Ryan P. Cumming

In this series of posts, we will take a closer look at some of the areas of work ELCA World Hunger supports domestically and internationally.  Previously, we looked at relief.  This week, our focus is on “education.”

What Is Education?

Well, the short answer here is “learning stuff.”  But, of course, education is much more than that.

There’s two ways ELCA World Hunger supports education.  First, we provide programming for individuals, congregations, and other groups to learn more about the root causes of hunger and what the church can do to address hunger and poverty.  Second, we also support education toward sustainable development, as in programs in communities that provide basic education and job training.  In this post, we are looking at the first kind of education.

What causes hunger?  What is the difference between hunger and food insecurity?  How can communities respond to hunger together?  How does our faith call us to respond to all needs, including hunger?  These are just a few of the questions Hunger Education explores – and at least attempts to answer.  On the one hand, this means keeping up with current research.  For example, did you know that the once-popular term “food deserts” might not be the best way to describe the relationship between food availability and obesity?  Based on a USDA report, many people are turning to the term “food swamps” instead.  Keeping up with changes like this can be time-consuming.  But if we are going to respond to hunger effectively, we have to know what factors are involved.

Education is about more than facts, though.  Paraphrasing Paolo Friere, good education is “the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”  Ultimately, the goal of Hunger Education is to equip and inspire Lutherans to respond to need – their own need and the needs of neighbors – in their communities and around the world.  As Lutherans, we know that this is God’s world, that God is active in it, and that all people are invited to participate in this transformative work.  Discerning the kind of people God calls us to be is part of the work of Hunger Education.

On a practical level, the Hunger Education team produces resources and programs for ELCA Lutherans and other people of goodwill to help with this.  In addition, ELCA World Hunger Education grants are available for congregations, synods, and ELCA-related organizations to lead their own education projects in their areas.

Roots of Education

Lutheran theology is very practical.   The grace by which we are saved isn’t merely about waiting around for an afterlife with God.  It frees us to live here and now, to love and to serve each other.  Love is not just sentimental, though.  Loving well, for Lutherans, means loving wisely.  Wisdom – whether it appears as scientific knowledge, economic knowledge, or some other form – is a gift from God.  It helps us better understand the world God has created and the most faithful ways we can live in it.  By learning what hunger is, why it is present in so many communities, and what can be done to end it, we can more faithfully and effectively be part of the “salt and light” Christ calls our church to be.

Hunger education is also part of the formation the ELCA provides for people of faith.  By exploring questions of faith and service together, we can help each other better discern what God is doing in the world and how we are called to be part of it.  By being “formed” to see the world through Lutheran eyes – to see it as a place filled with wonder and tragedy – we can be ready to respond to need without ignoring it and to find the grace that exists in every community.

Examples of Education

ELCA World Hunger’s education resources are free and easy-to-use.  On the ELCA World Hunger resources page, you can find everything from Lenten meals with stories of ELCA-supported ministries around the world to Act 2Day 4 Tomorrow, an overnight program for youth.  There are toolkits with fun activities for all ages, our Road Map to Food Drives, VBS programs, and much more!

Hunger Education supports congregations, synods, and other organizations in their efforts to help Lutherans learn more about hunger through our Hunger Education grants.  In 2014, the Western States Youth Gathering invited ELCA World Hunger to be part of their massive event in Thousand Oaks, California, where youth and adults were trained in service learning and learned more about hunger in the US and around the world.  The attendees spent a day immersed in ministries in the Los Angeles area, getting a deeper experience of the ways communities in California are responding to hunger.

Also in 2014, members of First English Lutheran Church (Columbus, Ohio), with the support of a Hunger Education grant, conducted all-day anti-hunger and anti-poverty trainings in ten congregations in the Central Ohio area.  They also made presentations in classes at Capital University and Columbus State University.  The presentation at Capital led to a service-learning course there in which students studied housing access in the Columbus area.

In 2015, youth from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Little Suamico, Wisconsin, put the ELCA World Hunger resource Road Map to Food Drives in action!  The youth coordinated the drive, promoted it around town, and led each other in activities to learn more about hunger.  Together, they collected more than 800 pounds of food for a local pantry while using their leadership skills to build relationships and serve their community.


Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the program director of Hunger Education for ELCA World Hunger.  He can be reached atRyan.Cumming@ELCA.org.