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The intersections of disaster response, self-development and hunger alleviation

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, whose collaborative work touches all three, is the guest on ‘Between 2 Pulpits’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Yosh Ginsu via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — “Between 2 Pulpits” hosts the Rev. Dr. John Wilkinson and Katie Snyder called on the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus to wrap up their One Great Hour of Sharing podcast series by highlighting and illustrating the intersections of disaster assistance, ending hunger and the self-development of people.

Those three ministry areas — Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People — are supported by gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing, which many PC(USA) congregations and worshiping communities will receive on Easter Sunday.

Kraus, who formerly directed PDA, is now director of Humanitarian and Global Ecumenical Engagement, which gives her a birds-eye view of how the work of the three ministry areas relate to one another. In addition to the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, the three programs supported by OGHS “are in a shared collaborative portfolio,” she told Wilkinson and Snyder during the 38-minute podcast, which can be heard here. “We do better work when we’re together with the church, and we do much better work when we’re seeing how disaster is impacted by endemic poverty, and how tending to the building of relationships like SDOP does helps us do better work representing people who are vulnerable after a disaster, or the people who need to be working for food security in the U.S. or overseas.”

Globally, Kraus works with partners of all three programs “and ecumenical partners and long-term civil society partners who do disaster and development work, work with gender equity and other kinds of pieces of work that the Presbyterian Church and many other faith partners care about in the world.”

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus 

Before Kraus began leading PDA, she served churches in upstate New York and Miami, during which she was a member of PDA’s National Response Team. She was pastoring in Miami in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida and Louisiana. “I had literally no knowledge of disaster work, but I was pastoring a congregation that had been 33% displaced by this hurricane,” she said. More than three years into the recovery work, “I came up for air and I realized the on-the-job training had broadened my sense of vocation. The work the church does after a disaster is different from the work the Red Cross or [Federal Emergency Management Agency] does. We’re not only trying to help put people’s lives back together, but we’re also bearing witness to the fact that you can’t go back to the way you were.”

Kraus said that following a disaster, faith communities “can bear witness to the power of divine presence and the power of community helping to rebuild, and perhaps uncover things that could be better or different. That’s the vocation I was awakened to.”

There’s a “deep instinct in our churches and among people of faith to help when something terrible happens, or to help when people are unhoused or without adequate resources,” Kraus said. But people of faith who come from mainstream culture often “realize when we reach out to help, sometimes it’s not as much a relationship as it is charity. Charity is not a terrible thing,” she said, “but what I’ve learned is how much more respectful it is … if we can come to that in an accompaniment way, as partners rather than someone with money giving to someone who does not.”

“I think that’s the beauty of the intersectionality of the One Great Hour of Sharing programs and the way we work with congregations and mid councils and in communities,” she said. “We move away from the traditional charity that’s a short-term fix and instead work to build relationships and sustainable communities.”

The Rev. Dr. John Wilkinson

Asked by Wilkinson to discuss intersectional ministry, Kraus turned to the example of partners in Nepal, which was struck by a catastrophic earthquake in 2015 and again last year. It’s a country that by design isn’t home to “a lot of Christian charity organizations,” Kraus said, after national leaders there tired of groups “coming in and helping people who are suffering but do that as a transactional means to try to promote conversion to Christianity.” The nation is predominately Hindu and doesn’t allow proselytizing, she noted.

“We didn’t have a lot of relationships there” following the 2015 quake, Kraus said. “Instead of trying to dump funds into some organization we knew nothing about, we sent a colleague who was working as a contract person for us” to live in Katmandu for six months and “just ask questions,” including, “Who’s taking care of this?” and “Who’s caring for people living in areas that are really impoverished?” After listening for six months, he identified two organizations that, this man noted, “don’t just want to fix the houses that fell down. They want to help communities be better.”

One organization focused on women and young girls and worked in “remote villages nobody had gotten to,” Kraus said. In addition to repairing and reconstructing homes, the groups built water systems and infrastructure, created community gardens run by youth, built a community threshing machine and put computers into under-resourced schools.

‘The whole point of One Great Hour of Sharing is everyone brings what they have to a common pot, which supports a variety of work according to the special skills of each’ — The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus

After four years of recovery work, the Covid pandemic struck Nepal and the rest of the world. “We asked them, ‘Are you still in operation?’ They said, ‘Yes, and we want to help these remote villages just like we did before,’” Kraus said. “When the earthquake came last year, we reached out to them again. It’s building relationships and it’s teaching how a small aspect of One Great Hour of Sharing work, disaster response, works together with gender equity, self-development, community organizing, education and poverty alleviation.”

“I think that’s future-thinking work,” Snyder told Kraus. “I also see churches doing that, looking at what our church does well and how can we combine our efforts? It’s happening at the denominational level and it’s still applicable at the church level.”

The old model, especially in larger congregations, was “to feel like you had to be everything to everybody. I think it’s hard to let go of that without feeling a sense of failure,” Kraus said. “The way I try to look at it where I’m working now is [forming partnerships] is really good stewardship, and it’s community-building.”

“The whole point of One Great Hour of Sharing is everyone brings what they have to a common pot, which supports a variety of work according to the special skills of each,” Kraus said.

Exploring the ways that climate change and militarism, for example, affect poverty has informed PDA’s work with partners, especially in war zones like Ukraine and Gaza. “We have been able to reach out to partners with whom we have been able to walk for many years to help them have the means to survive and support whoever they can reach and get to while the war goes on,” she said.

During January’s Matthew 25 Summit, Kraus led a workshop on maintaining resilience during hard times. She used a passage from the Talmud that she quoted for Wilkinson and Snyder: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Katie Snyder

“That’s a pretty good mic drop quotation, Laurie,” Wilkinson said. “I’m inspired, and I hope the listeners are inspired, by the forward-thinking vision of this work.”

Snyder asked Kraus about her hope for the church. “I think we’re in a very different season than at any time in my life about where the church sits in our society and what the church’s impact is in the days going forward,” Kraus said. “A lot of us who are professional church people have grieved what we see as the diminishment of the church’s role and place in our society.”

“My hope is we can find ways to let go of that grief and, in lamenting what  was, can uncover how much more vibrance, how much more possibility and how much more power there can be in being a less prestigious but more grassroots, connected, and accompanying entity, to our neighbors of many faiths and no faith, to our communities, and mostly to the vulnerable people our communities are seeking to support and serve.”

Listen to other editions of “Between 2 Pulpits” here.

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