Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Children’s Disaster Services responds in Joplin, Brethren Disaster Ministries reports on preliminary activities, requests EDF grant

At the request of the American Red Cross, a team of Children’s Disaster Service (CDS) volunteers were to arrive by this morning in Joplin, Mo., to set up a Children’s Disaster Services Center at the Missouri Southern State University shelter.

The volunteers will care for children in the aftermath of the tornado that caused significant destruction on May 22. The twister rated a strong EF 4, packing winds up to 198 m.p.h., and cut a path a mile wide and six miles long through the most densely populated area of the city of 49,000.

Search and rescue personnel as of yesterday were about halfway through a full grid search of the area of tornado destruction. The fatality count was confirmed at 117 early Tuesday morning, May 24, with 200 missing and more than 400 injured. In light of the high number of fatalities, CDS is also assessing the need for dispatching a Critical Response Childcare team to work with traumatized children in the FEMA family assistance center.

In a conversation with Patricia Dennison, Missouri/Arkansas District disaster coordinator, Brethren Disaster Ministries staff were told that there has been no request for volunteers from outside the area, unless they are affiliated with a responding agency. Security around the disaster zone is very tight, and unaffiliated volunteers will likely be prohibited from entering the impacted area for safety reasons.

Following a conference call with the Missouri VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), Dennison reported that the area is "being overwhelmed with truckloads of clothes," and officials are hard pressed to find more places to store them. She says they’re asking people instead to "donate them to a local charity or have a large garage sale and send the money" to be used where most needed.

Responding with much-needed monetary donations is the best way to help disaster relief organizations which already have been stretched by the severe weather this spring.

Darrell Barr, Western Plains District disaster coordinator, and Gary Gahm, Church of the Brethren member from Kansas City, Mo., participated on the MO VOAD conference call as well. Barr, who lives only about 30 miles from Joplin across the Kansas state line, also represented BDM in a face-to-face agency meeting in Joplin yesterday with FEMA and other disaster response partners. Brethren Disaster Ministries will use the information from such meetings to help guide its response activities.

Roy Winter, BDM executive director, has telephoned Carolyn Schrock, Missouri/Arkansas District Executive, to share BDM’s willingness to help the district with any storm-related needs. Schrock confirmed that there are no Church of the Brethren congregations close to Joplin. However, one non-Brethren congregation, Nueva Vida, located in Carthage, Mo., has informal ties to the district, and its pastor, Edwin Reyes and his family live in Joplin.

Ruben Deoleo, Intercultural Ministries director for the Church of the Brethren, called Reyes to inquire about how the tornado may have affected his family and members of the church. Reyes shared that his sons were at Wal-Mart when the tornado struck the city. One was hit by an object on the back and the other on his legs, but both of them are fine, as is the rest of the family.

He also shared that his house filled up with water and he and his family are staying at his brother's house. He had no word about any of the church members. Schrock stated that the district "will be waiting to hear of any (unmet) needs of this congregation."

Remarking that "the 2011 spring storm season has been one of the most devastating on record," BDM associate director Zachary Wolgemuth has requested a grant from the Emergency Disaster Fund to assist with relief and recovery efforts of Church World Service (CWS). "In all," he said, "residents in approximately 15 states have suffered major damage." The request for $15,000 follows an earlier grant of $7,500.

CWS is responding in numerous communities, shipping clean-up buckets, hygiene kits, school kits, baby kits and blankets. The grant will support further material aid shipments as well as resources for the development of longterm recovery groups in affected communities. Additional grants are expected as the needs become known.

To support the 2011 US spring storms appeal, send your gift to Emergency Disaster Fund, Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120. Give online at

-- Jane Yount is coordinator for Brethren Disaster Ministries in New Windsor, Md.

Convocation final message rejects war in favor of ‘just peace’

"We understand peace and peacemaking as an indispensable part of our common faith," states the opening sentence of a "final message" from the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC). The message issued yesterday, May 24, in Jamaica on the last day of the IEPC, is not considered an official statement of the sponsoring body, the World Council of Churches. Instead it is intended to represent a sense of the meeting.

The short, three-and-a-half page document was informally adopted by means of applause, during the afternoon plenary session. A first draft presented in the morning plenary was revised by the writing committee over the lunch break, after close to 75 people lined up at the microphones to give feedback and suggestions for changes.

Close to 1,000 people from more than 100 countries have been attending the IEPC, most of them representatives of Christian bodies along with some interreligious partners. The convocation has been sponsored by the WCC and hosted by the Caribbean Conference of Churches and the Jamaican Council of Churches. It is the culminating event of the Decade to Overcome Violence.

The final message from the meeting makes strong statements signaling a shift toward a "just peace" stance in the ecumenical movement. "Member churches of the World Council of Churches and other Christians are united, as never before, in seeking the means to address violence and to reject war in favor of ‘Just Peace,’" the message reads, adding in a later paragraph, "We are moving beyond the doctrine of just war towards a commitment to Just Peace."

"We are unified in our aspiration that war should become illegal," the message also asserts.

With regard to nuclear weapons it says, "We advocate total nuclear disarmament and control of the proliferation of small arms."

The message includes many expressions of concern for situations of violence and those who suffer from it, the underlying causes of conflict, injustices that affect many around the world, the way religion has been misused to justify violence, the sufferings of diverse groups of people, and the effects of climate change and environmental destruction.

The message confesses "that Christians have often been complicit in systems of violence, injustice, militarism, racism, casteism, intolerance, and discrimination" It also confesses that "issues of sexuality divide the churches," and calls on the WCC "to create safe spaces to address dividing issues of sexuality."

Churches are called to active peacemaking on a number of fronts, for example moving peace education to the center of school curriculums, naming violence against women and children as sin, supporting conscientious objection, advocating for "economies of life" in contrast to the "unfettered economic growth as envisioned by the neoliberal system," addressing the concentration of power and wealth, and more.

Many statements in the document are directed to governments, who are urged to, among other things, "take immediate action to redirect their financial resources to programs that foster life rather than death."

In a nod to the Historic Peace Churches, the message states that their witness "reminds us of the fact that violence is contrary to the will of God and can never resolve conflicts."

A related document, "An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace," which includes language condemning the "just war" doctrine as "obsolete" was not acted upon but served as a study document for the convocation. It is expected to come in some form to the next WCC world assembly in 2013 for consideration.

The Church of the Brethren has been represented at the convocation by delegate Ruthann Knechel Johansen, president of Bethany Theological Seminary, who has been accompanied by her husband, Robert C. Johansen.

The other Brethren in attendance were general secretary Stan Noffsinger, peace witness and advocacy staff Jordan Blevins, Scott Holland of the Bethany Seminary faculty, Pamela Brubaker professor emeritus at California Lutheran University, Brad Yoder of the faculty at Manchester College, Zakaria Bulus of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), and news director Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford.