The summer of 2017 has had more than its share of natural disasters: Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, earthquakes in Mexico, 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.
Feeling the fatigue of giving toward yet another disaster, I received a humbling and heartbreaking email from Rev. 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 to Gardner asking if the Horn of Africa could receive a special offering across all of their districts in the Horn to support their brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone.
Gardner's response: "Absolutely!"
Katy wrote sometime later giving the specifics of the districts who gave, bearing in mind that every one of these areas is experiencing the worst drought in recorded history. These districts and areas were able to give a grand total of US$2,021.
The email chain continues with an incredible message from Rev. John Yual, district superintendent for the Church of the Nazarene serving refugees in the Horn of Africa.
"Now, the Church of the Nazarene in Area 1 has contributed US$517. Some of the collections were made in maize (food allocation) in refugee camps, and we sell them and to come up with that amount ... 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, where there is severe famine, 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 who wrote, "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 one to two days travel away from them."
These emails focus on 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, but this region collected a total of US$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?
This sacrifice of our African brothers and sisters giving up their meal to help people thousands of miles away — people they will never meet — is truly humbling. They are prepared to "come alongside" the suffering of strangers and, from their poverty, give encouragement and hope.