Voices for Change

Advocacy ministries of the ELCA want to share stories and your voices about public policies and relevant advocacy issues that are of interest to you.

Hunger and Telling Stories: More Advocates, Fewer People Living with Hunger

Posted on March 30, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We close the New Mexico installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series with this piece.

A reflection by the Rev. Chuck Exley,
St. Luke Lutheran Church (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
Albuquerque, New Mexico

The concept of advocacy, in my vocabulary, means speaking up for those who do not or cannot speak up for themselves.  It’s an intercession, not unlike intercessory prayer when we turn to God on behalf of those in need.  Advocacy, however, involves speaking to individuals of authority within the human realm.  We take the time, the trouble, and the risk to express our concerns, our outrage or our pleas for compassion.

In most cases such advocacy takes the form of signing petitions, writing letters, meeting personally with powerful people, or making some other public show of support.  Many of us have advocated in this way countless times.  We have been encouraged, inspired, or cajoled by any manner of activist to reach out beyond ourselves.  In fact, it is often the very same advocates who are recruited time after time to make their voices heard.  We know each other.  We have worked together for years.  We comfortably speak in each other’s name.  It’s a tight group; almost an elite group!

But, therein lies one of the critical difficulties in advocacy: finding more advocates.  Prayer chains can bring innumerable individuals together, praying silently in the seclusion and anonymity of one’s home.  Advocacy, on the other hand, has no such luxury.  To be an advocate means making your name – if not your face – known to everyone.  Your feelings and your position on hunger policy or some other controversial issue are exposed.  Taking such a step, especially for the first time, requires some degree of self-sacrifice.  How do we motivate individuals to take such a step; to leave their comfort zone and stand publicly with people society would gladly dismiss; to put their faith out front?

I think the answer lies in telling stories.  None other than Jesus himself found stories to be essential.  His parables fill us with the profoundly beautiful combining of knowledge and inspiration.  No list of facts, no course of study could communicate so fully or touch us so deeply.  But Jesus’ parables are not the only parables around us.  There are countless parables – stories that surround us with the telling of God’s love in the midst of ordinary life.  Parables contain the motivating spirit of God’s love.

Let me tell you a story. My wife teaches first grade.  The children she teaches include some of the poorest and most deprived children in Albuquerque.  She has done this for a very long time.  She teaches them in Spanish rather than English.  For many, it is the only language they know.  It becomes their point of entry into an experience that may well change their lives.  But all the children, Spanish speakers and English speakers alike, learn each other’s tongue very quickly.  Within weeks they speak with each other as freely and easily as any children anywhere – playing, laughing, chattering as the teacher tells them to be still.

Not so with their parents.  It is they who must interact with the culture around them.  But some – perhaps many – are completely illiterate; not just in English but in Spanish as well.  Their inabilities lie at the heart of their poverty and hunger; seen most graphically in their need for food each month.  But, imagine, if you can, sitting with a 6-year-old child who is learning to read.  The lesson, however, is not about vowel sounds or spelling.  Instead the teacher explains, “If you do this you can teach your mother to read.”  She goes on to demonstrate what the child might try while recounting his day at school.  His expression changes as he listens with new interest. 

This is my wife’s story.  It is one of her experiences in caring for her students.  And yet, the story of her experience becomes my parable.  And my parable becomes the challenge to advocate that I can share time and time again.  Such is the gift of a story: it can be told and retold to any who are willing to listen.  Each telling touches a listener with the spirit of advocacy; with the challenge to tell others of something that touched his or her heart; with the imagining of possibilities for a more equitable world.  Each telling becomes like the call to the disciples: Go and tell what you hear and what you know.  Your experience becomes my parable, and every parable becomes an invitation to advocate for those God loves.

We have been too quiet.  We have been too quiet in advocating for our hungry neighbors.  We know so much about God’s work in the world that we have been unwilling to tell.  I can imagine no other way of inspiring, gathering, or recruiting advocates than to touch their hearts with the active presence of God’s love.  We all have stories worth telling.  And, they are probably more powerful than any of us know.   Your experience becomes my parable, which invites all listeners to advocate for God’s people in need. 

Go and tell!

Hunger in our Nation

Posted on March 21, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

We continue the New Mexico installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.

Unfortunately hunger is not confined to the borders of New Mexico. Across the United States, nearly 14.5 percent of households were labeled “food insecure” by the United States Department of Agriculture (table 1A) — meaning these Americans were, at times, uncertain of having or unable to acquire enough food for the household due to insufficient resources. Sadly, New Mexico’s struggle with child hunger is a microcosm for an endemic nationwide problem: more than one in five American children is at risk of hunger — and this number is even higher among African Americans and Latinos (nearly one in three children are at risk) (Table 1B, Table 3).

Families in New Mexico and throughout the nation find necessary aide in programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program(CSFP).  These programs are a lifeline to millions of struggling and impoverished Americans. Administration officials estimate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) alone currently serves nearly one in seven Americans.

The recession of the past few years has changed the face of hunger in the United States. American families who were once economically stable have been thrust into deeper need, and sharp increases in SNAP participation reflect this uptick. (Nearly 18 million more Americans are enrolled in SNAP today than prior to the recession, 180,000 of whom are from New Mexico).  Today SNAP serves millions of American adults and children, operating with an extremely low rate of payment error

It is troubling to see assistance, like SNAP, at risk in the current debate over the direction of the federal budget. These vital programs have become prime targets for budget cuts, restructurings, and flat-funding. We must ask ourselves, what would happen if these programs were harmed? What would happen to families in New Mexico’s communities — and communities across the United States — should these social-safety net programs become further weakened?

As Lutherans, we believe that government has a strategic and instrumental role in advancing the common good. It is with this understanding that the ELCA, along with other church bodies and faith-based organizations, works to support a Circle of Protection to express that care for people living with poverty and struggling with hunger must be a national priority.  ELCA bishops, pastors, seminarians, and congregants are challenging Congress and the Obama Administration to “resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity and well-being of poor and vulnerable people.”

The ELCA Washington Office, in collaboration with other faith groups, works to express these concerns to national leaders through direct advocacy, generating letters and activating ELCA Lutherans across the country to highlight and lift up the need for these programs in the lives of those struggling to meet the needs of their families. 

We all must continue to press the importance of protecting hunger programs from harmful cuts, now more than ever.

Exploring Federal Hunger Programs

Posted on March 12, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

LSA_Logo_rvfl_RGBAs we explore the effects of hunger and the church’s response in New Mexico, we invite you to learn more about the programs serving many of our neighbors.  Our partners at Lutheran Services in America are teaming up with the USDA Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) to offer a webinar about the various federal nutrition programs.  There is much more to federal nutrition programs than SNAP (formerly food stamps), and this webinar is an opportunity to familiarize yourself and explore how you can support your organization’s work with help from FNS programs – Summer Food Service Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Food Assistance for Disaster Relief, various food distribution programs, and more.

Conducted by FNS staff exclusively for LSA member organizations-including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)- this webinar will offer an overview of the various opportunities for partnership between FNS and LSA organizations. Join us!

 

Introduction to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2:00pm-3:00pm Eastern Time

Register HERE!

 

Additional information is available on the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Website: www.fns.usda.gov.

 

These sessions will be available via Microsoft Office LiveMeeting and are free for all participants. You will need access to a phone line and a computer with internet access for this webinar. To participate, please complete the online registration. Further information will be sent to registered participants. You must register to receive additional information. Connection instructions will be sent prior to the session in which you register for, to the email address you provide in the registration. The session will be recorded and posted online and on-demand soon following the completion of the webinar.

If you have any questions, please contact Bob Francis (rfrancis@lutheranservices.org) or Jeff Greenfield, USDA FNS (jeff.greenfield@fns.usda.gov).

Walking with our Hungry Neighbors in New Mexico

Posted on March 6, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

This piece is part of the New Mexico installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.

By  Ruth Hoffman,  Director Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry– New Mexico

Our first stop on the Advocacy Road Trip is New Mexico, where congregations and ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) continue to walk with their many neighbors experiencing hunger and living in poverty. 

New Mexico is a large state with a diverse geography and population, both urban and rural. About 2 million people live here, the majority of whom are members of minority groups — 46% of New Mexicans are Latino, 9% Native American (identifying with 22 tribes), 2% are African American, and 1.5% Asian. 

Consistently, New Mexico ranks as a state with an extremely high percentage of its people living in poverty. The 2010 census placed the state’s poverty rate at 20.4%, which is the second highest in the nation. More alarming is the rate of children living in poverty at 30%, ranking third in the U.S. These high levels of poverty inevitably lead to extreme hunger throughout New Mexico. Approximately 15% are “Food Insecure” meaning that access to food is limited by lack of money or other resources. Nearly 6% are living with “Very Low Food Security” which means that food intake of some household members is reduced and normal eating patterns are disrupted due to limited resources.

In response to the widespread poverty and hunger in New Mexico, ELCA congregations learn, serve and advocate. Through a variety of educational opportunities, congregations explore how we are called to be followers of Jesus in light of the context in which we live. They also learn about the needs of many New Mexicans by engaging in a wide range of service to their neighbors living in poverty.

One example is ELCA congregations in Albuquerque, including St. Timothy, St. Luke and All Saints, who regularly welcome and host families experiencing homelessness overnight at their churches and assist them toward family sustainability through the Family Promise program. Another congregation, Peace Lutheran in Las Cruces, supports and sponsors the Border Servant Corps, which annually brings young volunteers to serve in agencies working to address poverty in Las Cruces and in El Paso, Texas.

Many ELCA members and congregations, like Christ Lutheran in Santa Fe and Holy Cross in Albuquerque, prepare meals and provide food to people who are hungry. St. Peter in Carlsbad is one of our congregations who help to build homes for families in Juarez, Mexico, through Casas por Christo. For many years, St. Paul in Albuquerque has partnered with the Martineztown neighborhood through service and advocacy. Bethlehem in Las Cruces actively supports the Navajo Lutheran Mission. These are but a few of the ways that our congregations serve their neighbors through work that is a central part of their ministries.

Several years ago, congregations in New Mexico realized that advocacy was integral in addressing the deeply imbedded issues of poverty and hunger in the state. Building on the direct services provided in their communities, ELCA members worked to form advocacy ministries. In 1984, the New Mexico state public policy office in Santa Fe opened. The ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod has consistently supported this advocacy ministry as an intentional ministry of the synod and a witness to God’s love. ELCA congregations throughout New Mexico have become involved in advocacy in response to the needs that they have seen when they serve their communities and neighbors. ELCA pastors and lay leaders encourage their members to become active advocates. Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-New Mexico continues to focus its work primarily on public policies that can have a positive impact on people living in poverty and with hunger.

A direct result of this advocacy is the creation of a state Housing Trust Fund to increase the availability of affordable housing with about 1,400 units built so far. ELCA members have joined the Advocacy Network to learn about the ways that changes in public policy can help to address poverty and hunger. Pastors and congregations invite the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-New Mexico director to come to their congregations to talk about advocacy opportunities and to provide opportunities for members to join the Advocacy Network.

The Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA congregations in New Mexico and Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-New Mexico will continue learn about, serve and advocate for our neighbors living in hunger and poverty.

 

 

Advocating on the Road

Posted on March 6, 2012 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

Dear friends,

It’s not a secret that the political campaign season is underway in America. Turn on your TV, open a newspaper, or, depending on where you are, walk down your street and you’ll see politicians and their staff eagerly courting votes. Candidates for the highest elected offices are traveling by bus, plane and train into small towns and large cities, donning jeans and sweater vests, touring farms and factories, kissing babies and shaking hands — anything to convince Iowans ( … or Ohioans, Minnesotans or Floridians, Virginians or … ) that he or she is listening and understands our communities, our nation, and our world. 

Throughout the months leading up to the general election, the ELCA Advocacy Ministries invite you to join us on our own tour of the U.S. Through our blog, Voices for Change, we will travel to a different state each month, discussing issues of concern for their communities and exploring how they connect to our larger nation and world. As we hear how Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) advocates and congregations are serving their neighbors, we will ask ourselves what was asked of Christ, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), when grappling with these challenging problems. 

On this trip across America, we won’t be winning super-delegates or collecting endorsements — rather we’ll be sharing stories from ELCA advocates and congregations as they lift up moral priorities facing our neighbors who are near and far away. We invite you to discover America with us over these next few months. 

Safe travels,

The ELCA Washington Office

 

Our first stop is New Mexico, where ELCA congregations serve and advocate in response to widespread hunger. 

To be notified of new blog postings, click here.