Lutheran Disaster Response

Our response to disasters in the U.S. and around the world; look for sections of this blog related to specific disaster locations. Comments are welcomed and moderated.

Jordan: Making Life “More Bearable” for Children at Za’atri Refugee Camp

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Matthew Ley
Children in the Za’atri refugee camp play outside their newly installed winterized shelter. Credit: A. G. Riisnes/NCA

Children in the Za’atri refugee camp play outside their newly installed winterized shelter. Credit: A. G. Riisnes/NCA

When we give a gift to say, Lutheran Disaster Response, it feels good. We most likely have read a story that made clear to us the need, connected with us and called us to action. Then we go on with our lives, work calls our attention, events with family and friends fill up our calendar; life keeps moving. Possibly from time to time we think back and wonder what may have happened with our gift. This is one of those times.

In January the ELCA, working through our membership in the Lutheran World Federation, responded to the needs of Syrian refugees in Za’atri camp on the northern border of Jordan. (see previous post) The main purpose of this need was around the harsh winter and its affects upon particularly children within the camp.

“We received the shelters during the rains, but before the snowfall. Our first night in the prefabricated shelter was the first night we felt safe and warm in Za’atri refugee camp.” – Omar Yaser, Za’atri camp resident

This effort made it possible for children and families to find warmth in the midst of the cold as well as a sense of peace and home in the midst of uncertainty and fear. And thus seemingly small gifts, easily forgotten, and seemingly commonplace items, like insulated walls and blankets, have been transformed into safe and potentially life-saving spaces for families in need. A true moment of neighbor helping nameless neighbor.

To learn more about this effort, check out the LWF post Winterization Kits Make Camp Life “More Bearable” for Syrian Refugees.

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Syria: Cold Temperatures & Warm Hearts

Posted on January 17, 2013 by Matthew Ley

Girls line up before starting school in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, located near Mafraq, Jordan. Opened in July, 2012, the camp holds upwards of 50,000 refugees from the civil war inside Syria, but its numbers are growing.


“Thank God for our humanity.”

This quote is from Isam Alhuniti and is in reference to the Syrian refugee crisis. It is borne from his personal experience. You see, Isam lives in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where he owns an apartment building. Some of his tenants are Syrian refugees who are fleeing the violence in their home country. Though some families, like that of Souad Kasem Issa, her husband and their six children, have not been able to pay their rent in many months he is still helping supply them with food and blankets. He shared that this is because that at one time he had lived in the U.S. and was nearly bankrupted by his daughter’s medical bills. It was only through the help of some Catholics and social service groups that he was able to keep his family surviving.

Isam is not alone in both his personal story of struggle nor in his willingness to extend a helping hand and a warm heart to his neighbors. Dhamyah Mahdy Salih, a volunteer with International Orthodox Christian Charities, which has been working with Syrians both inside and outside Syria, has also connected Issa’s family with assistance. Salih is a refugee from Iraq, whose family has been in Jordan for nearly ten years. She said it was ordinary Jordanians who helped her family make it and now she wants to return the favor.

All of this is happening in the midst of one of the harshest winters in the region with blowing winds, dropping temperatures and heavy rain and snow. Many are suffering from these conditions, particularly the 612,000 Syrian refugees who are trying to find shelter and safety in neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In places like the refugee camp of Za’atari, on the northern Jordanian border, the situation is quite bad, with children and older adults being most susceptible.

Prior to this current situation the ELCA, through generous gifts of people like you, has given $450,000 to address the needs of Syrians within and outside Syria. Through our membership in the Lutheran World Federation, this response been helping to meet the needs of refugees at Za’atari. In the past week the ELCA has committed another $100,000 to the work in the camp to help meet the needs of children, to help keep them “warm and dry”. Yet as the situation within Syria and the weather in the region worsen, the need continues to be great.

As we continue through this season of Epiphany, of Christ revealing, may we stay aware of the needs in God’s world. And in this moment may we particularly lift up or brothers and sisters in Syria and the entire region, that though violence may rage and temperatures may drop, we can still thank God for our humanity and the opportunities will all have to reach out with warm hearts to meet our neighbors in their need.

For more information on the situation please check out the following reports:

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Syria: A View Inside a Jordanian Host Community

Posted on November 26, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Fleeing the conflict in Syria, Abir, 5, and his family found shelter in a cement factory in the north Jordanian town of Al Toura. Credit: ACT/Magnus Aronson

One of the major areas of the ELCA’s Disaster Response program is working with international companions and partners to meet the needs of refugees. As people are driven by hunger, disaster or violence to leave their homes and enter into neighboring countries, we work to be there, to help meet their immediate humanitarian needs as well as walk with them in the journey to re-establish themselves. In communicating about this good work it is easy to keep the focus on the needs of the refugees and look past the gifts given and potential strains on host communities.

A recent Lutheran World Federation article about the current situation regarding Syrian refugees flowing into Jordan (below) reminds us that not all refugees end up in refugee camps and that even when they do the communities who host them are altered, sometimes overnight. Take a look at the article and also remember that as we pray for those who must take on the life of a refugee we also remember those communities into which they come.

Read the full article: Welcomed into Homes, Garages and Local Town Hall
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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Syria: And Still They Come; Dignity in Numbers

Posted on September 28, 2012 by Matthew Ley

The situation in Syria continues to show up in our news. Usually it is a quick description of the conflict within the country or perhaps coverage of the geo-policital implications of these events for the region and the world. In the midst of these important, and often tragic, stories there is another narrative playing out involving Syrians looking for safety and resources, a journey which is increasingly taking many them across the border into neighboring countries. As the fighting within the country continues and intesifies this group is growing, rapidly.

So as I was reading through some reports on the refugee situation this past week I was struck by some of the numbers 700,000, 75 and 52. Initially they are just numbers, like any other scattering of statistics that help make up our news cycle. These numbers help give us context and help us as we work to determine appropriate response. What struck me was what do these numbers mean in the context of our call to respect human dignity in the course of our work. What are we to do with these three numbers and the situation they describe as we strive to accompany people in ways that respect their human dignity? And now the numbers.

700,000
Accorcding to a recent United Nations’ report the anticipated number of Syrian refugees by the end of this year has jumped from 100,000 (a number surpassed in July) to 700,000. This massive increase will put extra strains on Syria’s neighbors, who continue to keep their borders open to Syrians fleeing the violence. This strain will need a call for renewed commitment to keep the basic needs of human dignity in the forefront of any response. For our church this call will help in our partnership role through the Lutheran World Federation as it works to coordinate the Za’atri refugee camp in northern Jordan.

75
Part of the context of this work is that 75-percent of Syrian refugees are women and children. This means that many of those arriving in the camps are not only escaping violence and arriving with very little, they are also arriving as separated family units. In the midst of making sure children are getting enrolled in classes and families are getting proper nutrition and medical attention, responding through the matrix of human dignity also means creating space for the emotional and spiritual well-being of these new arrivals. As the Lutheran World Federation helps at Za’atri these are some of the concerns it brings to the work; to make sure the needs of both arriving refugees and host communities are being addressed.

52
In Za’atri one of the other realities is that 52-percent of arrivals are under 18 years old. Many arrive to the desert climate with very little in the means of heavy clothing, an unacceptable situation as they move towards the cold months of winter. Also with the rising numbers the need for educational and recreational space and activities increases. The Lutheran World Federation is working to provide winter-proofed tents and clothing for these children and their families as well as working to organize community-based groups within the camps to help them name and address their needs.

In the end these numbers help paint the picture of an evolving situation, one where the church is working to be vigilant and present in its calling to care for the least of these. And one where we work to make manifest the reality that all are created in the image of God and are to be treated with the dignity that image carries.

To learn more about where these numbers come from and the situation in general you can read the UNCHR and LWF reports.

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Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Syria: Lutheran Communion Responds in the Midst of Conflict

Posted on August 28, 2012 by Matthew Ley

As the conflict in Syria continues to worsen some Syrians are beginning to cross the border into neighboring countries like Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. These countries are continuing their practice of keeping open borders for incoming refugees, even as this number moves towards 140,000. Yet a major question that comes with accepting refugees is how to make sure the refugees’ needs are met in ways that do not overtax the local population and continue to respect the dignity of all.
As Syria’s southern neighbor, Jordan is currently addressing this question as it plays host to about 150,000 Syrians (39,600 of which are registered with the UN as refugees). To meet the needs of these refugees, Jordan has established Za’atari refugee camp. This camp aims to be a positive sign in the midst of the current conflict.

The ELCA is blessed to have an opportunity to be involved in this important work. Early on in this process, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) through its member church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), offered its services. In the midst of a conflict that has caused some to draw lines of distinction between religious groups, Jordan (where the official religion is Islam and the population is primarily Sunni) has chosen to work closely with Christian organizations, including the LWF, to deliver aid to incoming refugees from a primarily Muslim country.

The reason for this is simple: relationship. Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, who serves as Bishop of the ELCJHL and President of the LWF, has strong relationships with Jordanian leaders. As these officials began looking into how to address the needs of incoming refugees, they welcomed input from Bishop Younan. As a leader within our global communion, Bishop Younan offered areas of expertise within the LWF to ensure that those gifts benefitted both the Syrian refugees and their host government.

Working together, the needs of vulnerable people who have no other access to daily bread are being met in ways that neither the LWF nor the Jordanian government could do alone. This effort is a strong expression of the ELCA’s commitment to global accompaniment. It is what we in the church are called to do and to be, to be present in relationship where we gain the opportunity to truly be neighbor at home and across the globe.

For more on the situation and to hear from Bishop Younan, see the ELCA News Release.

To learn more about the ELCA’s response, see the ELCA Disaster Response page Syria Conflict.
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Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Norway: WCC General Secretary Shocked by Violent Attacks in His Homeland

Posted on July 25, 2011 by Matthew Ley

In a news release from the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveist, WCC General Secretary, lamented the tragic events that have unfolded in his homeland of Norway. He called on the international community and the church worldwide to pray for the people of Norway, especially for the families of the nearly hundred people killed in the set of tragic attacks in the Oslo area.

Though the ELCA is not planning a specific response to this human-made disaster, we continue to be in solidarity with our partner in Norway, the Church of Norway (Lutheran), and continue to lift up prayers on their behalf as well as the rest of the Norwegian people. Also, as a member of the WCC we pray with and for Rev. Dr. Tveist in this trying time.

Please take a moment to read the full release where you will also find a link to helpful prayers at the bottom of the page.

Libya: Tunisians Lend a Helping Hand…and Car…and Bottle of Water

Posted on April 11, 2011 by Matthew Ley

Refugees at Sousha refugee camp getting water.

Who is paying [for all these supplies].

“We’re paying, of course. And our friends and family back home.”

“How long will you continue?”

“For as long as the money lasts.”

This is an exceprt from a conversation with Aomed Aowel, an ordinary Tunisian who left his home in the capital city of Tunis to drive (if my estimates are correct) around 7 hours to bring food and water to refugees crossing the border from Libya. And as the days have progressed he, his friends and others Tunisians they have recruited, have been bringing supplies of food and water to help meet the basic needs of people coming into Sousha camp.

“We’re not heroes. We’re just helping our brothers.” This is the response he gives to what they are doing. Heroes or not they are helping to do God’s work and for that we give thanks.

To read more about Aomed’s story as well as the work being done by the ACT Alliance read their update Solidarity without borders.

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Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Egypt: ELCA Missionaries Return

Posted on March 14, 2011 by Matthew Ley

As the situation in Egypt begins to find some stability, members of the ELCA’s Global Mission office in conjunction with our companions have determined that things have calmed enough for missionary personnel to return to their work in Egypt. Over the next few weeks the six missionaries will return are:

  • Rev. Peter Johnson, Erin Odgers, seminary intern Paul Schick and his wife, Stephanie, who will return to their work at St Andrew’s Lutheran Church of Cairo and with the St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS).
  • Rev. Dr. Mark and Linda Nygard, who will return to their work at the Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Please keep them and their families in your prayers as they begin to find how God will continue to use them in this new reality.

To learn more:

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Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Libya: ACT Team Prepares for the Worst

Posted on March 10, 2011 by Matthew Ley

ACT team setting up camps on Libya-Tunisia border. Photo: ACT/Church of Sweden/Sarah Harrison

A team comprised of staff from ACT member organisations Norwegian Church Aid, FinnChurchAid, the Lutheran World Federation and the Church of Sweden, has been working at full capacity on the Libyan-Tunisian border to assess and prepare for the possible humanitarian fallout of the situation in Libya. They are currently stationed at Sousha Refugee camp, located on the Tunisian side of the border. This camp has a current population of around 15,000 and is well maintained but the fear is that with unconfirmed reports of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands living in camps on the Libyan side of the border camps like this could be overrun if a violence in Libya continues.

In preparation for the worst the staff and the camp are attempting to expand the camp’s facilities for the potential new refugees. The hope is that with these expanded resources the camp could hopefully take in up to 100,000 refugees.

As the situation and the violence continues to worsen the ACT team will continue to assess what type of response or appeal should to enacted to meet the needs of those in need. Please keep these people, their work and those who they work on behalf of in your prayers. May God’s charitable and ever-giving spirit be amongst them in their times of need.

Read the full report.

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Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Libya: Religions for Peace Releases Statement Calling for Violence to Stop

Posted on March 10, 2011 by Matthew Ley

On February 24 Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General for Religions for Peace*, released a statement calling for the violence in Libya to stop. The statement calls on the government of Libya to cease in attacking its own citizens and for the members of the Libyan army to disobey orders to attack their fellow country men and women with warplanes. Also called for members of the international community to take responsible and legal action to ensure the full rights and safety of the Libyan people.

Read the full statment.

* Tracing it’s roots back to 1961, Religions for Peace is the largest international coalition of representatives from the world’s great religions dedicated to promoting peace. It maintains the goal of respecting religious differences while celebrating our common humanity and is active on every continent and in some of the most troubled areas of the world, creating multi-religious partnerships to confront our most dire issues: stopping war, ending poverty, and protecting the earth.

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Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.