The famine in the Horn of Africa and Kenya, recently declared the worst in 60 years, overwhelms anyone who travels to the area. As thousands cram into overflowing refugee camps, such as Dadaab in Kenya, relief workers are reeling from the vastness of the human need.

Engage---famine--red-dress-(1).jpgThrough ongoing meetings and camp visits, representatives from various non-governmental organizations, including
Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) and NCM–Africa, have been working on both short-term and long-term responses to the urgent needs, and are putting the final touches on these plans.

The plans need to deal not only with long-term solutions, but the immediate crisis. More people arrive every day at the refugee camps. In the host communities near the camps and other affected areas throughout the northern part of Kenya, people die. They make tough decisions: Do we stay where we are or leave? With the limited food available, which family member gets to eat today?

Rev. John Emuria Nanerio, an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, supervises three congregations in the region known as Maralal in Samburu County, Kenya. He has watched young children become orphans when some parents, in search of anything to eat and drink, are forced to abandon the children and livestock on the roadside. Other parents die because they give their last scraps of food to their children. In some families, only the older children are kept because they can help forage for food and water.

His heart is broken by the desperate children in the communities he serves. They wander the streets in search of their next meal, their next shelter and their next cup of water.

“The inescapable stench of death and the smell of hunger envelopes your senses," writes Jim Copple, a global resource consultant for
NCM. "While I have seen these scenes before and I am a somewhat seasoned and aging veteran of these crises, I am losing patience with a world so indifferent that they can stand by and allow 12 million of God's souls to walk aimlessly through the desert.”

Cosmos Mutowa, NCM-Africa director, writes: “Right there before us were God’s children crying out for help.…These were our brothers and sisters in need of our love. The words of Jesus came alive as I reached out to a little boy who barely had strength to walk: “I was thirsty and you gave me water to drink...” (Mt. 25:35).

Nanerio is trying not to be paralyzed by the seeming impossibility of the famine. He wants to build a center where children can come for at least one good meal a day. He hopes to be able to provide temporary shelter and maybe education.

When Copple asked Nanerio if he ever thinks of just leaving, he quietly but passionately asserted that he could not leave -- God has called him here to be with his people.  

"If I leave in their suffering, how can I be with them when they rejoice?"  

His question haunts those of us who have been to Dadaab or traveled in the drought affected areas. If we as a church do not feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty -- to the least of these -- how can we celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb?

We know Nazarenes worldwide will not let these people suffer with no hope. We know you will respond.

We started with a long list of possible relief ideas. Just as Pastor Nanerio had a dream for how he would like to help his people and communities, so did everyone else. To learn more about the realities faced by men, women and children in the area, we contacted numerous organizations, each of which wanted the Church of the Nazarene to partner in their programs. 

Eventually, the Nazarene team decided the selection of activities for Restoring Hope in the Horn of Africa and Kenya would be based on the following criteria: 

Programs that

  • have low investment, high impact and long-term scope. 
  • clearly define and recognize the activities we can do and those that we shouldn't do.
  • do not reinvent the wheel by deferring to other organizations that have capacity and presence in the region.
  • best use our strengths and capabilities.
  • build and sustain a relationship with the affected community.

A group, including leaders from Nazarene Compassionate Ministries at the local, field, regional and global level, began to winnow the list based on those criteria. After the first time through, every project earned a four or five on a five-point scale of need and importance. Every project had merit. In the days that followed our marathon meeting, emails flew between members. Team members conducted a phone survey with leaders and pastors. This research and additional trips and visits to other affected areas led to new insights. 

Finally, five strategies emerged as the most important.

Strategy One: Identify and develop resources that facilitate the acquisition and distribution of food for the communities most affected by the drought.

Rationale: If people are dead, all other programs are needless.

Strategy Two: Information/Messaging -- Working in collaboration with UNICEF, Lutheran World Federation and FilmAID to develop a messaging campaign to assist in camp orientation and to provide critical health and safety information with a special focus on gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against children.

camp-entry.JPGRationale: This need fits our denomination’s capabilities. When the refugees arrive at a camp, they wait to be processed. They need information about where to go and what to do. They need to be told about camp life, rules and responsibilities. They need some encouragement and hope. By providing this service, we can ease the transition to the camps and touch the heart of every person who arrives.

Strategy Three: Promote primary health prevention and treatment activities in the famine stricken areas of the Horn of Africa and Kenya and in the refugee camps in the region by creating access to clean water and providing health information related to water conservation and sanitation.

Rationale: Water is essential to life and well-being. Local Nazarenes, once trained, can continue to promote health and water conservation and sanitation. This could change people’s lives far into the future. It also would serve as a reminder for Nazarenes worldwide of the importance of this precious resource. 

Strategy Four: Promote training and development of teachers and pastors in early childhood education and crisis and grief counseling to be deployed in the refugee camps and in all host communities.

Rationale: From the foundations of our denomination, Nazarenes have believed in the importance of education. We have teachers and counselors who can train others to carry on this work throughout the famine/drought area. Imagine the level of grief caused by losing all you hold dear. 

Strategy Five: Support the repatriation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) back to their home areas in Somalia.

Rationale: There’s no place like “home.” Host communities cannot forever support large numbers of refugees. So, a plan is needed to help people return to their point of origin. This means that they must have a means to earn a living and a hope that life will be better.

As the plan unfolds and lives are touched, Engage will carry stories of hope restored. 

Consider what God would have you do to be His hands and heart in the Horn of Africa and Kenya. Pray for wisdom and guidance on how to live out your compassion for our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

-- Cosmos Mutowa, Jim Copple and Dan Friday contributed to this report.