By Paula Schlueter Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The plan to provide $100,000 in aid for those who are struggling against Ebola in Liberia, West Africa, began simply enough: It was the idea of one man, a Liberian living in the United States, to help his fellow Liberians in Africa.
Now, thanks to a partnership — of U.S. Liberians, leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia, members of a Liberian Lutheran congregation in Monrovia, the LCMS Atlantic District and LCMS Disaster Response — some 400 bags of rice and a large number of bottled waters have been purchased and distributed to people in the greater Monrovia area, with more distributions planned throughout the country.
“That’s a lot of collaboration!” notes Atlantic District President Rev. Dr. David H. Benke on the partnership. The project fits right in, he says, with the district’s theme since 9/11: “Engaging the World with the Gospel of Hope.”
“A missionary pastor’s direct and tragic connection to the Ebola crisis in Liberia has given God’s people in New York opportunity to assist in bringing food and supplies and the mercy of God to Liberians,” Benke told Reporter. “We will not be deterred in bringing the Gospel of hope wherever it takes us. We treasure the collaborative partnerships that this engagement brings, for the sake of Christ’s eternal kingdom.”
Although he has lived in the United States for 25 years, the Rev. Philip Saywrayne, Liberian pastor of the largely Liberian Christ Assembly Lutheran Church in Staten Island, N.Y., and vacancy pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Staten Island, still has many family and friends in Africa.
So when he heard how the deadly Ebola virus is affecting Liberians there — Saywrayne’s wife, Naomi, has lost 15 relatives to the disease — he could not sit idly by. He had to do something. A letter to Benke got the ball rolling, he said.
Benke, in turn, contacted national LCMS ministry leaders Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, director of Church Relations and Regional Operations; Rev. John Fale, associate executive director of Mercy Operations; and Rev. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response, and a deal was struck: the LCMS would match funds raised by the district — up to $50,000.
Amazingly, the district raised more than half of its $50,000 commitment within minutes, during its annual fundraising luncheon on Oct. 21 with several hundred donors.
The Rev. Dr. William Diekelman, former LCMS first vice-president, was emcee at the event, and Saywrayne gave the invocation. “So when we briefly told the story of [Saywrayne’s] intentions to send food and supplies to Liberia — and of his wife’s having suffered the loss of 15 family members to Ebola — Bill asked the gathered group to consider the opportunity to raise $25,000 right there on the spot, in addition to their already substantial donations,” Benke said. “In 15 minutes, he came back with checks totaling over $31,000.”
Another $9,000 had come in from Atlantic District individuals and congregations as of mid-December, and Benke said he expects contributions to the district’s Advent Appeal to make up the $10,000 difference by the first of the year.
“It’s really a tremendous and rapid-response outpouring of love for the sake of distributing mercy,” he said.
On Dec. 7, when the first rice-and-water aid was purchased in Monrovia and distributed in the greater Monrovia area with the help of Lutherans there, Saywrayne greeted via speakerphone from New York some 250 people who had gathered at Christ Assembly Evangelical Lutheran Church in Monrovia, telling them “that the food they were about to receive was made possible due to the generosity of the Lutheran church officials here [in the U.S.], especially the Atlantic District.”
Saywrayne said those gathered “were excited. I could hear them praising God [over] the phone.”
According to a story about the aid on allAfrica.com, Christ Assembly, Monrovia, Pastor Rev. Patrick Daykeay said he was “gratified for the timely intervention” of the Liberian church body’s overseas partners in addressing the needs of congregation members and others during the Ebola crisis.
Saywrayne said he is awaiting a report from the relief distribution team of Lutheran leaders in Liberia that will detail how many people were served and what modifications, if any, need to be made for subsequent allocations. A second distribution is planned for outside Monrovia, possibly before Christmas, he said. The cost of both deliveries will total about $25,000.
“Because of the situation of Ebola in the country, many of the people are not working” and there is a “lack of food,” Saywrayne said, so the rice and water are desperately needed — and will be as long as the disease continues to disrupt daily life.
Added Saywrayne: “I would like to extend my profound gratitude to all of our mission partners who are making this project become a reality, especially to assist the people of Liberia to get food at this time when they are in dire need.”
He also thanked district Mission Executive Rev. Dr. E. Johnson Rethinasamy and Mission Society Coordinator Carol Mittelstaedt for their help and support.
Collver calls the project “a good example of collaboration between the Synod and a district. President Benke has contacts with Liberians that the national office did not have, as well as a means to get aid into Liberia if funding could be found.”
Benke, he added, “contacted us to see if we could pool our resources to get much-needed aid into Liberia. This is a wonderful example of partnership working as it should to share the mercy of Christ with people in need.”
Posted Dec. 19, 2014 / Updated Dec. 23, 2014