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ELCA World Hunger

Seeing Things Differently


From the story of Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit – as told in Acts 2: 17:

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your songs and daughters shall prophesy, and your young shall see visions, and your old shall dream dreams.”


The walk to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-25) is a fairly “well-trodden” path for many Christians. It’s a story we hear once a year in the lectionary cycle – a story that comes together so well for me at the end when Jesus has vanished from the disciple’s sight – and yet, they “see” in a new and different way.

“Were not out hearts burning within us?” the disciples say to each other. Through the walking and talking, they caught a glimpse of God’s dream for a reconciled world – perhaps such a glimpse that the whole world might never look the same.

October 16, was World Food Day, a day that also occurs once a year to commemorate the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945.

On World Food Day this year, ELCA World Hunger announced our upcoming Big Dream grant ministry partners – a group of four ministries that exemplify innovation and best practices in the pursuit of a just world where all are fed.

At the same time, 14 people gathered to discern and award the 2020 Domestic Hunger grants. Domestic Hunger Grants walk with congregations and their ministry partners as they seek to love and serve their communities in transformative, holistic and integrated ways. The awards are for up to 3 years and up to $10,000 per year, for a possible total award of $30,000. During this process, staff like me are notetakers. My role is to listen and record (a true gift!)

And on days like this, as we walk together in conversation, you hear many things. But the one that stays with me today is from one of our decision makers at the table who said, “I will need some help deciding on award amounts. I am 17 years old. It’s hard for me to imagine $30,000. I have never seen that much money in my life!”

The group gathered chuckled a bit, but then … we paused.

Think about it.

When was the first time you could conceptualize or understand what $30,000 really meant? When did you first “see” that kind of money? Or, have you ever??

Around the room, people said, “when I went to college,” “when we bought a house,” “when I got a car,” or “when I saw a medical bill.” For many, the first time we had “seen” $30,000 was as debt.

And yet, others reflected, “Living on $30,000 a year isn’t easy, either.”

Though it is can be difficult to live on $30,0000 in a context like the United States, an annual income of $30,000 (USD) puts a person in the top 1.23% of richest people in the world (Global Rich List). $30,000 is an amount that many or even most of our global neighbors may never actually see.

And for our high school senior-aged award table member, if all goes according to her plan and she completes college, she may join the ranks of the 45 million people in this country carrying a total of $1.5 trillion in student loan debt (more than what Americans owe in credit card and auto loan debt combined.)

And in that moment, through the community gathered, I saw things differently.

Faith formation and leadership development are intentional, experiential moments found and honed in and with community – like the one gathered together on October 16.

What would it be like if most youth and young people in this church, the ELCA, first “see” or try to conceptualize $30,000 represented by the hopes and dreams and plans of program budgets put forth by courageous, creative congregations seeking to love and serve their neighbors and neighborhoods through anti-hunger work? And not as debt— which is what the world will almost surely present without the alternative.

What type of leaders would be in our midst if more leaders – of all ages – can catch these glimpses that may essentially change the way we see the world around us? How might not only our expectations change, but our communities, relationships and stewardship change too?

At that table gathered, $30,000 looked like a ministry working with neighbors toward equitable access to food through community gardening and land ownership or like community-led advocacy and capacity building to improve access to safe water in a region dealing with lead pipe infrastructure issues.

God creates and gifts diversely and abundantly – and we are freed by grace through faith to boldly discover and wonder what God is up to and how we can be part of that in service with our neighbors and neighborhoods. Faith is a living daring confidence in God’s grace.

As people of faith, we are called to see things differently because of who God is – and to help others catch a glimpse of it too.

God’s gracious abundance opens our eyes to the presence of God among us, freeing us to see visions and dream dreams. And by being church together – through the Spirit – those visions and dreams set our hearts on fire.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while [Jesus] was talking to us on the road?” (Luke 24: 23)


Mikka McCracken is Director, Strategy and Engagement for ELCA World Hunger.

Photo Credit: Cheri Johnson

In search of root causes of hunger

One thing we at ELCA World Hunger try to study and teach others about is the root causes of hunger. I have been keeping up with Jubilee USA’s blog, and have been thinking a lot about one root cause of hunger in particular: debt. According to Jubilee USA, an organization that works for debt cancellation for impoverished countries, “Today international debt has become a new form of slavery. Debt slavery means poor people working harder and harder in a vain effort to keep up with the interest payments on debts owed to rich countries including the US and international financial institutions (IFIs)…”

In order to get a better picture of how debt to rich nations and IFIs affect the lives of those in poverty, I did a little research. Many countries that are in debt have millions of people in poverty. Many of these people did not benefit from the money that was loaned to these countries. Much of the money was used to fund development projects such as dams and coal burning factories which did little to make the lives of the poor better and left the environment damaged. Often times this is due to corruption and unfulfilled promises within the government. While the loans many times did not reach those in poverty, they are the ones forced to “bear the burden of repayment.” Countries who owe money are constantly making payments on the interest from these loans, which draws money away from funding things like health care, education and food security. Kenya provides an example of this. According to Jubilee USA, Kenya’s 2005/2006 budget dedicated 22% of government expenses to their debt. This amount of money was equal to Kenya’s budgets for health, roads, water, agriculture, transportation and finance expenses. Debt Payments slow down social and economic development that could be essential to helping people out of poverty. Debt cancellation is important because it can allow economies to grow to meet people’s needs (University of Iowa Center for International Finance and Development).

After learning more about debt, I became curious about Jubilee USA’s name, and stumbled on the theological basis of debt relief. Leviticus 25 talks about the “Year of Jubilee” occurring every seven years in which all debts are cancelled and all slaves are freed. Verses 36-37 state “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.”

It is important to keep in mind how international debt affects our neighbors around the world and to do what we can to keep them “living among us.” Poverty is complex, and debt is one of the many factors that influence it. To take action or to learn more about Jubilee USA’s work, visit

-Allie Stehlin

What are We Fighting? Post 7.

This is the seventh and final post in a series considering the root causes of hunger. The Millennium Development Goals serve as a helpful framework.

Millennium Development Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Because everyone lives on a single planet and participates in a global economy, poor countries and hungry people can’t solve their problems alone, and shouldn’t have to. There are too many ways the problems and solutions are connected to – and in some cases caused by – the rest of the world. Much of Goal 8 has to do with issues of  debt, trade, and aid, and all countries have a role in implementing changes that will give developing countries a better chance at success. Honestly, I’m feeling like I should have an advanced degree in economics to do this topic justice. Since I don’t, I’ll treat it briefly, point to other sources of information, and welcome your comments!


The debt crisis facing many developing countries is severe. Governments owe billions of dollars of debt to developed countries, and they have no way of paying it. With widespread poverty and insufficient economic output, some indebted governments do not generate even the funds to pay the interest (which is substantial). With so much of their limited money going to developed countries in debt payment, developing countries have little left over for infrastructure like roads and sanitation, or economic development policies like job creation plans and education. That such large amounts of money were loaned in the first place is the fault of both borrowers and lenders, and sometimes go back decades to corrupt regimes that no longer exist. The situation today is that many countries are facing debilitating debt that they have no way of paying and which ensures their continued national poverty. The solution includes working with developed nations on policies of debt relief and cancellation.  Jubilee is an organization doing lots of work on this front, and I recommend checking out their website if you’re interested in learning more.


Trade is another area where global partnerships between developed and developing nations is needed. Exporting goods is one way developing nations can generate more income. However, there are many barriers to their doing so successfully. First, many developed countries protect their own markets and citizens through tariffs and subsidies. Tariffs on imports increase the purchase cost of foreign goods and therefore make them less desirable than cheaper, domestic goods. The result for the developing country is that, while their production costs may be the same or less, few people in developed nations will buy their products because the final price is higher than competing products. Subsidies are another trade barrier, and agricultural subsidies are especially problematic. American farmers receive government payments for some crops, which encourages them to overproduce.  With lots of, say, wheat available, the price drops. Since American farmers get paid more than the market price through subsidies, low wheat prices aren’t much of a problem for them. But low prices and lots of wheat mean that others in the world who are growing wheat without payments from their governments can’t compete with our low prices. Not only can they not sell it to other countries, they may not even be able to see it in their own. In this example, individuals certainly won’t make a living as wheat farmers, and the country won’t make money as a wheat exporter.

So, some would say, don’t grow wheat. Make and export something else the world needs. That can work, but for a country to move into new or different industries, they need things like investment money, skilled employees, marketing knowledge, and infrastructure. If the country is already poor (and spending much of their GDP in interest on their debt), funding this type development isn’t realistic. Providing assistance for trade development and reducing trade barriers are ways wealthy countries concerned about poverty can and should help developing  countries gain entry into the global economy. Developing countries, in turn, have a role in creating governmental structures and financial policies that encourage and sustain investment and assistance.

The issues surrounding global trade and its effects on developing nations are complex. A few starting places for more information include the One Campaign website’s overview of “the issues,” Bread for the World Institute’s 2009 Hunger Report titled, “Global Development: Charting a New Course, and Paul Collier’s book titled, The Bottom Billion.


Obviously, the partnership of wealthy countries is required to funnel enough aid money to developing nations to make a difference with things like economic development. But Goal 8 goes beyond sending money. It considers other assets of the developed world and how to more equally distribute them. Of particular interest is developed countries’ possession of technology, especially in the area of computers, and pharmaceuticals. As the developed world continues to advance in these areas, its people live longer and become more sophisticated, educated, and competitive in global markets. Meanwhile, the developing world continues to suffer with preventable and treatable diseases, and lacks the benefits that mobile phone, computers, the Internet, and other technology provides. To end poverty and hunger, the partnership of developed nations must incorporate these less traditional forms of aid.

More information about pharmaceutical assistance, telecommunications, and actually all of Goal 8 – as well as the other MDGs – is available at this UN website.


I started this series of posts by saying that the reasons world hunger exists are complex and interrelated. While that’s very true, the upside is that it also means there are many points of entry and leverage in making a difference. ELCA World Hunger is committed to taking a comprehensive view of the problem of world hunger and tackling it from many directions, including relief, development, education, and advocacy. We hope you’ll join our efforts. To make a donation and/or learn more about how to get involved with ELCA World Hunger, please visit our website at

-Nancy Michaelis