How Presbyterian Disaster Assistance works ecumenically
You may have heard: “To be Presbyterian is to be ecumenical.” Presbyterians throughout our history have provided visionary leadership to ecumenical work and witness. We have always recognized that we do not serve alone and that it is the body of Christ knit together, with all its differing gifts, that reflects the fullness of the incarnation. The Office of the General Assembly’s Ecumenical Vision Statement Approved by the 212th General Assembly (2000) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) confirms this sentiment.
Some have asked for clarity about how Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) works in the ecumenical arena and how, in particular, we relate to Church World Service (CWS) and Action by Churches Together (ACT). Hopefully the following information will help provide some clarity.
PDA – Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
Partnership is the key to empowerment. PDA is a vital partner providing support to and working alongside both Church World Service (CWS) and Action by Churches Together (ACT). Within this worldwide network, various partners have developed particular expertise. CWS is strong in Southern Asia, with a long history of ministry and presence that, for example, enabled them to take leadership following disasters in Pakistan and Indonesia. Members of the ACT network — especially members from Europe — have special skills that benefit the whole faith community. The Danes have developed a very strong program to remove landmines and other explosive remains of war (ERW). DanChurchAid is working in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Albania, Lebanon and other countries providing mine clearance and mine risk education. The Norwegians bring strong water and sanitation skills, and the Lutherans have a particular gift for refugee camp management.
PDA supports the core budget of both ACT and CWS with a grant of $100,000 per year. We provide an additional $185,000 to CWS to support emergency response and refugee work. When appropriate, PDA supports appeals for specific disaster situations from either CWS or ACT. Funds designated for the specific disaster may be used for those appeals and PDA has the right to indicate particular portions of the appeal where our funds will be used. An example is an appeal for flooding in Madagascar. PDA specified that its funds be used towards the portion of the appeal being provided by the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), a PC(USA) mission partner.
CWS – Church World Service
Church World Service is a cooperative ministry of about 35 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations based in the United States, providing sustainable self-help and development, disaster relief, and refugee assistance around the world. Several faithful Presbyterians serve on the CWS Board of Directors.
Internationally, CWS regional offices relate to church councils and activities in their areas. In the United States, CWS regional offices help coordinate CROP (an acronym for the Christian Rural Overseas Program) walks that address issues of hunger and development.
About seven of the CWS member denominations are active in coordinating their disaster and refugee work. PDA program staff serve on various CWS committees, providing a linkage and advisory role to the ministry. We seek in those meetings to coordinate our own work as denominations. Sometimes in a disaster response CWS serves as the lead through one of their regional offices; at other times a particular denomination in a country may be in a leadership role on the emergency response. We share information, staff, visits, and monitoring and evaluation tasks as we cooperate in service in Christ’s name.
PDA and refugee resettlement
PDA works collaboratively with the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program in the resettlement of refugees in the United States. CWS is an agency approved by the United States government to resettle refugees. CWS provides administrative oversight of the national program on behalf of PDA and nine other denominations and also contracts with affiliates in twenty-six states .
The affiliates provide local support to refugees and coordinate the involvement of CWS member churches who volunteer to help in the ministry of refugees resettlement. Some of these affiliates are ecumenical nonprofit organizations such as the Christian Council of Metropolitan Atlanta, and others are denominationally related nonprofit agencies such as Lutheran Family Services. Working together, PDA and the CWS network provide support for local congregations who are helping resettle newly arrived refugees. Approximately 8,000 refugees are helped through the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program each year.
ACT Alliance – Action by Churches Together
ACT Alliance is the coordinating office that brings together a worldwide network of Protestant and Orthodox churches and their related agencies for long-term development and humanitarian assistance. The coordinating offices of ACT Alliance are in Geneva, Switzerland. ACT members provide emergency food aid, shelter, water and sanitation facilities, and poverty reduction programs in the world’s poorest countries.
ACT members’ strong local roots enable the alliance to provide locally based knowledge, analysis and understanding of emergencies and disasters in the area. ACT recognizes that when disasters occur, identifying vulnerabilities and providing for people’s immediate needs are important. An additional vital component of response is recognizing the valuable gifts communities in crisis contribute: coping mechanisms and strategies for survival, skills and strengths, wisdom and knowledge, and resilience and courage. Strengthening local capacity lies at the heart of our responses to emergencies
ACT and its members are signatories to the Code of Conduct in Disaster Relief and aim to uphold the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, known as the Sphere standards.
One of the benefits of ACT membership is that PDA and the other Christian institutional donors in the ACT Alliance can carry on relief work on a cost shared basis. When a disaster occurs in a country (e.g. earthquake, flood, famine,) the ACT Alliance:
- Performs a situation analysis and prepares one comprehensive needs assessment for the country.
- Vets and approves the beneficiary organizations that will provide the relief services in the affected country.
- Circulates the needs assessment and budget (in the form of an appeal) to ACT donors each of which contributes as it wishes.
- Collects the funds from the ACT donors and disburses funds to the beneficiary organizations at the appropriate time(s.)
- Monitors the performance of the beneficiary organizations and shares the periodic and written and financial reports to all donors.
- Obtains one audit at the project completion and shares it with all donors.
Thus, the monitoring and supervisory costs incurred by ACT Alliance are much lower than if PDA and each other donor institution performed its own grant administration on relief projects.
The unity of the church is both God's real gift and God's effective calling. Working together with other churches in disaster response renews our commitment that to be Presbyterian is to be ecumenical.
Our prayer is that we Presbyterians become known in the worldwide network for the quality of pastoral work that we bring to communities suffering the ravages of disasters and war. Won’t you pray with us.