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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.


The Power of Peacebuilding


See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. —1 Thessalonians 5:15


Forgiveness is rarely easy. It takes empathy, letting go of resentment and seeing the humanity in others. Even more difficult is seeking forgiveness and reconciliation after years of conflict that led to the deaths of over 380,000 people and the displacement of 4 million.

After achieving independence in 2011, South Sudan descended into civil war in 2013 when fighting broke out between the South Sudanese government and opposition forces. There were additional ethnic undertones to the conflict because the leaders of each faction were from different ethnic groups. A national peace process began in 2018, and the security situation has improved greatly, though some areas are still plagued by ethnic tension and communal violence.

Since the beginning of the civil war, South Sudan has been gripped by a cycle of violent retribution. The Episcopal Church of South Sudan–Upper Nile Internal Province (ECSS-UNIP) is striving to break that cycle.

Participants at an ECSS-UNIP workshop.

Community Peacebuilding

Through its Peace and Reconciliation project, which is funded by Lutheran Disaster Response, ECSS-UNIP is fostering peace and understanding in the Upper Nile Internal Province. Much of the current discontent is at the local level; therefore, it must be addressed at the local level. The initiative unites local faith groups, tribal communities and political parties to provide stability in the region.

The Peace and Reconciliation project is achieving its goals through multiple avenues. Community peace committees distribute peace and reconciliation messages through social media, brochures and radio broadcasts, translating the messages into four languages to accommodate the area’s different ethnic groups. ECSS-UNIP also provides spiritual care and educational opportunities for youth — many of whom have experienced conflict and are now active in the peace committees.


“Real, full healing”

A group praying together at an ECSS-UNIP peacebuilding workshop.

In October 2020, ECSS-UNIP held a weeklong peace and reconciliation workshop for local leaders. The training focused on peace-building, confliction resolution and trauma healing. At the end of the week, Juliano Ambrose, a well-known peace advocate and coordinator for the South Sudan Council of Churches, closed the workshop with prayer.

Afterward, on his way home, Ambrose was fatally shot.

In the past, such a killing would have sparked more violence. But this time was different. Upon hearing of Ambrose’s death, leaders came together, encouraging dialogue and reconciliation. Workshop participants mourned together.

“What has happened is wrong,” Stephen Nyodho, bishop of the Catholic Church of Malakal, told local media about Ambrose’s death. “It should have not taken place when people are preaching peace, reconciliation and love.”

Ambrose believed in the power of prayer, peacebuilding and healing — as do many others. The reaction to his death shows that uniting communities around the goal of reconciliation can lead to real societal change. The Peace and Reconciliation initiative emphasizes that peace is not just the absence of violence; it takes real, full healing. Conflict is transformed, managed and resolved. Amid South Sudan’s continuing political strife, ECSS-UNIP is building relationships and resilient communities and showing that Christ’s love can break through all barriers.


International Aid: Hunger Policy Podcast


Survey data consistently paint a strange picture when it comes to the US budget. Americans in general believe that the US gives about 25% of its budget to international aid and that the portion should be closer to 10% of the federal budget. In reality, the US sends about 1% of its budget overseas. If Americans are confused about the amount of international aid, we may be even more unclear on the how and, importantly, the why of international aid. Where does the money go? What role do businesses and other organizations play? And why is international aid even more important in the age of COVID-19?

In this episode of ELCA World Hunger’s Hunger Policy Podcast, Patricia Kisare, international policy advisor for the ELCA, and Kaari Reierson, the ELCA’s associate for corporate social responsibility, join Ryan Cumming, the program director for hunger education, to break down some of the myths and realities about US aid and the church’s witness when it comes to this part of the federal budget. Patricia and Kaari also share a new resource they have put together to help congregations learn more about international aid.

So, watch the video below, listen to the audio or read the transcript to learn more about this important part of public policy.

Download the new resource on International Aid here. Find other helpful resources on public policy and advocacy at the ELCA Advocacy resource page and on the ELCA World Hunger resource page.

Want to subscribe to the ELCA World Hunger blog? Use the widget on our homepage to sign up!

Prefer to read the interview? Follow this link to access a transcript of the conversation. Closed captioning is also available in the video above and when the video is watched on YouTube.

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Lenten Reflection 5: What Will It Take to End Hunger?



“They are working together, united, to show the country and the world that this is the way to fight for peace.”

Thus far this Lent, we have heard stories of God working through this church, our companions and our neighbors to end hunger. We have heard stories from India, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., and heard of the stories that cannot be shared. We have learned that ending hunger means committing ourselves to a more inclusive vision of community, to honesty, to justice and to one another. Here, in this last week, companions from Colombia will help teach us about the final tool: action.

As much progress as the world has made to end hunger, we still have a long way to go. Nearly 690 million people around the world are undernourished, and more than 35 million people in the United States don’t know where their next meal will come from. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of hunger around the world was on the rise after a decade of decline. With the pandemic, we have seen historic levels of unemployment, and even the most conservative forecasts warn that hunger and poverty could increase with nearly unprecedented rapidity in the coming years as we recover from its effects.

In his response to the plague that reemerged in Wittenberg in 1527, Martin Luther addressed the question of how a Christian is to act in a pandemic. After highlighting the ways God shows concern for good health in Scripture and exhorting his readers to care for their neighbors, Luther writes that prayer, though important, is not enough. Christians, he proclaims, must do more than pray. They must act.

Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others.

Pray. Then act.

These past 40 days of Lent commemorate the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and facing down temptation. In the first temptation, Satan placed the “famished” Jesus before a pile of stones and demanded that Jesus prove his power by turning the stones to bread that would end his hunger (Matthew 4:1-3). How tempting that must have been! How many parents with not enough food for their children would wish for such a miracle so that their family might be fed? How many of the 690 million undernourished people around the world would welcome the power to turn stones into the bread they need?

Yet the choice Jesus faced was not between stones and bread but between truth and lies. No sudden miracle will end the world’s hunger. Ending hunger is not about wishing or praying for the power to alter reality. Hunger does not end because of a miraculous intervention. It ends because of the persistent work of God with, among and through people striving for change. It is sometimes slow work, accomplished one step at a time. But it will not stop until we realize that vision of a time when we will hunger and thirst no more.

Carolina Camargo, a nurse from Villavicencio, Colombia, knows that this is what it will take. Carolina is part of the work God is doing through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Colombia (IELCO) and the church’s Justicia y vida (Justice and Life) initiative, which is supported by ELCA World Hunger. Together with others, Carolina works toward future reconciliation in Justicia y vida’s “From War to Peace” project, which weaves ties of solidarity between the church and communities in Colombia that have been beset by violence for many years.

Carolina and other volunteers are at work in the area of Urabá, which means “promised land” in the Indigenous Embera Katío language. Since the 1990s, Urabá has witnessed a war involving the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), insurgents, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and paramilitary groups. The conflict led to more than 103 massacres in the region and 32,000 people displaced between 1998 and 2002. Today, social leaders remain at risk from paramilitary units over disputes involving land.

The peace process has been a long road for Colombia, and IELCO has been traveling it for many years. In San José, former combatants and their families are given a chance to start again through the work of the church. In San José de Léon, they are able to build and maintain homes and resume their former lives raising fish, pigs and chickens. It’s a chance to rebuild some of what was lost in the years of conflict.

Addressing conflict and working for peace are central to ending hunger. Conflict is one of the most significant reasons for hunger increasing around the world. When people’s lives are threatened, they do not feel safe going to work or staying home. Many are forced to migrate to protect their families. Land may be stolen or destroyed, and markets are closed or empty. Parents and workers may be injured or killed in the violence. The United Nations estimates that up to 80% of humanitarian needs around the world are caused by conflict.

Building peace is a critical step in ending hunger. But it is a difficult step to take.

Carolina has learned this through her work with IELCO. “There are people who believe that you can close your eyes and yearn for peace without making an effort towards it,” she says. “What God allowed me to know is very different from that idealism, the reality I could observe and live, expressing hope in all the people who are part of this change.” The idealistic belief that peace means simply transforming swords into plowshares ignores “the struggle against negative feelings associated with the traumatic experiences” of the people with whom Carolina works. Yet together they “walk towards the goal of peace and reconciliation.

“They are working together, united, to show the country and the world that this is the way to fight for peace.”

We know that we cannot merely declare or call for “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Building peace and ending hunger take action within community and are fostered by the hope and trust that, with each step, God is moving our world closer to that goal.

In this study, we have read stories of people at work around the world. Their situations may differ, their needs may differ, but what unites them is the commitment to an active hope that refuses to stagnate or stay silent. It is the hope of the vulnerable guests seeking care at clinics and shelters, of women and girls in India, of advocates in Milwaukee and of peacemakers in Colombia.

It is the hope of Lent, which propels us on this arduous journey to — and beyond — the cross. This hope empowers us see a number such as 690 million hungry but to refuse to despair. It can be sustained only by our trust that God is with us in each small step, guiding us toward a promised future. In hope, we expand our vision of what it means to be “we.” In hope, we are honest about the challenges we face. In hope, we invest in our shared future. In hope, we speak up for justice.

And in hope, we act, knowing that a just world where all are fed is not just possible but promised — and knowing, too, that we are called to be part of building that future. This is not the idealistic prayer spoken but a realistic prayer lived in solidarity with one another in cities, towns, shelters, clinics, classrooms, gardens, statehouses — all the places where God is at work.

This is the prayer of an Easter people, and this is our prayer — that God will not merely turn stones into bread but build a new world on that rocky soil, a just world where all are fed.

Discussion Questions

  1. Think, share or journal about a time when you acted and it created a positive change. What did you do? What happened? What did it feel like?
  2. Where have you seen God turning prayers into action?
  3. Think about the prayers you share during worship. Bring one prayer to mind. How might your community turn this prayer into action? What small or large steps could you take?
  4. Where is there a need for action to end hunger in your community? What will it take to move this action forward?


God of promise, God of hope, God of fullness, God of peace, guide us, your people, to be your hands and feet, to work together as you build on our rocky soil a new, just world where all are fed.

Learn more and follow ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of giving throughout Lent by visiting


Advent 2020- Week Three Study Guide


This advent reflection is part of ELCA World Hunger’s 2020 Advent Study. You can download the full study here. You can also download the corresponding advent calendar here

Advent Week Three



Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
I Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28


Volunteering has always been the lifeblood of Cacilda Rodrigues Barcelos. Born in São Borja, Brazil, she moved at age 13 with her family to the metropolitan region of Porto Alegre. Alone, her mother raised 11 daughters and sons, until her 50th birthday, when she died. Cacilda was 22 at the time, and the community helped to support her. “People taught me how to do what I do, because I was welcomed by them,” she says.

Now 63, Cacilda has dedicated years to giving back through volunteering. Early on, she worked with young boys in the community to make and sell food at fairs to help pay for uniforms and tournaments for their soccer team. Today, as a member of the management board of the Fair Trade and Solidarity Network (a project of the diakonia foundation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil), she helps train other women in entrepreneurship and helps plan workshops and fairs where they sell their goods. She also volunteers in the Peace Service and teaches women to prevent and overcome violence.

As much as Cacilda has changed her community, the biggest change has been in her personal life. “I learned to put myself in other people’s shoes and respect each other. I was very angry, as a way to defend myself, and it was in these meetings and meetings [with other women from the Fair Trade and Solidarity Network] that I grew and improved,” she says. “That’s why I say I’m the one who gains the most.”

As common — and often justified — as anger is, it is one of those emotions that we struggle to deal with in the church, at times. We might find it difficult to place raw, tumultuous emotions within the life of the people of God. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that this season we will sing songs about the “holy infant so tender and mild” (“Silent Night”) or “that mother mild” (“Once in Royal David’s City”) while we still await the writing of an ode to Jesus’ overturning of tables in the temple. Volatile emotions, particularly in the seasons of Advent and Christmas, feel so out of place. We aren’t quite sure what to do with them.

That has made 2020 particularly hard to navigate. This year, we have lived with the grief of the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have mourned isolation from one another and the loss of that most basic human need of touch, even as we understood the risk that accompanied handshakes and hugs. We grieved together as loved ones and neighbors died alone in hospitals or nursing homes. And when we couldn’t gather together for funerals, we lost a key ritual for processing our grief as a community.

We grieved the loss of livelihoods and the closure of family businesses that had been part of our communities for generations. We feared the long-term consequences for our communities as jobs were lost and more and more people around the world went hungry.

And we were angered together by the deadly injustice of racism and the persistent inequalities that exacerbated the pandemic in many communities. Demonstrations filled streets in cities large and small as a collective voice of rage was raised against a racist justice system that continues to disproportionately permit and even sanction extrajudicial killings of people of color.

Certainly, our hope rests in that just peace (shalom) that “surpasses all human understanding,” which will “wipe away every tear from our eyes” and bring such equity and harmony that the lion will lie down with the lamb and the child will play with the viper and not be harmed. But there are times when it is difficult to see this promise through the lens of overwhelming grief and righteous anger. And there are times when grief and anger are what we need to move us toward justice, which is the form of the love of neighbor takes in society. For many of us, 2020 was one of those times.

The promise of Advent is not merely the promise of a future when all shall be made well, when all grief and anger shall cease and when the weight of heavy emotions shall be lifted from our shoulders. The promise of Advent — or, perhaps, the comfort of Advent — is that, amid our grief and anger, God is present, walking with us, consoling us, inspiring us and prodding us to walk together toward the future
where justice and peace will kiss (Psalm 85:10).

The future day promised by Isaiah in this week’s reading is a promise not to those who are comfortable but to those who are afflicted. In “the year of the Lord’s favor,” God will “provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:2-3). It is a promise that those whose burdens have left them with a “faint spirit” will be given the strength of “oaks” and that God will “cause righteousness and praise to spring up” like the first plants of spring (61:11). It is a promise that God, who “loves justice,” (61:8) will establish the same — and an invitation for us to be part of this.

Perhaps that is the reassurance of the Scripture readings for this week. The grief and anger that have marked so much of this year — and that mark so much of every year for many of us living in vulnerability to disease, injustice, hunger and violence — is where God meets us. We need not gather the strength to move on nor ignore the depth of our pain in order to find God. God finds us in these depths.

Cacilda, working tirelessly with neighbors in Brazil, was able to let go of her anger and felt herself changed by the experience. But God did not wait for that moment to work transformation and renewal through her. Indeed, it may be through this very tumult that God moves us toward greater actions of justice. Christ did not wait for a comfortable bed but was born in the sharp, chafing, ill-fitting manger, amid the noise of the animals and the loneliness of the stable. We need not wait to be comfortable, for our grief to resolve or our anger to subside, in order to draw close to God.

God has been there all along.


  1. What caused you to mourn or angered you this year?
  2. How does God meet you amid your grief and anger?
  3. How can the transformation of our grief or anger help spur us to
    deeper acts in service of one another or in service of God?
  4. What would a just peace (shalom) look like in your community?
    In the United States?


Comforting and empowering God, you meet us amid our pain and ease the load of our burdens. Be near us in our grief and anger, comfort us as we mourn and move our will toward acts of justice for one another. Grant the world just peace this season, that we may find rest and hope in you. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.