Ecuador (MNN) — Updates continue to fill news feeds about the devastating 7.8 earthquake that rocked Ecuador’s central coast over the weekend.Compassion International’s staff and partner churches have been combing the area, going door-to-door to check on sponsored children and their families. Of the 70,000 children served by Compassion, it is estimated that close to 15,000 are in the affected areas.
But, the work has just begun for Compassion. Herb Ehresman, Director of Complementary Interventions, says working with partner churches allows them to assess both damage and need. However, in many cases, those churches are both first-responders and victims. At least four churches in the affected areas have sustained significant damage, and Compassion programs have temporarily been suspended there because of safety issues.
The first goal in Compassion’s response is that of meeting emergency needs of food, shelter, and water. “Each disaster situation is unique in terms of not only what the damage is, but also what resources are locally available,” explains Ehresman.
“The Ecuadoran government is responding strongly, other NGOs are active; so, what our staff will do with the church partners is look for what resources that community has that can be brought to bear immediately for our beneficiaries. Where there are gaps, where there aren’t other NGOs, where the government is not focused — that’s where Compassion will step in to make sure the same level of support, of safety, of healthcare is provided as immediate follow-up.”
Because Compassion focuses its efforts on the poorest of the poor, many of the communities served by the ministry are more isolated and difficult to access, due to damaged roads and telecommunications systems. Herb shares that the challenges go even further.
“These communities are often not the first place government or other NGOs are focusing their attention – so it’s essential that Compassion gets to those communities, and then brings the support and resources needed.”
Compassion is not only focusing on immediate response, but is also looking at the long-term needs of the communities it serves.
The goal is to help the local churches return to providing programs for children and their families as quickly as possible, and to help those families who have lost homes and belongings. Those efforts include developing ways to provide livelihoods for those who have lost jobs. “We’ll also look at income-generation type activities to help get people back on their feet in the longer run.”
Herb shares that providing both a rapid and well-structured response is critical, as most families live day-to-day without the safety net of savings or insurance. “We don’t want to leave families in a position of not being able to provide for themselves. The question we ask ourselves is ‘How can we reestablish, or even improve, the status-quo from what was going on before the disaster?’”
While Compassion is working with its partner churches in Ecuador to care for the beneficiaries of its sponsorship program, Herb says the ministry encourages the church to be the Church in meeting the needs of its community in crisis. “We do enable through our funding mechanisms and our other response mechanisms for that church to be reaching out into their community so that they can be salt and light.”
Compassion is currently accepting donations on its website for emergency relief efforts, and Herb says prayers for safety and provision are welcomed for the staff and the communities impacted by the earthquake. But he says there’s one more prayer that is essential. “I think the most important thing we can pray is for people to have hope. In many cases, our beneficiaries – our families – are in very hope-deprived circumstances. And when you can’t envision a better tomorrow, despondency, despair, depression follows. You give up trying. But the Gospel and the Church should be full of hope, and our witness should be this: ‘Know this is for a season – but the Lord is faithful, the Lord is just, He will see you through. Do not give up hope.’
“May God be glorified by these circumstances, driving people closer to Him rather than farther away.”