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7-MINUTE READ
Local giving, global mercy
War refugees. Volcanoes. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. In a season of extreme need worldwide, First Free Rockford has been able to help four huge relief efforts through our Benevolence Fund.
Jim Killam
September 22, 2021

In a season when crises have cropped up all over the world, money from First Free Rockford’s Benevolence Fund is making a difference.

Over the past few weeks, a total of $44,015 went from our church to these four relief efforts:

  • Volcano disaster relief in the Democratic Republic of Congo, $12,015.
  • Earthquake relief assistance in Haiti, $15,000.
  • Afghan refugees coming to the U.S., $7,000.
  • Hurricane Ida relief in Louisiana, $10,000.

All of these efforts are organized or facilitated by ReachGlobal, the world missions agency of the Evangelical Free Church of America.

“Any money that we give to disaster relief, whether it’s national or international, is almost always through EFCA,” says Chuck Rife, Pastor of Caring Ministries. “We trust that they will dispense it wisely and efficiently.”

Benevolence Offering

On Communion Sunday, the second Sunday of each month, First Free receives a Benevolence Offering at the end of each worship service. This is intended to be in addition to our church family’s regular giving of tithes and offerings.

The Benevolence Fund has three priorities, Chuck says. First is to care for extraordinary needs of our own people — loss of income due to unemployment or illness, for example. Second is caring for the immediate needs of family members of our people. These could be needs like clothing, shelter or utility bills. The third priority — in that order — is community social service or disaster relief. These needs could be anywhere in the world.

Requests from our church family for local help have been minimal in recent months, so the Benevolence Fund grew to a point where this kind of significant help could be directed to urgent needs elsewhere.

“People have been very generous and very faithful in their contributions,” Chuck says.

None of the money given recently came from any budgeted fund, like Missions. It all came from the Benevolence Fund. And there’s still ample money to fund local needs, Chuck adds. There just haven’t been requests lately.

“What’s surprising to us is that all during COVID, from its inception until today, there hasn’t been one request from our people for help,” he says. “That has totally amazed us. So the government stimulus must have helped our people. We are certain there will be times ahead when people in our congregation will need more help. Again, that’s our first priority.”

Families and individuals who need help can contact Sasha Pogwizd in the church office (815-877-7046). She, along with Pastor Chuck, can do an intake inventory to help qualify the need. Then, a five-member Benevolence Team decides how money will be disbursed through the payment of bills. All of this is kept highly confidential.

Four crises

Here are summaries of the four situations our church gave to:

Families in Goma, DRC, receive food and jerrycans for water. Photo provided by Pastor Pascal, Bethany Church, Goma.

DRC: Mount Nyiragongo erupted May 22 near the city of Goma. It’s on the eastern edge of DRC, about 1,000 miles from the capital city of Kinshasa where First Free has helped fund Tabitha Centers for women.

People on the outskirts of Goma had to flee their homes. Not all of the homes were burned by the lava, but many families returned to find their homes ransacked and looted, and their fields destroyed.

Pastor Pascal of Bethany Church in Goma is a friend of Pastor Nubako and Claudine Selenga, our Tabitha partners in Kinshasa. Pascal reported to the Selengas that 45 families from his church desperately needed food and supplies, including jerrycans to transport water. The needs averaged $267 (U.S.) per family. That was the reason for our church’s $12,015 donation. The money ended up helping 257 families, primarily widows, widowers and orphans.

“I am very thankful for the assistance I received today,” Nzabanita Estha told Pastor Pascal. “My husband died seven years ago now and I live by the help of my children. The donor of this food and jerrycan, may God bless him. My children will not struggle and think on how to feed me for two weeks. It is joy for me and for them. My grandchildren will also be blessed when they come to greet me and eat of this rice that they enjoy so much. God bless Rev. Selenga for this donation. God bless his ministry and people who donated the money.”

Haiti: On Aug. 14, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake stuck Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula, killing more than 2,200 people, injuring more than 12,000 and destroying 53,000 homes. The quake came as Haiti already was reeling from the assassination of president Jovenel Moise. Tropical Storm Grace struck the nation 10 days after the earthquake, causing even more damage and hindering relief work. ReachGlobal has a Crisis Response team working in Haiti. They are dispensing First Free’s donation as they help suffering families and churches.

Afghanistan: As a result of the Taliban retaking most of the country after the U.S. withdrawal, 2.5 million refugees have already left—with 30,000 currently coming to the U.S. Their urgent needs are groceries, furniture, clothes, supplies. ReachGlobal is resourcing churches to help meet the needs of Afghan refugees coming to their communities.

Hurricane Ida: the Aug. 29 storm devastated communities in southern Louisiana, then also caused huge floods in the Northeast. Damages are in the billions of dollars. ReachGlobal Crisis Response teams are working to minister to people impacted and salvage as many homes as possible.

Jim Killam
Jim Killam is a journalist, author, teacher and terminal Cubs fan. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Rockford and work internationally with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

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