Church World Service (CWS) was born in 1946, in the aftermath of World War II. Seventeen denominations came together to form an agency to do in partnership what none of us could hope to do as well alone. The mission: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort the aged, shelter the homeless. Years later the mission remains and First Church is a participant.
First UMC members Bonita and David Maze worked through CWS in 1980 as they and their congregation in Heath resettled a family from Laos – mother and father and seven children came to their house and then into all of the world. (On July 4 this year they met the family in Chicago for a joyful reunion 35 years later.) CWS helped greatly in the first efforts to bring them here.
The Festival of Sharing (FOS) in Ohio began in November of 1987 with the assistance of folks from West Ohio Annual Conference and CWS. It was led by lay persons and met at the Clark County Fairgrounds for many years. Originally each of the 12 districts sponsored a booth at FOS selling food and craft items along with displays of mission projects here and elsewhere. When this became too difficult for staffing David became its chairperson and began the search for another venue. Nine years ago Rev. Bob Davis of the Jackson Area Ministries, just down the road, made the initial contact with Otterbein University and this year will be the ninth consecutive partnership of church and the university. Otterbein provides the space for the semi truck and the many vehicles that come from across Ohio with kits and disaster buckets. Students from the university help with a construction project and the men of the Sphinx fraternity help load the huge semi on Friday night and all Saturday morning.
This is a great partnership and FOS Ohio has become more and more ecumenical. In 2013 participants included: each of the eight districts in the West Ohio Conference plus UM churches from East Ohio, as well as American Baptist, Church of the Brethern, Disciples of Christ, Mennonite, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ churches.
In 2014 CWS sent more than 114,000 kits here and around the world. And FOS Ohio continues to collect 1/3 of ALL the kits collected throughout the US.
Remember, when you sew a school kit bag or put the designated materials in a bag, there is the face of a single child on each of those school bags. Look at the bag and picture a refugee child receiving it in Columbus, a rural village in West Virginia or in a refugee camp on the Syrian border.
Kit Story: My Dream Came True
My name is Abdullah. I am 10 years old and I am from Somalia.
In 2011, my mother, my younger brother and I fled our country because of the conflict there. Since then we have been living in Indonesia.
When we first arrived we lived near Cipayung, Bogor but, with help from Church World Service, we now live in Jakarta.
Every day I used to just play with friends around my neighborhood. I dreamed of going to school, wearing a school uniform, studying, and playing with friends in school, but the dream seemed so far away.
When we lived in Bogor I joined the early child development activities at the refugee center. They taught us many things, such as reading, drawing, and singing. I enjoyed all the activities very much.
Here in Jakarta I also participated in the activities at the center. They taught us English and Indonesian because we must be able to speak and write Indonesian if we want to join the primary school. I studied very hard.
In 2013, my dream finally came true. A staff person informed my mother that the enrollment in the primary school near our house had been successful. I felt so happy! I was one of the lucky ones who would be able to go to school.
Maria from Church World Service took my mother and me to the local market to buy a new school uniform, shoes, and books. I put these new items in the school kit bag filled with new school supplies. It was given to me by Maria who said that it came from the Festival of Sharing in the United States. I am really grateful to all of those who are helping me.
Now I am able to enjoy education in the school. My mother is also very happy because she always says that education is very important to have a better future. She hopes that soon my younger brother will be able to go to school as well.
Recently I graduated from Grade 1 of primary school. I like my teacher and friends. I hope I can continue my education.
Storyteller: Abdullah, Indonesia (Adapted from CWS by David Maze, August 2015)