Ryan P. Cumming

A lot of folks know how stressful it can be to switch schools.  Imagine not just going to a different school in a new neighborhood but in a whole new region!  For children displaced from rural areas to the cities in the Latin American country of Bolivia, this is a real challenge.

We know the strain instability can have on children in school.  Research indicates that when families move, children often have difficulty adjusting to their new communities and new schools.  When they are already vulnerable to economic instability, the challenges can be especially tough.  When education is so central to reducing vulnerability to poverty and hunger, this is a serious issue.

In Bolivia, displaced families have found the support they need to meet some of these challenges.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bolivia (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Boliviana – IELB), with support from ELCA World Hunger, has welcomed displaced families to take part in the Escuela Biblica Apoyo Escolar after-school program.  This program provides a space of support to at-risk children and youth.  At the program, children learn about tolerance and equality and get help they need to build their math, spelling, and reading skills. During breaks from school, the center still runs, offering in 2014 not only tutoring in regular classes, but also workshops on peace and nonviolence relating those to Christian values.

Together, IELB and ELCA World Hunger are actively accompanying children and families in Bolivia as the church lives out its calling to serve the whole person.  This is work we are called to do as Church, and it is also work the IELB is empowered to do as Church.  As one representative wrote, families involved in the program are starting to see “the congregation as a new social service place, both for the youth and…for the families.  Much of this confidence originates in the trust [the congregation has] from having this church program.”

As Lutherans, we recognize the role of both Law and Grace.  Under the Law, we are commanded to be servants of God and neighbor in the world.  By Grace, we are invited and empowered to do this work.  For the IELB’s after-school program,the grace which inspires the church to be a place of welcome and trust is the very grace that empowers them to be part of the community, to walk alongside children and families as they gain the skills they need to feed themselves and their neighbors for years to come.

The ELCA has been invited to be part of IELB’s ministry by supporting this program for at least three years, during which many more families will be able to take part in this impactful ministry.  Because of gifts to ELCA World Hunger, our church has been able to say “YES!”