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Situation Report: Sudan Conflict

Situation:A map of Africa with Sudan highlighted in red and Chad and South Sudan highlighted in blue.

On April 15, violence broke out between opposing military groups in Sudan. Most of the fighting has been in the capital city of Khartoum, but some has now spread outside the city. Because of the conflict, many civilians cannot leave their homes, while others are managing to flee to other areas of the country, or into neighboring countries like Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Nearly 1 million people have been displaced since the beginning of the violence.



A Sudanese family under a shelter made of wood and fabric.

Sudanese refugees in South Sudan. Photo: ACT Alliance


In Chad, Lutheran Disaster Response is supporting the Lutheran World Federation-World Service. It is addressing shelter, food, and hygiene needs in refugee camps and informal settlements. Lutheran Disaster Response is also supporting the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, Upper Nile Internal Province, as it provides food and other essential supplies to refugees in South Sudan.






Be part of the response:

Please pray for all people impacted by the violence in Sudan. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response will be used to assist Sudanese refugees and other crises in the U.S. and around the world.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.

A Therapeutic Camp for Ukrainian Children in Slovakia

When the war in Ukraine started, and thousands of refugees were crossing the border, Lucia Martonová and Jana Tabačková from the Ecumenical Pastoral Service Centre and Evangelical Church of Augsburg Confession in Slovakia, and Marika Géciová from the Reformed Mission and Diakonia met at the Slovak-Ukrainian border. They decided to help the most vulnerable people affected by the war and created the project “You Are In My Heart.” They organized a children’s therapeutic camp for 16 children from Ukraine aged 8 to 14 years who lost one or both of their parents in the war. The camp took place in Zemplínska Šírava, a lake close to the border of Ukraine.


Trust in God

Camp leaders, with psychologists and interpreters, prepared introductory games for the children on the first day. On the second day, the campers went on a short trip to Michalovce, where they visited an observatory and attended a police horse demonstration. In the afternoon, the campers enjoyed their time together at the swimming pool in the hotel. Mrs. Masha Rudincová, a Slovak artist and designer, showed the children how to work with the technique of wet felting. Children, with her help, created various colorful and unique pictures.

In the evening, children listened to a Bible story about the healing of the paralyzed. “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Jesus’s words from the story about the storm at sea were the ones the leaders tried to instill into the hearts of the children. They encouraged the children to trust these particular words of Jesus through all circumstances.

Even though there was a fog in eastern Slovakia, the group trusted in God and, without fear, set out on a trip to the Tatra Mountains. They were amazed and encouraged when the sun and perfect hiking weather welcomed them. The group explored the highest waterfall in Slovakia and visited Tricklandia, the Museum of Illusions.

The love of Jesus

The next day, the campers stayed near Chemes Wellness Hotel. They met with police dog trainers, took rides on the quad bikes with border policemen, and took a trip to the lake. The children crafted cherubs and Christmas ceramic decorations in the afternoon with Mrs. Rudincová.

During the evening program, children listened to a story of the healing of a man at the lake in Bethesda. They learned that even if everyone left them and forgot about them, the Lord Jesus is always with them.

The children went to the city of Košice on Friday. They saw the police officers and firefighters, toured the city center, visited the St. Elizabeth Cathedral and explored the Technical Museum. The evening program continued with the storytelling of Zacchaeus. Leaders emphasized that the children, although they are all unique and have their own sorrows and mistakes, are accepted by Jesus Christ and he loves them just as they are.


“You are in my heart”

On the last day of camp, the children visited Morské oko – the largest lake in the Vihorlat Mountains. They visited a small family farm where they had the opportunity to see and feed spotted fallow deer. The contact with nature was a great experience for the children. A typical swim followed the afternoon in the hotel pool. The evening program was a big farewell party with the entire camp, and included a great cake at the end. The children received little presents as a memory of the camp, like t-shirts with the program logo and a magnet with a group photo.

All the shared experiences and photos highlight that the timid little children with great sadness and pain in their eyes become CHILDREN again! Children to whom the organizers wanted to return joy and childhood to their lives, at least for a while.


“Do not fear, for I am with you”

On Sunday morning, they went to chapel at the nearby Vinian Castle. Together, they thanked God for the whole week and summarized everything they had experienced and learned.

Police chaplain Janka Tabačková sent them on their way home with these words of a blessing:

We have come here to this place to give thanks for the whole week that we were spent together, that we were able to survive it in good health, and you know that it is not easy to survive. During our week together, we learned more about what the Lord God is doing for us. We opened our arms all week and said  “Stay with us, don‘t be afraid because you are safe here. We said the Lord God is taking care of us, just as he multiplied the fish and the loaves; God will take care of you so that you will have everything you need. Trust Him.” He cares for you. The Lord God puts people in our lives who will care for us, protect us, bring us closer to Jesus. You have friends in Ukraine, and also here in Slovakia. It is good that we know each other, that we are your friends and will do everything you need. Earlier, when we released the balloons into the sky, we wrote our names on them and the names of those we cared about. We could release the balloons with our names because the Lord sacrificed himself for us. He hears and understands. We are in his heart. He died for us, and He laid down His life for everyone. And no one else in the world has done that. We also want to send you home with God’s word from Isaiah 41: “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am you God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Yes, all who are incensed against you shall be ashamed and disgraced; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. Do not fear, I will help you.”

After the blessing and singing of songs, the group returned to the hotel. Then, already packed with many gifts and memories, they started their return journey home to their families, but to a country still in war, chaos, and turmoil. They all hope that they have not seen the last of each other and will be able to continue to meet.






Andrej Kuruc is the ELCA Emergency Response Coordinator for Central and Eastern Europe.


European fuel shortage: Refugees and hosts face a challenging winter

“Energy blackmail”

The European Union is a world leader when it comes to replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. The World Economic Forum reported early in 2022 that the EU had “passed another milestone in the race towards a zero-carbon future,” sourcing 22 percent of its energy from renewables in 2020 – ahead of the 20% target the bloc had set in 2009.

But that won’t be enough to keep Europe warm this winter, as a fuel crisis the likes of which hasn’t been seen since World War II grips the continent.

Officials have warned of potential rolling blackouts, manufacturing disruptions and economic fallout from the natural gas shortage, a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine. Prior to the war, Russia supplied around 40 percent of the natural gas used to heat European homes, businesses and houses of worship. In response to Western sanctions, Russia has severely slowed delivery of natural gas to the continent in a move some have called “energy blackmail.”

The Russian supply of natural gas to Europe has fallen nearly 90 percent since this time last year. The shortage, coupled with inflation, rising costs for electricity, and a shortage of hydroelectric power due to drought, creates something of a perfect storm as temperatures fall and demand rises. There have even been reports of people hoarding wood to burn for warmth.


The church prays for warmth

Pastor Lukasz Ostruszka and his family with Svetlana (left), one of the refugees from Ukraine who is staying in the Lutheran parish in Krakow.

For churches and others hosting refugees from Ukraine – some 7 million have left the country to find safety elsewhere in Europe – the impact will be compounded. In Krakow, Poland, for example, a Lutheran congregation has had a dozen families living in its parish hall for more than six months. Their utilities costs had already increased significantly due to the additional use of water, electricity and natural gas. Pastor Lukasz Ostruszka says he’s praying for a warm winter.

“Our government says everything will be okay, we will have gas, we have a plan,” he says. He laughs a bit. “They don’t have gas. They don’t have a plan. Warm winter, that’s the only hope.” Pr. Lukasz says he tries not to worry about it, though, since he has so many other things to worry about. “I hope God will help us,” he says.

“It will be a big problem,” says the Rev. Marta Bolba, pastor of Mandak House, a Lutheran congregation in Budapest, Hungary. “They’re saying the bills for heating will be seven times higher than normal. It’s not a poor people’s problem, it’s really the whole society; how can we pay our own bills?”


A sustainable future

Wind turbines in a field

Wind turbines in Slovakia.

European leaders met in early October to begin discussing possible mitigation strategies and will meet again later this month.

The crisis, says the United Nations, “underscores the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels.”

“As long as energy security is tied to oil and gas, it will remain susceptible to market volatility and price shocks,” says a recent report from UN Women. “And the role of fossil fuels in agricultural production and distribution—for example, natural gas’s role in the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers—means that oil price shocks also drive increased volatility in food prices.” This means it’s not just the Europeans trying to stay warm through the winter months who are suffering the consequences of the shortage. Its effects are being felt around the world, most acutely in the poorest nations.

While this church would welcome an increased sense of urgency globally to break our collective reliance on fossil fuels, we also recognize that such a change won’t come quickly. As we pray for, and work toward, a more sustainable future, we walk alongside our partners in Europe as they face a difficult winter.


Emily Sollie is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and 4-year old son, and is a member of Lutheran Church of the Reformation. 


Situation Report: Ukraine and Eastern Europe (July 7, 2022)

Lutheran Disaster Response has raised over $10 million in support of refugees and internally displaced people in Ukraine and surrounding countries. New partnerships in Eastern Europe include:

  • L’Arche has nearly 60 years of experience supporting people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities and knows they are among those most at risk in times of crisis. It is providing immediate relief to refugees with disabilities in Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland. Activities will include purchasing accessible vans to transport people with disabilities within Ukraine and along the border, building the capacity of local disability service providers and adaptations for people with disabilities who evacuated under duress without the necessary support for life with disabilities. This project allows L’Arche to live out their mission on behalf of those with disabilities and their surrounding communities as they work to survive and to help others to their greatest ability, even while under the threat and impact of the current war.
  • International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is the international humanitarian aid and development agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. IOCC is providing humanitarian assistance to refugees and internally displaced peopele in Ukraine, Romania and Poland. This humanitarian assistance includes distributing essential items, securing temporary accommodations, training volunteers and helping students continue remote education.
  • Lutheran World Federation has expanded its programming to the Czech Republic, where it is working with local partners and churches to retrofit multipurpose spaces to accommodate refugees from Ukraine.


Partner Update: Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia (ECACS)

An image of two people, a man and a woman, in a stocked warehouse in Slovakia.

Warehouse in Pozdišovce, Slovakia, where the congregation stocked supplies to shuttle to the hospitality tent. Rev. Denisa Kuruc Vargova, pastor of the church, is pictured with her husband, Andrej Kurue.

Now four months since war began in Ukraine, the ELCA’s partners in Slovakia are assessing their response to date and planning for the medium and long term.

During the initial acute phase of the emergency, the Evangelical Diaconate coordinated a humanitarian tent at the Vyšné Nemecké border crossing, where volunteers from all over the region came to help. Working in 12-hour shifts, volunteers were available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to offer food, drinks, information and logistical assistance. The ECACS congregation in Pozdišovce, about a half hour drive from the border, stocked a warehouse with supplies that they shuttled to the border, and offered lodging for both refugees and volunteers.

“Some of these people have lost everything,” said Lucka Martonova, volunteer coordinator for the border ministry. “We are here for them, to provide some food, some water … accommodation, transport.”

As the situation evolves, needs are changing. A joint meeting of representatives of the Evangelical Diaconate ECAV in Slovakia and the Protestant Agency for Diaconia and Development – Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe took place in June to evaluate the use of existing assistance, monitor current accommodation needs and prepare for future cooperation. As the needs of the refugees change, so must the response of the church.


Be a part of the response:

Please pray for people who have been impacted by the war in Ukraine. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response (Eastern Europe Crisis Response) will be used in full (100%) to assist those impacted by the war in Ukraine.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.

A History of Welcome

When war came to Ukraine and desperate people began streaming across the international borders in the frigid days of late winter and early spring, the Rev. Miroslav Mató knew he and the members of his parish would be called upon to help. 

Located in Gerlachov, a small village in Slovakia about 200 miles from the Ukrainian border, Rev. Mató and his wife, Rev. Jana Matóva, prepared to offer refuge.

Rev. Miroslav Mató with some of the refugees from Ukraine that his congregation in Slovakia is hosting.

“Our congregation has three buildings that were used for summer camps for youth,” he explained. “We decided to provide these as houses for refugees … We had almost 100 refugees traveling through our congregation in a few days, and 41 of them are staying for a longer term, saying they are wanting to stay here until the war is over.”

The outpouring of generosity from parishioners has been nothing short of miraculous, Rev. Mató said, with people helping refugees from Ukraine find jobs, enroll children in school and access medical care. 

“In these two months, I could see more miracles than in all my life,” he said. “People were helping, they opened their hearts to help, and I could see more and more love than I ever have before.” 

The chance to offer refuge to neighbors in need, he told his parishioners, was an opportunity to put their faith into practice. 

“I can see a lot of God’s love in this situation,” he said.  “As I preached in my sermon [at the beginning of the war], we can now in practice show what we have studied and learned theoretically, we have an opportunity to show it in real life. God is helping us and when we are at the end of our strength, He has always answered our prayers.”

Another Lutheran pastor in Slovakia, the Rev. Michal Belanji, recalls immigrating from Serbia with his parents as a teen, to escape the war that tore apart his home country in the 1990s. The church was there for his family in their time of need, he said. Today, his church in Janoskov is hosting 38 refugees from Ukraine. 

“We help because we were helped,” he said. “It’s the reason why we are here.” 

All over the region, Lutherans have opened their hearts, homes, churches and communities to people fleeing the war in Ukraine. According to data from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), as of June 21, approximately 2.8 million of the 8 million people who fled at the start of the war are still in neighboring countries. Others have either moved on to other countries or returned home to Ukraine. Poland is currently hosting 1.2 million of those refugees; Slovakia 79,000 and Hungary 25,000. 


A Lutheran Legacy

The Lutheran legacy of welcome goes back a long way.  

“When the Lutheran World Federation was established 75 years ago, in the whole of Europe there was a refugee crisis after World War II,” explained the Rev. Tamás Fabiny, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH). “People had to leave their country and go to a different place. So that is already part of our identity … to be a Lutheran is to welcome refugees.”

Rev. Tamás Fabiny (far right), ELCH Bishop, with a volunteer teacher at a school for Ukrainian children in the basement of the ELCH offices in Budapest.

Lutherans in the U.S. established a ministry of welcome in the era of World War II, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), founded in 1939. LIRS resettled more than 30,000 refugees from Germany and elsewhere in Europe in the aftermath of the war, and has since assisted more than 500,000 refugees from all over the world to rebuild their lives in the U.S.

While the current situation in Ukraine is creating the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, other conflicts over the years have also led people to seek refuge and provided opportunities for the church to live out its ministry of welcome. An attempted Hungarian uprising against communism in 1956 led nearly 300,000 people to leave the country, Fabiny said, and many of those people built new lives in Austria, Germany, and even the United States thanks to the welcome of Lutherans. 

“I had the opportunity to visit several of these Lutheran communities,” he said, and “people told me how wonderful it was that they were received by families who gave them shelter, helped them find a job, or the church was opened for them. So we know what it is to be a displaced person because hundreds of thousands of people left Hungary in ‘56.”

The end of the Cold War and the Romanian revolution in 1989 also brought refugees to Hungary, he said, as did the Balkan war in the early 1990s, and the civil war in Syria in 2015. When he put out a video statement in support of welcoming refugees, as part of a 2017 UNHCR campaign, however, he received a great deal of backlash for his message. The political climate in Hungary had become more hostile toward refugees, he said, and his message of welcome was not well received by the general public. 

But part of his role as a church leader, he says, is to speak out against injustice, following in the footsteps of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is important for the church not only to act in service to our neighbors, he says, but also to pray and reflect on our calling as Christians to work for peace and serve our neighbors. 

“We have to reflect theologically on war and peace,” he says. “We had to learn from the Nazi time when many churches were supporting Hitler theologically. There were just a few, like Bonhoeffer, who criticized [Hitler]. I think it is very important for us as a church to have prayers, of course, and also theological reflection. Action should come after that.”


Emily Sollie is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and 4-year old son, and is a member of Lutheran Church of the Reformation. 


Situation Report: Ukraine and Eastern Europe (June 6, 2022)

More than three months since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, fighting continues to intensify as humanitarian conditions deteriorate. The United Nations’ OCHA Ukraine: Humanitarian Report estimates that 6.6 million people have fled the country and 8 million are displaced internally. While the majority of the people who crossed borders to safety have remained in the neighboring countries, others have continued to other countries in Europe and beyond. The UN estimates that more than 24 million people — more than half of Ukraine’s population — will need humanitarian assistance in the coming months.

The policy in Ukraine that prevented most men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country has resulted in forced separation of families. Far from their homes in Ukraine and often from their husbands and extended families, many mothers with children face the difficult challenge of creating a safe space and a version of stability for their families. In addition to continuing to meet the immediate needs of arriving refugees including food, shelter, hygiene kits and medical supplies, our partners in the region support those fleeing the violence in Ukraine with assistance in psycho-social care, pastoral care, housing, job searches, language study, school admission, legal services, cash assistance and other key integration support for individuals and families. Our support is also reaching communities not eligible for state-sponsored services for refugees, including Roma people and third-country nationals fleeing the violence in Ukraine.

Partners: Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland (ECACP), Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania (ECACR), Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia (ECACS), Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary, German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (GELCU), and in collaboration with Lutheran World Federation (LWF), ACT Alliance, Church World Service (CWS), Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) and Phiren Amenca.

Partner update: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH)

A Ukrainian-language school in the basement of the ELCH office in Budapest, Hungary, provides structure and learning opportunities for children who fled Ukraine with their families due to the war.

As the early-spring influx of refugees has slowed, the humanitarian needs have changed. In a recent interview on the ELCH website, Anna Gyöngés Kelemen, the head of the ELCH diaconal department, observed that “our tasks have changed to the extent that the focus is not on providing rapid assistance at border crossing points and nearby settlements, but on providing assistance to those who remain in Hungary temporarily or permanently in the medium and long term.”

One of the ways the church is assisting is through a temporary school for Ukrainian children, set up in the basement of the ELCH office in Budapest. Though not an accredited educational institution, the school provides structure for children, allows them to continue learning, and enables their caregivers to have time to work or seek employment. The volunteer teachers are themselves refugees from Ukraine as well. The school serves children in first through eighth grades and approximately 50 children attend each day.

ELCH congregations, as well as the national church, are also assisting refugees with longer-term integration needs such as financial support, counseling, housing and more.


Partner Update: Lutheran World Federation

As of the end of May, LWF has opened two of six planned enrollment centers for refugees in Poland. The two centers, in Gdansk and Wroclaw, will serve a combined 37,000 families. Families will be able to enroll in a multi-purpose cash assistance program as well as access services including counselling for children experiencing post-traumatic stress and referral services for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

“I have mixed feelings about today,” said Allan Calma, LWF global humanitarian coordinator, at the opening in Gdansk on May 17. “I am happy that we can open this center today, but I am also thinking that we should not have an enrolment center in Gdansk. This war is not right, it is not right for women and children to flee their homes, to leave their husbands and fathers, and flee for safety.”

“This war has divided a lot of people,” he added. “But all I could see in the past weeks was people coming together and trying to be human.”

The additional centers will be based in Ostróda, Zgierz, Bielsko-Biała and Bytom Miechowice, and will support a total of 56,000 households or about 168,000 people.


Be a part of the response:

Please pray for people who have been impacted by the war in Ukraine. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response (Eastern Europe Crisis Response) will be used in full (100%) to assist those impacted by the war in Ukraine.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.



Attitude of an Overcomer

Teen pregnancy is both a personal and a social issue, and teenage mothers often must face personal, psychological effects as well as social stigma.  In the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, managed in part by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), most of the teenage mothers have experienced familial rejection and sexual- and gender-based violence. In the long term, many may also face depression, forced marriage and social rejection.

The LWF child protection department plays a major role in minimizing the factors that lead to teen pregnancy and in working to ensure the well-being of teenage mothers and their children.  The intervention and psychosocial support LWF provides is critical to their safety, health, and wellness. This program at Kakuma is supported in part by ELCA World Hunger.

Nyamok was only three years old when she and her siblings fled violence in South Sudan in 2002. They eventually made their way to Kakuma. Nyamok’s older sister, Nyaduk, cared for her until 2014, when Nyaduk left the camp to return to South Sudan.

In 2013, when she was 14, Nyamok was impregnated by a 25-year-old man from her tribe at the camp.  The man ran away after learning about the pregnancy, despite attempts by the community to arrest him. Nyamok faced both the personal effects of sexual violence and the social stigma of teenage pregnancy.  Shortly after finding out she was pregnant, Nyamok dropped out of Unity Primary School in Kakuma, losing hope of ever being able to finish her education.

Nyamok received counseling support from LWF Child Protection and enrolled in a support group for teenage mothers. This support helped her feel encouraged enough to return to school in 2015, one year after her daughter was born. Returning to school was not an easy choice. According to Nyamok’s cultural traditions, once a girl is pregnant, she is expected to marry. Nyamok did not marry, though, and faced stigma and isolation from other students her age. Still, she remained determined to continue her education.

In 2016, Nyamok sat for examinations for her Kenya certificate of Primary Education and did excellently, scoring in the top two percent of students. She is now trying to enroll in secondary school to pursue her dream of protecting girls and women as a lawyer.

Because of the support she received, Nyamok can now see a bright future for herself and her daughter. “God has a plan for each one of us,” she says. “I can tell that one’s attitude toward education is an important factor to success.” Her message to other child parents is hopeful: “Many people have gone through many hardships, but they have accomplished in life. You, too, can do that.”

Despite the challenges that refugees like Nyamok face, their resilience and hard work and the support of LWF make it possible for them to thrive. Through the LWF child protection department, ELCA World Hunger continues to accompany Nyamok and other teenage mothers as they pursue their dreams at Kakuma.

Photos: Lutheran World Federation

Top Ten Resources on Refugees and Resettlement

Aware of the special challenges refugees, migrants, and displaced persons face, ELCA World Hunger has long supported companions and partners that work with people who have been forced to leave their homes for a variety of reasons.  Partners like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are critical actors in this work.

Donald Trump’s recent executive order to halt refugee resettlement in the United States for 120 days has elicited concern, fear, anger, and confusion from members of the ELCA, our ecumenical partners and our international companions.  In response, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton released a statement reminding Lutherans and other Christians of our gospel call “to welcome the stranger and treat the sojourner as we would our own citizens.”  At this point in time, we may also be reminded of Martin Luther’s admonition to preachers:

“Those who are in the office [of ministry] and are called to do so shall rebuke their [rulers] boldly and openly…To rebuke rulers is not seditious, provided it is done in the way here described: namely, by the office by which God has committed that duty, and through God’s Word, spoken publicly, boldly, and honestly.”[1]

Below are some key resources that may be useful to those called to “speak publicly, boldly, and honestly” about the recent executive order and its effects.

  1. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton affirms the ELCA’s commitment “to continuing ministries of welcome that support and build communities around the country and stand firmly against any policies that result in scaling back the refugee resettlement program.”
  2. The Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches and ACT Alliance jointly issued a statement, calling the ban “an abysmal failure of compassion and responsibility.” LWF also has a short video with a powerful reminder: “Refugees lose many things when they flee, but never their human rights.”
  3.  ELCA’s Social Message on Immigration (1998)
  4. ELCA World Hunger offers some food for thought in this blog post on Lutheran faith and refugees.
  5. Hear the story of the Kafley family resettling in Chicago, Illinois, thanks to support from ELCA World Hunger and RefugeeOne.
  6. Learn how  St. Andrew’s Refugee Service in Cairo, Egypt, accompanies refugee youth with warm meals, psychosocial support and education.
  7. Hear the reactions of refugees awaiting resettlement as they get news of the ban in Dadaab, the largest cluster of refugee camps in the world.
  8. Advocate for change. Join ELCA Advocacy in lifting your voice in support of refugees and migrants by participating in this critical advocacy action. Visit Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), a long-time partner of ELCA World Hunger, and learn steps you can take to advocate for refugees and migrants.
  9. The intercessory prayer for February 5, 2017, from Sundays and Seasons is particularly timely and scripturally relevant, for those with a subscription. For those without a subscription, LIRS offers some great resources for remembering refugees in your worship and prayers.
  10. Support the ongoing accompaniment of refugees and many other programs made possible by gifts to ELCA World Hunger. Through ELCA World Hunger, this church supports needed programs in refugee camps, protection and advocacy for migrants and refugees, and resettlement efforts through our network of companions and partners. Consider ELCA Good Gifts, such as feeding a refugee family for one week or for one month.


[1] Luther’s “Commentary on Psalm 82,” Luther’s Works vol. 13, pages 49-51. Quoted in Carter Lindberg, “Luther and the Common Chest,” in Carter Lindberg and Paul Wee, eds., The Forgotten Luther: Reclaiming the Social-Economic Dimension of the Reformation (Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press, 2016.)


Lutherans and Refugees


“As we journey together through the time God has given us, may God give us

the grace of a welcoming heart and an overflowing love for the new neighbors

among us.”  – ELCA, A Social Message on Immigration, 1998.

Aware of the special challenges refugees, migrants, and displaced persons face, ELCA World Hunger has long supported companions and partners that work with people who have been forced to leave their homes for a variety of reasons.  Partners like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are critical actors in this work.

Within days after the terrorist attacks in France, governors throughout the United States proclaimed that they would no longer accept Syrian refugees.  As of November 18, 26 governors had issued such statements.  Legally, of course, governors cannot stop refugees, but they can make it very hard on them, by withholding state funds to help them resettle, by refusing to issue state identification, or by increasing the already rigorous screening process for certain refugees or immigrants.  On November 20, the House of Representatives voted to suspend the program allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the United States.

This presents a good occasion for recalling some of the reasons Lutherans support this important work.  The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has issued a response to these developments, noting poignantly, “To close the door on resettling Syrian refugees would be nothing less than signing a death warrant for tens of thousands of families fleeing for their very lives.”  But there are other reasons Lutherans continue to accompany immigrants and refugees beyond the dire consequences many of them currently face.  (For some background to a Lutheran view on undocumented immigration, see this earlier post.)

#1 –Remembering who we were

Christian ethics, in general, and Lutheran ethics, in particular, begin with memory.  The Hebrew Scriptures tell a story of our ancient ancestors enslaved in Egypt.  They were strangers in a strange land, but God led them to freedom, and it is this action of God that lays the foundation of their own vocation toward strangers: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). The special concern for widows, strangers, and orphans in the Hebrew Scriptures is rooted in God’s care of the people when they were helpless and landless.

It isn’t an overstatement to say that, for Lutherans, the whole of the moral life is memory.  From a religious perspective, good works aren’t done out of blind obedience or to earn a spot in Heaven; for Lutherans, good works are done out of gratitude for the grace of God that saved us when we could not save ourselves. They are done in memory of God’s ways of acting toward us.  We were wandering spiritually, and God welcomed us, comforted us, and saved us.

Lutherans, too, can look at more recent history of our own displacement.  After World War II, nearly one in six Lutherans in the world was a refugee or a displaced person.  Some found permanent homes in Europe; others languished in camps.  Thanks to advocacy in part on their behalf, Congress passed the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which opened the doors to wandering peoples.  Many displaced Lutherans found homes in the United States because this country opened its doors, even accepting those German Lutherans whose country had been at war with the US.  Once here, the National Lutheran Council and other faith-based agencies were critical in helping the refugees resettle.

Spiritually and historically, we are a wandering people whose lives have often depended on the hospitality of others.

#2 – Seeing who we are

As a white, straight, cisgender male, I cannot once recall being asked to speak for all white people, all cisgender men, or all straight people.  But I can recall numerous times when I have heard other people asked to speak for their entire race, their entire ethnic community, or their entire gender.  This is perhaps one of the most complex and pernicious elements of privilege.  My privilege lets me assume I will always be treated as an individual, rather than as merely a representative of an entire group.

As social media exploded with invective calling for the banning of all Syrian refugees because of the nationality of an alleged Paris terrorist, it was no surprise that my suggestion of increasing surveillance of all men went unheeded.  After all, men represent the vast majority of terrorists both foreign and domestic, men are overwhelmingly responsible for mass shootings in the United States, and men are far and away the perpetrators of violence in the home.  If we are serious about protecting communities from violence, perhaps we should start with policies that circumscribe the freedom of men.

Of course, that won’t happen, because men are still privileged the world over, so their gender is not lifted up as problematic in the same way that ethnicity or nationality might be. Those in the center have the privilege of being treated as individuals, while those on the margins are viewed merely as a group.  We saw a similar dynamic at work in regards to anti-Asian racism during World War II.  While German Americans and Italian Americans had numerous exemptions from internment that kept their population in camps very low, Japanese Americans had virtually no exemption from internment and were imprisoned with little question, despite the fact that all three countries of origin were at war with the United States.  Those of European descent were treated as individuals and separately interrogated, whereas those of Japanese descent were treated as a group, with few individual considerations.

For Lutherans, this type of discrimination is not merely problematic; it’s heretical. It is a denial of the foundational belief that humans are created in the image of God.  This doesn’t mean that we naively assume everyone is a good person.  Created in God’s image doesn’t mean “nice.”  It means that each and every human being is a creature with dignity, worthy of our care.  This transcending identity – image of God – is expressed through a variety of penultimate identities – racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, and many more. But our foundational identity as images of God grounds each in dignity. What makes a person worthy of our care, our hospitality, our protection?  Their very creation in the image of God. This is privilege that is universal.

This doesn’t mean we have to like everyone.  Nor does it mean we cannot punish persons when they do wrong. But it does mean we must respect their dignity, and doing so demands that we see what lies beneath their other identities, particularly when they differ from our own.  It means a willingness to hear their story, to let them speak, to see them as more than just a Syrian or just a Muslim or just a Christian. It demands an openness to seeing God through them. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

#3 – Becoming whom we are called to be

It is natural to feel afraid after events like those of last week.  But, for Lutherans, fear cannot be what marks our behavior toward neighbors.  Lutherans believe that God has set us free from sin and death so that we can serve the neighbor confidently and boldly.  We have life so that we may serve our neighbors.  Presiding Bishop of the ELCA Elizabeth Eaton puts it well:

Even in the face of evil, we remain confident that the good news of Jesus Christ liberates us and gives us the freedom and courage to discover and boldly participate in what God is up to in this world…We are not naïve about possible new threats of terrorism, but denying refuge to thousands of desperate people is not who we are as Christians, nor will it guarantee our security.

Martin Luther was also clear on what courage in service of the neighbor means.  In 1527, Luther responded to the question of “whether one may flee from a deadly plague.” His response was straightforward:

A man who will not help or support others unless he can do so without affecting his safety or his property will never help his neighbor.

Life together involves calculated risk.  Lutherans are called to live in love of the neighbor, not in fear of the neighbor.  There is no truly “safe” service. Accompanying our neighbors means walking down dark roads, facing with them situations of violence and oppression and taking risks that things will not go as planned.  We do all this in awareness that a life lived in isolation and fear of one another is not a life worth living.

(Of course, it is necessary to point out here the rigorous screening process each refugee must go through before settling in the United States.  The process is lengthy and involves several agencies.  The recent fear of refugees is more reactionary than reasonable.)

So, faithful people will continue to accompany their displaced neighbors.  LIRS and other agencies will continue their important work, and ELCA World Hunger will continue to support it.  But this will get harder as irrational fear continues to snake through our communities.

You can help.  Be an advocate.  At the water cooler, in the classroom, during coffee hour, from the pulpit and around the table, remember who we are and whom we are called to be.  We Lutherans stand in a long line of people whose existence has depended on God continually loving them despite their failings, on a Messiah opening his arms to those who crucified him, and on a government extending welcome to fearful exiles displaced by tyranny.

We are a migrant people, saved by one whose first human experience was escaping violence with his mother and father (Matt. 2:13-15).


Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D. is program director for Hunger Education with ELCA World Hunger.  He can be reached at


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