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Lutheran Disaster Response

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.

“God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday Ideas

“God’s Work. Our Hands.” Sunday will be here before you know it! 2023 is the tenth year of GWOH Sunday, which is a day of service dedicated to community service. This year, it falls on September 10.


GWOH Sunday is a great opportunity to participate in disaster response and preparedness work with your congregation. Here are just a few ideas for activities:

  1. Assemble preparedness kits. Some things you may want to include are:
    1. Small flashlight
    2. First aid materials, like bandages
    3. Whistle
    4. Snacks
    5. Water bottles
    6. Hand sanitizer

More ideas for kits can be found at

You might need other things for different kinds of weather. For example, in a winter weather preparedness kit, include items like gloves, socks and hand warmers. Distribute the kits locally – in your congregation, community, local shelters, etc.

  1. Identify disasters that could impact your community. Flooding? Hurricanes? Wildfires? Figure out the biggest threats in your area and come up with a plan for both your congregations and for families that can be shared in your community. Look at what resources you can offer during and after a disaster.


  1. Volunteer (locally). If there has been a disaster of any kind in your community, find a local organization that is doing response work and actively seeking volunteers.


  1. Advocate. Ask your congregation to reach out to your local representatives and voice your support for these policies. ELCA Advocacy has two calls for action posted online:
    1. Simplify and Improve Disaster Response Policies – The Disaster Survivors Fairness Act of 2023 would make several major improvements to our public policies aimed at addressing natural disasters, including creating a simplified “universal application” for federal disaster assistance and enabling federal agencies to better coordinate with each other and authorizing FEMA to reimburse state-level disaster solutions, and require FEMA to report to Congress new post-disaster solutions for renters.
    2. Support Policy that Improves Disaster Relief and Prevention – The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act, would, among many changes, increase federal response transparency with community partners, raise commitments to long-term resiliency after reconstruction, and authorize the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) disaster relief program into formal law.


  1. Form partnerships. Many of these activities can be done in collaboration with other local organizations or emergency management. It’s essential to form these relationships before a disaster, so your congregation is prepared to mobilize if a disaster does strike.


  1. Give. As you do disaster response/preparedness activities, collect a special offering for Lutheran Disaster Response. Gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response help us respond to disasters quickly and efficiently.


If you do any of these activities, or others related to disaster response, resilience or preparedness, let us know! Send your stories and photos to

Reflections from the 2023 National VOAD Conference

A group of 10 people posing together in a ballroom.

LDR staff with members of the LDR national network.

At the beginning of May, five Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) staff members attended the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) conference in St. Louis, Missouri.  

NVOAD is a coalition of community-based, faith-based and nonprofit disaster response organizations throughout the United States. Its purpose is to serve as a forum in which organizations can coordinate responses. In addition to the more than 70 national member organizations (including LDR), there are also VOADs at the state and local levels. 

The NVOAD conference is an opportunity to network with other disaster organizations and attend various workshops, plenaries and vendor exhibitions. Pastor Matthew Zemanick, Program Director for LDR Initiatives,  was one of the presenters for a session entitled “The Power of Place, Historical Trauma, and the Lifting up of Cultural Humility in Disaster Response.” 


Reflections from LDR staff:

“This was my first time attending the National VOAD Conference, which had a record-breaking year with over 800 participants! It was amazing to see and notice how passionate the member organizations are about their work in disaster and love what they do. It helped me personally to see a bigger picture of how diverse the groups were and how important it is to have existing relationships with NVOAD members in the blue-sky times. My favorite time was connection with our LDR Community of Practice Members over meals and meeting with some of the LDR partners in person for the first time. It was a meaningful experience in many ways from networking, to making connections, to building new relationships, and being part of important discussions.”  

-Zaya Gilmer, Program Manager, LDR-US 


“The NVOAD conference was a wonderful opportunity to connect with new and long-time members of the LDR network. It was great to see people in person, to build and strengthen relationships, and deepen the bonds between LDR, our colleagues, and the institutions that provide humanitarian relief around the world.” 

-Sean Coffman, Program Director, LDR Networks and Training 


“This was my first NVOAD conference and I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to have learned alongside the wide range of partners and organizations involved in responding to disasters. I’ve come to this work from parish ministry and community chaplaincy in an environmental justice community. As someone who grew up with a single mom who was a nurse, for me, one striking parallel between both the environmental justice movement and the VOAD movement is the amount of people with working-class backgrounds in leadership. Representation matters, especially when disasters disproportionately impact working-class and impoverished households. I am humbled and honored to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, which gives me tremendous hope in the ways the Spirit is guiding us.” 

-Pr. Matthew Zemanick, Program Director, LDR Initiatives 


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.