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Church World Service marks 60 years of relief work since World War II

Church World Service (CWS), which sponsors area CROP Hunger Walks, celebrates in October the 60th anniversary of its founding in 1946 during the aftermath of World War II.

“The world had never before experienced such a time,” said John McCullough, executive director.  “Cities in Europe, Asia and Africa lay in ruins.  Millions of people were displaced and separated from families.  Hunger and poverty threatened the survival of countless others.  It was a desperate time that reflected a depth of inhumanity beforehand unimaginable.

“Earlier, people thought destruction of their communities had global consequences because their local reality was their global reality,” he said.

Previously, they had no idea how large, diverse and complicated the world was.  In that war, several nations tried to assert nationalistic, ethnic superiority, bringing devastating destruction, he said.

Millions of people were dispersed,  often not knowing where family members were or if they survived. Homes and communities needed rebuilding. 

John said the world is still healing from that war’s social, economic and political impact. 

“The recent war between Lebanon and Israel had the same devastation, as scores of refugees huddled among the ruins, wrestling with their feelings of hatred and retribution for what happened,” John said. 

Last year, he saw the devastation of the tsunami on Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

“The absence of life made it too difficult to imagine the horror people experienced with the tidal waves.  As I wound through debris of what once was a thriving community, I saw a man sitting in front of ruins of the only house.  

“The other houses were destroyed, and his neighbors were swept away in the flood.  Only the remnants of his house remained.  Somehow only he survived. I could only imagine his anguish.

“How does one reconcile surviving a catastrophe when others don’t?  How does one rebuild, when there are no neighbors to lend a helping hand and offer encouragement?” John asked, wondering what might give him hope and convince him of the reality of God.

He said the challenge for Christians is “to reach into the lives of people during their nighttime of despair, to be signs of hope, to be present, to offer an embrace and to speak about restored purpose.”

It’s what people of faith did after World War II through CWS.

Through CWS people express the “fortitude of their faith,” seeing people’s despair and, despite distance and circumstance, offering compassionate response to make a difference and “break the silence with a voice of hope,” John said.

“Our founders were not confused by any need to cast blame or judgment, or to hold victims responsible because they did not observe the warning signs leading to their own despair. They saw the face of hunger and fed it.  They saw wandering spirits and gave them a place to call home,” he said.  “Yes, people often make bad decisions, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be redeemed, and it doesn’t mean their hope should not be restored.”

John believes the world is again in a state of chaos similar to that of 1946.

“Today we face a convergence of events that not only heightens our vulnerability but also threatens to leave no nation unscathed,” he said.

The War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and Indonesia, with prospects of war with Iran and the Middle East between Israel and Hezbollah, includes missiles flying back and forth, mothers buried under the rubble clinging to infants who never had a chance to live, play or dream,” he said.  “In addition, there is the inhumanity in Darfur, Sudan, the deteriorating situation in the Ivory Coast, the specter of a nuclear war in the Korean peninsula, and the march of HIV/AIDS in Africa, China and Russia.”

Beyond the international scene, he wonders why hunger is on the rise in America—with food pantries unable to keep up with needs of those who can no longer make their dollars stretch far enough to feed their families, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor in this and other countries.

“With the fury of nature we saw last year in hurricanes, typhoons, rains flooding the northeast United States, and drought spreading in this country and East Africa, do we need more convincing about global warming?” he asked.

John calls for collective responsibility to pull everyone back from the abyss.

“Prophetic witness calls us to realize the dangers inherent in life and to act.  So many of our global family again huddlein fear of what has become of them or sit in despair, confused and wondering what happened, what went wrong and where their neighbors are,” he said.

“Faith summons us to see the face of God in each other as persons of sacred worth, to value and honor each other’s humanity even as we seek to resolve our differences, to make sure that no one is left without the necessities of life, and to be present, embracing, and purposeful in the living of our lives,” John said.

For information, call 212-870-2676.