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A Just World Where All Are Fed – and Safe


“Peace and the end of conflicts are fundamental in the battle against hunger.” – Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

For those of us old enough to remember, it is hard to imagine that nearly twenty years have passed since the World Trade Center towers graced the New York City skyline. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 brought into striking relief for Americans and neighbors the world over the vulnerability under which we live – and the threat posed by those who would exploit that vulnerability. 9/11 made clear that terrorism was a threat that could not be ignored, no matter how strong the walls or wide the oceans that might seem to offer protection from it.

In the days after, it became clear that the US and its allies would soon be at war, though few knew just how long the conflicts following 9/11 would last. As military preparations began and continued for more than a decade after, it also became clear that renewed energy for peace-building was also needed, to establish a just peace that strengthened institutions against violence and corruption, protected communities from terrorism, and fostered resilience to conflict.

Against this background, the member nations of the UN laid out the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a framework for encouraging development toward peace and prosperity for people and the planet. SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions – directly addresses the need for equal access to justice and protection of rights for all people. The goal makes clear what many have already known – without justice, there is no peace.

SDG 16 doesn’t stand alone, however. The need for justice and peace is closely tied to SDG 2 – Zero Hunger. Without justice, there is no peace. And without a just peace, there will always be hunger.

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) bear this out. After decades of decline, global hunger has been on the rise since 2014, driven by conflict within countries in the developing world. The FAO found that in 2017, 489 million of the 815 million undernourished people around the world lived in countries facing conflict, violence and/or fragility. The growth in global hunger also correlated with a growth in non-state violence, which increased 125% between 2010 and 2017.

To be fair, the FAO understands “conflict” broadly, but terrorism is not without ties to hunger and poverty, too. Studies about these ties often look in one direction, trying to see if poverty and hunger are drivers of terrorism. But more recently, the research has started to look the other way, too, identifying the ways that terrorism and other forms of violence can make people more vulnerable to hunger and poverty. In a study of northern Nigeria, for example, researchers found that Boko Haram, a terrorist organization known for its kidnapping of schoolgirls in 2014, significantly disrupted markets through a series of attacks. As one respondent put it,

“People are afraid of coming to the market, me too am afraid. This market have been attacked many times, while perishable goods left wasted each time of attack causing many traders into incurring debt (sic).”

Attacks along roads to markets have also made it harder to exchange goods between markets. Threats of violence have significantly reduced access to food and left traders, particularly farmers selling their produce, vulnerable to debt and poverty. The recent debate over funding for health care expenses for rescue workers in the US following 9/11 highlights yet another way that terrorism and violence can leave individuals and families vulnerable to financial insecurity. Getting treatment for injuries and illnesses incurred as a result of the attacks left many workers and their families saddled with medical bills and lost income still felt today, 18 years later.

Terrorism isn’t the only type of violence that can increase food insecurity. Conflicts in places like Syria and Yemen, for example, have forced people from their homes and livelihoods, leaving them especially vulnerable to hunger. Interpersonal violence, too, particularly violence against women and children, is another significant cause of hunger. Often, violence or the threat of violence is used against women to prevent them from defending their rights or pursuing their vocations, as a 2004 study in the Journal of Poverty found. This is one of the many ties between SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and another of the SDGs, SDG 5 – Gender Equality.

The ELCA, through ELCA World Hunger, is working with fellow member churches of the Lutheran World Federation toward these Sustainable Development Goals as part of the “Waking the Giant” initiative. Together, we are lifting up the ways that churches and communities around the world are addressing the complex causes and effects of hunger, violence, and injustice and encouraging one another to deepen our efforts. We know that achieving any one of the SDGs will require a holistic response that addresses the other goals. If we want to end hunger, we must work for peace. If we desire a just peace, we must work for equality.

Certainly, as the refrain goes, we can “never forget” 9/11. But we should add to this the active commitment to “be ever mindful,” particularly of the ways that violence continues to threaten communities around the world, sometimes in the starkness of violent attacks but often in the pernicious effects of fear, instability, insecurity and hunger.

The pervasiveness of sin renders the world God has created a threatening place for us and our neighbors. The tragedy of violent attacks and the tribulation of undernourishment are painful, powerful reminders of how far we yet remain from the world which God has intended and promised for us. And yet, the hope enlivened by individual acts of courage and collective movements toward resilience reminds us that in the world as it is, too, God remains present – mourning as we mourn, and ever inviting us to share in the work of reconciliation and restoration.

We lift our voices in prayer, as lamentation for those who have been lost to violence and as invocation of hope in the transformative power of God to fill our needs – for food, for safety, for community. As a church, we pray for peace. We pray for justice. We pray for an end to hunger. And we pray knowing that each of these petitions is tied together in one single, holy plea to God for a just world where all may experience well-being and security amid the goodness of God’s creation.

Or, in other words, a world where all may be fed.



Remembering 9/11, 15 Years Later

The Reverend Gil Furst was the Director of Lutheran Disaster Response on 9/11. We are very grateful for his enormous contributions to our collective response to this unprecedented disaster on behalf of the church in collaboration with many partners in the years following the attack. Here is his recollection of how we witnessed God’s hope and light in the midst of destruction and darkness in the aftermath of this seminal event.

Dear friends in Christ,

Fifteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, our lives were radically changed. The World Trade Center destruction in New York and the Pentagon attack near Arlington, Virginia, are among the most significant events in our lives. The needs of those directly affected (e.g., those who lost loved ones, traumatized children, people who lost income, persons harmed or terrified), as well as those who felt the ripple effects of the tragedy, were incalculable.

The scope of the needs was unprecedented. Death totals exceeded many town populations in which our congregations are located. Over 3,000 children lost at least one parent, and tens of thousands of children lost a family member. The Lutheran Counseling Center in New York received 100 calls per day for emotional and spiritual help. Seven ELCA Synods and five LCMS Districts were directly impacted. Nine separate Lutheran social ministry organizations were part of the response. A new agency, Lutheran Disaster Response of New York, was established to focus on coordinating the New York response. As in every disaster, new needs continually arose as the recovery progressed.

The response of the Church was extraordinary. By the end of 2001 nearly $8 million came in directly to the ELCA and LCMS. The insurance fraternals, Aid Association for Lutherans and Lutheran Brotherhood, provided an estimated $10.7 million towards a coordinated Lutheran response, with each fraternal contributing $1 million of corporate funds. But the costs were equally extraordinary.

By the end of 2001 $2.7 million was granted by LDR for specific ministries in New York, New Jersey, and Washington D.C. By the end of 2002, LDR granted to the three responding areas a total of $6.8 million. By the end of 2003, LDR granted to the three areas a total of $9.5 million.

The responses in New Jersey and Washington D.C. concluded at the end of 2003. LDR-New York continued to provide services and coordinate multiple organizations to provide assistance for unmet needs until September 2008.

At the height of the New York response, over 137 separate programs were in operation. Working with the addition of interfaith funding, private organizations, even international donations, the total income for our Lutheran response neared $27 million. Long after other agencies and denominations closed their offices, LDR continued its ministries. As is usually true, the Lutherans were among the first to respond and the last to leave.

The initial components of the response included:

• counseling directly-impacted children, adults, and families
• providing for emergency needs of individuals and families
• supporting the 21,000 students in Lutheran schools (47 students lost primary care-givers in the destruction), including counseling and tuition assistance for children whose families lost their livelihood
• direct care for “Ground Zero” rescue workers
• providing case management for unmet needs of the bereaved and unemployed
• individual emergency assistance
• respite care for clergy, rostered Church leaders, and school staff
• long-term training of clergy for trauma response
• preparing “Camp New Ground” day-camp materials for children traumatized by the attacks
• preparing and distributing recovery materials
• supporting interfaith initiatives in New York, New Jersey, and Washington D.C.
• supporting Church World Service multi-denominational programs.
• advocacy for immigrant and undocumented persons

As the response continued into its second year, new components were added:
• Lutherans led in coordinating dozens of organizations to provide assistance to unmet needs
• “Project LIFE”, a case-management program, was developed to help people access available assistance
• “New Ground” day camps were offered to community children through Lutheran congregations and schools, thirty-eight camps held in New York and New Jersey in the summer of 2002
• Individual and group counseling was expanded
• caregivers were trained for their ministries and provided with respite care
• congregational “ministry teams” were trained to provide care in their communities
• case management was provided to distribute non-profit grants to the economically impacted
• care was given to clergy and school teachers providing “on the ground” ministry
• support was given directly the families of victim’s
• counseling was provided for people traumatized by the disaster
• working with undocumented workers and others who lost employment due to the disaster

740 New Jersey commuters died when the World Trade Center towers were attacked and collapsed. Support was provided for leaders and individuals, unmet needs (in partnership with 128 individuals and agencies), post-traumatic stress counseling network of 15 behavioral healthcare agencies), 15 congregations provided bereavement support groups, grief support, economic assistance, disaster preparedness, and immigration support.

The 9/11 Pentagon attack created a loss of life, a loss of neighbors and colleagues, a loss of jobs and income. Children in Lutheran schools were also affected. One school of 200 children is located near the Pentagon. Children on the playground heard the impact of the plane, saw the fire, heard the sirens. LDR offered extensive long-term trauma counseling to them. LDR also ministered to entry-level workers, immigrants, and new citizens affected by economic issues

Special thanks must be given:
• to our national Church leaders who offered Gospel hope by their presence: the Rev. H. George Anderson (ELCA Presiding Bishop), the Rev. Gerald Kieschnick (President of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), and the Rev. Mark S. Hanson (ELCA Presiding Bishop)

• to the three synod bishops and district presidents who provided incredible leadership for their affected judicatories: President David Benke (Atlantic District) and Bishop Steve Bouman (Metropolitan New York Synod); President William Klettke (New Jersey District) and Bishop E. Roy Riley (New Jersey Synod); Bishop Ted Schneider (Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod) and President Arthur Scherer (Southeastern District)

• to the three LDR coordinators who provided creativity and passion to the Church’s efforts: the Rev. John DiMatteo (Lutheran Social Ministies of NJ), the Rev. David Pearcy (LSS of the National Capitol Area), and John Scibilia (LDR New York).
• to Elaine Richter Bryant and the Rev. Jerry Rux, who served as associate directors of LDR

September 11, 2001, raises images of dust-covered firefighters climbing stairs to rescue people from the World Trade Center towers, and exhausted emergency workers climbing huge piles of rubble searching for survivors. But there are also images of pastors and chaplains offering words of hope or consolation to stunned and shocked survivors. There are teachers calming upset students. There are congregations gathering for worship, and neighbors praying with neighbors. There are piles of letters, offers of help, and generous donations.

Where was God in all this? God was in the ashes and the dust, in the destruction and the blood, reaching out in sorrow and compassion as our hands were reaching out to help. We who are in Christ are people of hope, changed by a resurrected Lord who is always present with God’s people. Where was God? God was there – and God is still there.

From the moment the first plane struck, the Church responded as the Church. And the Church continued to respond for the long haul. We do not come empty-handed to real life situations, even to situations as terrible and global as 9/11. We, the Church, were blessed to be called to serve at such a challenging time. Through your donations, through your prayers, you were there too, along with the firefighters, the recovery workers, the chaplains, the pastors, the counselors, the families of victims.

As in all disasters, those who suffer are supported by God’s healing grace. Those who respond are God’s enfolding arms and healing hands, providing comfort and renewal by word and deed.

Gilbert B. Furst
Retired Director
Lutheran Disaster Response