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Regenerating Life: Watch and Meet the Filmmaker

Event information image. All information below on page.

Lutherans Restoring Creation and ELCA World Hunger are eager to share a resource faith communities can use to start discussions and inspire community-based-solutions to grow climate justice, as part of the One Home, One Future collaborative.

Regenerating Life: How to Cool the Planet, Feed the World, and Live Happily Ever After offers attainable solutions to the climate crisis through an ecological approach that unpacks the social and environmental crises confronting us.

Join us Tuesday Feb 27th at 8:00 pm ET/7:00 CT/6:00 MT/5:00 PT/4:00AK for film highlights & discussion with the filmmaker, John Feldman. You can view the trailer here.

Register now (click here) to gain free temporary access to this three-part documentary film, to watch at your convenience before we spend an hour meeting with the filmmaker and considering how best to share this multifaceted resource within our communities. You are also encouraged to start planning a screening for a larger group gathering in your own context to imagine together what your community’s next most faithful step can be. There is a curriculum in development to help us grow into answering the call from this remarkable collection of voices across the globe.

Once you register for this event, look for a follow-up email with your private link to stream the film. Please be sure to join the online discussion, even if you don’t get a chance to watch it in entirety before we meet.  We will be watching a few minutes of highlights together for a shared experience before starting the conversation with the filmmaker.

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New Data Show Trends, Challenge Old Wisdom

Knowing the numbers for hunger and poverty can go a long way to helping us talk about the issues accurately and craft effective, forward-looking responses. For those who share with their congregation information about hunger and poverty, these numbers can also be helpful in putting together presentations or workshops.

There are several sources for data that are particularly reliable and useful[1]:

  • The World Bank’s poverty report;
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) annual “State of Food Security” report;
  • The US Census Bureau’s annual reports on poverty and income; and
  • The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) annual “Food Security in the US” report.

We are still waiting for the release of the USDA’s report, hopefully within the next week, but already, the data are showing some troubling trends and some surprising shifts in understanding hunger and poverty.

Rather than litter this post with a ton of footnotes, the sources are summarized below.

Information and infographics about global hunger and food security come from:
FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2023. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023.
Urbanization, agrifood systems transformation and healthy diets across the rural–urban continuum. Rome, FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cc3017en
Information and infographics about incomes in the United States come from:
Gloria Guzman and Melissa Kollar, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-279, Income in the United States: 2022, U.S. Government Publishing Office, Washington, DC, September 2023.
Information and infographics about poverty in the United States come from:
Emily A. Shrider and John Creamer, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-280, Poverty in the United States: 2022, U.S. Government Publishing Office, Washington, DC, September 2023.

 

Global Hunger

The first troubling trend in the data is that the spike in hunger we have seen in recent years has not eased. Hunger is still “far above pre-pandemic levels” (FAO, 2023, viii). In 2022, between 690 and 783 million people were hungry. If we look at the middle of this range – 735 million – we find about 122 million more people hungry in 2022 than in 2019 (613 million.) The prevalence of undernourishment, which is the measure the FAO uses to determine the rate of hunger, has increased from 7.9% in 2019 to 9.2% in 2022 – nearly 1 in 11 people around the world.

Prevalence and number of undernourished people globally, 2023 (FAO)

Fortunately, that’s come down a bit from 2021. There were about 3.8 million fewer people facing hunger in 2022 compared to 2021, but the number remains remarkably high. The rate of hunger in 2022 was a slight decrease from 9.3% in 2021, but still the highest rate since 2005. In some areas, especially Africa, Western Asia and the Caribbean, hunger continues to rise, in part because of reliance on more expensive exports.

We see even more concerning news if we turn to another measure the FAO reports, namely food security. While the prevalence of undernourishment measures long-term, chronic signs of hunger, the FAO also reports on food security, which is a shorter-term measure of people’s access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food year-round.[2] In 2022, 2.4 billion people were food-insecure, an increase of 391 million people since 2019, relatively unchanged from 2021. This means nearly 30% of people around the world cannot reliably access the food they need.

What is keeping hunger and food insecurity so high?

For starters, one critical factor is the war in Ukraine. The FAO estimates that, without the war, 23 million people would not have faced hunger in 2022. Another factor is rising costs. Food is more expensive, fuel is more expensive and incomes haven’t risen to match the jump in prices. Many countries at risk of hunger are dependent on exports. The “world food import bill,” which measures how much is spent globally on the import of food and food products, reached nearly US$2 trillion in 2022, the highest on record and an increase of 10% from 2021. This puts enormous pressures on importing countries and translates into much steeper prices for consumers. The cost for imports of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer (a huge export of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus), was even more staggering – $424 billion in 2022, an increase of 48% from 2021. Put together, it’s more expensive to bring food in and significantly more expensive to produce food in-country.

One of the trends impacting hunger and the cost of food is urbanization. More and more people globally are moving into large cities or closer to cities. By 2050, nearly 7 in 10 people worldwide are expected to live in cities. The result of this shift, according to the FAO, is that the old framework of a rural-urban divide simply doesn’t match the world as it is. In general, as people move toward cities, their economic prospects grow, and their risk of hunger and poverty decreases (slightly.) The problem we are seeing now, though, is rapid urbanization without economic growth. While we used to think of hunger as primarily a rural issue globally, the data point us toward understanding the need to attend to a continuum of rural-to-urban, including people who live in the in-between spaces between cities and rural areas.

As people move into cities, their diets change, and this presents a challenge to traditional thinking about hunger. For years, the truism has been that the world produces enough food to meet everyone’s needs. That might not be the case going forward. Between diets changing and more people moving away from food production in rural areas, the FAO finds that “the availability of vegetables and fruits, in particular, is insufficient to meet the daily dietary requirements in almost every region of the world” (FAO, 2023, xxii; 62). The reality seems to be that the world doesn’t produce enough food for everyone in every region to enjoy a healthy diet. Hunger isn’t just a problem of access but of production that meets changing needs – and changing understandings of nutrition and health.

The availability of food groups to meet a healthy diet (FAO)

 

Another surprising finding is that, in most of the countries the FAO analyzed, the majority of food consumed in rural households is purchased, not produced. This, too, challenges the traditional picture of rural subsistence farmers relying solely on food they grow or produce and makes the relationship between access and production more complex. The reality is that, in rural areas, the share of food that is produced by a household represents only about 33-37% of the food they consume, according to the FAO. The rest is purchased from grocery stores, street vendors or other suppliers.

There are a couple of consequences here. First, the growth in food purchases also means, in many cases, increased consumption of highly-processed foods, which can have lower nutritional value. This may mean that improving food security and nutrition will require new regulations to incentivize healthy eating and prevent exposure to unsafe foods, especially convenience foods purchased from street vendors. Second, focusing on increasing yields and production among rural farmers is important but may need to be combined with other efforts. It may also be important to focus on ways to generate income and to connect people to markets, particularly through improved infrastructure, such as navigable roads. That said, there still needs to be a focus on increasing farming production, especially of fruits and vegetables but also of staple grains, to meet the growing needs of an urbanizing population and to build resilience to shocks to export markets, as we’re seeing with the war in Ukraine.

The long-and-short of it is that the data suggest that the world may face a problem of not producing enough food to meet the changing diets of the world, and rural subsistence, as we tend to envision it, doesn’t completely reflect people’s actual dietary lives. These are huge shifts in our understanding.

Poverty and Income in the United States

As mentioned above, we are still waiting for new data on food security, but we do have information on income and poverty, courtesy of the US Census Bureau.

In 2022, the official poverty rate in the US was 11.5%, representing about 37.9 million people living in poverty. The good news is this wasn’t significantly different from 2021; the bad news is that this rate is far too high and still slightly higher than in 2019, before the pandemic.

Number of people in poverty and poverty rate over time in the US (US Census Bureau)

 

One thing to note in the data is geographic differences in poverty. While people living in every type of setting – city, suburb, rural– face vulnerability to poverty, the highest rate of poverty in the US is found “outside metropolitan statistical areas” or, in other words, rural areas. Fifteen percent of people living in rural areas in 2022 experienced poverty, compared to 11.0% living in urban centers (“metropolitan statistical areas.”) In principal cities themselves, poverty remained above 14% for 2022. So, the picture of poverty in the US as being primarily urban is not quite borne out by research; rural areas actually experience poverty at a slightly higher rate.

In addition to the official poverty measure, the US Census Bureau also calculates a Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM.) You can read more about the differences here, but one of the interesting things the SPM lets us see is how certain safety net programs and benefits help alleviate poverty. It also allows us to estimate how much certain costs contribute to poverty. Moreover, it determines the threshold of income that is “in poverty” a bit differently.

One important caveat before getting into the numbers: the numbers below are from the Supplemental Poverty Measure, not the official poverty measure. While they are illuminating and help us to analyze poverty more deeply, they should not be used as a replacement for the official poverty measure.

Here is where the news gets a bit frustrating, to be honest. We knew when the Child Tax Credit was expanded that we would see a rapid reduction in child poverty, and we did. Of course, that expansion and COVID-19 stipends expired in 2022, so the rate of child poverty in the US went up, as we knew it would. In fact, between 2021 and 2022, according to the SPM, child poverty more than doubled, from 5.4% in 2021 to 12.4% in 2022. At the same time, the official poverty rate for children stayed relatively stable, showing the deep impact the Child Tax Credit expansion had on child poverty. Perhaps even more worrisome is that the share of children in households with income of less than half of the poverty line also doubled, showing an increase of more than 100% for children living in what is considered deep poverty. Increases in deep poverty were true across the board for all age groups. The share of the population with resources below 50 percent of the SPM poverty threshold increased for every age group in the US. What this may point to is the way in which tax credits and stimulus payments had had a particularly significant impact on people living in deep poverty. What it also suggests is that ending poverty for households, even households in deep poverty, is not impossible; progress just takes bold but doable policy choices.

Child poverty – supplemental poverty measure vs. official poverty measure, US (US Census Bureau)

 

From the SPM, we can also get an idea of how effective certain public programs were in keeping people out of poverty in 2022. As the graph below indicates, for example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly food stamps) and the National School Lunch Program lifted 5.1 million people out of poverty, while out-of-pocket medical expenses moved 7.1 million people into poverty, which means that, after medical expenses are subtracted from their resources, more than 7 million people had household resources below the poverty line.

Supplemental poverty measure – the impact of various sources of income or costs (US Census Bureau)

 

In terms of income, real median household income in the US decreased 2.3% between 2021 and 2022, from an estimated $76,330 per household to $74,580. More people were working full-time, year-round, but real median earnings of workers (including both part-time and full-time) decreased 2.2%. For just full-time, year-round workers, the drop in earnings was 1.3% from 2021 to 2022. So, the next time someone complains about how workers “these days” earn so much, you can gently and gracefully remind them that earnings are lower now than they were last year when accounting for inflation– at the same time (and partially because) goods cost so much more.

 

Credit: US Census Bureau, 2023

 

Moreover, the next time someone says, “People just don’t want to work anymore,” it might be helpful to point out that the number of full-time, year-round workers increased 3.4% between 2021 and 2022, compared to an overall increase in workers of 1.7%, which, according to the US Census Bureau, suggests that what we are actually seeing is a shift from part-time work to full-time, year-round work. The percentage of people 16 years and older who were in the labor force in 2022 was 63.5% – not much different from the 63.6% 5-year average from 2017-2021.

In terms of racial disparities in real median income, White and non-Hispanic White households experienced a decrease of 3.5% and 3.6%, respectively, while the change in income for other racial groups was not statistically different from 2021. This change may be because of long-term income disparities. White and non-Hispanic White workers tend to be paid disproportionately higher incomes than other racial groups, sometimes as much as 25-100% higher, and still, despite the modest decrease, get paid real median incomes of $108,700 per year per household, the highest among racial groups. Further analysis shows that the losses in real median income nationwide largely occurred in middle and high income brackets, so this makes some sense.

This drop in middle and high incomes means that income inequality was lower in 2022 than in 2021. In fact, the US Census Bureau reports that 2022 represented the first drop in the Gini coefficient – a common measure of income inequality – since 2007. There is some good news there, though, if we look at other measurements, such as the mean logarithmic deviation of income, which is a bit more sensitive to changes at the lower end of the income spectrum, we still see income inequality at the highest rate it has been since 1967, with the exception of 2021, of course.

What this means is that, yes, income inequality decreased because of drops in income at the middle- and high-income levels. But when the lowest 20% of income earners draw in only 3% of the total income of the country, and the highest 20% get more than 52% of the total income, can we really say that we are making headway on inequality? Probably not. There’s more work to be done.

Where to go from here?

“More work to be done” is a good way to sum up what we can learn from the data. Certainly, we are nowhere near the worst of projections from the early months of the pandemic. But we are also a far cry from the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2050.

We know, though, that things do not have to be this way. We have come a long way from where we were as a country and a world in 1974, when the Lutheran hunger appeals that became ELCA World Hunger began. As we look ahead to the 50th anniversary of this ministry next year, we do so with hope and faith. Hunger and poverty are not givens. What the last few years’ worth of data demonstrate isn’t the intractability of hunger but the risk our world runs when we collectively ease up on progress toward ending hunger and poverty.

Working together, learning from one another, listening to each other, advocating together and creating spaces for communities to build trust and address the injustices that create vulnerability will all be important steps along the way.

 

[1] What makes data “reliable and useful”? One of the first things to consider is whether the sources of data describe their methods, including limitations of the data. This can help point to whether the data are reliable or not. Another factor to consider is consistency. The agencies named in the list use the same methods year after year, so data can be compared over time, and they report any changes to methods that might impact comparability.

[2] In the past few years, there has been more attention to “food crises” around the world and reports that use a measurement referred to as IPC/CH to determine risk of famine. The FAO has a great explanation of how food crisis measurements compare to undernourishment and food security measurements in the 2023 “State of Food Security” report. See Box 1, page 12 of the report.

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Celebrating 2023 “Holy Cow Award” in Northwestern Minnesota

The article below was originally published on the “Our Synod Stories” webpage of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. It is re-posted with permission from – and gratitude for – the synod and the author, Pastor Devlyn Brooks, a member of the synod’s storytelling team.

Since its charter as a Lutheran church in 1960, Calvary Lutheran Church in Perham, Minn., has always had a heart for supporting missions outside their church walls, says Associate Pastor Eric Clapp.

So, it wasn’t a surprise when the Northwestern Minnesota Synod bishop’s staff announced at this year’s synod assembly that Calvary had again won the synod’s cherished “Holy Cow Award” for a second consecutive year and a third time overall. But, according to Pastor Clapp, while the congregation’s reaction was that it was generally “cool” to win the award again, that is not the church’s motivation when it comes to its culture of giving.

“Calvary has always had a strong spirit for mission support to the synod; the congregation is proactive in giving,” Clapp said. “You give no matter what, even when things look bad. And when things are good, then even more.”

In its 11-year history in our synod, only four churches have claimed the award, with Calvary’s three wins second only to  Little Norway Lutheran Church’s (Fertile, Minn.) five titles. Calvary Lutheran Church in Little Sauk has won twice, and Immanuel Lutheran in Wadena once.

First dreamt up by a hunger justice committee in the Northeast Minnesota Synod nearly 20 years ago, the “Holy Cow Award” has since been adopted by the Northwestern Minnesota and South Dakota synods as well.

The beauty of the “Holy Cow Award,” Clapp said, is that any church in the synod has a chance to win because the award is based on a formula that includes a church’s giving to the ELCA World Hunger per member, in addition to its mission support directly to the synod in a given fiscal year. So, the award is annually within every church’s reach, big or small. Calvary Lutheran worships about 200-230 per week in the summer and 250-300 the rest of the year.

This past fiscal year, Calvary found itself with an operating overage, and its leaders asked the congregation where they would like to invest the funds. The decision was to split it equally into four mission areas, meaning that they donated $12,500 to ELCA World Hunger.

“We didn’t necessarily set out to win it; we just keep doing what we’re doing,” Clapp said. “The intent is to give and to share. This is who we are; this is what we’ve always done.”

Clapp said jokingly that there hasn’t been talk about a Calvary three-peat yet, but now given the idea, it just may provide some motivation for the church’s giving team!

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Reflecting on the United Nations High-Level Political Forum, Part III

 

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 Willie F. Korboi. Willie is Regional Representative of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA), Media and Publicity Chairperson of the Association of Liberian Lutherans in the Americas (ALLIA), and Digital Evangelical Minister at Peoples’ Community Evangelical Lutheran Church, Baltimore. You can read other reflections from participants in this event here and here.

The author by quote in UN building: “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”

Representing the Lutheran World Federation and the ELCA World Hunger program at the 2023 UN High-Level Political Forum (UN HLPF) was a remarkable experience. The UN HLPF allowed me to witness the extensive efforts undertaken by governments, civil society organizations, faith-based organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was interesting to note the repeated emphasis on “collective action” among the conversations and the recognition of the importance of collective action in realizing the SDGs.

This annual global event also afforded me the opportunity for networking, learning and knowledge-sharing, exposure to new ideas, awareness of global challenges, and a sense of my own contribution.

Like my colleagues, I engaged in activities of key interest, including thematic discussions, presentations, and side events with inter-faith organizations. My engagements on the SDGs mainly focused on conversations regarding eradicating hunger, poverty reduction, climate action, gender equality, access to education and healthcare, and the protection of children.

It was intriguing to learn at the side events session highlighting the role of the private sector as a driving force behind achieving the SDGs. Collaborative efforts involving governments, civil society and the private sector are crucial in realizing sustainable development. The emphasis on working together aligns with the initial vision set forth when the SDGs were launched.

During our time in New York, our group was able to attend a meeting of faith-based groups to learn and talk about the protection of children. The conversation on the protection of children within the context of faith-based initiatives was thought-provoking. The discussion centered around children’s well-being and safety as essential components of sustainable development and how involving faith-based organizations in these discussions can bring unique perspectives and solutions.

A call for action by Rabbi John from Baha’i International during the faith-based gathering highlighted the importance of moving beyond slogans and taking concrete steps to address the challenges facing children. While slogans may raise awareness, practical actions are necessary to make a meaningful impact. This underscores the need for tangible solutions and initiatives that directly address the well-being and protection of children.

I was encouraged that the call for action resonated with everyone at the table during the faith-based gathering. Emphasizing the importance of reporting suspected threats of violence against children is critical in ensuring their safety and well-being. Reporting such incidents can help initiate appropriate interventions and support systems to protect children from harm. This reinforces the notion that individuals have a collective responsibility to act when they witness or become aware of potential dangers to children.

It was also important to note that the discussion highlighted various channels through which individuals can effectively report suspected threats against children. Reporting to child rights advocacy groups, civil society organizations, government authorities through security apparatus and faith-based advocacy groups were all valuable avenues to raise awareness and ensure appropriate action is taken. The essence of these channels could not be over-emphasized, as they play a crucial role in addressing and mitigating risks to children’s well-being. Participants were encouraged to utilize these channels and promote a culture of reporting to protect children from violence and harm.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to ELCA World Hunger, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Lutheran Office for World Community for generously sponsoring my participation at the event. The experience and knowledge gained during this event have been invaluable, providing me with a deeper understanding of global challenges and the SDGs.

With continued support, I hope to create a positive impact, ensuring that the principles discussed at the HLPF translate into tangible improvements for individuals and societies. Once again, thank you, ELCA World Hunger, for investing in my development, and I look forward to making a meaningful difference in the field of education and sustainable development.

Willie with statue of Nelson Mandela inside the UN building

 

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Reflecting on the United Nations High-Level Political Forum

 

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.

Rev. Lloyd and Kitty Oppliger await the start of a session at the UN

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.

Lutheran delegates learn about South Sudan from Presbyterian leaders

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.

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Leaders Join ELCA World Hunger and Witness in Society at the UN

 

This week, 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 delegates, Kitty Oppliger, from southeast Michigan.

I am writing from New York City, my first time to the city, and much less to the UN. Each moment I remain in awe of the humanity, consequence and potential that surrounds me, both inside and outside of the conference rooms. I am honored to have been given this opportunity alongside my patient and gracious hosts/colleagues from the ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation- and quite honestly every moment I question why I was asked to attend such an important event. Nevertheless, God has placed me here, and I know I can best serve God’s will by being present, aware and authentic.

Each day has been full of challenges and beauty, conversation and contemplation, tears and laughter. The moments of reflection that have been built into our schedule are valuable times to integrate the vast volumes of information coming at us. Devotion and prayer allow me to stay focused on the One who brought me here and is sustaining me throughout. I am learning so much, but centering God above all keeps me from plunging into the depths of overwhelm and fatigue.

Delegates wait for the Food and Agriculture Organization to launch the annual State of Food Security Report

Looking ahead, we have work to do. We have connections to make, voices to uplift, harms to heal, attitudes to align. This can seem an insurmountable task. During one of our devotions, our group reflected upon the feeling of smallness and inadequacy facing the challenges raised during the daily sessions. Even so, I am heartened by the enthusiasm and passion shared by so many here at this year’s High-Level Political Forum. Civil society participants of many ages, genders, nationalities and backgrounds demonstrate the diversity of groups committed to ensuring a future in which the Sustainable Development Goals may one day be realized. We must boldly challenge the status quo and demand that governments put aside corporate and political interests in the interest of serving the achieving a just and equitable world. We cannot stand by in silence as those in power continue to disenfranchise those without.

Our small cohort here in NYC is returning home to far-flung environments, in Hawai’i, Michigan, Ohio and Georgia. A repeated sentiment throughout the week has been the importance of community-based, “contextually intelligent” (credit to Calla Gilson for this term) action: giving those affected by national policy and international changes a chance to voice their concerns and be truly heard. I know that my ears have been opened and my heart left raw. They will remain primed for hearing the stories and voices of the most vulnerable in my own community. My prayer is that we will all seek to see Christ in all our neighbors, that we will strive to walk along this difficult road together, led by our Creator.

Kitty Oppliger, MPH

 

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New ELCA World Hunger Director!

 

Join us in welcoming Haemin Lee, the new director of ELCA World Hunger, who will lead the amazing team working with ELCA World Hunger’s domestic and international grants! Welcome, Haemin!

A Greeting from Haemin Lee

Hi, my name is Haemin Lee, and I’m super excited to serve alongside you as Director of World Hunger! I was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. When I was little (probably around three), I came across a pictorial biography of the famous missionary Dr. Albert Schweitzer. His story somehow challenged me so much, and since then, I have always wanted to participate in God’s mission by sharing the love of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.

I completed my B.A. at Yonsei University, which was founded by Horace Underwood, an American Presbyterian missionary. During my college years, I had an opportunity to serve in England and Belgium through a global mission organization. Amid reaching out to Muslim neighbors with Christian friends from all over the world, I felt a strong call to serve God on a global scale. I came to the U.S. in 2002 with a dream to be better prepared to serve – without really knowing anyone in the U.S. and with my entire family back home in South Korea. It was a lonely journey at first, but by the grace of God I met some incredible friends along the way. I earned advanced degrees from Harvard (M.Div.) and Emory (Th.M; Ph.D) with a special focus on Christian Mission, Intercultural Studies and International Development. I was ordained in 2007 as a Presbyterian minister (PCUSA) and have served in various ministry areas, including congregational ministry, hospital chaplaincy and homeless ministry. During this time, God gave me a deep desire to serve the most vulnerable people around the world. This desire ultimately led me to engage in international evangelism and development mission through World Relief, Food for the Hungry International Korea, Presbyterian Mission Agency and Frontier Fellowship. Through these ministries, I traveled to more than 100 different countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America and had the privilege of overseeing numerous mission partnership programs and teaching at Kumi University in Uganda.

I met my amazing wife Nicole in South Africa at a mission conference when she was serving in Tanzania. We got married in her home state of Florida back in 2014 and welcomed a baby daughter, Katie Hayoung (meaning Glory to God in Korea!) in 2019. I like traveling (backpacking adventures!), languages, hiking, playing music and most of all, making new friends while learning about different cultures.

I am very excited to make a collective impact for God’s Mission in our community and the world by collaborating with inspiring colleagues, churches, and community organizations through ELCA! 😊

Blessings, Haemin

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Virtual Tour: Malawi

 

In March 2023, countries in southeastern Africa were hit by one of the most powerful cyclones in memory. Tropical Cyclone Freddy moved across Madagascar, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, bringing torrential rain and powerful winds. Freddy was one of the longest-lasting tropical cyclones and most intense cyclones on record, generating accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) that the World Meteorological Organization has said was equivalent to a full North Atlantic hurricane season.

Church building damaged by cyclone

A church building damaged by Cyclone Freddy

The storm created new challenges and worsened existing challenges in the country of Malawi, where over 70 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to join colleagues from the ELCA in visiting the Blantyre region in southern Malawi to learn more about the impact of the cyclone and to hear about the ways the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi (ELCM) and its development arm, the Evangelical Lutheran Development Service (ELDS), are accompanying communities impacted by hunger, poverty and disaster, with support from ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response.

The stories we heard of the cyclone were devastating. The people who spoke with us told of homes destroyed by winds and rock slides, livestock and fields of crops washed away, and family members lost in the floodwaters. The pain was palpable as they shared their stories and showed us piles of bricks that used to be their homes. Many of the people we met spoke of trauma and a need for both material goods, such as food and clothing, and spiritual and emotional care as they discern a path forward.

Yet, we also heard a bold commitment to continue moving forward, to replant and to rebuild, and to continue making progress against hunger and poverty. “We cannot remain idle,” one woman said. A man from a community near Chimvu echoed her: “We have to keep going.”

men standing in front of bags of meal

Presiding Bishop Joseph Bvumbwe of the ELCM and Rev. Philip Knutson, ELCA regional representative for Southern Africa, stand in front of bags of dry food that will be distributed to communities in need

ELCM and ELDS are accompanying the communities as they forge a new path ahead. With support from Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCM and ELDS are distributing food in areas hit by Tropical Cyclone Freddy. The bags of meal and soya will not meet every need, but they will provide critical food for the hardest-hit communities. And, as we heard, the food is an important symbol of the ongoing presence of ELCM and ELDS within the communities. It is a sign that they are not alone.

Despite the challenges of recovery, the communities accompanied by ELDS and ELCM are also continuing the important long-term work of reducing food insecurity and poverty. With support from ELCA World Hunger, ELDS is working with communities to expand food production, support small businesses and strive for gender justice. Our group had the chance to visit newly planted fields of sweet potatoes and cassava, to learn about women-owned businesses and even to meet some young piglets.

There is much need in the communities we visited, but there are also so many assets and strengths to witness. The leaders in each community inspired us with their hope, determination, creativity and resilience that make it possible for this work to continue.

Below, you have the chance to virtually witness some of this for yourself through a virtual tour of the communities in Zomba and Phalombe. In this virtual tour, you will be able to meet some of the people we visited, to watch as one leader describes her fuel-efficient wood-burning cookstove, to hear the exuberant singing and dancing of the communities and to learn more about how ELCA World Hunger, Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCM and ELDS are partnering together to accompany our neighbors in Malawi.

The virtual tour is accessible on computer or mobile device. Each text box also has an icon for a screen reader. Click on the picture or link below to get started.  Once the tour opens, scroll down just a bit to find a button allowing you to view it full-screen. To navigate, simply click any of the pulsing icons on the pictures. Each icon will pull up a video, picture or text box. You can use the back arrow and the home icon at the top left of the screen to go back or to re-start.

May the people and the stories you encounter in the tour inspire your ongoing prayers for continued recovery from Tropical Cyclone Freddy and inspire your hope and active support through the strength and courage of our neighbors in Malawi.

Hunger and Hope in Malawi: Virtual Tour

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the director of education and networks for the Building Resilient Communities team in the ELCA.

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Updates to ELCA World Hunger’s Domestic Hunger Grants

ELCA World Hunger’s Domestic Hunger Grants are one way this church accompanies communities throughout the United States and Caribbean as they respond to hunger and poverty.

Domestic Hunger Grants Open May 1!

Our team is excited to share that the application process for Domestic Hunger Grants will open May 1, 2023. For those who are familiar with the Domestic Hunger Grants, this year’s process will look a bit different, but we hope that the changes described below will improve the process in some important ways. To learn more about the updated process and how to apply, please visit https://elca.org/domestichungergrants.

This year, we are implementing a two-step process for ELCA World Hunger’s Domestic Hunger Grants, which we hope will increase efficiency, shorten the time for award decisions, reduce barriers to the application process and allow for deeper engagement with partners invited to submit a full proposal.

New Process for Grant Applications

Prior to submitting a full grant proposal, we ask grant applicants to fill out a letter of inquiry (LOI) which briefly describes the project proposal. Registering on our granting portal, ELCA GrantMaker, is not required at this step. Simply fill out the LOI form located here (https://bit.ly/3Ngcm6f) after May 1. LOI submissions are open from May 1 until May 31, 2023. After May 31, our grants team will conduct a review and send invitations and decline letters directly to applicants on or before July 31, 2023.

Applicant Info Webinar

On May 3, 2023, at 2:00pm CDT, ELCA World Hunger will host a webinar for interested applicants and others to learn more about the process. We will go over the new grant application process and how to submit an LOI, and we will answer questions from grant applicants. To join us for this virtual event, please register here (https://bit.ly/3n9e8LS.) Participants will be provided with a link once registered. The webinar will be recorded and accessible via the Domestic Hunger Grant FAQ page (https://sway.office.com/x58hDlDzJCCe1e4l.)

Domestic Hunger Grants Application Timeline

• May 1-31, 2023: Letter of inquiry form open
• June-July 2023: Letter of inquiry review period
• July 31, 2023: Response to the letter of inquiry sent to applicants (decline or accept)
• August 1-31, 2023: Invited applicants to complete grant application in ELCA GrantMaker
• August-November: Review and correspondence between ELCA World Hunger staff and grant applicants on proposal
• November 2023: Award notifications shared to applicants
• February 2024: Grant agreements signed and publicly announced
• March 2024: New Domestic Hunger Grants begin

Daily Bread Matching Grants Update

Registration and applications for Daily Bread Matching Grants is currently closed while we re-imagine how to better support our feeding ministry partners. Thank you to all of the feeding ministries across this church who have participated in Daily Bread Matching Grants previously and who continue to ensure access to food in their communities.

 

Thank you for all you do to work creatively and courageously toward a just world. If you have any questions about the process or about ELCA World Hunger, please reach out to our team at Hunger@elca.org.

With gratitude for the ministry and mission we share!
ELCA World Hunger

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Holy Week: Feasting, Fasting and Living in Tension

Blessings as we enter holy week! Many of you have journeyed with ELCA World Hunger through Lent as we have reflected on the Psalms and what meaning that vast collection of hymns, poems, laments and prayers might have for hunger ministry today. As the season comes to a close, thank you for being part of the 40 Days of Giving!

Lent is a common time for congregations to focus on hunger and social ministry. Indeed, almsgiving is one of the traditional “three pillars” of Lent (the other two being prayer and fasting) and is still found as one of the disciplines of Lent observed by Lutherans today. While many of us think of fasting as the core practice of Lent, the history of the church reminds us that fasting and giving are two sides of the same coin. The witness of Isaiah goes even further, describing authentic fasting as intimately tied to love and justice for the neighbor:

Is this not the fast I choose, to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? (Is. 58:6)

Scripture and tradition make a good case for focusing on hunger ministry during Lent. But this upcoming weekend may be an even more important time to reinvigorate our efforts. As pointed as Isaiah’s message about fasting may be, for Lutherans, it is the feast – and not just the fast – that calls to us.

Sharing the Feast

Say what you will about Martin Luther (no, seriously, say whatever you want – he deserves heaps of both praise and blame), but he certainly knew how to craft a pithy phrase or two. One of his most famous couplets comes from his 1520 “Treatise on Christian Liberty”:

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.

A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

As paradoxical as it might seem, what Luther is getting at is that we don’t experience God as humanity’s captor, binding us to rules and obligations, but as our liberator. That’s not to say that there aren’t obligations and demands – the Law is still the Law and still God-given. But within the Gospel, God reveals Godself to be the one who frees us from bondage to sin, death and to the notion that we can save ourselves, hence “perfectly free.”

This is a dramatic shift in Christian ethics. Why do we do “good works”? Certainly, for Lutherans, we know that those works won’t save us. No amount of fasting or almsgiving will merit a reward (or even make us good people.) And it’s not merely because the Law, with its rules for righteous living, is so compelling (we can’t fully follow it anyway.) Instead, what motivates Lutheran ethics is the experience of being loved and set free from the burden of trying – and failing – to overcome our own sin. The foundation of loving a neighbor, of striving for justice and of working to end hunger is nothing more or less than gratitude.

To play a bit with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s popular phrase “cheap grace,” this isn’t “cheap thanks.” It’s not the kind of gratitude for all the great things we have or, worse, the gratefulness that “at least we aren’t like them.” It’s deeper than that. What moves us to choose for ourselves being “subject to all” is the realization that our entire lives, our eternal salvation, is an undeserved gift. We don’t have to worry about our own salvation, or feeling as if we aren’t enough, or fearing that the world around us will corrupt our souls or separate us from God. Instead, we can freely and boldly love and serve one another. Social ministry is not a legalistic requirement but a response to an invitation to be part of what God is doing in the world: “Come and see!”

Easter, then, isn’t the celebratory end to the sacrifice of fasting and almsgiving in Lent but the very foundation of a new life lived in gift and promise, the free gift to be bold in our love of one another and the assured promise that in so doing, we are bearing witness to God’s building of a just world where all are fed. The feast of Easter nourishes us for the work ahead.

Surveying the Cross

We can’t get there too quickly, though. All too often, our Holy Week moves from Good Friday to Easter Sunday without giving us time to hang in the liminal space of Holy Saturday. Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says that the church needs to avoid this temptation of moving too quickly from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. We have to be in that Holy Saturday moment with the disciples, von Balthasar writes, even just for a bit. For those disciples, that first day after Friday, Jesus is dead. The one they’d given up their lives to follow is now laying in a tomb. A quote often attributed to Luther describes the moment: “God’s very self lay dead in a grave.” For the disciples, there is no Easter Sunday. The messiah is dead, and hope seems lost.

Living after the resurrection, it’s difficult to fully understand that kind of grief, but we must because in that grief is honesty. For all the joy and hope and feasting of Easter, we live in a world where the number of people facing hunger is growing, not declining, where income inequality continues to rise, and where justice and opportunity seem further and further away, especially for communities whose strides toward progress are often stymied by violence, marginalization and oppression.

It’s a grief not only for our world, though, but also for our own shortcomings. As the church, the death of Christ reminds us of our own complicity in human suffering. Sure, the church has done some wonderful things, but the cross confronts us with the ways we have fallen short, the ways we have contributed to rather than alleviated injustice, the communities harmed by the church’s good intentions, and the people pushed aside, sometimes violently, as we have pursued what we call “mission.”

Living and Serving in Holy Week Tension

Living in Holy Saturday means living into that grief and honesty about ourselves and our world. Where Easter inspires joy in God’s promise, Holy Saturday fills us with a sacred longing for that same promise. In Easter, we celebrate it. In Holy Saturday, we yearn for it.

That movement between celebration and yearning, between joy and grief is the tension that grounds our work together as ELCA World Hunger and as a church accompanying neighbors in need. We are caught between the cross and the empty tomb, embodying the grief and longing of a long Holy Saturday before we see the promise fulfilled. And we should be. We celebrate as God works through communities near and far to create new opportunities for abundant life through neighbors joining together with determination and hope. And we lament for a world where the crosses of injustice, violence, marginalization, inequity, racism, heterosexism, sexism, ableism, ethnocentrism, exploitation and more continue to dot the landscape.

This is where the ministry of the church in a hungry world begins. Not in the self-sacrifice of Lent but in in grief and joy, in lament and hope, in yearning and thanksgiving, in the tension between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. It’s a costly faith that we find there, with no easy answers – but with the assurance that even then, God is still at work.

What might that mean for our day-to-day responses to hunger? What might it look like for hunger ministry to be grounded in both hope and lament? As we emerge into the season of Easter, I pray that that those questions can stay with us, that we can carry a bit of both Easter Sunday and Holy Saturday with us into the rest of the year.

Our journey through Lent doesn’t end at the cross or even the empty tomb but continues in the long walk with one another toward the future that is both promised and deeply, deeply needed.

 

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the interim director for education and networks for the Building Resilient Communities team.

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