In July 2023, four leaders from across the United States joined ELCA World Hunger and the Lutheran Office for World Community in New York City as delegates of the Lutheran World Federation at the 2023 United Nations High-Level Political Forum. The forum was an opportunity for UN member states, agencies and organizations to share updates on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. As our delegation learned, progress against the goals has been slow and, in some cases, has reversed. The delegation, representing the 149 member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, including the ELCA, was able to hear from leaders around the world, meet other advocates, connect with staff from the ELCA’s advocacy office in Washington, DC, listen to stories of changes and challenges, and consider together how each of us can be part of the work toward the Sustainable Development Goals in our communities.
Below is a reflection from one of the participants, Pastor Brianna Lloyd. Rev. Lloyd currently serves as pastor of Ka Hana O Ke Akua church (UCC) on the leeward side of Oʻahu and an alum of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary’s Center for Climate Justice and Faith, which is supported in part by ELCA World Hunger. Click here to read a reflection from Kitty Opplliger, who joined Rev. Lloyd as part of the delegation to the UN.
I didnʻt know it at the time, but as we began our week at the UN High Level Political Forum, a boat from Japan, advocating for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, had docked in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. The Peace Boat, a Japan-based NGO with a U.S. presence at the United Nations, ended its 114th voyage in Honolulu with a “Pledge to Our Keiki”—a commitment to the children of Hawaiʻi for a future of sustainable tourism. The “Pledge to Our Keiki” signing ceremony was organized in partnership with the nonprofits Kanu Hawaii and Blue Planet Alliance, along with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Oahu Visitors Bureau, Alaska Airlines and other groups. These groups were and are bringing some of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to life in the particular context and community that is Hawaiʻi.
As our group in New York listened to the many discussions in the conference rooms of the UN, we had to bridge the gap between discussions of pressing global issues, with broad, sweeping language, and our own contexts. The week was a practice of translation, and the practice continues in the days and weeks following the event. For example, what does Goal 6: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” mean in my context of Hawaiʻi?
My own journey to the UN began with some advocacy work related to the Navy’s fuel spills on Oʻahu at Kapūkakī (Red Hill), affecting thousands of military and civilian families. Over the course of this past year, as the Navy flushed the fuel from the groundwater, they or their contractors used nearly five billion gallons of water, while those of us living on Oʻahu were asked to limit our own use of water. The Oʻahu Water Protectors and community leaders, such as Wayne Tanaka of the Hawaiʻi Sierra Club and Native Hawaiian community leader Healani Sonoda-Pale, continue to fight to protect the sacred water reserves of Oʻahu and to hold the Navy accountable to its mission of service and protection. I believe their work addresses Goal 6. There are many other organizations, groups, and events around Hawaiʻi—like Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi and the Pledge to Our Keiki—that are working at a similar goal.
As we follow up from our week attending the HLPF, I understand anew that translation and communication from the ground here in Hawaiʻi and other local communities to larger bodies like ELCA World Hunger and the Lutheran World Federation, and vice-versa, are essential threads to galvanize the work. One of the most well-known quotes from Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last reigning monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi before the Kingdom was illegally overthrown by American businessman, goes, in part, like this: “You must remember never to cease to act because you fear you may fail.”
There is much being done everywhere. Perhaps we might draw hope from one another.