ELCA Lutheran Disaster Responsehttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/Unaccompanied and Migrant Children: Myths vs. FactsMegan Brandsrudhttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/267http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/267<div class="ExternalClassAEA6AF4D58E740EFACEAB7FCF242CB4E"> <p class="MsoNoSpacing">Since October 2013, approximately 60,000 children from Central America have crossed borders to arrive in the United States. This mass migration of children has garnered international media attention, and with it, a lot of contradictory information. So what is actually happening with this crisis at the border? Recently, a group from the ELCA traveled to the U.S. Texas/Mexico border to learn about the situation first-hand. The trip included visits with U.S. Border Patrol, social workers, pastors, an attorney, and the refugee children themselves. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing"><img src="http://search.elca.org/blogs/SiteAssets/Lists/ELCA%20Lutheran%20Disaster%20Response/Browse/cropped%20Martinez.jpg" alt="cropped Martinez.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /></p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">(Pictured&#58; Danny Martinez, an agent for U.S. Border Patrol, gives a presentation about the U.S. Border Patrol's work.)<br></p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Listed below are just five myths and their corresponding facts that tell what is really happening at the border. For further detail, and for more myths and facts, please read the <a href="http&#58;//download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Unaccompanied_Migrant_Children_Myths_Facts.pdf">Unaccompanied and Migrant Children –Myths vs. Facts resource.</a></p><p class="MsoNoSpacing"><br> </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">MYTH&#58; Border crossings are on the rise.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">FACT&#58; Border crossings are actually down from where they were in the 1990s, when more than 1.5 million people would come to the U.S. every year. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">U.S. border apprehensions overview&#58;</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">2000&#58; 1,675,438 people</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">2008&#58; 723,825</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">2013&#58; 420,789</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">&#160;</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">MYTH&#58; These kids are here illegally.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">FACT&#58; Most of these kids are seeking out and surrendering themselves to U.S. Border Patrol; they are not running. When a child comes into contact with U.S. Border Patrol, Border Patrol has 72 hours to process him or her. If possible, the child is repatriated. If not, the child is processed and given a “Notice to Appear” (NTA), which references his or her court date. Because of this processing, the child is neither here undocumented nor illegally. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">The ELCA and other humanitarian organizations are caring for children who are awaiting review of appeals for asylum or protection and for those who have been released from detention to join family or sponsors. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">&#160;</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">MYTH&#58; These kids are carrying drugs and are just here to cause trouble. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">FACT&#58; Drug-related violence and exploitation is a primary reason these children flee. Drugs are being run by drug cartels, not by children from Central America who are seeking asylum. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Most of these children are seeking out and surrendering to U.S. Border Patrol in order to receive protection from exploitation and other risks. When asked why they left their homes, children say they were hungry or their parents sent them to try to protect them from being recruited into the gang violence and trafficking in their communities. They are not troublemakers; they are trying to avoid trouble. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">&#160;</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">MYTH&#58; These kids have diseases that they will spread to us and our kids in school.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">FACT&#58; Lutheran Social Services of the South has cared for approximately 6,000 unaccompanied children in the past year, and they report fewer than a dozen children who have needed more than routine medical care. The primary health issues these children are receiving care for include dehydration, the common cold and dental needs. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">&#160;</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">MYTH&#58; Taxpayers are paying for these kids to reunite with their families.</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">FACT&#58; When unaccompanied children are released from detention facilities while their cases are reviewed and resolved, they are released to a family member or a sponsor. They are not released until their transportation is paid for either by themselves or their family or sponsor. Often, family members send money and a bus voucher is given to be redeemed for a ticket at the bus station. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing"><br></p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">If you would like to support Lutheran Disaster Response's work with Unaccompanied and Migrant Children, please visit the<a href="https&#58;//community.elca.org/unaccompaniedmigrantchildren"> Lutheran Disaster Response giving page</a>.<br></p> <p>​</p></div>08/12/2014Ebola outbreak: Shipment of personal protective equipment set to arrive in LiberiaMegan Brandsrudhttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/266http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/266<div class="ExternalClass64B7AB0CF48E494B86F5CBACF51C132D"><p>​The World Health Organization has declared the Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic a “worldwide health emergency.” The virus, which started in Guinea and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, has now spread to Nigeria. It is being reported that more than 1,770 people have been infected with the Ebola virus, with approximately 961 having died as a result. </p><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;">Lutheran Disaster Response, in partnership with Global Health Ministries and the Lutheran Church in Liberia, assisted in the <a href="http&#58;//www.elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/264">shipment of personal protective equipment</a> to Phebe Hospital and Curran Lutheran Hospital in Liberia. The personal protective equipment, which consists of hazmat suits with hoods and boots and disinfectant, is scheduled to arrive at Roberts International Airport in Liberia on Saturday, Aug. 9. </p><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;"><br></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;"><img alt="Ebola PPE.jpg" src="http://search.elca.org/blogs/SiteAssets/Lists/ELCA%20Lutheran%20Disaster%20Response/Browse/Ebola%20PPE.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;344px;height&#58;263px;" /></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;">(Pictured&#58; Shipment of personal protective equipment being sent to Phebe Hospital and Curran Lutheran Hospital in Liberia.)<br></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;"><br></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;">We continue to gather information from our partners and our global companion churches in West Africa as we earnestly pray for healing and relief from this deadly virus. We will walk with our brothers and sisters who are facing the risks of the Ebola virus as we add our efforts to the international community that is working to contain the virus.</p><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom&#58;0.0001pt;">&#160;</p> <span style="font-size&#58;11pt;line-height&#58;115%;font-family&#58;&quot;calibri&quot;,&quot;sans-serif&quot;;">If you would like to support Lutheran Disaster Response’s work in providing assistance against the Ebola virus disease in West Africa, <a href="https&#58;//community.elca.org/ebolaoutbreakresponse">please visit the Lutheran Disaster Response giving page</a>. </span></div>08/08/2014Gaza Strip: Providing assistance to Augusta Victoria HospitalMegan Brandsrudhttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/265http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/265<div class="ExternalClass2F49E90178924DEB99C4C898DFE692A6"><p>​<img src="http://search.elca.org/blogs/SiteAssets/Lists/ELCA%20Lutheran%20Disaster%20Response/Browse/Gaza%20-%20AVH%20Medical%20Team.jpg" alt="Gaza - AVH Medical Team.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;349px;height&#58;235px;" /></p><p>(Pictured&#58; A medical team from Augusta Victoria Hospital prepares to provide medical assistance in Gaza. LWF/Mark Brown)<br></p><p>Violence in the Holy Land erupted at the beginning of July, and now more than 1,800 people have been killed and more than 10,000 people have been injured as the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip continues. Most of the deceased and injured are reported to be civilians and children. </p><p>Because of the lack of security, the ability to provide proper health care in Gaza is waning thin. </p><p>Working with the Lutheran World Federation, Lutheran Disaster Response has committed an initial $100,000 to Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH), a Lutheran hospital in Jerusalem, to send AVH medical teams and supplies into Gaza. Augusta Victoria is a hospital that provides medical services regardless of race, gender, religious or political affiliation. </p><p>Medical professionals from Augusta Victoria are providing specialty care, medications and supplies to triage and treat patients in Gaza. Augusta Victoria is also providing care for patients with cancer and chronic illnesses who are being moved from Gaza to AVH to avoid deterioration of their health during the conflict and to relieve beds in Gaza for injured patients. In addition to physical care, Augusta Victoria medical professionals are providing psychosocial support to patients who have been evacuated from Gaza.</p><p>The Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan, the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land has visited with patients who have been injured as a result of the conflict. In a July 16 public statement, Younan called for critical support for healthcare infrastructure and asked that &quot;all people of good will intervene in the present situation of unacceptable violence and bloodshed.&quot;</p><p>We continue to monitor the situation in Gaza closely and walk with our brothers and sisters who are being impacted by this conflict. We pray for peace in the Holy Land and for God to grant comfort and healing to those who have been injured. </p><p>If you would like to support Lutheran Disaster Response's work in the Holy Land, <a href="https&#58;//community.elca.org/Gaza">please visit the Lutheran Disaster Response giving page</a>. Your gifts designated for Gaza Humanitarian Assistance will be used in full (100 percent) to assist those directly impacted by this crisis. Bishop Younan asked us &quot;to create hope in a hopeless situation,&quot; and your gifts allow us to continue to respond. </p><p><em>Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, &quot;Peace be with you.&quot; </em>John 20&#58;26<br></p></div>08/07/2014Liberia: Providing healthcare workers with protective equipment against EbolaMegan Brandsrudhttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/264http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/264<div class="ExternalClass517C40EFEA5A4DADA6B8414EA5A2BCF3"><p>​In February 2014, a person with the Ebola virus disease (EVD) was registered in Guinea. By the end of April, the outbreak had spread to more than 250 people in Guinea and had crossed into Liberia and Sierra Leone. As of July 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there have been 1,201 cases of the Ebola virus disease in West Africa, including 672 deaths, making this the most severe Ebola outbreak in recorded history.</p><p>Phebe Hospital, a Lutheran hospital in Liberia, has been dealing with the Ebola outbreak first-hand. Seven of the health care workers at Phebe Hospital have tested positive for the Ebola virus, including three nurses who died from the virus on July 23. </p><p>Working with Global Health Ministries (GHM) and the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL), Lutheran Disaster Response is sending five pallets of Personal Protection Equipment via airfreight shipment to Phebe Hospital and Curran Hospital (also Lutheran affiliation) in Liberia to assist in the response to the Ebola virus disease outbreak in that country. The Personal Protection Equipment being sent consists of hazmat suits with hoods and boots and several cases of disinfectant with spray bottles. These materials will allow healthcare workers to safely provide care for patients who are infected with the virus. </p><p>Please join us in praying for our brothers and sisters in Liberia and the rest of the West Africa region who are dealing with the risks of the Ebola virus. May Christ's healing hands grant them relief and protection. If you would like to support Lutheran Disaster Response's work in providing assistance against the Ebola virus disease in West Africa, please visit the <a href="https&#58;//community.elca.org/lutherandisasterresponse">Lutheran Disaster Response giving page</a>.</p><p><strong>What is Ebola virus disease?</strong></p><p>Ebola virus disease (EVD) was formerly called Ebola hemorrhagic fever. It is a severe illness in humans that is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids and indirect contact with contaminated materials, such as bed linens that have been contaminated by an infected person's bodily fluids. There is no evidence that EVD can be spread through airborne transmission. </p><p>Initial symptoms of EVD include fever, weakness and muscle aches. Progressed symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding. The incubation period for the virus is up to 21 days, and an infected person is not contagious until she or he starts experiencing symptoms.</p><p>There is no vaccine for EVD, nor is there a cure. Treatment consists of supportive therapies to treat the symptoms.</p><p>Transmission can be prevented by avoiding close contact with Ebola patients and by wearing proper protective gear while caring for patients. Outbreaks typically occur in Central Africa. It is being reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) that this current outbreak is the first major outbreak in West Africa. </p></div>08/01/2014Our Journey to Children at the Border - Guest Post from Rev. Stephen BoumanMegan Brandsrudhttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/263http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/263<div class="ExternalClass7A4E178FAD7444CDBBCDB8C089FE6420"><p><em>Below is a guest post from Rev. Stephen Bouman, Executive Director of ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission</em></p><p><img src="http://search.elca.org/blogs/SiteAssets/Lists/ELCA%20Lutheran%20Disaster%20Response/Browse/Holy%20family.png" alt="Holy family.png" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;320px;height&#58;320px;" /><br></p><p>Every journey worth taking begins in the heart, then the feet begin to move down the road. I received an invitation from Mike Nevergall of Lutheran Social Services of the South (LSSS) to accompany them in their work of providing a welcome to some of the many &quot;unaccompanied minors&quot; (children of God) who are streaming across our borders in an ever-increasing flow.</p><p>For four years, the number of children migrating from Central America (mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) through Mexico to the U.S. has doubled every year. This year it is more than 57,000 and counting. </p><p>I asked my colleague, Rafael Malpica-Padilla, director of Global Mission, to join me in leading a visitation to the border. (Rafael shared the above graphic depiction of the migration of the Holy Family). This is a global\local issue demanding a broad conversation and understanding about the contexts in Central America, Mexico and the United States, and the conditions which &quot;push&quot; and &quot;pull&quot; this migration. Rafael agreed, and our delegation included staff from the global and domestic units of the ELCA, disaster response partners and staff from our Washington advocacy office. We were joined in Texas by leaders from LSSS, local pastors and leaders, and partners from Mexico.</p><p>Our visit began at Lutheran Social Services' (LSS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Transitional Foster Care program office in Corpus Christi. We had the chance to hear about the unaccompanied children who end up in transitional foster care. We toured the facility, including a classroom where children were doing their lessons for the day. LSS runs two of these facilities, serving 32 children at the Corpus Christi facility and 50 at their El Paso facility. These children in Transitional Foster Care group homes are under the age of 13.</p><p>We met a couple (names withheld for security purposes) who were the first foster parents who signed up when this new office opened in April. Since then, more than 80 children of God have been guests in this foster family's home. &#160;</p><p>&quot;The children are afraid when they come to us. But this is their promised land, given everything they have been through,&quot; they said. &quot;These children come with remarkable faith. We pray with them. Some of these children become 'little evangelists' because they are welcomed here and their faith is nurtured.&quot; </p><p>There is a sign in Spanish in front of the couple's home. In English it reads&#58; &quot;The last stop of a long journey.&quot; </p><p><img src="http://search.elca.org/blogs/SiteAssets/Lists/ELCA%20Lutheran%20Disaster%20Response/Browse/Rocha%27s%20sign.png" alt="Rocha's sign.png" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;320px;height&#58;243px;" /><br></p><p>Upon entering a classroom, the issue became incarnate for me. Here were the children who had been on our hearts. </p><p>A five-year-old boy smiled at me. He is from El Salvador and crossed the border with his grandmother, from whom he was separated during intake by U.S. Border Patrol. There were two sisters from Honduras, seven and eight years old. We thought of our children and grandchildren, the ages of these children, as we moved among them speaking, listening, pondering. We are in an environment which is built to provide safety for these children. We took no pictures of the children. Pictures we do have are &quot;stock&quot; photos. Volunteers are not allowed contact. So our partners in LSS are our hands and hearts. In the faces of the foster family, and the faces of the children, we saw the face of Jesus.</p><p>We next visited the Bokenkamp Children's Shelter in Corpus Christi where we had a rare opportunity to visit one-on-one with the children who are currently staying there. Paul Hernandez, executive director of Bokenkamp, and his staff graciously showed us around the facility and answered questions about how children end up there and where they go when they leave. Children in this facility are age 13-17.</p><p>More than 100 children were sitting around tables in a large room. I went from table to table. Between my bad Spanish and the limited English of one of the staff who accompanied me, we were able to listen to the stories of many children. My questions were basic&#58; Where are you from? How long did it take you to get here? What was your journey like? How is it in this place? Where do you have family? The answers formed a very clear picture. The biggest reason they came here? &quot;Violencia.&quot; Violence. The first person I talked to, a girl of thirteen, was very clear&#58; &quot;The gang will kill me if I stay.&quot; </p><p>I heard stories of extortion, family members being killed, threats. I also heard that children come to reunite with family. When I asked about what it is like in this place, many smiled and gave the same answer. &quot;Seguridad.&quot; Safe, secure. </p><p>Stories of their journey varied. They came by bus, by train, by van driven by &quot;coyotes.&quot; Some walked many miles. For some, the transit was relatively uneventful. Others were robbed, assaulted, witnessed bad things happening to others. Staff told us that many of the girls were prepared with birth control. </p><p>Many kids come prepared with documentation and papers to help them gain residence here. When I asked where family was living, the most frequent answers were&#58; New York, Maryland, Los Angeles, Boston. </p><p>There was one moment when The Bronx met Texas and Honduras. At Transfiguration Lutheran Church in the Bronx, the congregation had an occasional liturgy in the Garifuna language. The Garifuna are Afro-Caribe people who live along the coast of Honduras and Belize. As I was conversing with a beautiful, dark skinned girl with thick, corn-row braided hair, I asked, &quot;Garifuna?&quot; She lit up in a huge smile and shrieked out, &quot;Si!&quot; Yes! She was delighted to be noticed, recognized, to show up in all her particularity.</p><p>The next day we drove to the McAllen area at the border. This is the epicenter of the lower Rio Grande valley migration destination. We visited St. John Lutheran Church in San Juan, and we met Pastor Sylvia De La Garza. Pastor Sylvia introduced us to Danny Martinez, an agent for the U.S. Border Patrol, who gave us a presentation about their work. </p><p>Danny Martinez grew up in San Juan and had been a teacher. He told us that in Tucson, 80 percent of the migrants picked up by Border Patrol are Mexicans. In the Rio Grande Valley, the number is 80 percent &quot;OTMs.&quot; (Other than Mexicans). </p><p>Because of the 2008 anti-trafficking law, Border Patrol cannot send the children back without papers, opening a case, a judgment. He said that a majority of the &quot;coyotes&quot; who expedite the actual transport are also juveniles. He said the train through Mexico between Central America and Texas is really bad. Children ride on the roof, where some are robbed, assaulted, raped, even thrown off and killed. The train derailed eight times this past year. It is known as &quot;la bestia&quot; – the beast.</p><p>We also had the privilege of meeting with Jennifer Harbury, an attorney and human rights activist who is active in the Rio Grande Valley, specifically in cases involving Central Americans. She wrote the book Truth, Torture and the American Way to describe her efforts to find out what happened to her husband Everado during the Guatamalan civil war.</p><p>Jennifer told the story of a boy she took in, making the various issues around migrating children personal and vivid. In Honduras, gangs came to recruit the boy when he was about thirteen. They beat him, but he refused to join. The second time they ran him over with a car. His mom gave him $30 and told him to run. The Honduran army beat and robbed him at the border. He rode on the roof of the train. A gang got him in northern Mexico. He was nabbed with a bunch of children in order to extort from their families. The children broke away at the first opportunity and ran in every direction. He almost drowned swimming across the river and got picked up by Border Patrol. He was abused in an ORR facility and in foster care for a month when she met him. Since then, he has beaten alcohol, has a job, and is taking care of his nieces and nephews. Jennifer talked about what drives children to hit the road. As she said, &quot;It's raining battered children in my back yard!&quot;</p><p>We then visited Calvary Baptist Church and met with Pastor Chad Mason and Kathy Herzberg on the missions staff. Chad told us about the ways that volunteers are being used, what donations are needed, and how things are being coordinated to help refugees after they are dropped off at the McAllen bus depot. Volunteers meet families at the bus station, help them buy their tickets (with vouchers paid for by their families), and take them to the relief center at Sacred Heart Catholic Parish, two blocks from the station. The center is an ecumenical ministry run by Catholic Charities where volunteers help with a variety of services. The center sees 140 people per day. The refugees receive two fresh sets of clothes, they have the opportunity to eat, shower, and relax, and their children receive play therapy through Save the Children. Sister Leticia Benavides gave us a tour of the facility. We were there as a group of mothers and children arrived. Everyone in the large, cavernous facility stopped doing what they were doing and began to applaud. &quot;Bienvenidos!&quot; Welcome! People arrive after having been detained 3 – 10 days. They are dehydrated, tired, and tears well up at the first genuine act of hospitality they receive after the long journey.</p><p>The next day we met at Our Savior Lutheran Church in McAllen. We heard from Omar Mixco about the renewed work of La Frontera Ministries International and his goal of expanding their educational and immersion opportunities. Omar is from Honduras and is currently based in Mexico City as the part time executive director of La Frontera, and he is looking to engage with a variety of partners on each side of the border. He told us that the city of San Pedro Sula in Honduras is the most violent city in the world. He is working closely with Our Savior Lutheran Church, and Mary Lovig from Our Savior shared with us about the ability of groups to stay at the church for immersion experiences and mission trips.</p><p>We heard from Pastor Paul Bailie from Iglesia Luterana San Lucas in Eagle Pass, Texas, and we learned about how the situation in Eagle Pass is similar and different to what we had experienced in McAllen. About a five-hour drive separates the two areas. Paul is making weekly trips to Mexico when he preaches at their sister church, Cristo Rey in Piedras Negras. Paul described a situation of unrelenting poverty. In his church, those with and without legal documents worship together. Paul has a strong vision for the ministry, and an investment in its home grown leadership and sustainable future.</p><p>I would close by remembering the baby Moses, hidden in the bulrushes in the water in order to save his life. And by remembering the great conspiracy of the women, both Hebrew and Egyptian – slave and free – to save, nurture, and love the child. God grant such a conspiracy among us in our time.</p><p><em>If you would like to support Lutheran Disaster Response's work with Unaccompanied and Migrant Children, <a href="http&#58;//www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran-Disaster-Response/Our-Impact/Unaccompanied-and-Migrant-Children">please visit the response giving page</a>. </em></p><p><br></p></div>07/24/2014Central African Republic: An Interview with President GolikeMegan Brandsrudhttp://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/262http://elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/ELCALutheranDisasterResponse/262<div class="ExternalClass75D77C9D5EA645F7BBE697C9720B1F14"><p>​<img src="http://search.elca.org/blogs/SiteAssets/Lists/ELCA%20Lutheran%20Disaster%20Response/Browse/Rev.%20Golike%20meeting%20with%20women%20in%20Bohong.jpg" alt="Rev. Golike meeting with women in Bohong.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;369px;" /></p><p>During an evening in which the now all-too-familiar sound of attacks was moving closer to his home, Rev. André Golike, the president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic, his wife and some of his colleagues hid in a closet and underneath a bed while members of a rebel group known as Séléka raided his home. Though the rebels searched the home for an hour, Rev. Golike and the others in hiding were never discovered. “God made them blind,” Rev. Golike says as he recounts the story of how he and his wife and colleagues embraced with tears of joy after the rebels left and they emerged from their hiding spots to find each other unharmed. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">For more than a year, the Central African Republic (CAR) has been ravaged with violence. Half of the country’s 4.6 million people have been impacted by the violence, and more than 530,000 people are displaced within CAR. The violence began in March 2013 when an occupied rebel group known as Séléka overthrew the government. An alliance known as the anti-Balaka formed in response to the Séléka rebel group and has also played a large role in the violence. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Though the Séléka rebel group is a largely Muslim alliance and the anti-Balaka a largely Christian alliance, Rev. Golike makes it clear that the conflict is not one of religious constraint, even though it is often being described that way in media. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">“The Séléka group is really more of an occupied rebel group, since most of the members are from Chad and Sudan. They don’t even speak our language,” Rev. Golike said. “The anti-Balaka is made up of Catholics, Muslims and Protestants from [CAR] who came together to try to join forces against Séléka. Muslims and Christians have lived side-by-side peacefully in our country for years; this conflict is not a religious war.”</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Rev. André Golike is leading a group known as the Committee for Reconciliation and Peace—a committee of religious leaders in CAR that is promoting and working toward exactly what its title suggests. Rather than fleeing and living in the bush as many have done and continue to do, Rev. Golike and other members of the Committee meet with people who have experienced violent attacks to show compassion and pray for their pain to be lessened. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">The Committee is composed of people from several different towns and villages so that the people with whom they visit feel comfortable talking openly with them because there is familiarity and trust present. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">“It is not an easy task, but it is an important one—and it is one we will continue,” Rev. Golike said. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">On a recent trip to the United States, Rev. Golike said he was moved to witness the empathy of churches in the U.S. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">“The people I met [in the United States] really feel what we are feeling at home,” he said. “We are one family; we are one body. Prayer allows us to support each other as brothers and sisters from all around the world.”</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Rev. Golike cautions people to not jump to conclusions about the conflict based on what they are learning from media, and he encourages people to advocate and bring more awareness of what is happening in CAR. “Most of the violence that is happening now is just reaction. An attack occurs by one group and the other reacts. It is a cycle that needs to end,” he says. “If we give voice to this, we are stronger than those who are hiding themselves behind this crisis. We need to denounce the violence that is happening.”</p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Lutheran Disaster Response has been working with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Central African Republic to provide assistance to those who are being impacted by the ongoing conflict by helping with food, seed and clothing distributions. If you would like to support Lutheran Disaster Response’s work in the Central African Republic, please visit the <a href="https&#58;//community.elca.org/lutherandisasterresponse">Lutheran Disaster Response giving page</a>. </p><p class="MsoNoSpacing">Join us in our continued prayer for peace in CAR. </p> </div>07/14/2014