used for garage sales to raise money for orphans or charities. Committing to a place to gather your excess on a consistent basis will challenge how you live regularly. “If we value things of the world, we will miss the things of true value,” Kim Biddle says.

Generosity is a chance to experience freedom in a world obsessed with gaining more. And as we near the end of the year, let's consider how making a few simple changes can increase our capacity to stand with the vulnerable, and to be changemakers in our world. As we bring significant change to others, we’ll be changed, too!

For more from Jeff, watch his TEDx talk and follow him, @shinabarger.

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Join a community of Changemakers—ordinary people who step out in faith to do extraordinary things. Visit worldrelief.org/change to double your impact during the month of December, and join us at World Relief as we stand with the vulnerable.

Changemakers in Haiti — Who is the Hero?


If the last year has taught us one thing, it is the importance of searching for truth and meaning, amidst the over-saturated, 24-hour news cycle. Our attention moves on to the next breaking story, and we do not pause to listen to the deeper stories; the less sensational ones, which are often the most inspiring ones. And yet, those are the stories we want to see, and the ones we need to hear.  Stories of lives transformed, stories of hope and radical solidarity, stories that speak deep and meaningful truths to our existence. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be sharing these stories from our work around the world. It is our hope that these stories will inspire, encourage, and enrich your lives this Christmas.

The following post was written by Joseph Bataille, World Relief's Country Director in Haiti.
 

When people think of Haiti, they often think of incredible poverty, disaster, dependence, and despair. But there is another story. It is one of the church stepping into communities as beacons of light and agents of change, offering help and hope to struggling families. For the church in Haiti, there has never been a more vital time for us to share our truth and to stand up as the Body of Christ, shining the light of hope in our corner of the world. 

In the past, we in Haiti, have seen the frequent cycle of disaster and relief as if it were the script of a theatrical tragedy. Haitian churches and leaders have often seen others—not themselves—as the protagonists, which means they have often settled into more passive roles, stepping back and making way for others to bring aid from abroad. In doing so, our churches’ leaders have (knowingly or unknowingly) excused themselves from the Great Commission—to share the gospel and to live as Jesus lived, in service to others and with unconditional love for all. World Relief has been actively working for years to transform this mindset, and when Hurricane Matthew hit, we began to see a new level of change take place. 

Things have been very different this time. The voice of the narrator has changed; now a Haitian voice is expressing a renewed understanding of the importance of local solidarity. In this context, the church has stepped into its rightful role, fulfilling its calling to care for and shepherd the most vulnerable, in a way that is much different from what I remember witnessing after the 2010 earthquake. From the moment that Hurricane Matthew passed, churches all over the country began taking up collections, and continued to do so for many weeks. I personally took part in a meeting with over 200 Haitian church leaders, who agreed to pool their next Sunday offering together to make a more tangible impact. I am witnessing ordinary people stepping out in faith to do extraordinary things.

World Relief's ongoing partnerships with churches in Port-au-Prince, helping leaders and churches build capacity to meet the needs of their own communities (core to World Relief’s Church Empowerment Zone model), helped us support a church-centered response to the hurricane, unlike anything we have done in the past. By collaborating with more than 150 Haitian churches, we have been able to mobilize a powerful and collective response. 

Dozens of volunteers from our partner churches in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, sacrificed days and hours to organize locally procured resources, to bring help to the regions where the suffering was greatest. Because of established pastor networks in the lower regions of Pichon and Mapou, we learned about the needs of the people “behind the mountain.” Churches from the capital organized and sent teams to help communities with clean up and rebuilding. Other churches purchased medicine with their own resources and sent doctors and nurses from their own congregations to care for the sick. Even in the hardest hit areas, churches are actually working together to take care of the needs of their entire community, not just their own congregations. Haitian believers are stepping up to bear the greater part of the weight of compassion for their neighbors who are in need. And the truly vulnerable are being sought out. The blind, disabled, elderly, and extremely poor; the least, the last, and the lost among them.

As we continue to engage the church in each region, our hope is that if (God forbid) another disaster were to occur in the same region in the future, these leaders would immediately look to each other, mobilizing more quickly to respond to the needs of the community. 

I believe that the Church is central to God’s plan for changing the future of vulnerable people. But for this to become a reality, we, the global Church, must focus on building the capacity of our churches and their leaders, not just fixing short-term problems. Since Hurricane Matthew, we have joined together to face our growing challenges with courage, strength, and unity in Christ—because when changemakers partner together, we can transform the world.


Join a community of Changemakers—ordinary people who step out in faith to do extraordinary things. Visit worldrelief.org/change to double your impact during the month of December.