Say "Boo" to Hate

Shelbyville, Tennessee Counter-Protest,  October 28

Shelbyville, Tennessee Counter-Protest,  October 28

An interfaith counter-protest to a white supremacy rally took place in Shellbyville, Tennessee this past weekend.  The gathering gave more than 400 individuals a unique opportunity to celebrate Halloween -  by saying “Boo” to hate.  Both demonstrations were peaceful.  Organizations like the Nationalist Front, the League of the South and the Traditionalist Worker Party chose Shelbyville for their  “White Lives Matter”  march hoping to rile up racial resentment in this diverse and working class town - where a number of immigrants are moving because of the work available at a chicken factory.  Little did they know that their event would be so vastly outnumbered.  170 Tennessee faith leaders came together to support the counter message of love and solidarity.  And yet, it was a young man in the eighth grade, son of Latino immigrants, who organized the “Honk - To Say “Boo To Hate”  protest, enabling even passersby to participate!!

Margaret Ernst, a UCC seminary intern working in neighboring Brokmeade commented, “As a northerner, born in Connecticut and now living in the South,  (this event) has taught me that at an  historical moment when white supremacy is looking for new recruits, the North and liberal cities on the coasts have much to learn from courageous, rural and working class Southerners who are showing the rest of us how to face our history and carve out a new future with humility and togetherness.”

Way to go, Margaret!!

Northern California Wildfires

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“This is one of the greatest, if not the greatest tragedy that California has ever faced.  The devastation is just unbelievable.  It is a horror that no one could have ever imagined.”

Governor Jerry Brown

The United Church of Christ recently sent out the following statistics:

15 major wildfires are still raging

41 individuals are confirmed dead

200 people are still missing

40,000 are currently displaced.

3,000 community shelters are operating to house nearly 100,000 evacuees

217,000 acres have been burned

5,700 homes and businesses are reported destroyed

$3 billion dollars is the estimated cost of damages

9,102 FEMA assistance registrations have been filed.

With the help of our OCWM partners, 430 disaster workers are on the scene, serving more than 29,400 meals and providing more than 2,700 mental and health services.

Word has been received that the First Congregational Church of Santa Rosa was not destroyed.  The pastor writes, “It’s still smoky here, but the church is OK.  The major fire damage is only two or three blocks from us.  Unfortunately, 6 families have lost their homes.”  Others in the congregation describe the area as feeling very much like a “war zone.” 

 

Pray for Northern California

Global Refugee Crisis

Global Refugee Crisis

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Our government recently announced that next year, the United States will welcome the lowest number of refugees since Congress enacted the 1980 Refugee Act.  Only 45,000 individuals will be admitted.  This decision comes as the global community struggles with the worst displacement crisis in history.  65 million people have been forced to leave their home because of violence and persecution.

The following statement was issued by Dr. John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ:

            “This Administration has now set the lowest refugee admissions goal in U.S. history, which is an affront to faith traditions like the United Church of Christ who work daily to accompany refugees and welcome them to our communities.  We cannot allow politics to influence the moral imperative to welcome refugees who are fleeing extreme conditions and facing political persecution.  We are committed to continue to lift up the voice of refugees and all those who are targeted by harmful policies that hurt marginalized communities.” 

In Matthew 24, Jesus teaches us that the way we treat the most vulnerable members of our society reflects how we treat Christ himself.  As a people of faith, we must do everything we can to call upon our elected leaders to increase refugee admissions, reaching out to those struggling to rebuild their lives and raise their families in safety. 

Puerto Rico Disaster Relief

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The United Church of Christ has sent the first of what will be numerous grants to our ecclesiastical partners in Puerto Rico.  $10,000has been donatedto “Discipulos de Cristo en Puerto Rico” for first aid kits, electric generators, gasoline, drinking water, water filters, non-perishable food, battery-powered radios and batteries.  DCPR is also sending out assessment teams to interview victims, evaluate damages and seek measures to overcome the crisis left by the two category-4 hurricanes. 

Puerto Rico is facing a devastating humanitarian crisis.  The 150 mph winds and drenching rains left islanders without power and access to fresh drinking water.  With no power, waste and water treatment plants are now crippled … setting up potential for any number of water-born diseases.

Last week, the U.S. Government waived the Jones Act, a 97-year old set of restrictions which limit shipping between U.S. ports to U.S. owned and operated ships.  This temporary act will hopefully expedite the delivery of needed fuel, medicine, food and water todesperate residents.  Our UCC Justice and Witness Ministry is lobbying Congress to make the lifting of the Jones Act permanent, as well as designate the funds needed for long term recovery and rebuilding.

Caribbean Initiative

Resident of Dominica pondering the future

Resident of Dominica pondering the future

Hurricane Maria is the latest in a seemingly endless line of tropical storms to devastate islands in the western Atlantic.  Tragically, this week the island nation of Dominca suffered the brunt of 160 mph winds,  leaving the lives of some 73,000 residents in ruins.

We have probably spent vacation time in one or more of the islands impacted by this season’s hurricanes:  Antiqua, Anquilla, Baruda, The Bahamas, Cuba, Culebra, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe. Haiti, Montserrat, Nevis, Puerto Rico, St. Barts, St. John, St.Kitts, St. Martin,  Turks and Caicos, Vieques, and the Virgin Islands.  The extent of the losses is simply “mindboggling.”  It will take years for people in the Caribbean to rebuild their homes and lives.

Sadly, these tragedies have come precisely at the time when the United Church of Christ’s Global Ministries is promoting its “Caribbean Initiative,” an 18-month program designed to raise consciousness of the issues, priorities, successes and struggles of our partners in seven Caribbean nations, including Venezuela and Colombia.  Needless to say, the Initiative (announced this past summer) will be taking on an entirely different meaning and context.  

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by the storms and the UCC Disaster ministries endeavoring to assess the overwhelming need.  Among the original objectives of the “Caribbean Initiative” is to know the joys and concerns of our neighbors, and in so doing,   understand ourselves, our world and our faith anew.   Little did we know how important those goals would soon become.

Cacao Sustainable Initiative

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 As Hurricane Irma pummels the Caribbean Islands, my thoughts and prayers are with the small holding farmers whose crops will be totally destroyed.  During my trips to Haiti, I met a number of local cacao growers who provide raw materials to various multi-national corporations.  Needless to say, when the supply chain is interrupted by ever-increasing extreme weather patterns, the chocolate industry is severely impacted.  The African drought is having the same catastrophic effect, as well. Climate science suggests the dilemma will only get worse. While it’s important for governments to engage and address issues involving climate change, it will – no doubt - be the private sector that affects the transformational changes needed to reverse the trend.

In a September 6 on-line posting, Business Insider reported that the British chocolate giant, Mars Corporation, has decided to set aside $1 billion to fight climate change. CEO Grant Reid has indicated that the consequences of doing nothing will lead only to the further global calamity. Mars is upfront.  They are a food business, based on agriculture.  Their primary concern is the supply of raw materials required to support their $35 billion dollar business. This investment is being done to protect profits.  At the same time, they are beginning to realize that their own future requires reducing the company’s carbon footprint by 60%, and challenge other corporations to see the same handwriting-on-the-wall by following their lead.

Even though I continue to have serious issues with the multi-national companies who drive the cacao industry (particularly their exploitation of child labor) the Mars Cacao Sustainable Initiative is perhaps the most encouraging sign of environmental action to date.

Processing cacao beans in Haiti

Processing cacao beans in Haiti

Hurricane Harvey

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Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25 as a Category 4 storm packing 130 mph winds.  It devastated the town of Rockport, near Corpus Christi, and has caused unprecedented flooding throughout southern Texas and Louisiana.  Some 8 million people are currently impacted by more than 50 inches of rain.  It is estimated that 30,000 people are currently displaced and over 500,000 homes have sustained some form of damage.  FEMA is preparing for 450,000 assistance applications in the coming weeks.  It is sizing up to be the largest housing recovery effort in U.S. history.

As always, the United Church of Christ Disaster Ministries are prepared for long-term recovery work in the region - coordinating efforts with the leaders in the South Central Conference, our Church World Service partners, as well as federal and state agencies.  Not only will our Wider Church be assisting in the rebuilding of homes and communities, we will also provide psychological and spiritual support for those who have lost everything in the wake of this catastrophic event.

Our prayerful and financial support of the UCC’s “Our Church’s Wider Mission” helps to make these ministries possible.

Charlottesville

Floral Tribute to Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville, VAon August 11

Floral Tribute to Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville, VAon August 11

Among the racial and homophobic epithets hurled at the White Nationalist rallies this past weekend was: “Blood and Soil.”  This phrase first appeared within a 19th century European agrarian movement determined to take certain countries “back” from what was perceived as a growing, decadent, urban elite.   It was later adopted into the Fascist lexicon of Hitler’s Third Reich.  “Blood and Soil” would come to promote the control of certain territory (soil) by a certain race (blood.)

We see “blood and soil” ideology popping up in today’s political discourse, not only when privileged, young men chant it in the street, but when a White House spokesperson accuses a journalist of being “too “cosmopolitan,” or when an elected official rants that our “heritage and culture” are under siege.

We no longer have to wonder whether there is a White Nationalist agenda underfoot in American society.  It is staring us in the face.  Rarely does our nation face such moments of moral clarity.  There is no room for equivocation.  As Americans, but more importantly as Christians, this “Blood and Soil” agenda must be denounced and repudiated.

                       

Zimbabwe

Keyhole garden: Zimbabwe

Keyhole garden: Zimbabwe

Christian Care Zimbabwe

We have been supporting Christian Care Zimbabwe's outreach to the famine-stricken nation.  A three-year drought has destroyed traditionally grown crops and killed essential livestock.  Some 3 million people are currently impacted.

Christian Care Zimbabwe is helping to finance low input “key-hole” gardens in the hardest hit Chipinge district.  One hundred “nutritionally vulnerable” households were selected to participate in this project. Eligibility required family units to have at least one member in the following categories: pregnant and new mothers, families with kids under the age of 5, persons living with HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis, or individuals with disabilities.  Each household receives training and supervision to grow mineral rich vegetables, despite climactic challenges - including temperatures that soar to 113 F.  To date, 75% of the households have been successful in meeting their daily vegetable requirements.  Some have even grown surpluses that are sold at local markets.

Christian Care Zimbabwe is a self-development of people program -  Zimbabweans training fellow Zimbabweans - to promote agricultural sustainability during perhaps the most challenging humanitarian crisis of our time.

Syrian Refugee Crisis

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program  (USRAP)

A letter co-authored by Senator’s Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and James Lankford (R-OK) was recently sent to Secretary of State Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelley asking for clarity about the status and future of the United States Refugee Resettlement Program.  This bi-partisan inquiry is also signed by fifteen other Republican and Democratic colleagues, including Connecticut’s Chris Murphy.  The letter asks for specific information in light of an Executive Order that temporarily suspends refugee resettlement, now being prevented by a court injunction.

The letter states:  “The USRAP is a critical pillar of our national foreign policy and enables the United States to fulfill key international commitments.  Refugees come from the most vulnerable and persecuted populations around the world and are the most securely vetted travelers to the United States.  According to the United Nations, we are in the midst of the largest refugee crisis in modern history.  We must not lose focus of our need to protect others fleeing persecution around the world.”

Needless to say, we are all eager to learn about the responses from Secretaries Tillerson and Kelley.  The United Church of Christ and its Church World Service partners stand ready to work with the Administration and the USRAP in securing a path for refugees seeking safety around the globe.