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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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May 13, 2015

ELCA partners continue assessments after second earthquake strikes Nepal

A second earthquake struck May 12 in Nepal, with its epicenter approximately 40 miles northeast of Kathmandu. Partners of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) there “are conducting assessments to determine how original response plans will expand to address new needs,” said Vitaly Vorona, program director for ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response (international). “Our response and projects will grow while we remain committed to providing assistance to those who need it most,” he said.

Through Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA members had allocated an initial $500,000 to support ELCA partners engaged in emergency assistance following the April 25 earthquake that struck 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu. The funds were sent to ACT Alliance—$200,000 allocated to The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) based in Geneva, and $200,000 to Lutheran World Relief based in Baltimore. Separately the ELCA had allocated an initial $100,000 to the United Mission to Nepal.

Staff members of the LWF World Service in Kathmandu and elsewhere in the country are safe and will resume relief activities. The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. The ELCA is the only U.S. member church of the communion. Active in Nepal since 1984, the communion began an immediate large-scale emergency response in and around Kathmandu after the first earthquake struck. ELCA funds will support the communion’s establishment of shelters and camps and the distribution of clean water, food, sanitation supplies and more in several districts in the Kathmandu Valley. The LWF is the lead agency for ACT Alliance and has been working directly with the Nepalese government.

Information about Lutheran Disaster Response is available at http://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran-Disaster-Response.

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May 12, 2015

Liberia is Ebola-free

By Linda Johnson Seyenkulo, ELCA missionary

Liberia is Ebola-free. Hallelujah! In Liberia and around the world we are celebrating that the World Health Organization declared the country Ebola-free.

The announcement came on Saturday, May 9; it had been 42 consecutive days with no reported cases of Ebola in Liberia. People are rushing to celebrate, but while Monday, May 11, was declared a holiday to celebrate, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia said there can be no complete celebration until the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Guinea are also Ebola-free. Both of those countries have each had a few cases during the past week.

I have a close relationship to Liberia. I am an ELCA missionary, called to teach church leaders in Liberia. I am married to the bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. Our family is in Liberia, many friends are in Liberia and the Lutheran Church in Liberia is my second church home (right after the ELCA).

The Ebola epidemic has been uppermost in my mind for a year. I still find it amazing that so many people in West Africa could die and with so little attention in the West. While people were dying by the hundreds in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, it barely made the press in the U.S. until a man came from Liberia to the U.S. and died there. Then it became an important story.

Here are a few things you may not have heard: people died or got seriously sick from lack of medical attention because hospitals were not treating fevers (imagine that); an already overtaxed medical system with few resources was overwhelmed and became more so when staff died; children were not in schools, which were closed; people could not go to work and things were shut down; economic development came to a standstill; and the list goes on and on.

Curran Hospital, a Lutheran institution located in a region where Ebola was rampant, stayed open and treated patients throughout the epidemic. Lutheran Church in Liberia staff and pastors continued to minister with families and communities where Ebola had taken a toll. They were present when others were not. The Lutheran Church in Liberia—in partnership with the ELCA and other churches—has been able to provide food and school scholarships to communities that were hit hard by Ebola.

Today we are able to announce Liberia as Ebola-free. This deadly disease has been halted due to the hard work of Liberian citizens, including young people working as community organizers, the Liberian government, local churches and partners from around the world.

While we celebrate, let us remember that aid from the ELCA, other churches across the world and other organizations must continue as Liberia rebuilds and strengthens its medical system.

As we celebrate, we give thanks for the lives of those medical personnel who died of Ebola while caring for the sick at Phebe Hospital, the other Lutheran institution in Liberia. While they are just a few of those who died, both in the Lutheran Church in Liberia and the rest of the country, let’s name them and celebrate their lives of service in the care of the sick in Liberia.

Ms. N. Friencielia Kollie                                   Registered nurse

Mr. J. Otino Garpu                                          Registered nurse

Ms. Joenpu T. Loweal                                     BSN/Registered nurse

Ms. Nancy T. Sackie                                       Physician assistant

Ms. Alice Passewe                                          Licensed practical nurse/assistant

Ms. Kou T. Gbeahn                                        Nurse’s aid

Mr. Amos Kollie                                             Ambulance driver

Mr. Stephen T. Paye                                      Ambulance driver

Liberia is Ebola-free. We celebrate and we grieve. We thank God that Liberia is Ebola-free.

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June 14, 2012

Odyssey Networks to feature Reading, Pa., in Christmas special

After being named the poorest city in the U.S. just one year ago as a result of the recession, Reading, Pa., will be cast in a bright light during the 2012 Christmas season. During a May 14 press conference at Hope Lutheran Church, Reading, it was announced that the town of 80,000 will be the setting for a TV special titled One Christmas Story: People Rich in Spirit.

The CBS special, which is scheduled to air at 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, will be produced by Odyssey Networks. The ELCA is a partner of the New York-based multi-faith media organization.

In 2011, Odyssey Networks produced Faces of Poverty: Life at the Breaking Point. The documentary followed Mary Wolfe, pastor of Hope, and three families as they struggled to make ends meet in Reading. According to the 2011 census, 41 percent of residents in Reading live below the poverty line.

This year's Christmas Eve special will focus on the town's journey from the depths of poverty to "hope and renaissance," according to an Odyssey Networks news release. Thanks to Wolfe's support and determined efforts since Reading was deemed the poorest town in the country, the majority of the content will be filmed at Hope, the main location of the initial documentary.

Mary Dickey, the network's vice president for communication, said the special will feature "a gathering of local families, providing shelter to the homeless, sharing a meal with the hungry and giving to those in need."

Eric Shafer, an ELCA pastor and senior vice president of Odyssey Networks, played a crucial role in getting the CBS time slot. He contacted a former colleague, Jack Blessington, head of religion news at CBS, and was offered the 11:30 p.m. slot. Shafer said it was an easy decision to accept the popular time. "This was, as you can imagine, an amazing offer for us," he said. "It is a 59 minute, 20 second production with no commercial interruptions. Four to 5 million people have watched past Christmas Eve CBS specials."

With the time slot in place, Odyssey Networks had to find material and funding. Maura Dunbar, Odyssey's executive vice president of programming and content, suggested the team return to Reading as a follow-up to its award-winning poverty piece from 2011.

This proved to be another easy decision due to Shafer's strong ties to the town. "I give this all back to God, really," he said. "As someone who grew up in Berks County, whose mother taught for many years at Reading High School, I care about my home city."

Funding is about one-third of the way complete after the Collegiate Church of New York City issued a $50,000 grant for the production, as well as another $50,000 grant for Odyssey to help alleviate poverty in Reading. The congregation is a member of the United Church of Christ, a full communion partner of the ELCA.

"This was a complete, moving surprise to all of us here at Odyssey," Shafer said. "It is not often that our work, telling stories of people of faith making a difference for good, produces a direct gift to help others. We were and are deeply moved and thankful."

Fundraising continued following the press conference with an event at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading. 

Jeremy Ott, a journalism student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, is The Lutheran magazine’s 2012 summer intern.

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