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Virtual Tour: Malawi


In March 2023, countries in southeastern Africa were hit by one of the most powerful cyclones in memory. Tropical Cyclone Freddy moved across Madagascar, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, bringing torrential rain and powerful winds. Freddy was one of the longest-lasting tropical cyclones and most intense cyclones on record, generating accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) that the World Meteorological Organization has said was equivalent to a full North Atlantic hurricane season.

Church building damaged by cyclone

A church building damaged by Cyclone Freddy

The storm created new challenges and worsened existing challenges in the country of Malawi, where over 70 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to join colleagues from the ELCA in visiting the Blantyre region in southern Malawi to learn more about the impact of the cyclone and to hear about the ways the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi (ELCM) and its development arm, the Evangelical Lutheran Development Service (ELDS), are accompanying communities impacted by hunger, poverty and disaster, with support from ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response.

The stories we heard of the cyclone were devastating. The people who spoke with us told of homes destroyed by winds and rock slides, livestock and fields of crops washed away, and family members lost in the floodwaters. The pain was palpable as they shared their stories and showed us piles of bricks that used to be their homes. Many of the people we met spoke of trauma and a need for both material goods, such as food and clothing, and spiritual and emotional care as they discern a path forward.

Yet, we also heard a bold commitment to continue moving forward, to replant and to rebuild, and to continue making progress against hunger and poverty. “We cannot remain idle,” one woman said. A man from a community near Chimvu echoed her: “We have to keep going.”

men standing in front of bags of meal

Presiding Bishop Joseph Bvumbwe of the ELCM and Rev. Philip Knutson, ELCA regional representative for Southern Africa, stand in front of bags of dry food that will be distributed to communities in need

ELCM and ELDS are accompanying the communities as they forge a new path ahead. With support from Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCM and ELDS are distributing food in areas hit by Tropical Cyclone Freddy. The bags of meal and soya will not meet every need, but they will provide critical food for the hardest-hit communities. And, as we heard, the food is an important symbol of the ongoing presence of ELCM and ELDS within the communities. It is a sign that they are not alone.

Despite the challenges of recovery, the communities accompanied by ELDS and ELCM are also continuing the important long-term work of reducing food insecurity and poverty. With support from ELCA World Hunger, ELDS is working with communities to expand food production, support small businesses and strive for gender justice. Our group had the chance to visit newly planted fields of sweet potatoes and cassava, to learn about women-owned businesses and even to meet some young piglets.

There is much need in the communities we visited, but there are also so many assets and strengths to witness. The leaders in each community inspired us with their hope, determination, creativity and resilience that make it possible for this work to continue.

Below, you have the chance to virtually witness some of this for yourself through a virtual tour of the communities in Zomba and Phalombe. In this virtual tour, you will be able to meet some of the people we visited, to watch as one leader describes her fuel-efficient wood-burning cookstove, to hear the exuberant singing and dancing of the communities and to learn more about how ELCA World Hunger, Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCM and ELDS are partnering together to accompany our neighbors in Malawi.

The virtual tour is accessible on computer or mobile device. Each text box also has an icon for a screen reader. Click on the picture or link below to get started.  Once the tour opens, scroll down just a bit to find a button allowing you to view it full-screen. To navigate, simply click any of the pulsing icons on the pictures. Each icon will pull up a video, picture or text box. You can use the back arrow and the home icon at the top left of the screen to go back or to re-start.

May the people and the stories you encounter in the tour inspire your ongoing prayers for continued recovery from Tropical Cyclone Freddy and inspire your hope and active support through the strength and courage of our neighbors in Malawi.

Hunger and Hope in Malawi: Virtual Tour

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the director of education and networks for the Building Resilient Communities team in the ELCA.

Conflict and Hunger Part I: How Will the War in Ukraine Affect Food Security?

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, the immediate, deadly consequences are starkly visible in Western media – an as-yet uncounted number of dead soldiers and civilians, millions forced to flee from their homes and seek safety in other countries or regions, and the devastation of homes, hospitals and critical infrastructure. Less vivid but no less significant, are the long-term consequences the war will have for food security in Ukraine and around the globe.

While other causes of hunger, such as climate change, migration or economic poverty, may seem to receive more attention, the single biggest driver of food crises around the world is conflict. As António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, wrote in 2021, “Conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing. We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either.” As the World Food Programme (WFP) notes nearly every year in its annual Global Report on Food Crises, conflict often leads to food crises[1] (especially when it occurs at the same time as climate events or economic downturns) and food crises can exacerbate conflict.

Food security depends on the adequacy of four things: food production, food access, food utilization and stability. In simpler terms:

  • Is enough food being produced or supplied?
  • Is the food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways?
  • Are people able to meet their nutritional needs with the food?
  • Is access to food reliable, even during crises?

Over a series of posts, we’ll take a brief dive into each of these. Follow the links to read more:


Reading through each of these posts will give a picture of some of the ways violent conflict impacts hunger, as well as some of the long-term effects that may come from the war in Ukraine. Even as we pray for and take action to support neighbors in Ukraine, we need to remember that this conflict could have devastating and far-reaching consequences that may not go away the moment a ceasefire agreement is signed. Our globalized food system, while so efficient and effective when operating well, also leaves each of us vulnerable to destabilizing shocks around the world.

This is one of the reasons why the complementary responses of Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger through partners and companion churches are so important. Lutheran Disaster Response, working through companions in Eastern Europe, is helping to meet the most immediate needs created by the crisis, while also drawing on years of experience to plan long-term support for refugees, internally displaced persons, and other victims of the war.

Together with Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA World Hunger accompanies communities around the world as they build resilience against these kinds of shocks. Supporting work in agriculture helps local farmers take steps to improve the productivity of their labors, which provides some security against interruptions in exports or rising prices. Working together with partners and companions in advocacy helps to ensure that social safety net programs are robust and effective in the event of a crisis. Support for healthcare workers, counselors, clinics and hospitals helps reduce vulnerability to disease and illness, care for neighbors dealing with trauma and build capacity to respond to future health crises. And by accompanying refugees and migrants around the world, we can be part of the work God is doing to foster the stability that’s needed to ensure long-term health and well-being wherever they are.

The ripple effects of the war in Ukraine could echo throughout the food system for a long time. But we find courage and hope in God who “calls us to hope, even when hope is shrouded by the pall of war” and who, even now, is at work in, among and through peacemakers, supporting neighbors in need and “striving for justice and peace in all the earth.”

For more information on Lutheran Disaster Response’s ongoing efforts to provide support in Eastern Europe, visit


Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the program director of hunger education for ELCA World Hunger and the author of The African American Challenge to Just War Theory (Palgrave, 2013).


[1] A food crisis occurs when there is a sharp rise in hunger or malnutrition within a geographic region. The World Food Programme uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification and the Cadre Harmonise (IPC/CH) to describe levels of acute food insecurity. The classification phases range from Phase 1 (none or minimal) to Phase 5 (Catastrophe/Famine.) More information on the phases can be found in WFP’s Global Report on Food Crises. Phase 3 represents a “crisis,” during which immediate action is needed to protect livelihoods and prevent worsening hunger.

Conflict and Hunger Part II: Food Production

This post is Part II of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The first key aspect of food security is food production, or put another way, is enough food being produced or supplied to meet human needs? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

Violent conflict puts the entire food supply chain at risk. The immediate destruction or occupation of land and storage facilities can reduce the amount of land that is farmed and the amount of food crops harvested. The effects, though, are complex, as research into the recent conflicts in Syria and Iraq has found, since militaries can and do turn some of their energy to cultivating occupied land while local farmers also increase their production (or try to) to meet growing need.

Far more significant than control or destruction of land are the impacts on labor and inputs. Are there enough people to work a farm, and does the farm have enough supplies to keep operating? As people flee their homes in search of safety, farms are often left fallow, crops are left unharvested and livestock are left untended and vulnerable to death or theft, as has been the case in Nigeria, for example, amid the violence of the Fulani militia. Conflict can also make it hard for farmers to get shipments in or out, so obtaining seeds, new animals, machinery and other necessary supplies gets difficult and expensive, if not impossible.

This is a huge problem when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine. It’s no exaggeration to call Ukraine “the breadbasket of Europe.” Agriculture is about 9% of the country’s total gross domestic product (GDP), and Ukraine is a leading producer of wheat, corn, barley, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and soybeans. Together, Russia and Ukraine provide more than 30% of the world’s cereal[1] supplies. These cereals are essential staples for many countries around the world that rely on Ukraine’s exports – exports that are now at severe risk. As Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has pointed out, some cereal crops in Ukraine will be ready for harvest in June. The longer the conflict lasts, the greater risk that these crops won’t be harvested or shipped later this year.

That extends the crisis far beyond the borders of either Ukraine or Russia. Many of the countries dependent on importing Ukrainian grains do so because their own production can’t meet their needs. Some of these counties, such as Yemen (which imports about 700,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat each year), are already facing their own food crises. A shock like this could make famine more likely. On the other hand, because of our interconnected global food system and the widespread concern about the situation in Ukraine, we may see other producers step up to help fill the gaps through increased exports and reduced trade barriers. This, of course, doesn’t avoid other problems, as we’ll see in the next post on food access.


[1] “Cereals” includes a wide variety of grains used for foods, such as rye, barley, wheat, sorghum, maize or rice.

Conflict and Hunger Part III: Food Access

This post is Part III of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is food access, or put another way, is food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

The next key aspect of food security is food access, or put another way, is food available to consumers in safe, reliable ways? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine.

Even if food is produced, conflict interrupts the transportation and infrastructure needed to get it in people’s hands. As the World Food Programme (WFP) notes, an estimated 13.5 million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of maize ready to ship from Ukraine and Russia have been “frozen” out of the food supply chain, so they won’t get to the people who need them.

Even if food does get out to stores, food prices are rising rapidly, so consumers may not be able to afford them. The COVID-19 pandemic has already driven up the prices of staple foods, and these prices are likely to continue climbing. Because of the balance between demand and supply, these costs will rise even in countries that aren’t dependent on exports. The FAO estimates that food and feed prices could soar by up to 22%, depending on the movement of prices.

But couldn’t other countries simply ramp up production to fill the gap? Perhaps, but it’s not quite that simple. There are many benefits of a global food system. We have access to a wider variety of foods, often for lower prices, which is incredibly helpful for countries that are export-dependent. But this also means that a shock anywhere can lead to cascading shocks everywhere. In the case of the war in Ukraine, this means that the countries that could step up to fill the gap in food exports are also dependent on imported fuel. Because of the role Russia and Ukraine play in producing fuel, costs to run production facilities and transportation in other countries are also rising.

On top of all of this, within the countries directly affected by violence, conflict causes stores and markets to close and the loss of jobs. Also, because roads and bridges are overrun or destroyed, trucking and rail shipments can come to a halt in conflict areas, so, food can’t get to or from processing plants or stores for consumers within the country, and it can’t get to or out of ports for export, as we have already seen with some ports on the Black Sea closed. The loss of jobs, of course, reduces consumers’ ability to pay for the scarce supplies of food that may be available.

Ukrainians and Russians are both feeling this pinch, in part because of the invasion of Ukraine and in part because of the global response to the invasion. Obviously, within Ukraine, the disruption to daily lives, transportation, jobs and stores means that those who have stayed or been internally displaced within the country may have difficulty accessing basic goods, even if they do have the money to afford them. With many routes into city centers closed, too, this compounds the challenge of getting necessities to people who need them.

For Ukrainians forced to flee to other countries, humanitarian agencies and churches have stepped in alongside governments to meet some of the need, but in terms of access, it may be irregular for quite some time.

Russians, too, may experience obstacles to food access in the near future and long-term. Some have already. Sanctions are a middle road for international governments between, on the one hand, doing nothing and, on the other hand, engaging militarily in what would likely become a global war. Sanctions allow for pressure to be applied on Russia with minimal risk of escalating armed conflict. However, sanctions are also an indiscriminate tool, meaning their effects aren’t limited to just the people engaged in the war.

Research into the effects of US sanctions have found that “it is those living in poverty who are harshly affected” by sanctions. The effects are more pronounced when the sanctions are implemented by multiple countries, as we are seeing now with Russia. Unfortunately, while the seizure of yachts from oligarchs and the freezing of wealthy individuals’ bank accounts receive the most media attention, the impact of sanctions is most likely to be felt more sharply and for a longer time by average Russians, especially those who are already at or near poverty, as they lose jobs with foreign companies or domestic companies impacted by supply shortages.

Because of the lack of reliable information, it is difficult to say what the effect of sanctions has been on unemployment in Russia, but history suggests that average Russians will be significantly impacted. Likewise, as gas and fuel costs rise in the rest of the world, the people living paycheck-to-paycheck are most impacted, including here in the United States, as a higher percentage of their income goes to heat their homes, purchase goods or fill their tanks to drive to work.

This doesn’t mean that sanctions aren’t necessary or justified; but even necessary and justified actions have a cost.

Violent conflict causes immediate obstacles to food access for many people that go far beyond food production. It isn’t enough to have enough food being produced if people cannot afford it or if there aren’t outlets to get it from producers to consumers. These obstacles to access, including the collateral damage to food access within a sanctioned country such as Russia, ultimately impact the way people utilize the food that is available, as we will see in the next post on food utilization.

Conflict and Hunger Part IV: Food Utilization

This post is Part IV of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is food utilization, or put another way, are people able to meet their nutritional needs? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

When it comes to food security, there is a difference between having enough calories and meeting your nutritional needs. An overabundance of calorie-dense food – especially processed and packaged foods that also contain high amounts of salt or sugar – does not necessarily contribute to food security, because part of food security means having the right kinds of food: nutritious, clean and safe. The availability of this food, the ability to safely store and prepare it, and our own confidence as consumers all play a role in food utilization.

Unfortunately, in a violent conflict, when much of the food system and society is unstable, these are the kinds of foods that tend to be less available. During a crisis, people often turn toward shelf-stable,  processed foods that are quick to prepare, easy to carry, readily available and inexpensive. We saw this in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia in 2020, where as much as half of the population turned to eating less overall or eating more highly processed foods to get through the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the main concerns in the Ukraine conflict is the nutritional well-being of people displaced by violence within Ukraine and those who have fled the country as refugees. As people are displaced from their homes and local communities, their ability to procure safe, nutritious food is often hampered. In some cases, humanitarian aid can help make up the difference, but not everyone has access to this. We can surmise from recent reports that humanitarian agencies are facing significant obstacles in reaching people who are internally displaced within Ukraine.

The other aspect of food utilization to consider in a conflict is safe handling and storage of food. With attacks impacting both personal security of civilians as well as critical infrastructure that provides power for cooking and sanitation for clean water, conflict increases the risk of illnesses that come from contaminated food. Conflict also makes it harder for people to get treatment for diseases that can impact their nutrition and overall health, such as diarrhea, fevers, diabetes and, of course, COVID-19.

Here, too, the effects cascade to other populations. Host countries welcoming refugees can encounter obstacles in ensuring that everyone – including native residents – has enough food and that there is capacity in the healthcare system to meet the growing need. In addition, countries relying on exports from Ukraine and Russia may turn to less nutritious or less safe food available locally or in alternative markets.

With all of these interconnected systems, one of the most important aspects of food security is how stable and reliable the food system is. We turn to that in the next post on stability.

Conflict and Hunger Part V: Stability

This post is Part V of a five-part series discussing the many ways that violent conflict impacts hunger. The next key aspect of food security is stability. Is access to food reliable, even during a crisis? Here, we take a look at how conflict impacts this, with specific attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Read Part I and find links to the other posts here.

Stability, in short, means that food production, access, and utilization are reliable and resilient. Put another way, if we can eat today, how sure are we that we will be able to eat tomorrow?

There are two reasons this is important. First, instability and unpredictability change the way people behave. Farmers, for example, become more hesitant to trade, invest or diversify their work. For example, after the civil war in Mozambique in the 1980s and 1990s, farmers tended to focus on subsistence farming and reduced their participation in the market, meaning there was less food produced for other people to purchase and consume. Similarly, farmers may shift away from livestock or away from crop diversification, since doing so seems to pose less risk in the short-term, even if it may have longer-term negative effects.

In Ukraine, one of the current concerns is that farmers may not fertilize their grain crops because of high prices and instability. That would lead to a drastic reduction in the wheat crop for 2022, which could cause further shortages and higher prices globally into 2023. Moreover, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) notes that fertilizer costs are expected to rise globally, adding to the strain of farmers dependent on them. Russia and Belarus provide a large share of the world’s fertilizer, and their shipments have been significantly interrupted. (Of course, because causes and effects are complex, this situation might actually spawn the positive benefit of focusing attention on increased efficiency of chemical fertilizers and investment in alternative fertilizers that are less destructive to health and the environment, as IFPRI notes.)

The second reason stability is important is because conflict doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine didn’t bring an end to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 or other diseases. Nor does conflict make climate-related disasters take a hiatus. The most significant risk to food security in a region occurs when multiple shocks coincide.

This is, in part, what makes the food security situation for export-dependent countries so dire right now. In places like Yemen, which depend on grain exports from Russia and Ukraine, the war comes on the heels of a locust swarm that devastated crops and continues to pose a threat to farmland. Moreover, some of the people dependent on exports from Ukraine are in areas facing their own conflict-related crises, such as Afghanistan.

When combined with existing poverty, rising prices, climate events and other conflicts, the shock to the global food system that the war in Ukraine represents could be severe. In the short- to medium-term, the FAO estimates that the conflict could lead to nearly 8 million more people around the world becoming hungry. This is in addition to the refugees and internally displaced people of Ukraine whose lives and livelihoods have been immediately impacted. That increase in hunger would come on the heels of significant growth in undernourishment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To sum it up, conflict destabilizes nearly every aspect of our global food system, which is partly why it is often named as the most significant driver of hunger around the world. For most of history, humans could assuage feelings of responsibility or even fear if a conflict emerged halfway around the globe. But our world today is far too connected to believe that borders, oceans or miles can insulate us. The globalized, interconnected food system that each of us is a part of demonstrates politically and economically what we have always known theologically, namely that the safety and well-being of all God’s creation matters, no matter how distant the people involved might seem to be.

The stability of the food system depends on many factors: farmers, workers, bakers, herders and processors who produce food; truck drivers, rail workers, loaders and grocers who make food available; health care workers who tend to nutritional well-being; employers who provide wages to workers so that they can be consumers; utility workers who keep infrastructure running to ensure the safety of food; construction and road workers who ensure there can be adequate transportation of food; and even policymakers who negotiate trade agreements and aid to ensure that the food system is inclusive.

To paraphrase the philosopher Jacques Derrida, when we eat, we never eat alone. We are eating the fruits of God’s creation made possible because of neighbors around the world. And as we eat, we are mindful that the stability of this system on which all of us depend to some extent, depends itself on the truths we are called to pursue: peace and justice.

So, to return to the first post in this series:

The ripple effects of the war in Ukraine could echo throughout the food system for a long time. But we find courage and hope in God who “calls us to hope, even when hope is shrouded by the pall of war” and who, even now, is at work in, among and through peacemakers, supporting neighbors in need and “striving for justice and peace in all the earth.”

What can be done? Providing support to the work that has already begun by giving a gift to Lutheran Disaster Response is one way to help meet the growing need of Ukrainians, especially those who have been displaced by the conflict.

A next step after that is to consider ongoing support of Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger. Some of the long-term consequences described in these posts may be reduced by working with local communities around the world to reduce vulnerability, increase capacity and build resilience against future shocks. This won’t be the last violent conflict; but by working together toward a just world where all are fed – and safe – we can take steps to help prevent the many destructive ripple effects that we may see this year. Supporting food producers; investing in stable, sufficient livelihoods for all people; increasing the capacity of communities to respond to crises; and building a just, sustainable and stable food system will go a long way to ending both hunger and conflict. As António Guterres wrote last year,

We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either.

Meet the Building Resilient Communities Team

What Is “Building Resilient Communities”?

ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response are ministries deeply rooted in the identity of the ELCA, and the mission to which God calls this Church. Together, for decades, these ministries have accompanied communities where God is at work through congregations, synods, social ministry organizations, companions and other partners building a just world where all are fed and bringing  hope, healing and renewal to people whose lives have been disrupted by disasters.

This collaboration arises from what we know about both disasters and hunger. Disasters can exacerbate some of the same vulnerabilities and challenges that ELCA World Hunger seeks to address. By accompanying communities through recovery from a disaster, Lutheran Disaster Response helps reduce these vulnerabilities for the long-term health and stability of communities. And some of the surest steps in reducing vulnerability to the effects of disaster are the very things ELCA World Hunger accompanies our neighbors toward – sustainable food systems, sufficient housing, stable income and accessible health care. Whether we look at best practices for meeting human needs or the faith that calls us to walk with our neighbors toward the bright future God promises, the work of ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response are closely connected.

So, we are happy to share with you that these two ministries are now joined together on a single team within the Service and Justice home area of the ELCA churchwide organization: the Building Resilient Communities Team!

“Building Resilient Communities” expresses the deepest commitments of both ministries, which will remain distinct and yet related in this new configuration. Both Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger support work that meets the immediate needs of our neighbors while also working and walking with congregations, partners and companions toward long-term, transformative change. We know that the work to which God calls our church is the work of ensuring that we and our neighbors can thrive today and tomorrow.

For ELCA World Hunger, this has meant supporting the work of job creation, health care, stable housing, access to clean, safe water and more, as well as the critical work of food pantries and emergency feeding programs. Lutheran Disaster Response helps meet the immediate and long-term needs of communities and supports proactive measures to ensure that the next time a disaster strikes, our neighbors will be better equipped to respond and less vulnerable to the worst effects. That resilience – founded on addressing the roots of injustice that create vulnerability – is key to the work supported by both ministries, and now it is central to who we are as a team together.

The Building Resilient Communities Team (BRC) includes staff responsible for both the domestic and international work of ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response. As one team, BRC brings together both Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger, as well as the domestic and international components of both ministries’ work. And, of course, we continue to work closely with colleagues throughout the churchwide organization, synods, companion churches, congregations and partners.

As we introduce this new structure within the churchwide organization of the ELCA, we are excited to introduce, too, the members of BRC!

Interested in joining the Building Resilient Communities team? The ELCA is hiring! Follow the links to learn more about openings for a domestic grants manager and for a social ministry organization engagement manager.

Rebecca Duerst – Senior Director, BRC

Greetings! My name is Rebecca Duerst, and I am honored to serve as senior director, Building Resilient Communities (BRC) in the Service and Justice Home Area of the churchwide organization of the ELCA. In this role I lead the BRC team, a group of incredible colleagues you will meet here, who together serve as leaders for the programming of ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response both domestically and around the world. I’ve been working with the ELCA for about 10 years, most recently as director for Diakonia and, earlier, as program director for global health in the Global Mission unit, and prior to that, in Global Service with one of the Lutheran churches in Namibia. I’m originally from Wisconsin and grew up in a family of six sisters. I have a strong love of learning and am grateful to have had access to a variety of educational opportunities, including majoring in Art, Biology, and Chemistry at St. Olaf College (Um Yah Yah!), and earning a M.A. in Education, a M.P.H. in Global Health, and a Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. I’m excited to be taking on this new role leading the BRC team that brings together the domestic and international work of ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response in an integrated way, particularly to explore how we, together with ELCA congregations, synods, social ministry organizations, global companion churches, and Lutheran and ecumenical partners, can more holistically seek to address root causes of oppression and injustice and work toward transformation and liberation.

Katy Ajer – Program Director, World Hunger-International

Hello! My name is Katy Ajer, and I am the Program Director, World Hunger International. I work on stewarding ELCA World Hunger funds to companion churches and organizations outside of the ELCA in their efforts to improve sustainable development, education, health, and peace, justice, and reconciliation around the world. I also work alongside other churchwide organization staff to facilitate learning events for and by other companions. I am honored to be able to work alongside these passionate and skilled local leaders and to help share their contexts and realities with ELCA members.

I am the daughter of an ELCA pastor and deacon, who carries a strong faith but decided earlier on that I was not a person to work in the church J. Before coming to the ELCA I worked in social services as a case manager in homeless shelters, a health coordinator at an Early Head Start, board member for a free clinic, and a researcher at a hospital, eventually earning a Master of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health. Public Health called to me because of its combination of the biological mechanisms that our physical and mental health reflect and the complex social realities (and inequities) that play such a strong role in the biological response. It allows us to see things at a macro level of the policies or structural inequalities that cause different health outcomes between different groups and at the micro level of an individual. This year, I’m looking forward to learning more about the domestic work of ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response.

Juliana Glassco – Director, ELCA World Hunger-Domestic

I’m Juliana Glassco, and I am the Director for ELCA World Hunger – Domestic. In this role, I lead the team supporting ELCA World Hunger’s domestic partnerships – a network of individuals, synods, congregations and their partners learning and taking action together toward a just world where all are fed. My passion for building vibrant, healthy communities began with a year of service in Lutheran Volunteer Corps. Since then, I have worked with communities both domestically and internationally to strengthen community identity and engagement through the built and natural environment, interfaith collaboration, and shared ministry toward ending hunger. I started working with ELCA World Hunger in 2018, managing domestic grants. As part of the new Building Resilient Communities team, I’m over the moon about the opportunity to explore relationships and strategies for impact with our international and Lutheran Disaster Response colleagues and partners.

John Pyron – Program Director, Lutheran Disaster Response-US

Hello! My name is John Pyron, and I serve as the Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response-US (LDR-US). LDR-US is a national, interconnected network of Lutheran synods, social service organizations, congregations, and external partners that is responsive to the needs of people and communities impacted by disasters and is proactive in addressing community and household disaster risk and vulnerability. LDR-US recognizes that all disasters are local and builds capacity by accompanying local partners in disaster relief, recovery and resilience efforts. LDR-US engages by convening partners for mutual learning, mentorship and support; educates through online, in-person and experiential learning opportunities; equips with relief, recovery and resilience grants; and empowers by utilizing a model of active accompaniment, providing opportunities for people to live out their faith in meaningful ways.

I began my journey in disaster work as a volunteer chainsaw and debris removal team leader in Mobile, Alabama after Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Since then, I have served in various roles including construction and volunteer coordination, disaster case management, and long-term recovery group coordination, supporting numerous relief and recovery efforts across the country. Prior to joining the ELCA staff in June 2020, I served with two Lutheran Social Service agencies: Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri and Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio. I am an avid guitar player, runner, cyclist and a lover of all things outdoor. My partner, Katie, and I live in Louisville, Kentucky, with our two sons, Henry and William.

Marie Ann Sliwinski – Program Director, Lutheran Disaster Response-International

My name is Marie Anne Sliwinski, and I am the Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response-International at the ELCA. I have been working in the non-profit sector for close to 20 years, 14 of which are dedicated in international humanitarian and development programs. I currently oversee the Lutheran Disaster Response International portfolio, which supports immediate relief and recovery needs of families affected by disasters. I hold a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the University of Chicago. I currently reside in the Chicago suburbs with my husband and two children. This year, I look forward to getting to know the new team and to learn how we can further integrate the work of LDR US and International because as all disasters may be local, the impact is global.

Joseph Chu – Program Manager, Lutheran Disaster Response

I am Joseph Chu, Program Manager of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR). It is a privilege to serve both LDR International and LDR US under the leadership of Marie Anne and John. In some ways, this new position will help me integrate learnings from my work in both Global Mission and Domestic Mission, two former units within the churchwide organization. Between 2004 and the end of 2009, I was a member of the Asia Pacific Team in Global Mission. And from September 2012 to January 31, 2021, I served on the Lutheran Disaster Response – U.S. team in Domestic Mission.

Meeting with and listening to disaster survivors, participants of community development projects, professional colleagues and volunteers who have given their all for the sake of building a new home, a new community and a more just and equitable community around the world are among the most gratifying experiences I have ever had. In my new role, I will be following up with projects after their respective grant cycle has started. My responsibilities will include monitoring the project, particularly reviewing project reports in collaboration with other team members and my supervisors. I know there are many experts in these areas among our churchwide colleagues, and I look forward to learning from them. In addition to this work, I am an ordained clergy who have served congregations in California and Illinois. I have also worked in the field of non-profit fund development, social work and teaching. My wife and I have a daughter and a son in their early 20s.

Ryan P. Cumming – Program Director, Hunger Education

Greetings! I am the program director for hunger education with ELCA World Hunger. In this role, I direct the development of ELCA World Hunger’s educational resources, research trends in hunger and poverty, and help with communications with partners and congregations. In addition to this work with the ELCA, I have served as a consultant and presenter on pedagogy, active learning, and instructional design, and I continue to teach undergraduate courses at both Loyola University Chicago and Central Michigan University. I graduated from Capital University in Ohio before heading over to the Jesuit side of higher ed, earning my MA and Ph.D. in Theology, with a focus on Christian Ethics. When wearing my academic hat, I have presented research on ethics, religion, and neuropsychology at conferences in the United States and abroad and have been fortunate enough to even get published a few times. I am the author of The African American Challenge to Just War Theory (Palgrave, 2013), and contributor to and an editor of the three-volume Forgotten Luther series available from Fortress Press. Before working with ELCA World Hunger, I was interim editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics and a member of the ELCA’s task force on criminal justice. Before that, I was a bartender, fishmonger, truck driver, bricklayer and factory worker. Before that… Well, needless to say, I am looking forward to what comes next on the horizon with this great group of colleagues on the Building Resilient Communities team.

Brooke De Jong – Program Assistant, Hunger Education

I am Brooke De Jong, and I serve ELCA World Hunger as the Program Assistant for Hunger Education. I have a passion for faith formation that is culturally sensitive, socially responsive and aimed at creating lifelong, engaged faith leaders. I work with the ELCA World Hunger team to create resources that foster faith that is active in love and seeks justice. I am looking forward to deeper collaboration with my colleagues to see what new and innovative resources we can create for the network.

Previous to my work with ELCA World Hunger, I worked on the observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation for the ELCA, served as a youth director and served as a HUD grants administrator. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Religion and German with a minor in Ancient Languages from Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D. I am currently working on my Master of Divinity and in the process of becoming a deacon in the ELCA. When I am not in the office, I can often be found powerlifting, hiking, backpacking or biking. My last hiking trip was to the Superstition Wilderness in Arizona. My last backpacking trip was an 80-mile loop in the Sawtooth Mountains (see photo).

Angela Galbraith – Grants and Reporting Coordinator

My name is Angela Galbraith, and I am the Grants and Reporting Coordinator for Building Resilient Communities. I am from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but I’m excited to call Chicago home soon. I have a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with minors in Music, German, and Justice, Law & Public Policy from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. I have over five years of experience in nonprofit leadership focused on food insecurity and chronic malnutrition. Most recently, I served in the Peace Corps as an HIV/AIDS and Adolescent Health Educator in Lesotho. As Coordinator, I will continue supporting our partners in ministry through the granting process and assist the team in data management and comprehensive impact reporting. I am looking forward to growing both personally and professionally as I learn more about Lutheran Disaster Response and World Hunger-International.

Christine Moolo – Manager, ELCA World Hunger

Hi! My name is Christine Moolo, and I serve as the Manager for ELCA World Hunger. In this role, I have the opportunity to engage with the grant processes for both our domestic and international work, support companions and partners in their engagement with our ELCA Grantmaker system, and communicate stories and learnings of ELCA World Hunger-supported ministries to the broader ELCA community. My background is in International Development, and I have served in Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States and other locations to promote the work of global and domestic partners in sustainable development and disaster response initiatives. I have been active in racial equity trainings and am an Intercultural Development Inventory Qualified Assessor. I am passionate about partners in sustainable development having the resources they need to adequately take on the systemic and social barriers that prevent their communities from thriving. I live in the Chicagoland area, and I am honored to work alongside my talented, extremely hard-working and passionate Service and Justice colleagues.

Petra Rickertsen – Networks Manager, Building Resilient Communities

I serve as Networks Manager with the Building Resilient Communities team, supporting both the Hunger Leader and Lutheran Disaster Response networks. My passion for working toward a just world where all are fed began as a camp counselor and grew as a Hunger Leader on the Southwest California Synod Hunger team. I am elated everyday in this role to learn how leaders across both networks creatively build relationships with our global neighbors in addressing hunger and its root causes and disasters and preparedness and support them in achieving their courageous solutions. Though hesitant to trade the roar of the ocean, desert four-wheeling and rock-climbing adventures for snow, I am enjoying the new adventures that Midwest seasons offer.

Roselle Tenorio – Domestic Grants Manager

Hi everyone, my name is Roselle Tenorio, and I am joining ELCA World Hunger as the Domestic Grants Manager. Previously, I was the Grants and Programs Manager at Texas Women’s Foundation. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies from Grinnell College. I have a long and varied relationship with food justice and its intersections, starting at a young age volunteering with my family and community in Dallas, Texas, to researching food pantry systems while in college. I chose the nonprofit career field after a rewarding experience writing a grant for a new mobile food pantry program in rural Iowa. After graduating college, I joined AmeriCorps VISTA and served in Savannah, Georgia, at a nonprofit working on poverty alleviation. Currently, I serve on the board of Abide Women’s Health Services, a grassroots, Black-led nonprofit organization that improves birth outcomes in communities with the lowest quality of care. I also volunteer on the Board of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, Junior Players Young Professionals Committee as a Junior League Dallas Member and as a Community Centric Fundraising (CCF) Texas Organizer. Outside of working and volunteering, in my free time, I can be found wandering the arboretum or an art gallery, hiking and enjoying the outdoors, scoping out delicious local vegan cuisine, or curling up with a new book. I am a seventh generation Tejana, currently living in Dallas with my partner, Devin, who is from Chicago, and our cat, Xochitl. I am honored to be a part of this community and look forward to creating a just world where all are fed.




Hurricanes Threaten Lives and Livelihoods in Caribbean: Update and Call for Prayers


NOTE: This post was originally published on the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.

This has been a devastating season of hurricanes for our neighbors throughout the Caribbean and the U.S. South. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have already left a path of destruction, and at the time of this writing, Hurricane Maria has made landfall in Puerto Rico. As response efforts begin and continue, Rev. Albert Starr, Jr., director of Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries and program director for African Descent Ministries for the ELCA, offers this update and call for our prayers for all our neighbors affected by the storms, including those on smaller islands often given too little attention in U.S. national news.


Please continue to hold our sisters and brothers throughout the Caribbean in prayer.

As efforts are being made to respond to the devastating impact of hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, plans are being made in anticipation of yet another hurricane, Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. Residents of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were urged to take shelter in the available emergency centers as many private homes have already been damaged and structurally compromised by previous storms and hurricane Irma. The island of Dominica and the U.S. Virgin Islands have already been devastated by Maria, a powerful storm right on the heels of Hurricane Irma.

Communications with the islands of St. Thomas, St. John in particular, have been sporadic at best over the past week. St. Croix and Puerto Rico experienced the least impact of hurricane Irma. We have limited reporting out from the ELCA churchwide offices so as not to inadvertently add to the level of anxiety with unverified or false information.

Our Lutheran Disaster Response team here at our churchwide office in Chicago has been in direct communication with Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands, with offices on the island of St. Croix and with Lutheran Social Services of Puerto Rico. For more information on the efforts of Lutheran Disaster Response, please visit the Lutheran Disaster Response blog or follow Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been on the ground but may withdraw staff and return after Hurricane Maria has passed.

Ms. Junia Stryker, director for Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands has brought on an additional staff person whose work will be dedicated completely to hurricane response in the Virgin Islands. Their staff has not yet been able to make an on-the-ground assessment. Travel between the islands by both sea plane and ferry has been curtailed by continued unfavorable weather. The airport on St. Thomas was restricted to emergency and military air traffic only.  St. John does not have a commercial airport.

As of this past week here are some of the effects from Hurricane Irma:

St. Thomas and St. John

  • Frederick Church sustained damages and is worshiping in the parish hall building.
  • Nazareth Church on St. John island received some damage but is standing. The parsonage was destroyed. St. John is without power and running water. We have heard from Pastor Carlyle Sampson indirectly that he is well but without means of connecting and communicating with all the members across the island. This is true of the ministries and pastors on St. Thomas as well.
  • The hospital on St. Thomas has been destroyed. Patients have been evacuated to St. Croix, Puerto Rico and mainland U.S.
  • The main power plant on St. Thomas was destroyed. Power outages continue. Cell phone access is sporadic. When possible, texting seems to be the best opportunity for connecting.
  • FEMA has set up food and water distribution centers across the island.
  • An island-wide 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is being enforced.

Please continue to hold our neighbors in prayer this season. If you would like to support the efforts of Lutheran Disaster Response, please visit their “Hurricane Relief” giving page to make a gift. 100% of gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response will be mobilized to support response and recovery efforts related to the hurricanes.

Additional Ways to Give

Checks or money orders can be sent to:
Lutheran Disaster Response
P.O. Box 1809
Merrifield, VA 22116-8009

Write “Hurricane Response” on your check memo line.
Give by phone at 800-638-3522

Disaster and Hunger – Harvey’s Long-Lasting Effect


“Disasters are a leading cause of hunger, affecting all aspects of food security: economic and physical access to food, availability and stability of supplies, and nutrition,” according to the World Food Programme. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that as much as 25 percent of the damage and economic losses caused by disasters in developing countries falls on the agriculture sector – a huge problem when we consider the sheer number of people dependent on agriculture worldwide.

The immediate losses of homes and lives caused by Hurricane Harvey have been devastating in Texas:

But these numbers don’t fully capture the long-term and long-range effects the disaster may have on food security and the economy, particularly for farmers in Texas and beyond. Whether left in the fields or stored in bulk, crops such as grain, corn, wheat cotton are all likely to be affected.

“I can’t think of a crop that is designed to handle four feet of rain in a short period of time,” Mike Steenhoek said in a recent interview. Steenhoek is the executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. While many crops in Texas have already been harvested, anything still waiting for harvest will be at a risk of a total loss. Crops that have been harvested – rice, corn and the like – are at risk of contamination from floodwaters.

Even crops shipped from other states are at risk because of structural damage to infrastructure. Damage to roads and railroad lines may cause grain elevator operators to lower commodity prices that are paid to farmers from as far away as Kansas and Illinois. Steenhoek estimates that nearly a quarter of the country’s wheat is shipped through the Texas Gulf region, creating uncertainty for farmers across the country.

The road to recovery from Hurricane Harvey will be long. The pictures and videos coming across the news wires today are important calls to action to respond in the here-and-now, but as a recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune points out, “it’s important to remember Houston and neighboring areas once the sun is shining” and the storm (and media attention) has passed. Lutheran Disaster Response, the ELCA’s primary ministry accompanying communities faced by disaster, has been hard at work through its affiliate in the area to respond to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. But we know from experience that this will be a years-long effort. Local congregations and affiliates of Lutheran Disaster Response are still at work in communities now years past their own disasters.

We also know that hurricane season is far from over, and even now, authorities are keeping a close eye on Hurricane Irma as it winds its way across the Atlantic.

It may be easy to see vulnerability to storms like Harvey as a regional issue, but with the widespread effects on food supply and livelihoods for farmers, the effects of disaster aren’t limited by regional or state borders. Thankfully, neither is the concern of our church and of other people of goodwill. Please keep in your prayers the people affected – directly or indirectly – by the storm, the first-responders working tirelessly to assist victims and the many folks who will be invested in long-term recovery.

For more information on the recovery effort, visit the Lutheran Disaster Response blog to sign up for updates. You can also read an article featuring interviews with staff from Lutheran Disaster response here. To support Lutheran Disaster Response’s accompaniment of communities affected by Hurricane Harvey and other hurricanes in the United States, please visit