1 Corinthians 13 (Love in Action)

2017 has been a difficult year. Mindful of this, we choose today to celebrate the undeniable ways in which we have witnessed kindness, patience and resistance to hate. That is Love in Action.

As you watch the film, we hope you'll be encouraged and inspired by the ways in which you and others have put love in action this year.

We also hope that you'll consider ways you can put Love in Action as 2017 comes to a close and we begin a new year.


This holiday season, bring your love to life. Take what you have and use it to transform lives. Give to those who have little, serve those in need—love in action.

Love Rejoices with the Truth

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This month, we’re sharing stories of individuals and communities putting Love in Action. The following post was written by World Relief's Product Development Lead, Francesca Albano, who recently returned from visiting our staff and volunteers in Malawi.

We used to believe we were bewitched, and that no matter what we did, we could not escape poverty. Now we have heard God’s truth. We know that poverty is complex, and it began when Adam introduced sin into the world. Each day we learn more about the word of God, and we cling to it. We rejoice in its truth.
— Church Network Committee Chairman, Jenda Church Empowerment Zone (CEZ)

Combatting Harmful Beliefs

This is a story about a small village in Mzimba, a northern district in the small Southern African country of Malawi. It is a story about love and the relentless pursuit of the truth—a truth that has set the village of Jenda free and paved the way for love to flourish.

Five years ago, the Ngoni people never could have imagined the transformation their district was about to experience. Though amongst some of the poorest people in the world, the Ngoni are a proud people, rooted in age-old traditions, closed to outsiders and cautious of change.

Prior to World Relief’s intervention in Mzimba, life was dictated by tribal traditions that oftentimes perpetuated, or worsened, the cycle of poverty and suffering in the community. In many cases, these beliefs lead to chronic malnutrition, child abuse or gender injustices that could mean the difference between life and death. Yet, this way of life went unchallenged for the Ngoni people, who had no knowledge, expectations or hope of a different way, no opportunity to act on their natural instinct to love and no relief for the suffering they endured.

The Ngoni people lived their day-to-day lives believing that;

  • A malnourished child meant there was infidelity within the marriage.
  • Girls were valuable solely for their bride price and should not attend school.
  • Upon puberty, girls foreheads should be cut and scarred to reveal their readiness for marriage.
  • If women did not bear sons, men may continue to marry as many women as they like. (Polygamy was commonplace.)
  • Upon the death of their husband, widows must walk on their knees to the closest river without food or water.
  • Pregnant women must not breastfeed or eat eggs.
  • Witchdoctors were the only solution to sickness and challenges.

Change Takes Root

So in 2012, when local World Relief staff first arrived in the village of Jenda, villagers were guarded. They sent local pastors and leaders to meet with the outsiders, doubting the significance of the gathering, in some cases even fearing it was a scam. Little did they know, this meeting would be the beginning of a vibrant transformation. One that revealed life-altering truth, rooted in love and that would lead to the renewal of their lives, their people and their entire community.

As leaders around Jenda came together with World Relief staff in vision-casting seminars, community-based needs assessments and cross-denominational conversations, a wave of excitement and optimism began to spread. Like wildfire, 15 churches soon became 22, spanning 10 denominations and multiple villages across Mzimba as community leaders realized that a different life, and future, for their people was possible.

We began to understand God’s vision for our community. A truth that had been obscured from us due to age-old cultural practices and mindsets. We learned God had a desire to see us and our community working together in unity to serve one another, love one another and to lift up our community. We learned to work together, to realize our part in helping the most vulnerable, to become self-reliant and to shed harmful beliefs that were hindering us.
— Church Network Committee Chairman

As community leaders and increasingly, community members, began coming together in conversation around these new truths, the tide began to shift.

We began to understand poverty in a deeper way. We came to realize the power of knowledge, and of self-reliance. And we realized some of our practices must change if we were to lead better lives.
— Modesta, Jenda Savings Group Beneficiary

A Flourishing Community

As the people of Jenda gathered to discuss the needs of their village and their vision for the future, the community began to adopt changes that gradually gave way to community-wide flourishing. New cash crops were planted to include soya beans and groundnuts, yielding added household income. With the pooled profits, seedlings were planted to regrow trees that had been lost to deforestation, hundreds of thousands of bricks were molded for the construction of a new school and homes for teachers, a clean-water well was dug, and savings and agricultural groups were formed. As each new need was identified, the community gathered together to raise money and invest back into their collective vision for their lives and the lives of their children.

But the changes were not just physical. Love and appreciation for the children of the village was instilled as community members began to understand the meaning of Imago Dei—each child created in the image of God and possessing inherent worth. The value of the girl child and the importance of education for both boys and girls began to take root. Community members began looking out for their friends and neighbors, and families began to repair once broken relationships, thriving in a growing love, care and respect for one another.

Little by little with each passing year, leaders and community members alike began speaking out against harmful practices of polygamy, rites of passage, child brides and witch doctors. Mothers groups were formed to keep children in school and protect the rights of children, especially girls. Leaders from other districts began to visit Jenda to witness what, why and how such positive transformation was taking place. And Jenda’s influence was so great that even local government Village Development Committees took note—putting in place by-laws that forbade marriage under the age of 18 and required mothers to give birth in health-centers or local hospitals so as to ensure proper care.

Vision 2020

Today, the village of Jenda is unrecognizable. As you enter the center of the village, you pass a deep-water well, three primary school blocks, five well-constructed teachers’ homes, three large enclosed cultivation plots, two brick-molding kilns and a large field of newly planted trees. You enter the church—the center of the community, with two classrooms attached, and a large poster on the wall which reads “Vision 2020.” It seems so out of place. Until you hear it described—down to every number and detail.

  1. We will mold 400,000 more bricks for the creation of five new school blocks.

  2. We will build a school library and a recreation hall.

  3. We will secure solar lamps for all children to ensure homework can be done in dark.

  4. We will ensure every disabled child has access to a wheelchair and that every classroom is wheelchair accessible.

  5. All girls must attend school and marriage under the age of 18 will be prohibited (now government law).

  6. Every village within our CEZ (the scope of a district) will have a community-based child care center.

  7. We will increase the prevalence and number of our adult literacy classes.

  8. We will saturate every village with Savings groups.

  9. We will plant ten trees a month, at least five of which must be fruit-trees, to combat deforestation and provide better nutrition.

  10. All churches will have finished tin roofs, plastered walls, and clean, even flooring.

Five years ago, the concept of a Vision 2020 was not even a thought, yet alone an aspiration, in the minds of the Ngoni people of Jenda, Mzimba. Yet today, they stand before us, proclaiming the gospel and the truths that have opened their minds, encouraged love and instilled a bright and bold vision for their future. It is a truth we can all rejoice in.


Through the end of the year, we'll be featuring stories of individuals and communities putting Love in Action—bringing hope to the hurting and shining light in the darkest hours.

Learn more and put your Love in Action today.


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Francesca Albano currently serves as Product Development Lead at World Relief. With a background in Cultural Anthropology and a graduate degree in Strategic Marketing Communications, she connects her interests in societal studies and global cultures with her training in brand strategy and storytelling. Francesca is especially passionate about grassroots community development and the treatment and advancement of women and girls around the world.

2 Ways to Put Love In Action This #GivingTuesday

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Love feeds the hungry.
Love welcomes the stranger.
Love knows no limits.

This #GivingTuesday (November 28), put your love in action in one of two ways:


1. LOCAL — Give to change the lives of refugees and immigrants in the U.S.

  • Help meet the needs of refugees by providing compassionate and holistic care from the moment they arrive at the airport through their journey to self-sufficiency.
  • Help immigrants maneuver through the U.S. immigration system, reunite with family members left behind and gain access to economic and educational opportunities.


2. INTERNATIONAL — Give to change the lives of vulnerable families in Africa, Asia and Haiti.

  • Help meet the immediate needs of those affected by natural disasters, regional conflict, drought and famine.
  • Help empower local churches to break the cycle of poverty by loving, serving and extending the mercy of God to the most vulnerable around the world.

5 Words That Can Change a Nation

Photo by Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch

In 2008 my wife and I were in her childhood home of Kenya when violence after the country’s election broke out—resulting in the death of over 1,100 people and the displacement of thousands more. As we witnessed the devastation in the lives of our friends and the Kenyan people, we felt called to act. And in 2013, ahead of the next elections, we returned to Kenya to participate in peace and reconciliation workshops and a peace march with local pastors. In the Kibera slum of Nairobi, and in Molo, in the White Mountains—two places where some of the worst inter-tribal violence took place—we saw communities embrace forgiveness for acts committed against one another. We saw tears shed and commitments made to be followers of Jesus first, Kenyans second and tribal community leaders a distant third. The subsequent elections were largely peaceful and celebrated as an important step forward. And so it was with great sadness that we learned this year’s elections in July had once again been disputed—largely along tribal lines. Following the Kenyan Supreme Court ruling that the elections needed to be re-run, the country was plunged into an economic crisis as investors and others fled the resulting uncertainty.

Coincidentally, this weekend found us back in Nairobi just days after the re-run election, only to find the country more deeply divided and polarized than ever and facing an uneasy peace. The root causes of the turmoil are being hotly disputed amongst factions and there is little desire for compromise amongst the political elite. Meanwhile, the working poor—those living barely above the poverty line—are seeing their already fragile lives caught in the political cross fire,  escalating rhetoric and disappearing livelihoods. Tales of violence and killing abound, though much of this will never surface in the mainstream media because what happens in and around the slums of Nairobi and the most rural parts of the country is only partially recorded.

A Challenging Question

So what, you might ask, has this to do with America?

On Sunday my wife and I listened to a Nairobi pastor preaching into the crisis, explaining the ways in which we as individuals can either calm or inflame a crisis. He laid out five characteristics that he believes make this current Kenyan crisis perhaps more profound and harder to resolve than previous ones. After all, Kenyans stared into the abyss in 2008. They are naturally peace-loving and optimistic people. Surely it could not descend into serious open conflict again?

As is often the case here in Africa the Pastor used a colorful metaphor to catch his congregation’s attention – and ours. He identified five characteristics that polarize and inflame crises, characteristics that each one of us can too easily embrace. And he called us to examine our own hearts, challenging us with this question:

“Are we promoting unity, as we are called to do by Christ and the apostle Paul, or are we so entrenched in our own beliefs and self righteousness that we are actually promoting division and fueling crisis?”

The 5 Characteristics

  1. An attacking mouth — Insensitivity to the reasons others might hold a different view, and worse, an incapacity to understand how our positions and words might make them feel. By our words we don’t just express disagreement, we attack, discredit, inflame, and in so doing—polarize.

  2. Blind eyes — Ignorance. An almost wilful blindness to the complexity of issues that often underlie people’s different views; a willingness to accept the narrative that corresponds to our own preference without examining facts that would be uncomfortable.

  3. Cold shoulders — Indifference to the plight of others, so long as “I am all right”. The opposite of love, this Pastor suggested, is not hate—it is indifference. His argument? At least if you hate someone your emotions are engaged. It is worse to be relegated to the status of non-person, someone whose concerns and views are simply irrelevant to you and your view of the world.

  4. Dead ears — Inflexibilty. An unwillingness to re-examine one’s own views, a preference for certainty, even when it is misplaced, over inquiry and uncertainty.

  5. Empty Hands — Irresponsibility. Denial that one might have contributed in any way to the crisis, instead searching to always put the blame elsewhere, and to always find scapegoats.

Does the Shoe Fit?

In the most sophisticated nation in the world we might assume that none of this applies. But I must ask, can we truly open the newspaper each day, watch the news, or scroll through twitter, facebook or other social media and not recognize that perhaps “the shoe does fit us too?”

Disagreements in human relationships are inevitable, yet just as marriage disagreements do not have to lead to breakdown, neither do they have to in civil society.

But genuine reconciliation requires a heart that is open and a willingness to forgive and reconcile. Indeed, the ability to reconcile is one key sign of a maturing Christian faith.

And so I challenge us as we look to the deepening divisions in our own society. Do we have something to learn from this courageous Kenyan Pastor, challenging his followers to recognize their own part in the crisis and examine their own hearts, attitudes and behaviors?

“Little children let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”
John 3:18   


(ABOVE PHOTO: Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch)


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Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.

#GivingTuesday 2017

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This year for #GivingTuesday, you can make a tangible difference in the lives of refugees and immigrants.

How?

  1. Below, find the local World Relief office closest to you.
     
  2. Click the link to learn what you can do on or before November 28 to welcome refugees and immigrants from around the world.