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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Snapshots of Hope

By Jason Inman, Adam McMullin and Kirk Noonan
July 21, 2013

What began in 1994 as one family’s mission to change the lives of the poor and suffering is now a global relief effort that has helped more than 58 million people.

Whether in far-flung places, here at home, or in the midst of catastrophic disasters, Convoy of Hope is ready to meet the needs of those who are hurting.

Hal Donaldson, co-founder and president of Convoy of Hope, says the organization could not do what it does without prayer and help from its supporters and through partnerships with Assemblies of God World Missions, AG U.S. Missions, and many other AG ministries.

“Everything we do can be traced back to God’s favor and our faithful friends who believe in what we are doing and why we are doing it,” says Donaldson. “By bringing aid to those who are in need, together, we are demonstrating the compassion of Christ while equipping people with the tools to lift them out of poverty and despair.”

Following is an account of Convoy of Hope’s work during the first few months of 2013.

Springfield, Mo., Jan. 22

Every year Convoy of Hope mobilizes almost 40,000 volunteers to share their faith in a practical, tangible way. Each week several hundred volunteers gather at Convoy of Hope’s World Distribution Center in Springfield, Mo., to participate in the organization’s Hands of Hope program. On this cold winter night, volunteers from a variety of groups — including churches, sororities, high schools and businesses — have gathered in the warehouse to help those who are less fortunate.

“Sometimes we’re sorting clothing, and sometimes we’re packing and sorting sacks of food to supplement our feeding initiatives,” says Lisa Nene, volunteer engagement director for Convoy of Hope. “So while the work assignments for Hands of Hope vary, what is constant is the seed planted in a volunteer’s life by the work they’re doing on behalf of those in need.”

So far this year, more than thousands of volunteers have participated in Hands of Hope.

Pin de Sucre, Haiti, Feb. 15

The trail leading out of Pin de Sucre is treacherous, thanks to an unforgiving cliff on one side, countless potential ankle-breaking rocks underfoot, and a brutally steep ascent. None of this slows Maria, a 70-something-year-old woman. Maria bounds up the trail in her full-length, faded dress and rubber sandals.

“When MacKenzon’s mother died, I became his mother,” she says over her shoulder as she leads a Convoy of Hope team up the mountain. “His mother was my daughter-in-law.”

Three years earlier, Convoy of Hope had just over 34,000 children enrolled in its Children’s Feeding Initiative throughout the world and had recently expanded to MacKenzon’s village. Today, in partnership with AG World Missions, Feed My Starving Children, Latin America ChildCare, Meals from the Heartland, and Mission of Hope, more than 55,000 children are enrolled in Haiti alone.

The initiative has had a transforming effect on children, families and entire communities in Haiti and around the world. Today, more than 125,000 children are enrolled worldwide. According to Kevin Rose, senior director of CFI, the key to the wide-scale impact has been an insistence on providing more than just food.

Three years ago MacKenzon said he was gaining so much knowledge in school he didn’t know what he’d do with it all. He also explained he loved soccer and the food Convoy of Hope provided. On this day, through an interpreter, he talks more about his life. MacKenzon still loves soccer, but can’t play because there is no ball. He still loves school and plans to be a carpenter.

“Thank you, Convoy of Hope, for the food,” he says, as he ropes his arm around Maria to pose for a picture. “It is still helping me”

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Feb. 16

The group of women traveling with Convoy of Hope deplaned in Addis Ababa. They all agreed they were on a journey to remember for a lifetime.

Convoy of Hope hosted the team so members could see how its Women’s Empowerment Program is changing the lives of local women and their children.

“We’ve had 1,000 Ethiopian women participate in the program since its inception in 2010, and we wanted to provide a shared experience for them,” says Kara Edson, women’s empowerment director of Convoy of Hope. “Our visitors ended up learning just as much from the Ethiopian women as they did from us.”

Jami Peebles of Springfield, Mo., says the trip changed her life.

“Ethiopian women are truly amazing, strong women!” says Peebles. “The program is fantastic. Convoy of Hope teaches these women the ins and outs of running a successful business and how to improve their quality of life. The women have transformed their own lives, and they have so much self-confidence and pride!”

With a success rate of 96 percent, participants in the Women’s Empowerment Program have reported a 240 percent increase in income — and a happier lease on life. An estimated 9,000 children are now fed every day by their mothers who are earning an income.

Joplin, Mo., March 23

For Maria Rodriguez and her three daughters, memories of the devastating Joplin, Mo., tornado are still fresh in their minds. The four of them survived the May 2011 storm huddled in a closet as their home was blown apart.

Today, their lives are taking a turn for the better as they move into their disaster-resistant, energy-efficient home built by Convoy of Hope and its partners. It’s the seventh of 12 homes built by the humanitarian aid organization and affiliates since breaking ground on the first house in early 2012.

Twelve-year-old Gabby tries to hold back tears as she recalls that frightening day of destruction, but then quickly smiles when asked about her new home.

“I’m happy for my home because it has thick walls to keep us safe,” says Gabby.

The new high-tech, low-energy buildings are specially designed with reinforced concrete walls and other innovations to be sturdier and more sustainable than traditional houses. The total construction costs to date for the builds is $1 million.

“As we see families like Maria’s start over in a new home, it serves to reinforce our commitment to help Joplin storm survivors get back on their feet,” says Convoy of Hope President Hal Donaldson.

Convoy of Hope expects to hand over the keys to more homes later this year.

Koriyama, Japan, April 20

In central Japan, Convoy of Hope community outreach staff and volunteers walked into a sprawling convention center — just 50 kilometers from the heavily damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant — and found a group of mostly young families had already lined up inside eager to begin the day’s festivities.

The staff met with the local outreach coordinator, Toyomi Sanga, who helped coordinate the event with her husband Yoshio. Jason Inman, digital community coordinator for Convoy of Hope, recalls Toyomi’s first words to the team that traveled to Japan from all across the United States.

“The people you see here today lived through the disaster, and many came here for help,” Toyomi tells the group.

“That’s what put everything into context for me,” says Inman. “Toyomi explained that some of the people lining up may have lived in cardboard boxes in this very building immediately after the tsunami when they had nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

As the line of smiling kids and young families filed into the outreach area, the sound of laughter and squeaking tennis shoes provided a stark contrast to the suffering that occurred in the same building during the days and weeks after the tsunami. Local vendors, advisement services, house construction consultation, insurance counseling, and live entertainment were all available for guests to utilize and enjoy.

“Through listening, we serve people,” says Midori, one of the volunteer counselors. “Some people have things they cannot tell anyone, and they just need someone to listen to them — especially those who have been through such a tragic event.”

More than 2,000 Japanese guests of honor attended the community outreach event according to David Speer, global initiatives field coordinator for Convoy of Hope.

“It was a historic day for the Japan Assemblies of God as it was the largest outreach they had ever seen in the country,” says Donaldson. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the years of labor our missionaries and national pastors have invested.”

Marseilles, Ill., April 24

As spring rains soaked the Midwest and the Illinois River began overflowing its banks, Convoy of Hope’s Disaster Response Team immediately began planning relief efforts in Illinois and was on the road as damage became apparent.

As one of the Disaster Response Teams arrived in Marseilles, Ill., members immediately started passing out beverages, snacks and cleaning supplies to residents whose homes had been flooded by the Illinois River.

“Our main focus today is offering support to the people of Marseilles who’ve been affected by the flooding,” says team leader Nick Weirsma. “We’ve already seen some homes that were damaged extensively by the floodwaters. Some have been completely destroyed. We’re beginning to see people pile their carpet and other damaged belongings on the curb.”

Meanwhile, as the Spoon River continued to recede, Convoy of Hope stayed on the ground in London Mills, Ill., giving residents there a sense of promise that someone cared to help.

“Convoy of Hope brought a ray of sunshine in the middle of a pretty dark time for our town,” says Rebecca Davis, a resident and church volunteer.

In London Mills, the teams removed debris from a number of homes that saw the worst damage.

“We’re basically removing everything destroyed by the floodwaters including personal belongings, carpeting and wet Sheetrock,” says Ryan Grabill, a Convoy of Hope team member. “We’re going to continue our door-to-door canvassing to ensure no one is missed.”

During the entire response, the team worked closely with churches and organizations, including an Assemblies of God church that housed Convoy of Hope team members.

 “When Convoy of Hope came in and told us everything they do, we started crying because, who thinks of London Mills?” says resident and volunteer Lori Kugler. “It’s just so much for a community like ours to be remembered.”

Moore, Okla., May 21

Immediately after an EF-5 tornado cut through Moore, Okla., Convoy of Hope had an assessment team surveying the damage and making plans for a full-scale response.

“One of our hallmarks is to be one of the first organizations to arrive and one of the last to leave,” says Kirk Noonan, vice president of communications.

Convoy of Hope rushed specially trained disaster response teams and tons of food, water and supplies to the tornado-ravaged city.  

“How long we stay depends on how long each community needs us,” adds Noonan. “We are able to respond to disasters quickly and for long durations only because we have generous supporters who are bent on helping us help those who are suffering.”

JASON INMAN is Convoy of Hope digital community coordinator. ADAM McMULLIN is reporting coordinator. KIRK NOONAN is vice president of communications.



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