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Wednesday, December 19 , 2018, 2:47 am | Fair 45º


Santa Barbara Residents Carry Out Missions to Provide Needs, Food for the Poor

American European Bethel Mission's Jim Stretchberry, Rick Martinez, Jared Beck and Ernesto Sanchez extend their reach to refugees in Jordan

Back row, American European Bethel Mission ministry members Ernesto Sanchez, Rick Martinez, Jim Stretchberry and Jared Beck during a Middle East aid mission. For more than 15 years, the team has journeyed to primarily Israel, Ukraine and Germany every December and January to offer assistance in areas of need.
Back row, American European Bethel Mission ministry members Ernesto Sanchez, Rick Martinez, Jim Stretchberry and Jared Beck during a Middle East aid mission. For more than 15 years, the team has journeyed to primarily Israel, Ukraine and Germany every December and January to offer assistance in areas of need. (American European Bethel Mission photo)

Four current and former Santa Barbara residents recently joined together for a mercy mission to Israel and Jordan, raising awareness for much-needed aid in the face of incredible challenges that if not contained could become a global concern.

For more than 15 years, Jim Stretchberry, Rick Martinez, Jared Beck and Ernesto Sanchez have journeyed to primarily Israel, Ukraine and Germany every December and January looking to offer support and assistance in areas of need.

The “Needs and Food for the Poor” program is offered to those in desperate straits, including drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless, wounded, orphans, elderly and widows.

This year’s travels included the first visit with refugees in the slums of Amman that was made possible through a connection with Kathy Ireland of Santa Barbara.

“I have been friends with Kathy and her family for a decade,” Stretchberry said. “She invited me to hear a young woman refugee who spoke to a small group locally last year. This young woman had survived barbaric treatment in Syria and was now a refugee with very few options and little hope. This intrigued and touched me, and I started considering the refugee situation in Jordan.”

Stretchberry has lived in Santa Barbara for 48 years. He is president and CEO of the American European Bethel Mission. Previously he has served as an associate pastor at Calvary Chapel, president and CEO of Seton School, and former board president of the Santa Barbara PAL (Police Activities League) Program.

“The situation for refugees is horrific and could bring about a crisis, which may be a runaway train,” Stretchberry said.

In 2016, the passionate crew of aid givers was able to provide $50,000 worth of aid, with 2,000 toys and blankets each, to children at Legacy Heritage and the Nazareth Hospitals, and more.

The “Needs and Food for the Poor” program also collaborated with Direct Relief International to get more than $100,000 in donated food, supplies and money to the refugees.

Joining Stretchberry in the aid mission were Martinez, senior pastor at Capital City Church in Sacramento and previously owner of Southern Woods of Santa Barbara; Beck, president and CEO of a San Diego private school who was born and raised in Santa Barbara; and Sanchez, a critical volunteer and retired California Highway Patrol officer from Santa Barbara County.

More than 19,000 children at the refugee camps are deaf due to bombing, and alarmingly the group met only one doctor during their time in Jordan.

“This is a serious tragedy,” Stretchberry said. “There is very little to no medical care, very little medicine, and it is more complicated because of faith issues.” 

Representatives and the royal family of the king of Jordan were gracious and expressed gratitude for the efforts and courage that Stretchberry, Martinez, Beck and Sanchez showed to personally deliver assistance and funds.

Stretchberry is in the process of acquiring additional support for the needy before their next trip later this year to secure medicine, doctors and clothing. In 2017, the AEBM Needs and Food for the Poor team plans travel to Israel and the Ukraine.

A challenging situation is made more difficult since refugees are generally not permitted to work. This resulting lack of an ability to provide for their families has created an alternative economy with increased fears that further instability could easily trigger an economic crisis.

“The primary issue is that desperate people will do anything to care for their families,” Stretchberry said. “Refugees for the most part are not allowed to work. They make deals with current working small entities, offering them a large percentage to take over their businesses or work for much less than current employees. These types of practices have the possibility of causing civil unrest and/ or collapse of an already fragile economy.”

Additional red flags in this precarious environment are raised by the possibility that an open door could offer ISIS an unstable situation for recruitment from the dreadful conditions.

“We realize it is an elephant in the room, but to me it is like the story of the widow's mite,” Stretchberry said. “Some help is better then no help. Some help could move hearts; no help will nurture bitterness. Some help will bring hope; no help will bring on hopelessness.”

Click here for more information, or call AEBM at 805.569.0015. Click here to make an online donation.

— Noozhawk contributing writer Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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