This week, four leaders from across the United States joined ELCA World Hunger and the Lutheran Office for World Community in New York City as delegates of the Lutheran World Federation at the 2023 United Nations High-Level Political Forum. The forum was an opportunity for UN member states, agencies and organizations to share updates on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. As our delegation learned, progress against the goals has been slow and, in some cases, has reversed. The delegation, representing the 149 member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, including the ELCA, was able to hear from leaders around the world, meet other advocates, connect with staff from the ELCA’s advocacy office in Washington, DC, listen to stories of changes and challenges, and consider together how each of us can be part of the work toward the Sustainable Development Goals in our communities.
Below is a reflection from one of the delegates, Kitty Oppliger, from southeast Michigan.
I am writing from New York City, my first time to the city, and much less to the UN. Each moment I remain in awe of the humanity, consequence and potential that surrounds me, both inside and outside of the conference rooms. I am honored to have been given this opportunity alongside my patient and gracious hosts/colleagues from the ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation- and quite honestly every moment I question why I was asked to attend such an important event. Nevertheless, God has placed me here, and I know I can best serve God’s will by being present, aware and authentic.
Each day has been full of challenges and beauty, conversation and contemplation, tears and laughter. The moments of reflection that have been built into our schedule are valuable times to integrate the vast volumes of information coming at us. Devotion and prayer allow me to stay focused on the One who brought me here and is sustaining me throughout. I am learning so much, but centering God above all keeps me from plunging into the depths of overwhelm and fatigue.
Looking ahead, we have work to do. We have connections to make, voices to uplift, harms to heal, attitudes to align. This can seem an insurmountable task. During one of our devotions, our group reflected upon the feeling of smallness and inadequacy facing the challenges raised during the daily sessions. Even so, I am heartened by the enthusiasm and passion shared by so many here at this year’s High-Level Political Forum. Civil society participants of many ages, genders, nationalities and backgrounds demonstrate the diversity of groups committed to ensuring a future in which the Sustainable Development Goals may one day be realized. We must boldly challenge the status quo and demand that governments put aside corporate and political interests in the interest of serving the achieving a just and equitable world. We cannot stand by in silence as those in power continue to disenfranchise those without.
Our small cohort here in NYC is returning home to far-flung environments, in Hawai’i, Michigan, Ohio and Georgia. A repeated sentiment throughout the week has been the importance of community-based, “contextually intelligent” (credit to Calla Gilson for this term) action: giving those affected by national policy and international changes a chance to voice their concerns and be truly heard. I know that my ears have been opened and my heart left raw. They will remain primed for hearing the stories and voices of the most vulnerable in my own community. My prayer is that we will all seek to see Christ in all our neighbors, that we will strive to walk along this difficult road together, led by our Creator.
Kitty Oppliger, MPH