“One Great Hour of Sharing” (OGHS) is the Lenten offering of the United Church of Christ. It will be collected this Sunday in worship.
Along with the other three special offerings– Strengthen the Church, Neighbors in Need and The Christmas Fund– and our general giving to Our Churches Wider Mission (OCWM), these make up the five offerings we at Old First make through the UCC– the dollars and cents we dedicate to making a difference all around the world. It’s an effort in which we are not alone– our resources are joined by those from people in UCC congregations across the United States. Is there any question about the difference that together we can make?
One Great Hour of Sharing is an offering that makes real the love of Christ through Mission Activities in the U.S. and around the World. But its effects can touch and transform our lives too. When a refugee family in Ohio didn’t know why their power went off, an electrician offered to check it out. He saw that the circuit breaker hadn’t been connected properly, so he snapped it into place. The lights came back on — and the mother and children applauded. “I didn’t do anything special,” he said. Nevertheless, he was pleased that he’d been able to help. Most of us know the experience of feeling good after helping someone else. We share of our gifts, and both we and those we help feel joy.
“Sharing brings joy” — that’s the theme of this year’s One Great Hour of Sharing offering.
As we share of our gifts, we live into the world as God intends it to be. Our acts of sharing are transformed into actual mercy and justice. But, no one person, church or agency can meet all the needs alone. So the United Church of Christ, through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering, engages in partnerships worldwide. And in partnership with each of us. Think, pray for a moment about how blessed you are, then decide what you can share with others through this opportunity to give.
Here are three stories– three organizations (in random order) using our OGHS gifts making a difference:
By no choice of their own, 1.4 million people in the world live in poverty. Oikocredit believes that they don’t lack ability. They lack opportunity, and Oikocredit provides that opportunity. Oikocredit offers small, low-cost loans to persons unable to qualify for bank-financed loans. One person who benefits from a micro-credit loan is Nguyen Thi Naht, a struggling single mother in Vietnam. First she borrowed less than €100 from the local Oikocredit project partner and took a dressmaking course. After paying that off, she borrowed €135 to buy a sewing machine. Today, she has a stable income that provides for life’s necessities, meets her repayment schedule, and pays school fees for her two children.
Oikocredit also plays a role in disaster-relief efforts, mainly by rebuilding communities and fostering development. With even the smallest of loans, those in need can create income-generating businesses, send their children
to school, buy medicine and nutritious food, or fix a leaky roof. LEARN MORE: www.oikocredit.org
#2 THE UCC’s PARTNERS IN MISSION PROGRAM (the same one that brings us Billi):
Growing up in Indiana, Jessica Lambertson learned at an early age the importance of justice and mission. “My mother is senior pastor of St. John’s UCC in Vincennes,” she says, “and she raised us to believe we should give back. So when I was offered the opportunity to work alongside others, helping register voters, documenting abuses, and advocating for human rights, it seemed like a natural fit.”
Now Jessica is a member of the Young Adult Service Community in Arizona, partnering with The Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita. Volunteering along the border and with the people of the community, Jessica gets to combine mission work with justice work. “I have grown through this volunteer experience,” she says. “I’ve gained a better understanding of the issues, I’ve been able to help people take charge of their own destinies, and I’ve grown spiritually.” LEARN MORE: www.ucc.org/volunteer
#3: THE GREEK ORTHODOX PATRIARCHATE OF ANTIOCH’S VOCATIONAL TRAINING PROGRAM FOR IRAQI REFUGEES
Angelique Al Asmar did not mince words when speaking of the plight of the estimated 1.2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. “It’s heart-breaking,” said the 24-year-old vocational training officer working in Damascus. Many Iraqis are stuck in limbo, awaiting word if they will be able to leave Syria and join relatives elsewhere. Their impatience is fueled by bitter memories of violence in Iraq and a determination not to return to their homeland, perhaps ever.
The work of the Patriarchate, supported by gifts from One Great Hour of Sharing, gives some sense of hope and stability to Iraqi women whose lives, and lives of their families, have been gravely disrupted by the six-year Iraqi war.Some of that work was on full display last September as a group of Iraqi refugee women showed off their skills as beauticians at a Saturday skills-training program at a Damascus beauty parlor.
On this morning, spirits were high. As the women applied makeup to each other, giggles were common.
“We have good results, but sometimes it’s awful,” Al Asmar said, laughing. The classes are not only ways for refugee women to acquire skills in makeup application and hairdressing and find steady jobs in Damascus, but also a way “to forget their sorrows as Iraqi refugee women show off their skills as beauticians,” said Al Asmar. The sorrows are just below the surface, the stories of friends and relatives killed in Iraq, of separation and uncertainty as families await word if they will immigrate to the United States, Canada or Australia. Still, for a few precious moments, these Saturday mornings become moments to savor, laugh and look to the future with optimism. (Adapted from a story by Chris Herlinger, Church World Service)