PEACE Relief: Stories
We encourage you to pray and give what you can to help those suffering in the aftermath of tragic events. The following stories are an example of Saddleback’s PEACE Relief responses to disasters.
When the Saddleback team first met Hannah (far right) and her friends (Janet and Juliette) in Kigale, Rwanda.
Sitting on a bag of sugar, wrapped in a Muslim head dress, with Islamic prayer beads ringing her neck, Ameni, 17, bore a past that no one could imagine. It was March 2008 and a team from Saddleback Church’s PEACE Relief department was in Kigale, Rwanda, purchasing blankets, rice and relief supplies to bring to an IDP (internally displaced people) camp close to the Congo border in Kibuye. They came across this young girl and the story she told audibly broke the hearts of the listeners. What was behind her was far from the sweetness of the makeshift chair of sugar beneath her.
Unfortunately, the young Rwandan girl shares a similar history with much of Africa’s children. Her past is marked by unthinkable events that would incline the average human being to submit to defeat and abandon all hope. Her father died of AIDS. Her mother was brutally cut to pieces during the Rwandan genocide. She was orphaned at 4-years-old. Left to their own resolve, Ameni and her brother sold any little item they could to get money for food. She never had even one day of school in her entire life and she was unable to spell her name. Ameni was among the “least of these.”
Hannah with some of the men at Kitale Prison in Kenya.
Following their encounter on the streets of Kigale, Ameni, along with her friends, sisters and fellow orphans, Janet, 17, and Juliette, 16, followed the Saddleback Rwanda outreach team around everywhere they went. From schools to orphan care centers to youth groups, the girls showed up and the message of Christ’s love did, too. They participated in a distribution of Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes to a group of 400 children and attended Pastor Rick Warren’s launching of the 40 Days of Purpose Campaign at the Kigale National Stadium. Every day they were watching, listening and serving alongside the Saddleback team.
Hannah speaking to the women inside Kitale Prison.
One Sunday morning at church, the Saddleback team members were sharing about their personal walk with Jesus and there was movement in Ameni’s heart. She dropped to her knees as she asked Jesus to forgive her sins and declared that she wanted to accept Him as her Lord and Savior.
That moment changed Ameni’s life forever and her soul transformation began to influence the lives of those around her. She led her brother to the Lord and he was baptized in the Kigale Assembly of God Church and changed his Islamic name to Emmanuel.
The bright, smiling faces of Janet, Hannah, Juliette and Pastor Steve in Kitale, Kenya.
In February 2009, a Saddleback team invited Ameni and Emmanuel to join the Kenya outreach team by bus. During that amazing trip, Ameni took another step and changed her name to Hannah and was baptized by a Saddleback Church pastor. The events to follow were an amazing testimony to the incredible power of Christ’s love. Hannah visited the Kitale Annex Prison and spoke to the inmates about how they could find new life through the Lord. She also spoke with the female inmates at the prison on how change is possible.
Hannah’s story is a reminder to never overlook the seemingly ordinary girl just sitting on the bag of sugar, or standing in line at the grocery store, or taking your order at the drive-through. You never know the story that is begging exodus from their lips…or the message of hope their heart is ready to hear.
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The group braving the bitter cold on the mountain.
The view from the top of the highest point in Europe, Mount Elbrus, is an enlightening, spectacular one, especially when you look back at the valley from which you rose.
Recently, 10 young Ukrainian teenagers were added to the short list of Elbrus conquerors. Lead by Pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko, 45, of the Church of Good Changes in Mariupol, Ukraine, the team overcame much more than inherent danger, extreme temperatures, elevation sickness and difficulty breathing.
One of the teenage climbers, Slavik Symslov, fought through the bitter cold and exhaustion to savor the moment “when the clouds are under your feet.”
All ten of the boys are former street kids. Recovering addicts. Orphans. Their life has been nothing but a mountain climb. Surviving difficult living conditions was an existence they knew all-too-well...until they were rescued by Mokhnenko.
Pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko
In MacGyver-esque fashion, Mokhnenko regularly goes on raids throughout the city to rescue street children who have found themselves in the grips of drug addiction, alcoholism, severe poverty, prostitution and in the most despicable living conditions. Of Mariupol’s over 100,000 street kids, most live in the warm sewer pipe-lined hollow underground beneath the city. Lift up their arms and you’ll find grotesque, gaping holes from intravenous drug usage. Empty syringes, sewage waste and rats carpet the filthy environment. The children are usually found in a state of infirmity and drug dependency. The nature of their circumstance requires a comprehensive treatment program which they find at Mokhnenko’s Children’s Rehab Center Republic Pilgrim.
What grew out of an abandoned school is now a functioning facility brimming with about 100 children, ranging from ages 5 to 17-years-old. A team of about 20 staff members, who mostly come from a street background themselves, devotedly operate a Christ-based, holistic approach to restore these children’s lives. Because many of the children are addicted to drugs, the center focuses on getting them healthy with the implementation of medical aid to detoxify their frail bodies.
The comprehensive model employed by Mokhnenko, a foster parent of 24 children himself, rejects the “soup kitchen” approach. The children are given love—some for the first time in their lives—and they learn about the God that loves them more than their wildest dreams. The mercy and grace of Christ is not only taught but revealed through their actions. They guide the children through the entire process from medical rehabilitation to transitional homes to eventually obtaining employment and self-sustenance. They strongly prefer that the children ultimately transition into family homes and Pilgrim is well on its way with three operating family homes.
Pastor Mokhnenko speaking.
Mokhnenko’s passion comes from a belief that every child should have a loving mother and father in a home and not a facility or orphanage. His love for Christ fuels his fervor for providing new hope for these lost children and his own personal upbringing, replete with alcoholism and abuse, compels him to offer Christ’s hope for the lost of Ukraine.
Mokhnenko and Pilgrim are very politically active, with public campaigns such as, “Sick of it,” and others aimed at stopping the drug trade in Ukraine and bringing public awareness to issues plaguing the country. Pilgrim even has implemented their own constitution, complete with an elected president and cabinet. The children learn life skills and knowledge which will facilitate their acclimation into society allowing them to be active and change-producing participants.
Pastor Mokhnenko with the climbers.
The staff also works tirelessly to obtain the children’s legal papers in order to validate them in the eyes of the country. Without papers you essentially do not exist. Since a majority of these kids have just been dumped, the fight for documentation is a constant struggle but one fought with zeal.
The daring expedition on Mt. Elbrus is an example of the non-traditional approach to treatment that Pilgrim has found to be successful. Because the staff understands the harrowing lives of these children on the streets, they know how to effectively address their problems and issues in order to promote healing.
Exhilaration is a primary tactic used by Pastor Gennadiy to encourage the children who are used to life of gamble and adrenaline living on the streets.
“We need extremes. We have a slogan: Down with boredom!” says Mokhnenko. “We’d like to make their life full of gamble (in the positive meaning) with interest.”
Victory! Finally reached the top after a grueling expedition!
Pilgrim is a shining example of reaching out in love to the most vulnerable…of meeting people exactly where they’re at and walking along side them in their darkest moments until they reach the light. We all have mountains to climb in our lives and although the difficulty of the climb implores us to yield to defeat, the strength that comes from the love of Christ and the love of others is more than enough to overcome so that we may reach the top victorious with the clouds under our feet.
Saddleback Church has had the extreme privilege of partnering and walking along side of Pilgrim in its devoted ministry for the past four years. In July 2009, a team from Saddleback Church will climb Mt. Goverla, Ukraine's highest peak, with Mokhnenko and the kids. The climbers will later attempt Mt. Ararat in the summer of 2009 where they plan to raise a Saddleback Church banner in honor of the partnership.
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Pastor Steve Rutenbar and Patricia Sowa.
A few years ago, Patricia and Francis Sowa lost their jobs because their employers found out they had AIDS. Losing their source of income was a devastating blow that could have proved lethal to their family. They had nowhere to turn and were met only with rumors, harsh stigmas and cold shoulders from their community in Kitale, Kenya.
In the face of the most daunting struggle of her life, Patricia began a ministry outreach program appropriately named Discover to Recover.
A group of Saddleback Church members about to deliver a Holy Cow (donated by a Saddleback Church small group) to Discover to Recover in summer 2009.
She helps men, women, and children leave the dangerous world of uncertainty behind by going for a quick test at VTC’s (voluntary testing centers) to discover their status. Armed with that knowledge, Patricia leads individuals to the recovery path. She teaches families that HIV does not have to be a death sentence. She stresses that medicine, along with healthy and godly living, are proactive approaches to help strengthen the immune system.
Patricia, along with the help of her husband, opened a loving care center for children devastated by the AIDS crisis. These children have the disease, have been orphaned by it or are at extreme risk due to lifestyle and family factors. She provides them with food, health care, shelter and most importantly, the love of Christ.
In addition to assisting the most vulnerable around her, Patricia also travels the world speaking on the topic of AIDS. She lectures on the fight against the disease and how to love people with AIDS the way Jesus would.
In 2004, the Sowa’s were blessed to become the first recipient of a cow through Saddleback Church’s Holy Cow program.
Here’s how the program works:
- A person or small group donates $450 to Saddleback Church’s Holy Cow designated account.
- The Holy Cow training team from Deliverance Church, Kitale, Kenya, selects a needy family from the community.
- The family builds a simple 'zero-grazing' shed to house and shelter the gift cow.
- The recipient family completes a course, taught by team members from the Department of Agriculture, in raising and caring for this gifted asset.
- The milk cow is awarded, delivered and dedicated.
- The milk from the morning is sold and used for income for school fees and materials.
- The milk from the evening milking is fed to the children for calcium, vitamins, protein, and fat.
- After a year, the Holy Cow is artificially inseminated by the Agriculture team.
- The first offspring calf is “tithed” back into the Holy Cow Program and is donated to another needy family.
- The second and third calf belongs to the recipient family (3 Holy Cows owned total).
Today there are over 150 cows in the program with future growth anticipated.
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The PEACE Relief team with Alice and her children standing beside Pastor Benson’s burial spot in April 2007.
The lush landscape of Kenya’s Mt. Elgon was an unfortunate backdrop for the devastating ordeal it faced in 2007 and 2008 when the mountain soil, just a few meters from the Uganda border, turned red with bloody violence. The mountain region was shaken into an environment of chaos by Sabaot tribal land clashes.
During the disputes, on April 9th, 2007, Pastor Benson Mugun, his wife, Alice, and their 10 children were caught in a terrible predicament. Their options were minimal. They could remain in their volatile, war-torn mountain community or flee to lower ground and to the protection of police and government forces.
In the blink of an eye, chaos ensued between two opposing tribes, the Soys and the Nurobos.
Alice and some of her children.
A barrage of bullets and terror encircled them and, Pastor Benson, a graduate of Africa Theological Seminary's first Mt. Elgon Pastor's Institute, gathered his family and, in an attempt to escape, headed through the bush to the Kopsiro Police Station where military personnel could escort them to an IDP (internally displaced people) camp.
When they were just about 20 meters from the refuge of the police station, shots were fired. The opposition rebel forces paraded them with an onslaught of bullets as Alice's son cried softly, "Are we dead?” She pulled the 4-year-old to her chest and whispered, “God will deliver us.” They ran into a small, dark dung hut. It wasn’t long before bullets began to perforate the shelter and Benson told Alice, “I am shot.” It’s hard to imagine the mother’s thoughts as she lie there with a child forming inside of her, ten children already under her wings and her husband dying beside her.
The dung hut the family lives in.
Just days after Pastor Benson’s murder, a PEACE Relief assessment team traveled to Mt. Elgon to supply his family with the comfort of God’s love and embrace. Because Alice had no means to provide for the burial, Africa Theological Seminary paid for a small burial plot. A quilt from Saddleback Church’s quilting ministry was also presented to the family to keep them warm.
A PEACE Relief team made another visit in summer 2009. Besides the gift of their time and presence, the team was also able to bring some material assistance in the form of maize, rice, wheat, blankets, lesos, cooking pots, flip-flops, water jugs and washing basins. These are all temporary sources of reprieve but the family’s faith in God will be the saving grace that sees them through.
Alice and her baby with their Holy Cow.
During that trip, Alice was also blessed with two sheep and a Holy Cow from the Thorsen small group at Saddleback Church. The milk cow was pregnant which will provide even more sustenance and support through the calf. The cow produces 300 liters of milk per month which provides both nutrition and income for Alice to support her 11 children in school.
Even in the most devastating of circumstances, it only requires ordinary individuals who are willing to come along side of people like Alice to show real love in a real way…to care about widows and orphans in their distress. Alice’s declaration of “God will deliver us” rings true no matter the severity of our situation. God will always see us through and we can learn about the incredible love of Christ by simply choosing to be willing to be a part of that deliverance in the lives of others…whether by praying for the most vulnerable of society or showing up with a source of support to a widow in Kenya, we can bring relief to those who need it most
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U Tut Ni is happy to now be able to help his fellow farmers.
On May 2, 2008, cyclone Nargis touched down with vengeance on Myanmar, formerly Burma, in Southeast Asia. It was one of the deadliest storms in recorded history. With nearly 200,000 fatalities and 2.7 million severely affected, the storm devastated the land in catastrophic proportions. The hardest hit was the delta regions, home of numerous rice farmers and their families.
Following the destruction, a Saddleback Church PEACE Relief team was able to gain access into the aid-resistant country and assess how Saddleback could partner with local churches to provide assistance to the devastated land. Through God's providence, they partnered with the Myanmar Christian Coalition for Cyclone Relief (MCCCR). That crucial partnering relationship with local churches in Myanmar facilitated the relief effort that could prove difficult in the Junta-controlled country.
Ni using his tractor for the first time.
Through the love of Christ shown through donations made by members of Saddleback Church, MCCCR was able to distribute assistance to local farmers in June 2008. One such recipient gained more than the obvious monetary and physical tools to repair his broken life after the disaster.
Meet U Tut Ni. A 57-year-old farmer in the Hsin Kwin village in Labutta, one of the most devastated areas, Ni lost nearly everything in the storm. Seven members of his family, including his wife and children, his house, cows, oxen, paddy seeds…all vanished in an instant. His life was swept away in the thrashing, unforgiving waters and wind. After hopelessly watching his life wash away, he was blessed with one wheel tractor, diesel, fertilizer and paddy seeds from MCCCR. With that gift he was able to successfully harvest his 18 acres and he rebuilt a sturdy home.
Ni (far right) proudly standing in his successful paddy field.
The assistance allowed him to restore his life and was the impetus for passing on PEACE relief to his neighbors. He is steadily regaining his life and being back on his feet has permitted him to help his fellow farmers. In addition, he also is able to repay a portion of the monetary support that was given to him as a microfinance project. Most importantly, Ni has heard the Good News and has begun to study the Bible. By joining hearts and hands with the local church, Ni can rest assured that no matter what lies ahead he will not be left standing alone.
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