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January 14, 2010

Haiti: prayer with news

Here it's not unusual to have prayers and hymns precede a news conference. It's an impromptu format—-over the lunch hour and open to all—often used by ELCA Disaster Response staff to quickly and effectively pool information across staff involved in every aspect of a disaster appeal.

Today at noon churchwide staff filled the Chicago offices' chapel to pray for all who are affected by the Jan. 12 Haiti earthquake. At the service, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson read Romans 8: 22-27, a Bible passage he has been sharing with loved ones of those affected. Staff offered names, personal prayers and sang hymns.

Daniel Rift, director of the ELCA World Hunger Appeal, told staff, "As we share in the agony, we also find ourselves in an astounding place of giftedness. As of this morning, well over 2,000 gifts have come in. ... This is not only a time when our hearts are broken, but when we hold onto hope."

Rift said that a Lutheran World Federation colleague estimated that 62 to 80 percent of buildings had been destroyed, and more than 100,000 people had taken to the streets. Rift said the Lutheran World Federation is taking a lead in providing emergency relief such as preliminary shelter, water and assessing needs. LWF offices are "operational and communication is up via Skype," he said.

Raquel Rodriguez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean, ELCA Global Mission, shared that an LWF team plans to arrive in Haiti as soon as next week to take charge of logistics, water and other needs. Of concern, she said, is that currently "we only have food and water for 1 to 2 weeks for LWF staff on the ground. ...Any relief efforts have to be self-sustaining."

According to Raphael Malpica-Padilla, director, ELCA Global Mission, the ELCA is the single major supporter of the LWF-Haiti office. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Eighty percent of residents live in poverty and 54 percent in abject poverty. An emerging Lutheran church in Haiti (Eglise Lutherienne d'Haiti) is a companion to the ELCA Florida-Bahamas Synod. 

Michael Nevergall, assistant director, ELCA Domestic Disaster Response, told churchwide staff that medically-trained volunteers should contact the Medical Reserve Corps. Other volunteers can provide his office with their email addresses, he said, for possible future trips. "This is not the time for [non-medical volunters] to go. It's just too chaotic a situation," he said, adding that after several weeks, ELCA International Disaster Response may know more about future volunteer needs.

"When one part suffers, we all suffer together," Hanson reminded staff as they returned to work.

 

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