A witness to resurrection hope
By Pat Cole | Presbyterians Today
Even before Hurricane Maria made landfall in September 2017, the Rev. Edwin González-Castillo and other Presbyterian leaders in Puerto Rico received promises of help from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA).
González-Castillo, the stated clerk of the Presbytery of San Juan, says PDA lived up to its word quickly. Days after the storm hit, the first wave of PDA grants arrived and community needs were being met.
In the presbytery, funds were distributed among each of the 15 congregations, and the presbytery matched PDA’s initial funding for community assistance. Desperately needed items such as food, water, diapers and medical supplies were swiftly in the hands of hurricane survivors.
“We were able to help families who had lost almost everything,” González-Castillo said. Hurricane Maria’s 150 mph winds destroyed homes, infrastructure and vegetation across the island and resulted in a large number of deaths and injuries. In addition, the hurricane left millions without electricity or drinkable water.
One Great Hour of Sharing gifts helped PDA respond immediately after three major hurricanes pounded the United States and/or the Caribbean, a devastating earthquake shook Central Mexico, and raging wildfires wreaked havoc across the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to One Great Hour of Sharing, PDA can mount responses that are timely, nimble and effective.
In Puerto Rico, Presbyterians never doubted that PDA would respond fast, and they know that PDA will remain for the long haul, González-Castillo says. “The help PDA brings is long-term, and we are grateful that when other groups leave Puerto Rico, we will still have PDA giving us a hand.”
Puerto Rican Presbyterians appreciate the prayer support and encouraging words they have received from across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), González-Castillo said. When people from the mainland ask them about providing tangible help, González-Castillo says Puerto Rican Presbyterian leaders have a standard reply: “We tell everybody the best way to help us is through PDA.”
The hurricane response has elevated Presbyterian visibility in Puerto Rican communities, and González-Castillo expects that the denomination’s name recognition will continue to grow as the recovery efforts continue.
“In many places here, Presbyterians are not very well known, but through things like this, when we attend to disasters and when our communities get the kind of help PDA provides, the Presbyterian name becomes familiar and people see that our church is here to help,” he said.
Beyond disaster relief
In addition to PDA, the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering supports the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP). It is received by most congregations on Palm Sunday or Easter. All three ministries that benefit from the offering work for change that makes a lasting difference.
In Africa, one way the Presbyterian Hunger Program strives for long-term change is by helping families who are at risk of losing their farmland. One such family is led by Najjuma, a 56-year-old widow in Uganda. She grows enough food on eight acres to feed the three children and eight orphaned grandchildren in her care. Without the crops that spring from this soil she carefully tends, Najjuma has no means to support these children.
However, while Najjuma was providing the nurture her children and grandchildren needed, her in-laws ordered her to leave the land her husband had inherited. Fortunately, Najjuma learned that laws were in place to protect widows like her. One Great Hour of Sharing gifts empowered Najjuma to exercise her lawful right to remain on the property.
Thanks to training programs held by Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment (ARUWE), a partner of PHP, Najjuma knew the law was on her side. She successfully appealed for help through local land governance structures. Yet, too often, widows aren’t aware of their rights, explained Sylvia Nalubega, program officer for ARUWE.
“When widows do not know their entitlement to their property or if the husband doesn’t leave a will, many times they are evicted and have nowhere to go,” Nalubega said. One Great Hour of Sharing gifts helped Najjuma avoid this fate.
“Najjuma depends on the land for her livelihood,” added Agnes Mirembe, program manager for ARUWE. “It is everything to her. Her income is tied to the land.”
In addition to benefiting from ARUWE’s legal aid clinics, Najjuma also learned more efficient farming techniques from this group. She planted two acres of corn and beans that serve as demonstration plots for her neighbors. She freely shares how she increases crop yields that enable her to take better care of her children and grandchildren. Najjuma could have been without a place to plant even a single seed, a plight that would have spelled disaster for her family. One Great Hour gifts helped keep this from happening.
Helping those in recovery
In Akron, Ohio, One Great Hour of Sharing gifts help give a new start in life to people who are recovering from addiction or who are re-entering society after spending time in prison.
At the Front Porch Cafe, a partner of Self-Development of People, men and women can receive healthy portions of food and friendship. They grow and learn alongside others who share their struggles and receive guidance on housing and employment opportunities.
When Diretha joined the Front Porch community five years ago, she had been sober and drug-free for a year, but a decade of unemployment threatened the sustainability of her success. She volunteered at the cafe and attended its support groups. The staff helped her develop a resume and interviewing skills.
These efforts helped Diretha land a job at a catering company, where she has worked for four years. Today, she continues to live a life free from alcohol and drug abuse.
One Great Hour of Sharing gifts contributed to Diretha’s transformation. SDOP made a grant that helped renovate and equip the building that houses the cafe after Eastminster Presbytery’s SDOP Committee selected the project for funding. SDOP partners with economically poor and oppressed people in projects these communities control, own and benefit from directly.
The Front Porch Cafe is part of South Street Ministries, which serves youth and adults in one of Akron’s poorest and most racially diverse neighborhoods.
“We get people from the church, the recovery world and the neighborhood who come in just for a place to gather,” said Joe Tucker, South Street Ministries’ executive director. By purchasing one of the Front Porch’s reasonably priced meals, neighborhood patrons support its witness to hope.
“We give people a lot of hope and redirection,” Tucker said. “We tell people, ‘Hey, look, half of our staff are in recovery or in re-entry themselves — we know what it’s like. What you are wanting to do is absolutely doable. We believe in Christ and we will pray with you.’”
Diretha continues to attend a support group at the Front Porch and its weekly worship service. “If I hadn’t gotten involved with the Front Porch, there is a chance I would have started using again and been in prison or even died,” Diretha said.
In Puerto Rico, Uganda, Ohio and other places across the United States and around the world, Presbyterians and their partners are involved in transformational ministries. Their long-term and holistic approach is possible because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.
Learn more about the One Great Hour of Sharing offering by visiting presbyterianmission.org/oghs.
Pat Cole is a communications specialist with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
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Categories: Disaster Response, Gifts & Financial Support, Hunger & Poverty, Presbyterians Today, Special Offerings
Tags: disaster response, hurricane maria, One Great Hour of Sharing, puerto rico
Ministries: Presbyterians Today, Special Offerings, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, Presbyterian Hunger Program