A letter from Jed Koball, serving in Peru
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A weary nation fixed its eyes on the television as another mudslide swept through a small town on the outskirts of Lima. As the turbulent waters swiftly moved fallen trees and wooden planks of destroyed houses, a young woman poked her head up through the debris. ¨There´s a person in there!¨ cried a bystander. And sure enough Evangelina Chamorro arose from the rapids of muck, clinging to whatever floating object she could reach as she stumbled her way towards the shore where neighbors pulled her to safety. From the chaos of disaster, a heroine arose to give hope and inspire a people.
For online readers, click on the following link for a video of Evangelina´s rescue:
For nearly three months, Peru has been pounded by unrelenting rains from the mountains down to the desert coast. As of the writing of this letter, dozens of mudslides and recurring flooded rivers have taken the lives of 78 people, destroyed over 10,000 homes, and left over 100,000 displaced and in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. However, accessing such populations in need has proved incredibly difficult, as thousands of miles of highway have been destroyed and nearly 200 bridges have been taken out. And to make matters worse, the disaster has not yet ended. The rains are expected to continue for at least another three weeks.
There is still one more overarching issue that we cannot deny: the torrential rains themselves. These rains are unprecedented because their genesis was unforeseen. While Peru anticipates and prepares for intense weather systems generated by the warming of the Pacific during El Nino cycles, the warm waters causing the current extreme weather conditions came from elsewhere and were unforeseen. In mid-January, it was learned that the waters off the coast were 5 degrees Celsius warmer than they typically are this time of year. A nation was caught off guard. The rains began. And, we were unprepared.
Conrado Olivera, director of our global partner Red Uniendo Manos Peru (Peru Joining Hands network), explained, ¨This is the effect of climate change. Peru is considered to be one of the three most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. More extreme weather events like this will happen more frequently in years to come. While some may debate the cause of climate change and whether it can be mitigated (although I would argue strongly that it can be and the we must work to do so by changing our human behaviors and practices), what cannot be denied is that it is real. The climate is changing. Weather patterns are changing. Temperatures of air and water on average are rising. We must adapt. We cannot live always and only responding to disasters; we must learn to prepare for and even to prevent the disaster.¨
Over these past weeks as the impact of the flooding has become more known, we have gathered with our fellow Peruvians to collect non-perishable food items, potable water, medical supplies, insect repellent, diapers, and materials for temporary housing. Likewise, we are working closely with our partner organizations and churches here in Peru to identify communities in greatest need for both immediate humanitarian aid and long-term re-building. We are also executing plans for immediate and long-term response with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance supported by the many congregations and individuals like you who feel called to aid our sisters and brothers in this particular time of need. And to be certain, we have begun to devise plans for education and advocacy to address the causes of the disaster in order to adapt to new climate cycles and to be better prepared for the inevitable.
As I write those words of preparedness, I am reminded that this is the season of Lent – a time to prepare. But as followers of Christ, we do not simply prepare for the death of Good Friday, the disaster that awaits us – as inevitable as it may be. We also prepare for the new life of Easter. We prepare for the saving Grace that allows us to change our ways and live differently. We prepare to rise up like Evangelina, and to perhaps stumble forward, but into the arms of a welcoming and loving community. We prepare to be that community – to be the Body of Christ. We prepare to start anew.
To all of you who hold us and our partners in prayer, provide financial support for this ministry we share, and take action for a more just and loving world right where you are, we thank you, and we encourage you to please continue such support! And in this very difficult moment here in Peru, we also ask you to consider an additional special gift through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in support of our relief efforts in Peru.
In the name of the Risen Christ,
Jed and Jenny Koball
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