Stories from the Global Church

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

Latin American Lutherans in communion with the world

Posted on June 28, 2011 by Hand In Hand

As ELCA regional representatives in South America, Kate Lawler and David Wunsch are a bridge between the ELCA and companion churches in Argentina-Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Chile.

David talking with Pastor Emilo Aslla Flores, recently elected president of the Lutheran church in Bolivia.

David talking with Pastor Emilo Aslla Flores, recently elected president of the Lutheran church in Bolivia.

Pastors Armando Capcha of Peru and Alan Eldrid of Argentina/Uruguay.

Pastors Armando Capcha of Peru and Alan Eldrid of Argentina/Uruguay.

One of our great pleasures is introducing our “old” friends to new ones. We get to do that a lot in our work with the Lutheran church leaders in this part of South America. We would like all of you to also meet some of these terrific people pictured here. As you remember Kate and me in your prayers, please lift them up as well. Without them, our ministry would not be possible.

These photos were taken at an annual gathering of Lutheran leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean held this year in Argentina under the auspices of the Lutheran World Federation communion of churches. With one exception – Brazil – these churches are very small and gain strength from coming together to discuss topics like sustainable strategies for mission, leadership development, gender justice and advocacy with others who share the same confessional identity.

A quote from Thomas Merton’s “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” helps explain what it means to be in communion as we gather around the table of the Lord with our brothers and sisters from across the globe:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. … The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. … There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. … I suddenly saw the secret beauty in the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor knowledge can reach the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.”

Merton’s words remind us that our relationship with God cannot be complete without the other in our midst. As first responders to God’s love for us, we seek to love and see the stranger’s heart through God’s eyes. Communion with God is a gift God has given us and one we should celebrate at all times.

With peace and thanksgiving,
David

P.S. Thank you sponsoring congregations for remembering our ministry in your newsletters, the constant prayers, the cards and gifts you send to us and our kids, and for you faithful and generous financial support. Our mailbox overfloweth!

Missionary Moment: Kate Lawler

Posted on March 15, 2010 by Hand In Hand

From Kate Lawler, ELCA Global Mission regional representative for South America, is based in Argentina.  Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Why can’t I remember their ages?

Sunday school in our congregation in Buenos Aires started up yesterday. This meant the joy of reuniting with children and others we didn’t see during the nearly three months that we were in the United States on home assignment.  I woke up at 3 am last night, asking myself: Why can’t I remember their ages?

Leonel is 3 and a half feet tall, weighs less than 50 lbs. and has never gone to school. He is 7.

Graciela  is expecting her first baby and sells second-hand clothes 12 hours a day in the market. She is 13.

Alfredo went fishing with a man his family doesn’t know. They drank beer and smoked paco. He is 9.

Ana gets up every day at 5 am, does the housework, cooks and gets her brothers ready for school. She is 15.

Carla lives a block away from girls who threaten her with a knife when she walks by. She is 11.

Elisa struggles as she prepares for First Communion because she does not read or write. She is 35.

Marcos looked up from his pizza during lunch yesterday and said, “at night I can’t sleep.” He is 4.

I can’t remember their ages because something deep inside me refuses to accept these realities that betray the images I have of what it means to be 4 or 13 or 35.

As I struggle to get back to sleep, the only prayer that comes to mind are the words of Carlos Mujica, an Argentine priest and tireless human rights defender who worked with people living in the shantytowns of Buenos Aires. He was assassinated in 1974, a couple years before the military dictatorship here started.

Lord, forgive me for having grown accustomed to seeing children who look 8 but are 13.
Lord, forgive me for having grown accustomed to splashing through the mud; I can leave, they cannot.
Lord, forgive me for having learned to put up with the smell of sewerage water, from which I can leave, but they cannot.
Lord, forgive me for turning on a light, and forgetting that they cannot.
Lord, I can go on a hunger strike but they cannot because no one makes a strike out of their own hunger.
Lord, forgive me for saying “man does not live by bread alone,” and not fighting with all my might so that they get their bread.
Help me.
Lord, I dream about dying for them: help me to live for them.
Lord, I want to be with them at the hour of light.
Help me.
–“Meditation from a Shantytown” by Father Carlos Mujica (1930-1974)

Kate Lawler

Hand in Hand hospitality

Posted on February 18, 2010 by Hand In Hand

A missionary family: David Wunsch, Kate Lawler, Emily and Matthew

A couple of days ago our family boarded a plane from Boston to Buenos Aires and our 2.5 month home assignment came to an end.  As we now reflect on what this time back in the United States has meant to us, the image of the medieval pilgrimage comes to mind.  Medieval pilgrims usually set out toward a specific destination in light of a particular event. They traveled to be eyewitnesses of sacred events and places. They went seeking first-hand knowledge and experiences of a particular way God can “break into” human lives and transform us for God’s own purposes.  In our case, the destination has been into the heart and hearths of congregations and homes.  The event has been the celebration of our shared faith in Christ and our connection through global mission.

As with the medieval tradition of showing hospitality to pilgrims and wayfarers — who were warmed by the glowing embers of the hearths of inns and homes along the way — we were generously received in congregations and homes.  We were welcomed with potlucks replete with delicious food as we gathered around tables for joyful fellowship.  We helped complete the circles around Communion tables and joined our voices  in prayer and songs of thanksgiving and praise. We were privileged to be invited into the intimacy of many homes to swap stories over cups of tea and coffee.  

The hospitality we experienced sustained us along the way and strengthened us for our journey back to our ministry in South America. Visiting local missions and ministries energized us with a renewed sense of passion and purpose.  Like the pilgrims who returned to their ordinary lives with so many tales from afar, we return with all the richness of the life and faith stories that you have shared with us.

Tomorrow we leave for a camping retreat with the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) volunteers who are serving in Argentina and Uruguay this year.  It will be like the crossroads where the paths of several pilgrims meet as we share tales of our travels with them and hear their stories from these months that we have been away.

In Christ, Kate and David
¡Vivamos en la sorprendente gracia de Dios!

Giving thanks: Kathryn Lawler and David Wunsch

Posted on November 26, 2009 by Twila Schock

This is the next in a series of “Give thanks!” moments offered by ELCA missionaries and sponsors. Learn more about Operation Thanks-Giving at http://wwww.elca.org/handinhand. –Pr. Twila Schock.

Kathryn Lawler and David Wunsch write, Our Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program in Argentina and Uruguay has the tradition of spending Thanksgiving at an ecumenical retreat center on an ecological farm in rural Uruguay.  Growing up in a northern climate, I always associated Thanksgiving with the end-of-harvest cornucopia, a symbol of abundance and prosperity.  Here Thanksgiving comes in late Spring and at a time, just three months into the YAGM volunteers’ year of service, when they are grappling with themes of abundance and scarcity.  During our Thanksgiving time together we often reflect with new eyes on the abundance that we could not see when we were in the midst of it.  We also reflect on the abundance in the midst of scarcity that we experience in our new host communities.  In addition to the cornucopia, our lives become enriched with new symbols of abundance, even in the midst of scarcity and poverty:  for example the abundance of hospitality you experience when you are greeted with a kiss on the cheek when you walk into a room or when the communal maté (traditional tea) gourd is passed to you, a silent gesture letting you know that you belong.”

LawlerWunschELCA missionaries Kathryn Lawler and David Wunsch serve as the ELCA’s regional representatives in South America.  The Lutheran churches of Latin America have heard the cry of the poor.   In response, they provide a holistic ministry that serves the community and blends Word and Sacrament, advocacy, and diaconal ministries in human rights, gender and economic justice, education and health.  ELCA missionaries supply ministry-building skills as requested by companion churches and grants support projects that address social and economic issues, as well as leadership development.

Friday night Bible dates

Posted on May 24, 2009 by Anne Edison-Albright

I am a very fortunate fellow. I have a standing date every Friday night with Kate, my wife. The babysitter comes, the pizza goes in the oven, the kid’s video is all ready to go, quick good-bye hugs, and we are off, zooming down one of grand avenues of Buenos Aires, fighting Friday evening traffic en route to I.S.E.D.E.T, the ecumenical seminary where we take a single course, Iniciación Bíblica, or “Bible Initiation.”

The objectives of the Bible Initiation course are to read the Bible in one year, acquiring a general knowledge of Old and New Testament Books. A Friday night “Bible date” may sound dull, but when I pick up the Bible to prepare for class I can feel my heart rate go up, a butterfly or two in my stomach, and my mood improve.

These “first date” type feelings reveal that Bible dating is about growing a relationship with God. In the human-human realm, dating involves mutually exploring who that “other” is, what makes him or her tick, laugh, cry and love. Dating God is different. God already “knows” us intimately in the true Hebrew sense. What is astounding for me personally, though, is that engaging God’s message in Biblical texts is refreshing and renewing the most important relationship I will ever have: the one I have with Jesus Christ.

So, to add some excitement in your life, add regular Bible dates to you calendar. Open your Bible; read it, struggle with it, and let God breathe new life into the relationship that binds you to God´s saving grace for the world. –David Wunch

img_4633-798271David Wunch and Kate Lawler are ELCA missionaries in South America. They serve as Regional Representatives and coordinate the Young Adult in Global Mission site in Argentina.