Episcopal Relief & Development fetes 75 years of healing a hurting world

By Tracy J. Sukraw
Posted Jun 28, 2015

[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] It feels good to be 75, Robert Radtke, the president of Episcopal Relief & Development, said in an interview earlier this week as General Convention was getting underway.

He was referring to his organization’s 75th anniversary, marked over the course of the past year by an online weekly storytelling project and a traveling photo exhibit depicting the people and places around the world touched by Episcopal Relief & Development’s disaster relief, public health and economic development ministries.

And a $7.5-million anniversary fundraising campaign, launched last September, is 78 percent complete. Radtke said he has every expectation that the goal will be exceeded by year’s end.

“It’s a thrill to be here in Salt Lake City and to have the opportunity, frankly, to say thank you to the people of The Episcopal Church for 75 years of incredibly generous support. It’s been a wonderful sign of faith and commitment to God’s mission in the world that we’ve thrived as we have for 75 years,” Radtke said.

To celebrate, Episcopal Relief & Development hosted a June 27 anniversary party for a spirited crowd of several hundred friends and supporters attending General Convention, complete with live music and dancing.

The crowd broke into cheers and applause when Radtke introduced Episcopal Relief & Development’s board chair, Bishop Michael B. Curry, who, in a historic single-ballot election earlier that day, had been chosen as The Episcopal Church’s next presiding bishop.

“Episcopal Relief & Development, you don’t look a day over 25,” Curry said. “This really is a joyous celebration of remarkable and faithful and selfless service of helping this world end what is a nightmare for so many and realize the dream that God has intended from the beginning. And that is what healing a hurting world, that’s what Episcopal Relief & Development is about.”

The General Convention’s presiding officers also spoke in tribute.


Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke about how relationships have played a critical role in the organization’s expansion.

“When this ministry began, it was a personal ministry of the presiding bishop.  It has expanded to the point that that’s no longer possible, and what a gift to the world that has become,” she said.

“The relationships that are built among primates and presiding bishops are one way in which this ministry continues to expand across the world, but far, far more important in this era is the incredible work that is led by the staff of Episcopal Relief & Development, building relationships with provinces of the Anglican Communion that go far beyond the end of the road,” Jefferts Schori said.


House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings described an Episcopal Relief & Development trip she took to Ghana to learn about poverty and disease prevention programs there. She said the experience was “transformative.”

“We met women who can now educate their children because they opened market stalls with micro-loans. We met farmers learning new cultivation practices developed for a changing climate. We met a tribal chief who told us about the importance of empowering women,” Jennings said.

Formerly known as the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, Episcopal Relief & Development started in 1940 as a granting agency assisting World War II refugees.  Since then, Radtke said at the party, the Episcopal Church has donated more than $366 million through Episcopal Relief & Development, $243 million of that since 2002. The organization now reaches three million people annually in 40 countries, according to its website.

Radtke, in an interview, described three areas of cutting-edge work for the organization as it moves forward.

One is to integrate its signature NetsforLife® malaria-prevention program into its broader healthcare work. Some 80,000 community health workers have been trained through NetsforLife®. The next step, Radtke said, is to put other tools in their kit.

“If they’re going house to house monitoring malaria nets, they should also be delivering information about good nutrition, prenatal care, information about vaccinations – a whole suite of things that can focus on saving the lives of children under 5, because all the public health science will tell you that if you can get a child to the age of 5, then their long-term prospects of living to adulthood are much greater,” he said.

The organization also is shifting its economic empowerment philosophy away from micro-credit and toward cooperative savings.

“We’ve thought faithfully and prayerfully about this and really think that a more sustainable and a healthier model is a savings model, encouraging self-help groups to save. Each person in the group puts in a certain amount every month and then they lend the money out to each other. They’re increasing their net worth as opposed to taking on debt.

“It’s part of a broader shift that’s going on in the relief and development field, but we’re certainly at the forefront of that shift,” Radtke said.

A third new area for Episcopal Relief & Development, he said, is a focus on alleviating gender-based violence.

“A young woman or person who gets trafficked will almost certainly have been a victim of gender-based violence at home or in their community,” Radtke said.

A recent grant from the U.N. Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women will help Episcopal Relief & Development work with a church partner to develop a curriculum.  “We hope the results of that pilot will be successful and we’ll be able to scale that up,” he said.

Radtke, who joined Episcopal Relief & Development 10 years ago – right after the Indian Ocean tsunami and right before Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast – said that an anniversary year is a good time to pause and take stock.

“As good as Episcopal Relief & Development is, we have to be very strategic about where we focus our work. We try to do the greatest good for the greatest number at the least possible cost.  That’s really at the center of our philosophy,” he said.

— Tracy J. Sukraw is part of the Episcopal News Service team covering convention.