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.