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Lutheran Disaster Response

Situation Report #2: Maui Wildfires


On Aug. 8, 2023, multiple wildfires broke out on Maui. Exacerbated by strong winds, they destroyed homes, businesses, and lines of communication. The town of Lahaina was the most impacted, although there was also damage from smaller fires near Kihei and Kula.


Lutheran Disaster Response is supporting the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA). The grant will assist their continuing work with fire survivors through the Kākoʻo Maui Relief & Aid Services Center, the resource center CNHA opened within weeks of the fire at the Maui Mall. The center brings service providers, including legal, mental health, government and FEMA support, to one place for survivors to meet with and address their needs. CNHA also operates mobile outreach and provides workforce development training courses. The new grant will enable CNHA to keep the Kākoʻo Maui Relief & Aid Services Center open for 12 months, continuing to care for and serve fire survivors by responding to their evolving needs.

Additionally, Lutheran Disaster Response is supporting Pacific Health Ministry. Pacific Health Ministry provides direct spiritual care and group support to wildfire survivors, and capacity building for local spiritual care providers on Maui in order to provide needed care and support to community members.


Be part of the response:

Please pray for those impacted by the wildfires in Maui. 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 survivors of wildfires.

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 and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.

Lutheran Disaster Response at COP28

What is COP?

COP28 took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from Nov. 30 – Dec.12, 2023. LWF/Albin Hillert

COP stands for the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is “the supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC.”

What is the UNFCCC?

The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty drafted in 1992 and enacted in 1994 among 198 parties. Both the Kyoto Protocol and the subsequent Paris Agreement are implementation measures of the UNFCCC. The purpose of UNFCC is “to combat dangerous human interference in the climate system.”

Who from the ELCA attended COP28?

This year Christine Moolo (Program Director for World Hunger Initiatives), Savannah Jorgenson (Legislative Coordinator at the California State Public Policy Office) and I were honored to serve as virtual observers with an ELCA delegation. Our colleagues from Witness in Society, Tammy Wahloff (Director of Minnesota State Public Policy Office), Regina Banks (Director of California State Public Policy Office) and Christine Moffett (Program Director of Environmental Policy) served as in-person observers.

Why is Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) present at COP?

We join hundreds of ecumenical and interfaith partners because climate change is an existential threat to human civilization, per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). First, we have a baptismal calling to “the reconciliation of all creation.” Moreover, the ELCA’s disaster response ministry is already responding to more frequent and severe climate-related disasters. The LDR Initiatives program is responsible for disaster risk reduction work (hazard mitigation and disaster preparedness). Mitigating the worst impacts of climate change – anything above a net 2.0-degree Celsius global temperature rise – is disaster risk reduction. Additionally, LDR does not do this work alone; we participate with other members of the ACT Alliance and Lutheran World Federation from around the world, to coordinate this effort.

How is this disaster response?

LDR is committed to accompanying communities throughout the disaster cycle. In addition to response and recovery, mitigation and preparation are part of this cycle. Additionally, emerging research demonstrates investments in mitigation reduce the cost of future disasters by up to 600%. Simply put, disaster risk reduction is an investment in our collective future.

Delegates of the Lutheran World Federation gather for a Global March for Climate Justice at COP28. LWF/Albin Hillert

Isn’t climate change political?

Yes. The word politics is derived from the Greek word for city – polis (as in metropolis). Anything having to do with our public life together as a society is political, even disasters. This is articulated in the ELCA social statement on Church in Society as the church’s obligation to, “work with and on behalf of the poor, the powerless, and those who suffer, using its power and influence with political and economic decision-making bodies to develop and advocate policies that seek to advance justice, peace, and the care of creation.”

This is easier said than done. I would be remiss if I did not honor the stories of colleagues from areas of high levels of climate skepticism who share that the mention of climate change can shut down an entire conversation. As the Church we are called to preach the truth in ways diverse communities can receive. In some places we may not be able to say the words “climate change,” but we can discuss concerns about the impact of increased severe weather on people’s livelihoods and communities. Climate change, like many problems, will not go away just because we ignore it.

How can I learn more about the ELCA’s experience and impact at COP28?

On Jan. 24, the ELCA delegation from COP28 will share our experiences during a webinar. I am inviting you!

Resister here:

If you have any questions about mitigating climate change, disaster risk reduction, or the LDR initiatives program, please reach out to me at

Pastor Matthew Zemanick (he/they) is the Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response Initiatives.









Spiritual Rest


By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day [God] rested from all his work.


Here in Genesis 2:1, we learn about the continuing of creation, flora and fauna, rest from the six days God created the skies and the earth and humanity.  


We’ve heard this Scripture countless times, in pithy sentences, in expectation for an abstract time in the future where we would pause and reflect. But, when the appointed time comes, many of us continue ticking things off the to-do list, doing one last thing before rest, continuing the cycle until we realized we haven’t actually rested. We admire the Creator for building this seventh day into our default weekly flow, a pause, a hiatus from production. Production is fruitful for our humanity and society as we work together to address hunger and inequalities, as God made creation to work together. But what if we thought of rest not as mutually exclusive from this week of creation, but an essential part of the weekly rhythm? 


For a little while, especially since the beginning of this global COVID-19 pandemic, the distraction of social media, the news cycle, and the endless doom scrolling impeded my rest. Bad news penetrates my phone and computer and even when I try to take a break, the convenience of my phone sending alerts makes it difficult. Constant production and consumption have eclipsed my daily rhythms, leaving no room for true rest. It is addictive to contribute to or learn more about the people and communities, using the ruse of being connected and informed, but this type of connection is not supposed to be constant.  


Back in October, I had the opportunity to attend Blue Mountain Center, a residency in upstate New York to give artists and activists time to rest. The location of the center was rest in itself, there was no Wi-Fi or cell service, so my usual distractions – email, social media, streaming – were eliminated and I was able to meditate, share meals and create. There were hours, days sometimes, where I cleared my brain of both production and consumption, and allowed my mind to wander. It was a reset. 


Our newsfeeds report constant disaster, from the recent tornadoes in Tennessee, the ongoing water crisis in Mississippi, and international humanitarian crises, especially the conflicts in Gaza and Sudan. With news like this, rest feels like a luxury, not essential. How can we rest when the global community needs support from each other? 


Rest, however, is one of the ways we cultivate resilience in our work as disaster workers. Our work often does not allow us to rest, because disasters and their fallout are unpredictable. That’s when we lean on our community and solidarity we’ve built so we can take time to rest. Our partnerships with ELCA synods, community organizations and disaster coordinators are essential to fit into our rhythms of work and rest. Resilience in disaster works when there are many people and organizations who play specific roles. 


When God created the seventh day, God did not rest because God did all the work of creation in the six days prior. God rested because rest is intrinsically built in the rhythm of life. That means, if we choose Sunday to be the seventh day, then no matter what happened the past week, whether we fall to illness, or lose track of time, or projects and schedules fail in the many ways they often do, we still must rest. Rest allows us to be human, understanding that production may not work the way we need it to, but days of work will always come back around.  


We’ve built the December holidays as a regular rhythm of rest. We reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ, slow down a little at work, make plans to visit family, even arriving a few days early to help pick up turkeys and hams, hang Christmas lights and place snowmen around the house, share old recipes and create with family and friends we may not see. Or for others of us, we may take the time out to reflect alone by catching up on reading or television shows we’ve missed. No matter how we choose to spend the time, we are, like God, creating this time to rest our minds and hearts from production and consumption. 


I hope we take this time to truly rest, whether it is a few hours away from the phone, a few more minutes spent in meditation, or taking a few days from meetings and emails to reset our human rhythm. 





Emma Akpan (she/her) is the regional representative for the Southeastern region on the Lutheran Disaster Response Initiatives team. Emma was inspired to dedicate her career to public service after graduating seminary and organized and advocated for women’s reproductive rights, voting access and racial justice. Just prior to joining the LDR team, she worked in political technology and helped advocacy organizations to use creative ways to reach people impacted the most by changing policy decisions with technology. 

Human Rights and Climate Change

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), written to address the atrocities committed during World War II. Since then, the United Nations and other bodies have adopted additional documents on human rights. The International Bill of Human Rights includes the UDHR, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Not included in the UDHR is any statement related to climate change – it wasn’t a known concern in the 1940s. However, in the years since, the United Nations has published additional documents about other human rights. One such report from the United Nations Environment Programme discusses the impact of climate change on rights.

A group holding a banner reading 'No Climate Justice without Human Rights'. The group is pictured in front of a large pillar with the COP27 slogan 'Together for Implementation' on display.

People from around the globe rally at the venue of the United Nations climate change conference COP27 in Egypt, calling for respect of human rights. LWF/Albin Hillert

The introduction to the report says, “Anthropogenic climate change is the largest, most pervasive threat to the natural environment and human rights of our time.…These impacts, combined with direct harms to people, property, and physical infrastructure, pose a serious threat to the enjoyment and exercise of human rights around the world.”

To name a few impacts, climate change causes warmer global temperatures, rising sea levels and changes in precipitation patterns. These consequences put numerous human rights in jeopardy, as outlined in the UN report:

  • Right to adequate standard of living: Disasters negatively impact living conditions for several reasons. Wildfires and storms can destroy or damage homes. Droughts and floods can ruin crops and endanger animals, which affects people’s livelihoods, especially in communities around the world that rely on agriculture and livestock.
  • Right to health: The impacts of climate change are dangerous for people’s health. Pollution is harmful to people living in heavily populated areas or near factories. When people lose food sources, such as livestock and crops, or access to uncontaminated water, they face malnutrition and disease.
  • Right to life: Climate change threatens the right to life every day for people around the world. More severe disasters can lead to more lives being lost. Losing the right to an adequate standard of living, health, food, water and other necessities threatens peoples’ lives daily. This is especially true for people of color and those living in vulnerable communities and countries, which suffer disproportionately when hit by a disaster.

Climate change endangers the human rights of people around the world, especially those in under-resourced communities and developing countries. Lutheran Disaster Response prioritizes the accompaniment of those who are most adversely impacted by consequences of the changing climate. During long-term recovery, we work with communities in mitigating the effects of future disasters, building resilience, and expanding preparedness capacity, knowing that disasters will continue to be more extreme.

Effective disaster response upholds all the rights described in the UDHR and subsequent documents. Even when people’s lives are upended by natural or human-caused disasters, their human rights should not be at stake. That’s why the work of Lutheran Disaster Response and our local partners in the United States and around the world is so important – after a disaster, when our neighbors are living in uncertainty, we walk with impacted communities, responding to their needs and supporting recovery efforts while simultaneously celebrating their strength and resilience.


Get involved

  1. Advocate. Visit the ELCA Advocacy Action Center to contact your congress members about vital issues impacting our communities, including government disaster response program reform and supporting refugees.
  2. Study. Read the ELCA’s social message “Earth’s Climate Crisis.” It provides theological rationale and social analysis to foster discernment and engagement relating to climate care.
  3. Volunteer. By volunteering in local disaster response through your synod or regional social ministry organization, you can ensure that survivors’ rights to adequate living is met.
  4. Donate. Lutheran Disaster Response is a trusted partner in disaster response. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response help accompany our neighbors when their lives are upended by disaster. 100% of your gifts to a designated disaster go to disaster survivors.

Situation Report #2: Crisis in the Holy Land


Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem. Photo: Albin Hillert/Life on Earth

The humanitarian crisis continues to worsen – almost 70% of Gazan residents are displaced, and resources such as food, water and medical supplies are in short supply. The death toll has far surpassed those of previous conflicts in the region in recent decades.




Lutheran Disaster Response is supporting:

  • Augusta Victoria Hospital. The hospital is procuring medical supplies and providing accommodation for patients and staff unable to return to their homes in Gaza.
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. The church is providing emergency education support for families who have lost income due to the war and are unable to pay school fees.
  • ACT Alliance. Through implementing partners Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, ACT Alliance is responding to immediate needs for psychosocial support, shelter, household items, public health centers and direct cash assistance, focusing on the Palestinian communities in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
  • Salam Arabic Church and Mother of the Savior Church. The churches are providing psychosocial support groups for Palestinians in communities in Brooklyn, NY and Dearborn, MI. The groups focus on practicing empathy, spiritual practices and contemplation activities. They specifically tackle concerns related to the current situation in Palestine and potential anxiety caused by it.


Be part of the response:

Please pray for those impacted by the humanitarian crisis in the Holy Land. 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 people impacted by conflict in the Middle East.

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

  • Visit the “Crisis in the Holy Land” resource page.
  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.

Situation Report: Gaza Humanitarian Crisis


The Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives. Photo: Albin Hillert/Life on Earth

Due to escalating conflict in Gaza and Israel, a severe humanitarian crisis is rapidly unfolding in the Holy Land.


Lutheran Disaster Response is providing support to Augusta Victoria Hospital to procure medical supplies and accommodations for patients and staff who are unable to return to their homes in Gaza between treatments.


Be part of the response:

Please pray for those impacted by the humanitarian crisis in the Holy Land. 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 people impacted by conflict in the Middle East.

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

  • Visit the “Crisis in the Holy Land” resource page.
  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.