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A Short Tour of Community Gardens

Our garden at home has finally started yielding its bounty, which means we have more tomatoes than we know what to do with and are engaged in constant battle with rabbits to preserve our harvest. Now is the season when we get to enjoy the fruits of our time spent planting and preparing the soil, with fresh bites from the garden in every meal. It’s a reminder of the growing season and of nature’s wonders.

The fresh veggies making their way from my yard to my plate has had me thinking more about community gardens recently, especially with the rising costs of food making harvests more important for many of us. Interestingly, though, it was not my own garden or food prices that made me look into the history of gardens in the United States. It was, of all things, a comic book.

Most people who know me know that I am obsessed with comics, especially propaganda comics from World War II and early 1950s horror comics that drew the ire of parents and the federal government alike. I recently picked up a copy of this little gem from 1943:

World's Finest Comics #11 cover, with superheroes working in garden

World’s Finest Comics is pretty unremarkable, except for its run of war-themed covers in the early 1940s. Issue #11 here features Superman, Batman and Robin working away in a “victory garden.” (Oh, how nice it would be to have the super-speed of Superman or the ingenuity of Batman to take care of weeding and tilling, right?) Victory gardens, as they were called, were home gardens that the US government encouraged people to start during the war, ostensibly to increase food production at home when so much produce had to be sent to troops overseas, though their significance went far deeper, as we will learn below.

Many people trace community gardens today back to these victory gardens. But the community gardening movement actually started much further back, and the government was not as “super”-supportive of victory gardens as Superman and Batman were – at least early on.

The 1890s – Community Gardens Begin

According to Smithsonian Gardens, part of the Smithsonian Institution, community gardens trace their roots back to Detroit, Michigan, in the 1890s. The economic depression of 1893 hit the city hard, particularly affecting its largely immigrant population. Worried about food shortages and high unemployment, Detroit’s progressive Mayor Hazen Pingree started a public works program for jobs and then encouraged the city to use vacant lots to grow vegetables for the coming winter. “Pingree’s Potato Patches,” as they were called were called, were effective and popular.

Mayor Pingree had another motive besides providing food. The depression had increased economic inequality in the city, and the response of Detroit’s wealthy citizens was to provide charity to address the deep challenges faced by the workers most impacted. Rather than addressing the problems, charity drives fostered a system of patronage, leaving low-income Detroiters dependent on small amounts of help from rich benefactors. Pingree’s gardens were steps toward a more equitable solution, providing spaces for Detroiters facing hunger and poverty to exercise agency. It was a movement for both food security and economic justice. As the Detroit Free Press wrote in 1935, “Pingree’s potato patches broke the back of hunger. They were nationally acclaimed and copied. They revealed a city of boundless energy and industry unwilling to live on doles (the meager charity of the wealthy).”

family tends garden in Detroit 1890s

A family tends a Pingree Potato Patch in Detroit. Image courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

 

Turn of the Century and World War I

Pingree’s model was copied in many major cities. As the depression eased, schools turned to gardens both to supplement nutrition and to help an increasingly urban population of children connect back to nature and learn responsibility and the value of work. Perhaps the most famous advocate for the school garden movement was Fannie Griscom Parsons, a tireless leader whose work led to the creation of gardens and farms for children throughout New York City in the first two decades of the 20th Century. Parsons famously wrote,

I did not start a garden simply to grow a few vegetables and flowers. The garden was used as a means to teach [children] in their work some necessary civic virtues; private care of public property, economy, honesty, application, concentration, self-government, civic pride, justice, the dignity of labor, and the love of nature by opening to their minds the little we know of her mysteries, more wonderful than any fairy tale.

With World War I, the gardening movement gained a lot of ground and new support, this time from the US War Gardening Commission. With this fervor, the Commission reported that by 1917, there were more than 3.5 million war gardens across the country, helping supply needed fruits and vegetables during the lean years of the war.

As should be clear by now, though, the gardens were about more than just food. The war gardens of World War I became a symbol of community agency and renewal, especially for African American residents, whose urban neighborhoods were neglected by governments after the war. Drawing on their horticultural skills and passion for beautifying their communities, African American gardeners in Detroit, Philadelphia and other cities scaled up their post-war efforts, even holding contests for residents with the best gardens. These gardens became an important lifeline during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

World War II – Victory Gardens

The World War I gardens planted the seed (ahem) for the victory gardens of World War II. By this point in agricultural history in the US, the government was more reluctant to support gardens. As the Smithsonian notes, most officials thought that large-scale agriculture was more effective. What ultimately convinced the government to promote victory gardens, though, wasn’t a compelling argument about production. Rather, it was the awareness after decades of use that gardens play a powerful role in bringing communities together, improving relationships between neighbors and strengthening morale.

The gardens ended up proving effective in both areas, though. They strengthened communities and they provided an abundance of food – as much as 40 percent of vegetables grown in the US by 1944.

Hidden Depths

The brightly-colored produce, however, hid some gnarled roots, and Superman, Batman and Robin’s smiling faces on the cover of World’s Finest Comics #11 belied deep injustices when it came to gardens and farms in the United States in the 1940s.

As World War II began, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal and internment of Japanese Americans. While in public press, the order was motivated by fear of spies (a belief that had no basis in reality), the internment campaign had more sinister roots. Japanese Americans, especially in California, had drawn on their deep agricultural knowledge to build successful farming businesses upon their arrival in the US. It was these farms, and the valuable land that Japanese Americans owned, that drove some to call for internment.

Indeed, one of the first documented lobbying efforts to remove Japanese Americans from the West Coast came from none other than the Salinas Valley Vegetable Grower-Shipper Association, which sent a lobbyist to Washington, DC, to argue for forced removal of Japanese American farmers.

By 1942, with Japanese Americans interned and their land under government supervision, white farmers began seizing control of their farms, and the managing secretary of the Western Growers Protective Association reported “considerable profits were realized” by member growers “because of the Japanese removal.”

While incarcerated at the internment camps, many Japanese Americans continued using their skills, however, and developed camp gardens. Despite the desolate landscape of many of the camps, internees used their wisdom, creativity and tenacity to start thousands of thriving gardens. These gardens helped to supplement their diet, but perhaps more importantly, the gardens served as a symbol of resistance against internment, an attempt to hold on to community and traditions and to refuse the dehumanization of internment.

Gardens that had once been indicators of successful business and wealth for immigrant families now, through acts of protest against the injustice of internment, were revealed as symbols of courage, strength and resilience.

Sowing and Reaping

Still today, community gardens carry these multiple layers of meaning. On the one hand, they provide fresh, healthy food. But on a much deeper level, as researchers Rina Ghose and Margaret Pettygrove report, community gardens are spaces where community is formed and citizenship is fostered. They are a protest against powers that control food, land and jobs. And they can be spaces that bear witness to new kinds of communities, new kinds of relationships and new understandings of the economy.

Martin Luther once wrote that farming is an act that imitates God’s creation of the world. By digging into the soil, planting and nurturing crops, we are imitating God’s hands-on approach to making the world. But the long history of gardens in the United States – from immigrants tending “Pingree’s Potato Patches” to investments in gardens for under-served urban children to beautification of segregated neighborhoods and the witness of camp gardens – points to an expanded understanding of how this work imitates God’s creative endeavors.

Yes, we are gifted with the opportunity to witness the Creator God in action as crops take root, but on a deeper level, the community that is nurtured and grown at the garden testifies to the ongoing work of God as the redeemer of the world, reconciling us to one another and building a just world where all are fed.

We aren’t superheroes, but we don’t need to be. The world does not need superheroes as much as it needs neighbors willing to work together, to participate in the restoration of just relationships and communities, asserting together that our neighborhoods are worth investing in and that each and every one of us can play a part. As we’ve learned time and again, gardens can be sacred spaces where neighbors build relationships with one another, assert their pride and dignity, and create a bountiful harvest for the community to enjoy. The hard work of tilling, planting, weeding and watering yields far more than vegetables. It can nourish the growth of communities in profound, life-giving ways.

As we harvest from gardens this season and get ready for planting next spring, this history begs the questions: what are we really sowing? And what new wonders might neighbors working together for the transformation of the landscape and the community reap?

 

If you are interested in starting your own community garden, or finding new ways to expand the garden your community has, check out ELCA World Hunger’s Community Gardens How-To Guide, available in English and Spanish! You can order hard copies from the ELCA World Hunger resources page too!

 

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the program director of hunger education for ELCA World Hunger.

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Global Farm Challenge Podcast

Welcome to “More than Food,” the podcast of ELCA World Hunger’s Global Farm Challenge!

Find out more information below about the Global Farm Challenge and how you and your group can become involved. Links to the podcast episodes are also below.

What is the Global Farm Challenge?

The Global Farm Challenge is a youth-centered, whole-church effort to raise awareness and gifts to support the work of ELCA World Hunger with farming communities around the world. ELCA World Hunger works through congregations, companion churches and partners to accompany smallholder farmers around the world. This work includes adapting to climate change and sustainable farming practices. But it also includes helping farmers learn new techniques for increasing yields and decreasing costs, build collectives for shared power and gain access to land, seeds and tools. By joining the Global Farm Challenge, you can be an important part of supporting this work!

Why the Global Farm Challenge?

We know that the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone person. But hunger is on the rise, and the very people who produce the world’s food – farmers and farmworkers – face higher levels of hunger and poverty. They are vulnerable to climate change-related disasters, health risks and laws and policies that lock them out of access to land or financing they need to expand their farms.

With the war in Ukraine causing global food shortages and rising prices making it harder for vulnerable families to feed themselves, meeting immediate needs now and building resilience for the future are critical steps. The Global Farm Challenge, by empowering ELCA World Hunger to accompany farmers around the world, is a key way we can all be part of God’s work toward a just world where all are fed.

What is “More than Food”?

“More than Food” is a podcast designed to go along with the “Global Farm Challenge To-Go Card Game,” a game your group can play anywhere – even on the road! In the game, players follow stories of smallholder farmers and farmworkers and learn about the challenges and opportunities farmers face. Each of the stories in the game is based on real stories of neighbors involved in the projects supported by ELCA World Hunger and the Global Farm Challenge. In the podcast, we will dive into these stories and learn more about the projects and the communities involved.

You can share this podcast on your congregation’s website or social media, listen to episodes as part of a group study or play episodes in the car while you travel to a service site this summer.

Play the game, talk about your experiences and hear about our neighbors’ experiences as you consider supporting ELCA World Hunger’s Global Farm Challenge!

Join us in learning more about the many ways God is at work through us and our neighbors!

 

Episode 1 – In this episode, learn more about the Global Farm Challenge and how to get involved.

Transcript: Ep 1 Introducing More than Food Transcript

Episode 2 – In this episode, Brooke and Ryan talk about why justice is at the very foundation of faith and why it is so important to think about ending hunger as “more than food.”
Episode 3 – In this episode, Ryan talks with Franklin Ishida, the director for the Asia and Pacific regions for the ELCA, about growing pumpkins – and a whole lot more – through a project in Cambodia. This project is one of the stories featured in the Global Farm Challenge To-Go Card Game.

Transcript: Episode 3 – Pumpkins and Cambodia Transcript

Episode 4 – In this episode, we hear from Giovana Oaxaca, the ELCA’s program director for migration policy, who shares some of the ways ELCA World Hunger supports farm workers in the US. This work part of the story of citrus fruit in the Global Farm Challenge To-Go Card Game.

Transcript: More than Food Episode 4 – US Farmworkers Transcript

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Lent Reflection 5: A Way in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

In English and en Espanol

Week 5: A Way in the Wilderness

“Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

Read

  • Isaiah 43:16-21
  • Psalm 126
  • Philippians 3:4b-14
  • John 12:1-8

Reflect

Each of the sessions of this Lenten study has been grounded in a verse from this week’s readings:

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert (Isaiah 43:19).

From the first-fruits offering of Deuteronomy to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, our reflections have pointed to how God continues to “make a way in the wilderness” and calls us to be part of that journey for ourselves and our neighbors. The Scripture readings this season remind us of the promise of new life in Canaan for our ancestors and new life in Christ for us all.

We have imagined a world without hunger, heard of God’s abundant provision of manna and seen the ways the church has worked tirelessly, in the past and today, to end hunger.

Now we reach the culmination of this movement toward the fulfillment of God’s promise, wherein Jesus announces: “You will always have the poor among you” (John 12:8 NIV).

It’s not the most encouraging verse in the Bible.

How often have people twisted these words into an excuse for passivity or a sneering retort to proclamations of hope that hunger and poverty can, one day, end? Along with its partner in 2 Thessalonians (“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat”), it’s one of the “hard passages” for people of faith eager to inspire others to respond to hunger and poverty. These troublesome verses are often used to support restrictive, counterintuitive policies and practices that inhibit real progress against hunger and poverty. Why try harder to end hunger and poverty if even Jesus says poverty isn’t going away?

The passage yields more when we dig a little deeper. Jesus may actually be referring to an earlier part of the Bible here, and in that earlier verse the words are no statement of fact but a challenge to the people of God. The verse appears in a section of Deuteronomy about the Jubilee Year, a time every seven years when debts were forgiven. That earlier passage sheds new light on the verse from John:

Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

Far from resigning us to poverty in the world, the verse challenges followers of Christ. In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Martin Luther writes, “‘The poor you always have with you,’ just as you will have all other evils. But constant care should be taken that, since these evils are always in evidence, they are always opposed.”

For Luther, to “always have the poor among you” meant to be confronted always by God’s call to respond to human suffering and oppose the evil that creates it. This is not resignation but activation of the people of God in the service of the neighbor.

What’s more, we may find in Jesus’ words a lesson for our identity as church together. “You will always have the poor among you.” If we are truly the
people of God, then we are called to be in community with neighbors who have been marginalized, excluded, oppressed and impoverished by the world’s injustice.

As church, our calling is not merely to minister to our neighbors but to bear witness to the “new thing” God is doing in our world, a new community God is making possible. This is not easy work. Confronting hunger and poverty alongside our neighbors means facing the dangerous realities that impact our neighbors.

In Palestine, Defense of Children International–Palestine (DCIP), supported by ELCA World Hunger, works with children and families to protect their rights and give them the care and support they need. Settlement expansion in the West Bank and increased military presence in daily life put children at risk of negative encounters with Israeli forces. Children detained for
violating the often-discriminatory laws of Israeli occupation risk abuse from both Israeli and Palestinian forces. Despite significant legal reform in recent years, DCIP has found that practices have yet to fully align with domestic or international legal frameworks for juvenile justice and that children are paying the price, navigating a military legal system that fails to meet the minimum international standards, particularly for juveniles.

DCIP provides both legal and social support for children accused of crimes, and it works with their families, many of whom live in poverty, to improve their situations emotionally, socially and financially through vocational training, the support of social workers and more. This support is critical to addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty in Palestine.

Responding to hunger means accompanying neighbors as they confront the systems of injustice that create hunger. It means facing harsh realities with realistic perspectives. This is not the false “realism” that twists Jesus’ words in the Gospel but the realistic acknowledgement that we face our own journey in the wilderness before we reach the fullness of God’s promise. Friends, we have a long way to go.

And yet … and yet …

As we have seen throughout our Lenten journey, we are not going it alone. God is with us along the way, inspiring hope and courage and revealing Godself in the neighbors we encounter along the way. We know that this Lenten journey is not the end. The season’s fasting, praying and selfreflecting spiritual disciplines prepare us for the road ahead, the road that leads to the cross — and beyond, to a new community God makes possible.

This is not an easy road to travel. But we know that, even amid the challenges ahead, the “new thing” God is doing “springs forth,” that God is even now working to “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

Do you not perceive it?

Ask

  1. What does it mean for the church to “always have the poor” with us? How might we rethink Jesus’ words in light of the study session for this week?
  2. In what ways does your congregation act as a neighbor toward people in need in your community?
  3. Why is the church called to work for justice in the world? What might the work of DCI-Palestine teach us about being the people of God?
  4. How can the church inspire hope when the promised future can seem so far away?
  5. Where is God calling you and your congregation to be today? How can or will you be part of the “new thing” God is calling forth?

Pray

God of the poor widow, the lost sheep, and the wandering Aramean,
God of the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger,
God of the naked, the ill, and the imprisoned,

We confess before you that the church has not always been where
you have called us to be. We have failed to seek your face in our
neighbors in need. We have allowed despair to bind our hands and
feet. Change us, O God. Free us to act with hope and courage.

Open our hearts to perceive your presence in and among our
neighbors. Inflame us with holy passion for the work you invite us
to in the world. Breathe new life into your church, that we may be
the people you call us to be in the world you call into being:

A church of the poor widow, the lost sheep and the wandering Aramean.
A church of the hungry, the thirsty and the stranger.
A church of the naked, the ill and the imprisoned.

Do a “new thing” with us and through us, that we may be a
community of hope, comfort and welcome — a living sign of the
way we are making in the wilderness. Amen.

 

SEMANA 5: Un camino en el desierto

“¿No se dan cuenta?” (Isaías 43:19).
Lecturas: Isaías 43:16-21, Salmo 126, Filipenses 3:4b-14, Juan 12:1-8

Cada una de las sesiones de este estudio de Cuaresma se ha basado en un versículo de las lecturas de esta semana:

¡Voy a hacer algo nuevo! Ya está sucediendo, ¿no se dan cuenta? Estoy abriendo un camino en el desierto, y ríos en lugares desolados (Isaías 43:19).

Desde la ofrenda de primicias de Deuteronomio, hasta la enseñanza de Jesús en el Evangelio de Lucas, nuestras reflexiones han señalado cómo Dios continúa “abriendo un camino en el desierto” y nos llama a ser parte de esa jornada para nosotros y nuestro prójimo. Las lecturas bíblicas de esta temporada nos recuerdan la promesa de una nueva vida en Canaán para nuestros antepasados y una nueva vida en Cristo para todos nosotros.

Hemos imaginado un mundo sin hambre, hemos oído hablar de la abundante provisión que Dios hizo de maná, y hemos visto las formas en que la iglesia ha trabajado incansablemente, en el pasado y en la actualidad, para acabar con el hambre.

Ahora llegamos a la culminación de este movimiento hacia el cumplimiento de la promesa de Dios, en la que Jesús anuncia: “A los pobres siempre los tendrán con ustedes” (Juan 12:8 NVI).

Este no es el versículo más alentador de la Biblia.

¿Cuántas veces la gente ha tergiversado estas palabras en una excusa para la pasividad o una réplica burlona a las proclamas de esperanza de que el hambre y la pobreza pueden, algún día, terminar? Junto con su versículo compañero en 2 Tesalonicenses (“El que no quiera trabajar, que tampoco coma”), es uno de los “pasajes difíciles” para las personas de fe ansiosas por inspirar a otros a responder al hambre y la pobreza. Estos versículos problemáticos a menudo se usan para apoyar políticas y prácticas restrictivas y contraintuitivas que inhiben el progreso real contra el hambre y la pobreza. ¿Por qué esforzarse más para acabar con el hambre y la pobreza si incluso Jesús dice que la pobreza no va a desaparecer?

El pasaje brinda más cuando cavamos un poco más profundo. En realidad, Jesús podría estar refiriéndose aquí a una parte anterior de la Biblia, y en ese versículo anterior las palabras no son una declaración de hechos, sino un desafío al pueblo de Dios. El versículo aparece en una sección de Deuteronomio sobre el año del jubileo, un tiempo cada siete años en que las deudas eran perdonadas. Ese pasaje anterior arroja nueva luz sobre el versículo de Juan:

Gente pobre en esta tierra, siempre la habrá; por eso te ordeno que seas generoso con tus hermanos hebreos y con los pobres y necesitados de tu tierra” (Deuteronomio 15:11).

Lejos de resignarnos a la pobreza en el mundo, el versículo desafía a los seguidores de Cristo. En su comentario sobre Deuteronomio, Martín Lutero escribe: “‘El pobre siempre lo tienen con ustedes’, así como tendrán todos los demás males. Pero se debe tener el cuidado constante de que, dado que estos males siempre son evidentes, siempre se les presente oposición”.

Para Lutero, “a los pobres siempre los tendrán con ustedes” significaba ser siempre confrontado por el llamado de Dios a responder al sufrimiento humano y oponerse al mal que lo causa. Esto no es resignación sino activación del pueblo de Dios al servicio del prójimo.

Lo que es más, en las palabras de Jesús podemos encontrar una lección para nuestra identidad como iglesia juntos. “A los pobres siempre los tendrán con ustedes”. Si realmente somos el pueblo de Dios, entonces estamos llamados a estar en comunidad con los vecinos que han sido marginados, excluidos, oprimidos y empobrecidos por la injusticia del mundo.

Como iglesia, nuestro llamado no es simplemente ministrar a nuestro prójimo, sino dar testimonio de “algo nuevo” que Dios está haciendo en nuestro mundo, una nueva comunidad que Dios está haciendo posible. Este no es un trabajo fácil. Enfrentar el hambre y la pobreza junto a nuestro prójimo significa enfrentar las peligrosas realidades que afectan a nuestros vecinos.

En Palestina, Defense of Children International–Palestine (DCIP) [Defensa Internacional para los Niños de Palestina], con el apoyo de ELCA World Hunger, trabaja con niños y familias para proteger sus derechos y brindarles la atención y el apoyo que necesitan. La expansión de los asentamientos en la Ribera Occidental y el aumento de la presencia militar en la vida cotidiana ponen a los niños en riesgo de encuentros negativos con las fuerzas israelíes. Los niños detenidos por violar las leyes a menudo discriminatorias de la ocupación israelí corren el riesgo de sufrir abusos tanto por parte de las fuerzas israelíes como de las palestinas. A pesar de la importante reforma legal de los últimos años, el DCIP ha descubierto que las prácticas aún no se han alineado plenamente con los marcos jurídicos nacionales o internacionales para la justicia de menores, y que los niños están pagando el precio, navegando por un sistema legal militar que no cumple con las mínimas normas internacionales, particularmente para los menores.

DCIP da apoyo legal y social a los niños acusados de delitos y trabaja con sus familias —muchas de las cuales viven en la pobreza— para mejorar emocional, social y financieramente sus situaciones a través de la capacitación vocacional, el apoyo de los trabajadores sociales y más. Este apoyo es fundamental para atacar las causas profundas del hambre y la pobreza en Palestina.

Responder al hambre significa acompañar a los vecinos mientras enfrentan los sistemas de injusticia que crean hambre. Significa hacer frente a realidades duras con perspectivas realistas. Este no es el falso “realismo” que tergiversa las palabras de Jesús en el Evangelio, sino el reconocimiento realista de que enfrentamos nuestra propia jornada en el desierto antes de alcanzar la plenitud de la promesa de Dios.  Amigos, nos queda un largo camino por recorrer.

Y sin embargo… y sin embargo…

Como hemos visto a lo largo de nuestra jornada cuaresmal, no vamos solos. Dios está con nosotros en el camino, inspirando esperanza y valentía y revelándose a sí mismo en los vecinos que encontramos en el camino. Sabemos que esta jornada cuaresmal no es el fin. Las disciplinas espirituales de ayuno, oración y autorreflexión de la temporada nos preparan para el camino por delante, el camino que conduce a la cruz; y más allá, a una nueva comunidad que Dios hace posible.

No es un camino fácil de recorrer. Pero sabemos que, incluso en medio de los desafíos que tenemos por delante, el “algo nuevo” que Dios está haciendo “brota”, que Dios incluso ahora está trabajando para “abrir un camino en el desierto y ríos en lugares desolados” (Isaías 43:19).

¿No se dan cuenta?

Preguntas para la reflexión

  1. ¿Qué significa para la iglesia que “a los pobres siempre los tendremos con nosotros”? ¿Cómo podríamos replantearnos las palabras de Jesús a la luz de la sesión de estudio de esta semana?
  2. ¿De qué maneras actúa su congregación como el prójimo de las personas necesitadas en su comunidad?
  3. ¿Por qué está llamada la iglesia a trabajar por la justicia en el mundo? ¿Qué podría enseñarnos la obra de DCI-Palestina en lo que respecta a ser el pueblo de Dios?
  4. ¿Cómo puede la iglesia inspirar esperanza cuando el futuro prometido puede parecer tan lejano?
  5. ¿Dónde está llamando Dios a su congregación y a usted a estar hoy? ¿Cómo puede ser o será parte del “algo nuevo” del que Dios está hablando?

Oración

Dios de la viuda pobre, de la oveja perdida y del arameo errante, Dios del hambriento, el sediento y el extranjero, Dios del desnudo, el enfermo y el encarcelado:

Confesamos ante ti que la iglesia no siempre ha estado donde nos has llamado a estar. No hemos podido buscar tu rostro en nuestros vecinos necesitados. Hemos permitido que la desesperación nos ate las manos y los pies. Cámbianos, oh Dios. Libéranos para actuar con esperanza y valentía.

Abre nuestros corazones para percibir tu presencia en nuestros vecinos y entre ellos. Enciéndenos con santa pasión por el trabajo al que nos invitas en el mundo. Sopla nueva vida a tu iglesia, para que podamos ser las personas que nos llamas a ser en el mundo que llamas a ser:

Una iglesia de la viuda pobre, la oveja perdida y el arameo errante. Una iglesia del hambriento, el sediento y el extranjero.

Una iglesia del desnudo, el enfermo y el encarcelado. Haz “algo nuevo” con nosotros y a través de nosotros, para que podamos ser una comunidad de esperanza, consuelo y bienvenida; una señal viva del camino que estás abriendo en el desierto. Amén.

 

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Lent Reflection 4: Transformed in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

In English and en Espanol

Week 4: Transformed in the Wilderness

“They ate the crops of the land” (Joshua 5:12)

Read

  • Joshua 5:9-12
  • Psalm 32
  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
  • Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Reflect

The reading from Joshua for this week is brief, but it recounts the time the Hebrews, who left Egypt under God’s care, had so longed to see: the end of their exodus and the beginning of their life in the Promised Land of Canaan. No longer would their food rain down from the heavens; now, they would be fed by their own produce:

The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year (Joshua 5:12).

Certainly, the people’s entrance into the Promised Land is not the end of their dependence on God. Their food may no longer miraculously fall from the sky, but a new miracle springs from the land God created and is nurtured by farmers who embody God’s creative care. Settling in Canaan is just the beginning of the story of God’s people — not the end.

But there is a transformation in the now-settled people, evident in the difference between manna from heaven and “the crops of the land.” In the common language of today’s world, we might call this the difference between charity and self-sufficiency.

The church has been involved in responding to human need, especially hunger, since its very beginning. The sacrament of Holy Communion began as a full meal in the Christian community, particularly for those who otherwise might not have been able to feed themselves. By the second and third centuries, care for people who were hungry or poor was so central to the church’s identity that bishops, whose roles included managing the church’s social ministries, were sometimes called “lovers of the poor.”

Feeding people who hunger is still crucial to the church’s identity. Our latest survey data show that well over 70% of ELCA congregations participate in direct-feeding ministries. Early numbers indicate that over 95% of congregations participate in some form of response to hunger. Feeding ministries can be crucial lifelines for the more than 38 million people in the United States who are uncertain of their next meal. During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with sudden job loss and supply chain shortages, feeding ministries such as these swiftly adapted to meet the exploding need. This was critical support, particularly for those neighbors unable to access social safety-net programs such as SNAP or the federal stimulus payments.

Feeding ministries stand at the forefront of hunger work, providing opportunities for neighbors to build relationships and for communities to draw together toward effective solutions. But ending hunger requires more. As theologian Samuel Torvend has written, “In addition to charitable response is discerning why people … are suffering in the first place. And that moves us from charitable giving … into asking the larger question, which is, ‘Why is there injustice? What is it within the larger system in which people live that produces this kind of suffering?’”

Behind the long lines at food pantries and the pallets of goods at food banks lies the reality that ending hunger will require more than food. There are some times when we must focus our efforts together on meeting immediate need. But at all times, the church is called to something more.

The church’s work in hunger responds not only to a problem but to a promise. We know by faith that hunger is not what God intends, that the One who created and sustains us is leading us to a future in which all will be fed, as surely as God led our ancestors through the desert to the Promised Land. The response of the church is rooted in the larger witness of faith holding that the systems and conditions that create scarcity are wrong, and that we can still create a life of security and sufficiency, even on this side of the fullness of God’s reign.

In Pueblo County, Colo., Posada accompanies neighbors who experience homelessness as they work together toward this vision. With support from ELCA World Hunger, Posada aspires to provide for the immediate needs of people who lack stable housing while enabling them to address the problems that have led to their situation. Daniel is one of many people Posada has worked with to secure housing. Assisted by Posada, Daniel was able to transition from a long-term care facility to stable housing that he can call his own. Posada continues to work with him so that he can pay for utilities.

Posada helps neighbors meet their most immediate needs, connecting them to programs that offer funds for food and shelter. But the work doesn’t stop there; Posada works with neighbors to secure the housing, support and stability they will need to thrive in the future.

As Moses and the Hebrews left Egypt, they were sustained by God’s gift of manna. This food from heaven satisfied their hunger and helped them survive their time in the wilderness. But God had more in store for them — not just an end to their hunger but a new life and hope, a future as a people renewed in their relationship to God, to each other and to a land
they could call their own. Eating their fill of manna was not the end but the means, allowing them to reach a place where they would thrive on “the crops of the land.”

Amid our own trial and challenge during a pandemic that stretched our food systems and charitable ministries to near-capacity, we might forget the vision that inspires the church’s hunger ministries in the first place. But during Lent, a season of self-reflection and renewal, the crossing over of the Hebrews from the wilderness to Gilgal, where they would become the nation Israel, reminds us of that vision. We cling to this promise that God will provide not just manna today but “crops of the land” tomorrow, granting us a new opportunity to build community and share in God’s journey toward a just world where all are fed.

This is the vision that inspires, motivates and shapes the many ways this church is active in the world, responding not just to the problem of hunger but to the promise of God for a future in which all who are weary — from journeying, from struggling, from working, from waiting — will find rest.

Ask

  1. What does “home” mean to you? What do you think it meant for the Israelites to settle in their new home and to eat the crops of their own land?
  2. How might uncertainty about housing impact other aspects of someone’s life?
  3. What might Posada’s ministry say about what it means to be the people of God? How does addressing housing insecurity reflect the church’s calling to be the people of God?
  4. Consider your community. What housing issues do you and your neighbors face? How might your congregation be part of addressing these issues?

Pray

God of our wanderings and our settling, you guided your people through the wilderness with gifts of manna and water to sustain them. Be with us in our own times of uncertainty and fear. Send your Spirit among us, that your church may be a sign of welcome in the world. When we are comfortable, open our hearts to our neighbors’ discomfort. When we are uncomfortable, sustain us with hope and courage. Bless us, that we may be blessings to one another. In your name we pray, amen.

 

SEMANA 4: Transformados en el desierto

“El pueblo se alimentó de los frutos de la tierra” (Josué 5:12).
Lecturas: Josué 5:9-12; Salmo 32; 2 Corintios 5:16-21; Lucas 15:1-3, 11b-32.

La lectura de Josué para esta semana es breve, pero relata el tiempo que los hebreos, que salieron de Egipto bajo el cuidado de Dios, habían anhelado ver: el fin de su éxodo y el comienzo de su vida en la Tierra Prometida de Canaán. Su alimento ya no iba a llover más de los cielos; ahora iban a ser alimentados por sus propios productos:

Desde ese momento dejó de caer maná, y durante todo ese año el pueblo se alimentó de los frutos de la tierra (Josué 5:12).

Ciertamente, la entrada de la gente en la Tierra Prometida no es el fin de su dependencia de Dios. Tal vez su comida ya no cae milagrosamente del cielo, pero un nuevo milagro brota de la tierra que Dios creó y es cultivado por agricultores que encarnan el cuidado creativo de Dios. Establecerse en Canaán es sólo el comienzo de la historia del pueblo de Dios —no el final.

Pero hay una transformación en la gente ahora asentada, evidente en la diferencia entre el maná del cielo y “los frutos de la tierra”. En el lenguaje común del mundo de hoy, podríamos llamar a esto la diferencia entre caridad y autosuficiencia.

Desde sus inicios, la iglesia ha estado involucrada en responder a las necesidades humanas, especialmente al hambre. El sacramento de la Sagrada Comunión comenzó como una comida completa en la comunidad cristiana, particularmente para aquellos que de otra manera no habrían podido alimentarse. En los siglos II y III, el cuidado de las personas que tenían hambre o eran pobres era tan central para la identidad de la iglesia que los obispos, cuyos roles incluían la gestión de los ministerios sociales de la iglesia, a veces se llamaban “amantes de los pobres”.

Alimentar a las personas que tienen hambre sigue siendo crucial para la identidad de la iglesia. Los últimos datos de nuestra encuesta muestran que más del 70% de las congregaciones de la ELCA participan en ministerios de alimentación directa. Las primeras cifras indican que más del 95% de las congregaciones participan en alguna forma de respuesta al hambre. Los ministerios de alimentación pueden ser líneas de vida cruciales para los más de 38 millones de personas en los Estados Unidos que no están seguras de su próxima comida. Durante los primeros meses de la pandemia de COVID-19 en 2020, con la pérdida repentina de empleos y la escasez en la cadena de abastecimiento, los ministerios de alimentación como estos se adaptaron rápidamente para satisfacer la creciente necesidad. Este fue un apoyo crucial, particularmente para aquellos vecinos que no pueden acceder a programas de redes de seguridad social como SNAP o los pagos de estímulo federal.

Los ministerios de alimentación están a la vanguardia del trabajo contra el hambre, brindando oportunidades para que los vecinos construyan relaciones y para que las comunidades se unan a favor de soluciones efectivas. Pero acabar con el hambre requiere más. Como ha escrito el teólogo Samuel Torvend: “Además de la respuesta caritativa, es discernir por qué las personas … están sufriendo en primer lugar. Y eso nos mueve de las donaciones caritativas… a hacer la pregunta más amplia, que es: ‘¿Por qué hay injusticia? ¿Qué cosa dentro del sistema más amplio en el que la gente vive es lo que produce este tipo de sufrimiento?’”

Detrás de las largas filas en las despensas de alimentos y las paletas de mercancías en los bancos de alimentos se encuentra la realidad de que acabar con el hambre requerirá más que alimentos. Hay ocasiones en las que debemos centrar nuestros esfuerzos juntos en satisfacer las necesidades inmediatas. Pero en todo momento, la iglesia está llamada a hacer algo más.

El trabajo de la iglesia en relación con el hambre responde, no sólo a un problema, sino también a una promesa. Sabemos por fe que el hambre no es lo que Dios quiere, que Aquel que nos creó y nos sostiene nos está llevando a un futuro en el que todos serán alimentados, tan seguramente como cuando guiaba a nuestros antepasados a través del desierto hacia la Tierra Prometida. La respuesta de la iglesia está enraizada en el testimonio más amplio de la fe que sostiene que los sistemas y las condiciones que crean escasez son incorrectos, y que todavía podemos crear una vida de seguridad y suficiencia, incluso en este lado de la plenitud del reino de Dios.

En el condado de Pueblo, Colorado, Posada acompaña a los vecinos que experimentan la falta de vivienda mientras trabajan juntos por esta visión. Con el apoyo de ELCA World Hunger, Posada aspira a satisfacer las necesidades inmediatas de las personas que carecen de vivienda estable, al tiempo que les permite abordar los problemas que han causado su situación. Daniel es una de las muchas personas con las que Posada ha trabajado para asegurar una vivienda. Con la ayuda de Posada, Daniel pudo hacer la transición de un centro de atención a largo plazo a una vivienda estable que puede llamar suya. Posada continúa trabajando con él para que pueda pagar los servicios públicos.

Posada ayuda a los vecinos a satisfacer sus necesidades más inmediatas, conectándolos con programas que ofrecen fondos para techo y comida. Pero el trabajo no se detiene ahí; Posada trabaja con los vecinos para asegurar la vivienda, el apoyo y la estabilidad que necesitarán para prosperar en el futuro.

Cuando Moisés y los hebreos salieron de Egipto fueron sustentados por el regalo de Dios llamado maná. Este alimento del cielo satisfizo su hambre y les ayudó a sobrevivir su tiempo en el desierto. Pero Dios tenía más cosas reservadas para ellos —no solo poner fin a su hambre, sino también una nueva vida y esperanza, un futuro como pueblo renovado en su relación con Dios, de los unos con los otros y con una tierra que podrían llamar suya. Comer maná hasta saciarse no era el fin sino el medio, lo que les permitía llegar a un lugar donde florecerían con “los frutos de la tierra”. En medio de nuestra propia prueba y desafío durante una pandemia que estiró a casi su capacidad nuestros sistemas alimentarios y ministerios caritativos, pudiéramos olvidar la visión que inspira los ministerios de hambre de la iglesia en primer lugar.

Pero, durante la Cuaresma, una temporada de autorreflexión y renovación, el paso de los hebreos desde el desierto hasta Gilgal, donde se convertirían en la nación de Israel, nos recuerda esa visión. Nos aferramos a esta promesa de que Dios proveerá no solo maná hoy, sino también “frutos de la tierra” mañana, otorgándonos una nueva oportunidad para construir comunidad y participar en la jornada de Dios hacia un mundo justo donde todos sean alimentados.

Esta es la visión que inspira, motiva y moldea las muchas formas en que esta iglesia está activa en el mundo, respondiendo no solamente al problema del hambre, sino también a la promesa de Dios para un futuro en el que todos los que están cansados —de la jornada, la lucha, el trabajo, la espera— encontrarán descanso.

Preguntas para la reflexión

  1. ¿Qué significa “hogar” para usted? ¿Qué cree que significaba para los israelitas establecerse en su nuevo hogar y comer los frutos de su propia tierra?
  2. ¿Cómo podría la incertidumbre sobre la vivienda afectar otros aspectos de la vida de alguien?
  3. ¿De qué manera abordar la inseguridad de la vivienda refleja el llamado de la iglesia a ser el pueblo de Dios?
  4. Considere su comunidad. ¿Qué problemas de vivienda enfrentan usted y sus vecinos? ¿Cómo podría su congregación ser parte de la solución de estos temas?

Oración

Dios de nuestras andanzas y nuestro asentamiento, guiaste a tu pueblo a través del desierto con regalos de maná y agua para sustentarlos. Quédate con nosotros en nuestros propios tiempos de incertidumbre y temor. Envía tu Espíritu entre nosotros para que tu iglesia sea una señal de bienvenida en el mundo. Cuando estemos cómodos, abre nuestros corazones a la incomodidad de nuestros vecinos. Cuando nos sintamos incómodos, sostennos con esperanza y valor. Bendícenos, para que seamos bendiciones los unos para los otros. En tu nombre oramos, amén.

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Conflict and Hunger Part I: How Will the War in Ukraine Affect Food Security?

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, the immediate, deadly consequences are starkly visible in Western media – an as-yet uncounted number of dead soldiers and civilians, millions forced to flee from their homes and seek safety in other countries or regions, and the devastation of homes, hospitals and critical infrastructure. Less vivid but no less significant, are the long-term consequences the war will have for food security in Ukraine and around the globe.

While other causes of hunger, such as climate change, migration or economic poverty, may seem to receive more attention, the single biggest driver of food crises around the world is conflict. As António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, wrote in 2021, “Conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing. We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either.” As the World Food Programme (WFP) notes nearly every year in its annual Global Report on Food Crises, conflict often leads to food crises[1] (especially when it occurs at the same time as climate events or economic downturns) and food crises can exacerbate conflict.

Food security depends on the adequacy of four things: food production, food access, food utilization and stability. In simpler terms:

  • Is enough food being produced or supplied?
  • Is the food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways?
  • Are people able to meet their nutritional needs with the food?
  • Is access to food reliable, even during crises?

Over a series of posts, we’ll take a brief dive into each of these. Follow the links to read more:

 

Reading through each of these posts will give a picture of some of the ways violent conflict impacts hunger, as well as some of the long-term effects that may come from the war in Ukraine. Even as we pray for and take action to support neighbors in Ukraine, we need to remember that this conflict could have devastating and far-reaching consequences that may not go away the moment a ceasefire agreement is signed. Our globalized food system, while so efficient and effective when operating well, also leaves each of us vulnerable to destabilizing shocks around the world.

This is one of the reasons why the complementary responses of Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger through partners and companion churches are so important. Lutheran Disaster Response, working through companions in Eastern Europe, is helping to meet the most immediate needs created by the crisis, while also drawing on years of experience to plan long-term support for refugees, internally displaced persons, and other victims of the war.

Together with Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA World Hunger accompanies communities around the world as they build resilience against these kinds of shocks. Supporting work in agriculture helps local farmers take steps to improve the productivity of their labors, which provides some security against interruptions in exports or rising prices. Working together with partners and companions in advocacy helps to ensure that social safety net programs are robust and effective in the event of a crisis. Support for healthcare workers, counselors, clinics and hospitals helps reduce vulnerability to disease and illness, care for neighbors dealing with trauma and build capacity to respond to future health crises. And by accompanying refugees and migrants around the world, we can be part of the work God is doing to foster the stability that’s needed to ensure long-term health and well-being wherever they are.

The ripple effects of the war in Ukraine could echo throughout the food system for a long time. But we find courage and hope in God who “calls us to hope, even when hope is shrouded by the pall of war” and who, even now, is at work in, among and through peacemakers, supporting neighbors in need and “striving for justice and peace in all the earth.”

For more information on Lutheran Disaster Response’s ongoing efforts to provide support in Eastern Europe, visit https://blogs.elca.org/disasterresponse/situation-report-eastern-europe-crisis/.

 

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the program director of hunger education for ELCA World Hunger and the author of The African American Challenge to Just War Theory (Palgrave, 2013).

 

[1] A food crisis occurs when there is a sharp rise in hunger or malnutrition within a geographic region. The World Food Programme uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification and the Cadre Harmonise (IPC/CH) to describe levels of acute food insecurity. The classification phases range from Phase 1 (none or minimal) to Phase 5 (Catastrophe/Famine.) More information on the phases can be found in WFP’s Global Report on Food Crises. Phase 3 represents a “crisis,” during which immediate action is needed to protect livelihoods and prevent worsening hunger.

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Conflict and Hunger Part II: Food Production

This post is Part II of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The first key aspect of food security is food production, or put another way, is enough food being produced or supplied to meet human needs? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

Violent conflict puts the entire food supply chain at risk. The immediate destruction or occupation of land and storage facilities can reduce the amount of land that is farmed and the amount of food crops harvested. The effects, though, are complex, as research into the recent conflicts in Syria and Iraq has found, since militaries can and do turn some of their energy to cultivating occupied land while local farmers also increase their production (or try to) to meet growing need.

Far more significant than control or destruction of land are the impacts on labor and inputs. Are there enough people to work a farm, and does the farm have enough supplies to keep operating? As people flee their homes in search of safety, farms are often left fallow, crops are left unharvested and livestock are left untended and vulnerable to death or theft, as has been the case in Nigeria, for example, amid the violence of the Fulani militia. Conflict can also make it hard for farmers to get shipments in or out, so obtaining seeds, new animals, machinery and other necessary supplies gets difficult and expensive, if not impossible.

This is a huge problem when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine. It’s no exaggeration to call Ukraine “the breadbasket of Europe.” Agriculture is about 9% of the country’s total gross domestic product (GDP), and Ukraine is a leading producer of wheat, corn, barley, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and soybeans. Together, Russia and Ukraine provide more than 30% of the world’s cereal[1] supplies. These cereals are essential staples for many countries around the world that rely on Ukraine’s exports – exports that are now at severe risk. As Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has pointed out, some cereal crops in Ukraine will be ready for harvest in June. The longer the conflict lasts, the greater risk that these crops won’t be harvested or shipped later this year.

That extends the crisis far beyond the borders of either Ukraine or Russia. Many of the countries dependent on importing Ukrainian grains do so because their own production can’t meet their needs. Some of these counties, such as Yemen (which imports about 700,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat each year), are already facing their own food crises. A shock like this could make famine more likely. On the other hand, because of our interconnected global food system and the widespread concern about the situation in Ukraine, we may see other producers step up to help fill the gaps through increased exports and reduced trade barriers. This, of course, doesn’t avoid other problems, as we’ll see in the next post on food access.

 

[1] “Cereals” includes a wide variety of grains used for foods, such as rye, barley, wheat, sorghum, maize or rice.

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Conflict and Hunger Part III: Food Access

This post is Part III of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is food access, or put another way, is food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

The next key aspect of food security is food access, or put another way, is food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine.

Even if food is produced, conflict interrupts the transportation and infrastructure needed to get it in people’s hands. As the World Food Programme (WFP) notes, an estimated 13.5 million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of maize ready to ship from Ukraine and Russia have been “frozen” out of the food supply chain, so they won’t get to the people who need them.

Even if food does get out to stores, food prices are rising rapidly, so consumers may not be able to afford them. The COVID-19 pandemic has already driven up the prices of staple foods, and these prices are likely to continue climbing. Because of the balance between demand and supply, these costs will rise even in countries that aren’t dependent on exports. The FAO estimates that food and feed prices could soar by up to 22%, depending on the movement of prices.

But couldn’t other countries simply ramp up production to fill the gap? Perhaps, but it’s not quite that simple. There are many benefits of a global food system. We have access to a wider variety of foods, often for lower prices, which is incredibly helpful for countries that are export-dependent. But this also means that a shock anywhere can lead to cascading shocks everywhere. In the case of the war in Ukraine, this means that the countries that could step up to fill the gap in food exports are also dependent on imported fuel. Because of the role Russia and Ukraine play in producing fuel, costs to run production facilities and transportation in other countries are also rising.

On top of all of this, within the countries directly affected by violence, conflict causes stores and markets to close and the loss of jobs. Also, because roads and bridges are overrun or destroyed, trucking and rail shipments can come to a halt in conflict areas, so, food can’t get to or from processing plants or stores for consumers within the country, and it can’t get to or out of ports for export, as we have already seen with some ports on the Black Sea closed. The loss of jobs, of course, reduces consumers’ ability to pay for the scarce supplies of food that may be available.

Ukrainians and Russians are both feeling this pinch, in part because of the invasion of Ukraine and in part because of the global response to the invasion. Obviously, within Ukraine, the disruption to daily lives, transportation, jobs and stores means that those who have stayed or been internally displaced within the country may have difficulty accessing basic goods, even if they do have the money to afford them. With many routes into city centers closed, too, this compounds the challenge of getting necessities to people who need them.

For Ukrainians forced to flee to other countries, humanitarian agencies and churches have stepped in alongside governments to meet some of the need, but in terms of access, it may be irregular for quite some time.

Russians, too, may experience obstacles to food access in the near future and long-term. Some have already. Sanctions are a middle road for international governments between, on the one hand, doing nothing and, on the other hand, engaging militarily in what would likely become a global war. Sanctions allow for pressure to be applied on Russia with minimal risk of escalating armed conflict. However, sanctions are also an indiscriminate tool, meaning their effects aren’t limited to just the people engaged in the war.

Research into the effects of US sanctions have found that “it is those living in poverty who are harshly affected” by sanctions. The effects are more pronounced when the sanctions are implemented by multiple countries, as we are seeing now with Russia. Unfortunately, while the seizure of yachts from oligarchs and the freezing of wealthy individuals’ bank accounts receive the most media attention, the impact of sanctions is most likely to be felt more sharply and for a longer time by average Russians, especially those who are already at or near poverty, as they lose jobs with foreign companies or domestic companies impacted by supply shortages.

Because of the lack of reliable information, it is difficult to say what the effect of sanctions has been on unemployment in Russia, but history suggests that average Russians will be significantly impacted. Likewise, as gas and fuel costs rise in the rest of the world, the people living paycheck-to-paycheck are most impacted, including here in the United States, as a higher percentage of their income goes to heat their homes, purchase goods or fill their tanks to drive to work.

This doesn’t mean that sanctions aren’t necessary or justified; but even necessary and justified actions have a cost.

Violent conflict causes immediate obstacles to food access for many people that go far beyond food production. It isn’t enough to have enough food being produced if people cannot afford it or if there aren’t outlets to get it from producers to consumers. These obstacles to access, including the collateral damage to food access within a sanctioned country such as Russia, ultimately impact the way people utilize the food that is available, as we will see in the next post on food utilization.

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Conflict and Hunger Part IV: Food Utilization

This post is Part IV of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is food utilization, or put another way, are people able to meet their nutritional needs? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

When it comes to food security, there is a difference between having enough calories and meeting your nutritional needs. An overabundance of calorie-dense food – especially processed and packaged foods that also contain high amounts of salt or sugar – does not necessarily contribute to food security, because part of food security means having the right kinds of food: nutritious, clean and safe. The availability of this food, the ability to safely store and prepare it, and our own confidence as consumers all play a role in food utilization.

Unfortunately, in a violent conflict, when much of the food system and society is unstable, these are the kinds of foods that tend to be less available. During a crisis, people often turn toward shelf-stable,  processed foods that are quick to prepare, easy to carry, readily available and inexpensive. We saw this in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia in 2020, where as much as half of the population turned to eating less overall or eating more highly processed foods to get through the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the main concerns in the Ukraine conflict is the nutritional well-being of people displaced by violence within Ukraine and those who have fled the country as refugees. As people are displaced from their homes and local communities, their ability to procure safe, nutritious food is often hampered. In some cases, humanitarian aid can help make up the difference, but not everyone has access to this. We can surmise from recent reports that humanitarian agencies are facing significant obstacles in reaching people who are internally displaced within Ukraine.

The other aspect of food utilization to consider in a conflict is safe handling and storage of food. With attacks impacting both personal security of civilians as well as critical infrastructure that provides power for cooking and sanitation for clean water, conflict increases the risk of illnesses that come from contaminated food. Conflict also makes it harder for people to get treatment for diseases that can impact their nutrition and overall health, such as diarrhea, fevers, diabetes and, of course, COVID-19.

Here, too, the effects cascade to other populations. Host countries welcoming refugees can encounter obstacles in ensuring that everyone – including native residents – has enough food and that there is capacity in the healthcare system to meet the growing need. In addition, countries relying on exports from Ukraine and Russia may turn to less nutritious or less safe food available locally or in alternative markets.

With all of these interconnected systems, one of the most important aspects of food security is how stable and reliable the food system is. We turn to that in the next post on stability.

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Conflict and Hunger Part V: Stability

This post is Part V of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is stability. Is access to food reliable, even during a crisis? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

Stability, in short, means that food production, access, and utilization are reliable and resilient. Put another way, if we can eat today, how sure are we that we will be able to eat tomorrow?

There are two reasons this is important. First, instability and unpredictability change the way people behave. Farmers, for example, become more hesitant to trade, invest or diversify their work. For example, after the civil war in Mozambique in the 1980s and 1990s, farmers tended to focus on subsistence farming and reduced their participation in the market, meaning there was less food produced for other people to purchase and consume. Similarly, farmers may shift away from livestock or away from crop diversification, since doing so seems to pose less risk in the short-term, even if it may have longer-term negative effects.

In Ukraine, one of the current concerns is that farmers may not fertilize their grain crops because of high prices and instability. That would lead to a drastic reduction in the wheat crop for 2022, which could cause further shortages and higher prices globally into 2023. Moreover, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) notes that fertilizer costs are expected to rise globally, adding to the strain of farmers dependent on them. Russia and Belarus provide a large share of the world’s fertilizer, and their shipments have been significantly interrupted. (Of course, because causes and effects are complex, this situation might actually spawn the positive benefit of focusing attention on increased efficiency of chemical fertilizers and investment in alternative fertilizers that are less destructive to health and the environment, as IFPRI notes.)

The second reason stability is important is because conflict doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine didn’t bring an end to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 or other diseases. Nor does conflict make climate-related disasters take a hiatus. The most significant risk to food security in a region occurs when multiple shocks coincide.

This is, in part, what makes the food security situation for export-dependent countries so dire right now. In places like Yemen, which depend on grain exports from Russia and Ukraine, the war comes on the heels of a locust swarm that devastated crops and continues to pose a threat to farmland. Moreover, some of the people dependent on exports from Ukraine are in areas facing their own conflict-related crises, such as Afghanistan.

When combined with existing poverty, rising prices, climate events and other conflicts, the shock to the global food system that the war in Ukraine represents could be severe. In the short- to medium-term, the FAO estimates that the conflict could lead to nearly 8 million more people around the world becoming hungry. This is in addition to the refugees and internally displaced people of Ukraine whose lives and livelihoods have been immediately impacted. That increase in hunger would come on the heels of significant growth in undernourishment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To sum it up, conflict destabilizes nearly every aspect of our global food system, which is partly why it is often named as the most significant driver of hunger around the world. For most of history, humans could assuage feelings of responsibility or even fear if a conflict emerged halfway around the globe. But our world today is far too connected to believe that borders, oceans or miles can insulate us. The globalized, interconnected food system that each of us is a part of demonstrates politically and economically what we have always known theologically, namely that the safety and well-being of all God’s creation matters, no matter how distant the people involved might seem to be.

The stability of the food system depends on many factors: farmers, workers, bakers, herders and processors who produce food; truck drivers, rail workers, loaders and grocers who make food available; health care workers who tend to nutritional well-being; employers who provide wages to workers so that they can be consumers; utility workers who keep infrastructure running to ensure the safety of food; construction and road workers who ensure there can be adequate transportation of food; and even policymakers who negotiate trade agreements and aid to ensure that the food system is inclusive.

To paraphrase the philosopher Jacques Derrida, when we eat, we never eat alone. We are eating the fruits of God’s creation made possible because of neighbors around the world. And as we eat, we are mindful that the stability of this system on which all of us depend to some extent, depends itself on the truths we are called to pursue: peace and justice.

So, to return to the first post in this series:

The ripple effects of the war in Ukraine could echo throughout the food system for a long time. But we find courage and hope in God who “calls us to hope, even when hope is shrouded by the pall of war” and who, even now, is at work in, among and through peacemakers, supporting neighbors in need and “striving for justice and peace in all the earth.”

What can be done? Providing support to the work that has already begun by giving a gift to Lutheran Disaster Response is one way to help meet the growing need of Ukrainians, especially those who have been displaced by the conflict.

A next step after that is to consider ongoing support of Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger. Some of the long-term consequences described in these posts may be reduced by working with local communities around the world to reduce vulnerability, increase capacity and build resilience against future shocks. This won’t be the last violent conflict; but by working together toward a just world where all are fed – and safe – we can take steps to help prevent the many destructive ripple effects that we may see this year. Supporting food producers; investing in stable, sufficient livelihoods for all people; increasing the capacity of communities to respond to crises; and building a just, sustainable and stable food system will go a long way to ending both hunger and conflict. As António Guterres wrote last year,

We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either.

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Lent Reflection 2: Vulnerable in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

In English and en Espanol

Week 2: Wandering in the Wilderness

“I must be on my way” (Luke 13:33).

Read

  • Genesis 15:1-12;17-18
  • Psalm 27
  • Philippians 3:17-4:1
  • Luke 12:31-35

Reflect

As we saw in the reflection for Week 1, Lent is a story of the journey of God’s people. It is our story, or more appropriately the story of “God with us.” During Lent, we remember the ancient Hebrews’ journey from slavery in Egypt and a generation spent wandering in the wilderness, as recounted in the offering of the “first fruits” in Deuteronomy. We also reenact, in our own small ways, Jesus’ journey into the wilderness as it was described in the Gospel of Luke in the first week of Lent. The fast that many Christians commit to during Lent reflects Jesus’ own fast in the wilderness.

In this sacred season, we turn inward, reflecting on our dependence on God’s grace. Marked by ashes at the start, we enter the 40 days of Lent with penitent hearts and awareness of our need for God’s mercy. Repentance and self-reflection are important practices, but it’s easy to stay here, forgetting that the season is about so much more than our own self-examination.

Martin Luther captured this well. Luther defined repentance in two ways: “contrition…and in taking hold of the promise.” Certainly, confession of the many ways we have fallen short is a key part of the spiritual practice of Lent. But the season of Lent also leads us to turn outward, as Luther wrote, “taking hold of the promise” of God as we both yearn for and proclaim Jesus’ words that define his time in the wilderness: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because [the Lord] has anointed me to bring good news to the poor … [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

The promise of good news is the gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, a promise of new life in the fullness of God’s reign. It is the promise of the Gospels and the prophets, the promise clung to by our ancestors in faith and the promise that sustains the people of God today in communities
around the world who accompany one another amid staggering challenges
of poverty, hunger and injustice.

Jesus not only proclaims the promise but lives it. He shows us what it means to live according to the promise — boldly, courageously, and with faith unceasing — from Galilee to Calvary. In the face of religious and political persecution, Jesus lives the daring life of faith in God’s grace.

While his trial before Pilate gets more attention, Jesus’ unrelenting march toward Jerusalem is one of the clearest examples of how to “take hold of the promise.” He travels from town to town, “teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22). At one stop, a group of Pharisees warns him that he
must flee because Herod wants to kill him. Jesus responds: “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work’” (Luke 13:31-32).

Herod is coming for him, and Jesus responds, “I have work to do.” Jesus demonstrates a daring confidence that not even death can stop the work of God in the world. People of faith bring Jesus’ daring, grace-formed confidence to the calling of the church: seeing — even amid the threat of death — that there is work to be done.

In Indonesia, the threat from HIV and AIDS is very real. The island country is currently experiencing one of the fastest-growing HIV epidemics in the world. In 2018 (the most recent year for which data are available), 38,000 people died from an AIDS-related illness, an increase of 60% from 2010. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 640,000 people in the country were living with HIV as of 2018, but WHO estimates that only about half of people infected with HIV are aware that they have it.

The Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP), a companion church of the ELCA in Indonesia, is helping people throughout the country confront the deathly disease with courage, hope and the resources they need to survive. Arjen first came to HKBP’s AIDS Ministry (HAM) when he was 12 years old, but he was born with HIV. By the time he came to HAM, he had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and was malnourished and very sick. His father passed away, and Arjen’s mother couldn’t afford the cost of transportation to the nearest hospital or the expensive treatments for her son. With the help of HKBP, the family was able to have Arjen evaluated at a hospital and to start him on antiretroviral medication to keep him healthy. HAM workers regularly check in on the family, helping Arjen’s mother meet his nutritional and medical needs. Seeing the mother’s financial situation, HAM also provided a revolving fund for business capital that has allowed her to secure a more stable income to support her family.

A year into Arjen’s work with HAM, his health is improving and his mother’s business is growing. Amid poverty, hunger and a deadly epidemic, God is at work through families such as Arjen’s to bring about a future with hope. In Lent, we remember Jesus’ long walk to Jerusalem and to Calvary. And in faith, we know that nothing can stop the work of God. Together we “take hold of the promise” with confidence, knowing that, even out of death, God will bring new life and hope to the world.

Herod wants us dead? “I am casting out demons and performing cures” (Luke 13:32).

The shadow of the cross looms ahead of us? “I must be on my way” (Luke 13:33).

Poverty, hunger and disease threaten our community? Go and tell that fox that God isn’t done with us yet.

Ask

  1. Think of a time when fear impacted your ministry. How does Christ encourage us to venture outside our comfort zone to love and serve our neighbors?
  2. What does it mean for you and your congregation to “take hold of the promise” in your community?
  3. How can programs such as the HKBP AIDS Ministry (HAM) help us learn about what it means to be the people of God in the world? What does Arjen’s story mean for your own ministry and life?
  4. In the face of death, disease and poverty, God continues to bring new life and hope. How do you, your family and your congregation bear witness to courage and hope in an uncertain world?

Pray

Gracious God, amid the challenges our world faces, you remind us of your promise for the future of our world. Draw near to us and draw us near to our neighbors, that we may be inspired with hope, courage and audacious faith to be the people you are calling us to be. Be present with our companions and partners around the world as we work together toward a just world where all are fed. In your holy name, amen.

 

SEMANA 2: Vagando por el desierto

“Tengo que seguir adelante” (Lucas 13:33).
Lecturas: Génesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Salmo 27; Filipenses 3:17-4:1; Lucas 12:31-35

Como vimos en la reflexión de la Semana 1, la Cuaresma es una historia de la jornada del pueblo de Dios. Es nuestra historia o, más apropiadamente, la historia de “Dios con nosotros”. Durante la Cuaresma recordamos la jornada de los antiguos hebreos desde la esclavitud en Egipto y una generación que pasó vagando por el desierto, como se relata en la ofrenda de las “primicias” en Deuteronomio. También recreamos, en nuestra propia y modesta medida, el viaje de Jesús al desierto según fue descrito en el Evangelio de Lucas en la primera semana de Cuaresma. El ayuno al que muchos cristianos se comprometen durante la Cuaresma refleja el propio ayuno de Jesús en el desierto.

En esta temporada sagrada, nos concentramos en nosotros mismos, y reflexionamos en nuestra dependencia de la gracia de Dios. Marcados por las cenizas al inicio, entramos en los 40 días de Cuaresma con corazones penitentes y conciencia de nuestra necesidad de la misericordia de Dios. El arrepentimiento y la autorreflexión son prácticas importantes, pero es fácil quedarse aquí y olvidar que la temporada es mucho más que nuestro propio examen de conciencia.

Martín Lutero registró esto bien. Lutero definió el arrepentimiento de dos maneras: “contrición… y en apoderarse de la promesa”.  Ciertamente, la confesión de las muchas formas en que nos hemos quedado cortos es una parte clave de la práctica espiritual de la Cuaresma. Pero el tiempo de Cuaresma también nos lleva a voltearnos hacia afuera, como escribió Lutero, “apoderándonos de la promesa” de Dios mientras anhelamos y proclamamos las palabras de Jesús que definen su tiempo en el desierto: “El Espíritu del Señor está sobre mí, por cuanto [el Señor] me ha ungido para anunciar buenas nuevas a los pobres… [y] a pregonar el año del favor del Señor” (Lucas 4:18-19).

La promesa de buenas nuevas es el don de la gracia a través de la fe en Jesucristo, una promesa de nueva vida en la plenitud del reino de Dios. Es la promesa de los Evangelios y los profetas, la promesa a la que se aferran nuestros antepasados en la fe y la promesa que sostiene al pueblo de Dios hoy en las comunidades de todo el mundo que se acompañan mutuamente en medio de abrumadores desafíos de pobreza, hambre e injusticia.

Jesús no solamente proclama la promesa, sino que también la vive. Nos muestra lo que significa vivir de acuerdo con la promesa   —con firmeza, valentía y fe incesante— desde Galilea hasta el Calvario. Frente a la persecución religiosa y política, Jesús vive la valiente vida de fe en la gracia de Dios.

Aunque su juicio ante Pilato recibe más atención, la marcha decidida de Jesús hacia Jerusalén es uno de los ejemplos más claros de cómo “apoderarse de la promesa”. “Continuando su viaje a Jerusalén, Jesús enseñaba en los pueblos y aldeas por donde pasaba” (Lucas 13:22). En una de sus paradas, un grupo de fariseos le advierte que debe huir porque Herodes quiere matarlo. Jesús contesta: “—Vayan y díganle a ese zorro: ‘Mira, hoy y mañana seguiré expulsando demonios y sanando a la gente, y al tercer día terminaré lo que debo hacer’” (Lucas 13:31-32).

Herodes viene por él, y Jesús responde: “Tengo trabajo que hacer”. Jesús demuestra una audaz confianza en que ni siquiera la muerte puede detener la obra de Dios en el mundo. Las personas de fe llevan la confianza de Jesús, audaz y producto de la gracia, al llamado de la iglesia: ven — incluso ante la amenaza de muerte— que hay trabajo que hacer.

En Indonesia, la amenaza del VIH y el SIDA es muy real. El país insular experimenta actualmente una de las epidemias de VIH de más rápido crecimiento en el mundo. En 2018 (el año más reciente del que hay datos disponibles), 38,000 personas murieron de una enfermedad relacionada con el SIDA, un aumento del 60% desde 2010. La Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) estima que para 2018, 640,000 personas en el país vivían con el VIH, pero estima también que solo alrededor de la mitad de las personas infectadas con el VIH saben que lo tienen.

La Iglesia Protestante Cristiana de Batak (HKBP), una iglesia compañera de la ELCA en Indonesia, está ayudando a las personas de todo el país a enfrentar la enfermedad mortal con valor, esperanza y los recursos que necesitan para sobrevivir.

Arjen llegó por primera vez al Ministerio de SIDA (HAM) de HKBP cuando tenía 12 años, pero había nacido con VIH. Cuando llegó a HAM había contraído tuberculosis pulmonar y estaba desnutrido y muy enfermo. El padre de Arjen había fallecido, y su madre no podía pagar el costo del transporte al hospital más cercano ni los costosos tratamientos para su hijo. Con la ayuda de HKBP, la familia pudo llevar a Arjen para que lo evaluaran en un hospital y comenzara a tomar medicamentos antirretrovirales para mantenerlo saludable. Los trabajadores de HAM verifican regularmente con la familia el estado de Arjen, y ayudan a su madre a satisfacer las necesidades nutricionales y médicas de él. Al ver la situación financiera de la madre, HAM también proporcionó un fondo rotatorio para capital empresarial que le ha permitido asegurar un ingreso más estable para mantener a su familia.

Un año después del trabajo de Arjen con HAM, su salud está mejorando y el negocio de su madre está creciendo. En medio de la pobreza, el hambre y una epidemia mortal, Dios está trabajando a través de familias como la de Arjen para lograr un futuro con esperanza.

En la Cuaresma recordamos el largo camino de Jesús a Jerusalén y al Calvario. Y en fe sabemos que nada puede detener la obra de Dios. Juntos “nos apoderamos de la promesa” con confianza, sabiendo que Dios traerá nueva vida y esperanza al mundo, incluso de la muerte.

¿Herodes nos quiere muertos? “Estoy expulsando demonios y sanando a la gente” (Lucas 13:32).

¿La sombra de la cruz se cierne sobre nosotros? “Tengo que seguir adelante” (Lucas 13:33).

¿La pobreza, el hambre y las enfermedades amenazan a nuestra comunidad? Ve y dile a ese zorro que Dios aún no ha terminado con nosotros.

Preguntas para la reflexión

  1. Piense en un momento en que el miedo afectó su ministerio. ¿Cómo nos anima Cristo a aventurarnos fuera de nuestra zona de confort para amar y servir a nuestro prójimo?
  2. ¿Qué significa para usted y su congregación “apoderarse de la promesa” en su comunidad?
  3. ¿Cómo ayudan programas como el Ministerio de SIDA de HKBP (HAM) a que aprendamos sobre lo que significa ser el pueblo de Dios en el mundo? ¿Qué significa la historia de Arjen para su propio ministerio y su vida?
  4. Ante la muerte, la enfermedad y la pobreza, Dios sigue trayendo nueva vida y esperanza. ¿Cómo usted, su familia y su congregación dan testimonio de valentía y esperanza en un mundo incierto?

Oración

Dios misericordioso, en medio de los desafíos que enfrenta nuestro mundo, nos recuerdas tu promesa para el futuro de este. Acércate a nosotros y acércanos a nuestro prójimo, para que podamos ser inspirados con esperanza, valor y una fe firme para que seamos las personas que nos estás llamando a ser. Está presente con nuestros compañeros y socios en todo el mundo mientras trabajamos juntos por un mundo justo en el que todos sean alimentados. En tu santo nombre, amén.

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