Thursday, April 30, 2015

Countries and Communities in Crisis: What Is Our Role?

I grew up in Kansas with the season for tornadoes to thunder across the prairie and communities, particularly those unfortunately located in what is called "Tornado Alley".  While I have not personally been in the midst of a tornado, part of my extended family lost their long-time home a few years ago when Joplin, MO, had a terrible storm.  The closest I have come to being in the midst of a disaster was the time I served in Vermont when Hurricane Irene did some significant damage to local communities, and I helped with whatever resources and connections I could help make, especially through the local interfaith community's efforts.

One realization (epiphany?) that I had early on in my upbringing was the connection between the crisis at hand and the faithful helping hands that arrived via denominational and faith-related responses.   The ABC/Central Region had a dedicated group of volunteers at the ready with their Disaster Response trailer and a phone tree ready to mobilize people to meet the needs of whatever Kansas community found itself picking up the pieces by daybreak.  I learned early on that there was a direct connection between the appeal to support "One Great Hour of Sharing" and the capacity for assistance its funding and partnerships could bring to a town dealing with sudden challenge.

As I became a pastor and helped promote OGHS in the churches I served, I told my Kansas, then Vermont and now New York fellow American Baptists of the great good possible by offering their support to OGHS in the usual time of June/July as well as whenever the request came from the denomination/Region office for special designated giving.   I knew early on that the minute after the disaster, the response was already being formulated and then mobilized by great volunteers, supported by denominational and ecumenical partners.

As it seems to happen more than I care to admit, the headlines of late have been laden with deeply grieving news.  The tumult in Baltimore and the devastation of earthquake and aftershocks befalling Nepal and neighboring countries keep our news coverage focused grimly on both "US" and "world" coverage more than usual.  (The typical complaint, of course, is quite apt that if you want to know what's really going on, you may have to depend on news sources beyond US-produced broadcast and cable channel journalism.)  
In both situations, I can find a good word of affirmation for the role of non-profits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and religious communities.  While infrastructure was leveled in Katmandu and civil unrest in Maryland brought to the surface long simmering distrust, the news stories came and will continue to bear witness to the determination of persons and organizations to step into the breach and provide compassion, care and community.  

American Baptists have issued a call for donations designated for Nepali earthquake relief.  With a simple online donation (via or through your local church offering plate (designate checks and envelopes specifically OGHS--Nepal), a congregant in upstate New York can support the efforts through ABCUSA and its partners.  Press release: 

A special OGHS appeal bulletin insert is now available:

The good word from Dr. Roy Medley, ABCUSA General Secretary:  “In tragedies such as this, our faith calls us to compassion and solidarity with those who have suffered loss.  Our networks of relationship through the Baptist World Alliance and Church World Service offer us channels for relief efforts. Gifts can be given through ABC One Great Hour of Sharing, earmarked for the Nepal earthquake.”

National Public Radio offers a helpful resource about ensuring your donation is handled by an organization that is well suited to meet disaster response.  The article also notes the common mistakes made by donors with the best of intentions but the least realization of what type of "help" actually helps!

Likewise, the efforts of many organizations are helping Baltimore in its time of need.  Just as the Ferguson, MO, area libraries did so remarkably in recent months, the Baltimore Public Library system is opening its doors and staying open late to provide open space for persons in need of care, shelter and support.

Rev. Dr. James Perkins, President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., offered a word on the unrest in Baltimore.   Recalling the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the PNBC leader advocates for a return to the principles of non-violence and the need to train a new generation about the difference between anger and turning to violence.  Commentary:

As part of the response, area clergy are notably marching in the midst of the crowds, providing a witness for peace and calm.   An article by the Christian Science Monitor notes that the Baltimore clergy are no strangers to involvement with community issues regarding law enforcement.  Their witness has been going on longer than the cameras captured and continues well beyond the news cycle shifting its attention away.

A good word from the ABCNYS Region President, the Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson sums things well:  "Pray with me as we intercede on behalf of lives that have been shaken and shattered by these events.  Let us pray for an expeditious recovery and that when social media has found some other interest story that the hearts of American Baptists and Americans not so quickly move on.  More can be done".  (Region Notes, 4/30/2015)

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