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Praying for Orlando

Summary: Following the tragic shooting in Orlando this past weekend, our teaching team felt the need to respond. In this post, Jocelyn Peirce, who serves on our Next Gen ministry staff, offers perspective and hope at this challenging time.

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My husband gets the news alerts on his iPhone, so when breaking news hits, he’s usually the first one to let me know.

“There was an attack on a nightclub in Paris.”
“There was an attack in an airport in Brussels.”
“There’s a shooting going on in San Bernardino.”

And this past Sunday morning, we woke again to devastating news: “There was a shooting in a nightclub in Orlando last night. They’re not sure what happened. Twenty dead, more wounded. They think it was terrorism. They’re not sure.”

We know more now, but the more we’ve learned the more terrible the news grows. Forty-nine innocent victims, even more wounded, and many facing life-long medical battles. Families mourning, worried, and anxious. First responders who put themselves in harm’s way are left traumatized. An entire community has had to face the reality: It happened here. And the rest of us are left feeling, again, it could have happened here.

And more specifically, we know that this attack targeted an LGBT gathering place, and there are LGBT individuals, families, and communities who are reeling. Pulse has been known as a place where people who felt like they didn’t belong could find belonging. It was a place named in honor of the founder’s brother, who died from AIDS, to keep his memory alive: pulse.

We feel the weight of their grief, and we pray for them along with the many others who are struggling in these days after such a terrible act of violence. We pray for the victims and their loved ones, who need comfort in the midst of unspeakable sadness. We pray for the community and the neighbors and schoolkids and the police and doctors. We’re thankful for the police and medical personnel who responded to the call of an active shooter with skill and without hesitation. Seeing the images of everyday people who ran to the scene to offer whatever help they could, from a comforting hug to their own blood, makes us resolve to do the same if the need ever arises.

Still we are left wondering, what now? Where is God in all of this, and how do we respond? Our teaching series on Sunday mornings this year has been all about Jesus, and our question at the end of this series has been: where is Jesus now? We’ve been exploring the notion that Jesus is here, right now. He is present in our sorrow and in our fear and in our questions. The book of Revelation, the mysterious book at the very end of the Bible, uses a strange picture to describe him, calling Jesus both lion and lamb. He is the lion whose strength brings justice on earth, putting things right. Yet he is also the lamb, who in the face of violence responds so differently than our instinct would tell us to. He lays down his life, showing us the way of love and mercy and grace.

The coming weeks will bring more information, even as life goes on and our news feeds shift away from this coverage to new headlines. We want to do something, but what? The words may seem trite, but they are powerful: in this moment, we love, unconditionally. We sit with our friends in the pain and grief they are experiencing. We choose a posture of listening as we encounter people who may have different experiences than us. And above all, I think our beliefs, the picture we have of Jesus as the Lamb, call us to stand with the LGBT community against hatred and persecution and rejecting violence against any community. We choose the way of the Lamb.

We reach out to our LGBT friends and neighbors. We stand with those who have suffered loss and trauma. We listen.

And we pray.

Ecuador Relief: Stories of Hope

Summary: The earthquake has been an opportunity for the church to mobilize, and Grace Chapel is blessed to be able to help meet the immediate needs of many who were affected.

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If you’ve been around Grace Chapel for a while, and have heard us talk about giving, you’ve probably heard us say something like this: “When you give to our church, you’re not giving to Grace Chapel – you’re giving through Grace Chapel.” While giving is an act of worship and devotion to God, it’s also a way for us to respond in a tangible and timely manner to urgent needs, wherever they are.

On April 16, 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck along the eastern coast in Ecuador. It was the worst in nearly seven decades, killing over 600 people, and injuring over 27,000. "These have been sad days for the homeland," President Rafael Correa said during his regular Saturday television broadcast. "The country is in crisis."

Thanks to the generosity of our congregation, Grace Chapel was able to respond in a timely manner with $50,000 in financial support to our ministry partner, World Relief. They quickly started to deploy relief aid to families through local churches. The mobilization and response of the Evangelical Church in Ecuador has been strong and full of love for the earthquake victims. Churches have opened shelters, offered accommodation in their buildings, made food provision and given spiritual counselling. In the midst of the chaos, churches are acting and responding to the needs of those who are suffering.

Here is an update on the impact that giving is already having on the local response to this disaster.

The earthquake has been an opportunity for the church to mobilize

“This is the toughest test as a church and families we have lived. Although our church has not been affected, 40% of my city has been devastated by the earthquake. Even though we have lived suffering, we have seen the solidarity of so many people, and the help of all you which has been so necessary. I have asked God several times the question why He allowed the earthquake to happen.

“I am the pastor of Christian Education and I have put aside my position to work together with people to make food kits. With the support of Peace and Hope (World Relief local partner), last Saturday we delivered 400 food rations to victims. All the help we have received has been addressed to the families from villages nearby. We have sent medical caravans, delivering filters, food and hygiene kits. I keep wondering why God allowed the earthquake to happen. And I do not have the answer yet. But what I know I is that it has been a great opportunity for the church to be mobilized and to take action," says Pastor Julio Martinez of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Portoviejo, Manabi in Ecuador.

"God will calm down everything and we’ll be better."

"All I had in my mind at that time was Psalm 23 and I repeated it with all my heart as the ground shook and moved like a wave. My family and I lost everything. The material things collapsed but not our lives. When everything was over I ran to meet my family and I hugged and kissed them as much as I had ever done before. Since these happened I am serving the Lord in the church. Every day we deliver food, water and pray with people to tell them that Christ is with them, despite having nothing. God will calm everything and we’ll be better. "

This is the testimony of Ruben Dario Lopez Villacis, survivor of the earthquake in Ecuador. He is a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Bahia de Caraquez. His house collapsed, but miraculously none of his relatives died.

Dozens of families, including Ruben’s family, are housed around the church in plastic tents. They are without running water or access to basic services, in temperatures up to 35 degrees Celsius, with abundant mosquitoes. The government wants to move them into shelters, but families are reluctant to move because the conditions in shelters are very difficult and are full of risk for children and the elderly. Churches are serving children, the elderly, the disabled and pregnant women, providing them with food rations and medical care.

"We have lost everything but the smile."

While they are preparing food Luciana, Theofania and Susana smile and talk.

We ask them how they are doing. They answer "Fine, thank God! Blessed and alive, because we will have lost everything but the smile."

Each evening these three women, with a group of women from the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church from Bahia de Caraquez, prepare 100 food rations to be delivered to earthquake victims. Their church, like every house on the block, has suffered structural damage to the building. But that was no obstacle to it becoming a center for gathering food, water and power supply for the community.

"God protected us and we are alive, but there is so much need. We still have no drinking water and even though the food rations arrive, the amount is decreasing. There is no work because of the earthquake, but we are sure that God will help us," says Luciana. "Food is distributed at night to victims who are watching over their homes from being theft. Thank you, brothers and sisters in Christ, for your help, that encourages us, "says Susanna, laughing despite the intense heat of the afternoon in Bahia de Caraquez.

"God acted and today we have food."

"When the earthquake started my wife and I were cleaning the church to begin the service. Suddenly everything moved and the sound of the earth was strong. It was terrible. God is good and he preserved our lives. That night our church became a refuge and a shelter for families in the community.  Currently, there are 70 people living in our building, including many children. We need psychological and spiritual care, as one of our sisters from the church lost three relatives," says Pastor Willian Castro Soriano from the missionary church The Refreshing Water in Bahia de Caraquez.

"We were not prepared for an earthquake, everything was so disorganized and the help did not come soon. I just had 16 days as a pastor of the church and still people hardly knew me, but now the whole community knows us. God has been manifested through you, brothers and sisters from Peace and Hope (World Relief local partner). Yesterday we prayed with the people living in the shelters because we already ran out of food, but God acted and today you arrived with the provision of food.  Please pray for us, for the church can be able to serve when is such a lot of suffering around, "concluded Pastor Willian in tears.

Bahia de Caraquez is a coastal city that thrived on tourism, where both locals and foreigners enjoyed the sea. Currently the commercial center of the city is devastated; hotels have collapsed and the economy is paralyzed. In the face of this devastation the Church is fully mobilized to provide temporary shelters, storage facilities and food for the earthquake victims.

 

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