Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

ELCA World Hunger

Building Momentum

Shortly after I joined the ELCA World Hunger team, I learned a funny little saying: “Lutherans love a disaster.”  Of course, the idea behind the maxim is that Lutherans respond generously to disasters.   In the month since the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti, the saying has proved true as members of the ELCA have given more than $4.6 million to aid in the recovery. So far, more than$471 million from around the world has been sent in response to the tragedy.  The outpouring of love and concern (and tangible gifts!) is inspiring.

The tragedy unfolding in Haiti has received a lot of press (and, to a certain extent, rightfully so).  As noted by economist and poverty specialist Esther Duflo in a fabulous TED talk, every year about 9 million children under age 5 die every year.  That is equal to the death toll of the earthquake in Haiti every eight days.  Every eight days hundreds of thousands of children die from poverty.  The tragedy is that these deaths are largely preventable.

Which brings me back to the generosity of Lutherans across the United States.  In one short month, we pooled our resources and gave out of our abundance more than $4.6 million.  If we continued in our commitment to the global disaster of hunger and poverty at the same rate for the rest of the year, we would gather more than $55 million to put towards relief, development, education, and advocacy.  This would nearly triple our current financial commitment.

What decisions did you make this last month to help those suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti?  Could those same decisions be made for a year?

– David Creech

On Child Sponsorship


Rob Radtke, the president of Episcopal Relief and Development, has started a rather interesting discussion of child sponsorship on his blog. Although this method of fundaraising is effective (see my earlier reflections on Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save), there are several reasons why such an approach is not ideal.
Radtke offers four reasons for pause: 1) The focus should be on communities, not individuals; 2) Sponsorships run the risk of commodifying children; 3) Such a model is not sustainable and can create a relationship of dependency; and 4) Motives are often mixed (Radtke asks, “Do we want to do good or do we want to feel good?”).
ELCA World Hunger, like ERD, does not offer a child sponsorship program, for many of the reasons that Radtke lists as problematic. I should be clear, too, that I am personally uncomfortable with the idea. That said, I would like to push back a bit on the arguments against child sponsorship. I will do so by asking questions. I hope to spur some conversation so please feel free to comment and offer your insight.
First, what does it mean to say that the focus should be on communities? Effective agencies like ELCA World Hunger and ERD are effective precisely because they focus on communities. Would our work be seriously hampered if we generated support for individuals while still maintaining our commitment on the ground to communities?
Second, is commodification of children really a risk? If so, how? Maybe I trust too much in the benevolence of aid agencies and people who sponsor children, but is there really a sense that these kids are purchased or owned? Would an aid agency that uses this model really be so self-interested that it would see kids as a means to its ends? I understand how this may be a threat, but is it real or simply perceived?
Third, the sustainablility issue looms large. But is not this a threat to all our work? Aren’t all our projects dependent upon sustained interest and support? As to the dependency issue, are the communities supported by child sponsorship somehow more dependent than the communities supported by other means (like our Good Gifts)?
Fourth, is there really any truly altruistic deed? Mixed motives abound in all forms of philanthropy. Even finding joy in giving out of the right motives is a mixed motive.
I write these questions partly as the devil’s advocate, partly as a pragmatist. The fact is that there is a lot of need out there and child sponsorship can be an effective tool for mobilizing people and resources. How often does wanting to do it right lead to inaction? (And yes, I know that action ill-conceived can do far more harm than no action at all–but I really don’t think that will be a problem for ELCA World Hunger.)
David Creech
Photo (c) 2009, Chris Mortenson

Bad News/Good News

Does it seem like each morning’s news brings a report about another global disaster? In my darkest “oh-no-not-another one” moments, I just want to turn the TV off, push the paper away, and set my internet news pop-ups to “entertainment only.”

But I can’t totally disengage. Even if I really wanted to, my colleagues and our ELCA doesn’t let me. News clippings sent inter-office, phone calls from pastors, gifts sent in by children with prayerful notes… all bring me back to the reality of our broken world.

Of course, there’s another reality as well, and that’s the promise of God’s abundance. I’m reminded of this as I read budget reports detailing spending plans for the overwhelming generosity we received last year for ELCA World Hunger Appeal. My World Hunger/Global Mission colleagues had made spending plans based on a modest increase in giving, but certainly didn’t know that an additional $2.5 million would arrive at the very end of the year! What amazing generosity sent on behalf of our neighbors- near and far- who live with hunger and poverty!

Many of these “surplus” plans focus on our response to the global food crisis, one of those awful ongoing disasters we hear about so frequently (read more and give here). Our gifts to ELCA World Hunger help alleviate this crisis through a two-pronged approach. First, we are providing funds to our partners for emergency food and other relief efforts. But even more importantly, we have made a concerted effort to invest in long-term sustainable development that will help our partners help communities better withstand the ups and downs of the food market. For example, because of the generous giving to the World Hunger Appeal last year, we were recently able to make a special gift to the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church to provide tools, supplies and irrigation for a community to grow nutritious produce for their use and for market. In the long-term, this will have a far greater impact that food relief alone, and we are grateful to be able to make this special gift possible through our companion church.

So, on the next bad news day, when I just want to pull the metaphorical (and literal) covers over my head… I’ll remember that God truly is at work in our world. God’s work. Our Hands. Thanks be to God!