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New! “River of Life” VBS At-Home Guide


We are excited to share that the at-home guide for ELCA World Hunger’s “River of Life” Vacation Bible School program for 2021 is now available for download! This at-home guide is a supplemental resource for the full “River of Life VBS leader’s guide and includes modified activities, suggestions for online and at-home VBS, links to new videos and tips for parents, caregivers and other adults leading VBS with children at home!

Learn more in the video below:

To download “River of Life” VBS, including the full leader’s guide, the at-home guide and the toolkit with images and graphics to use on your website or social media, visit

To watch the story videos or the “Meet Our Neighbor” videos from ELCA World Hunger’s partners and companions, visit the ELCA World Hunger Vacation Bible School collection on the ELCA’s Vimeo page at

Share your story! If you use “River of Life” with your congregation or group, let us know! Email and share your feedback, stories or pictures!

Looking for more ideas? Join the community-run ELCA World Hunger VBS Facebook group and chat with other leaders from across the ELCA about VBS in 2021!

A district prepares to show their local dance


The following was written by Emily Davila, Assistant Director, Lutheran Office for World Community

Before you enter a village in Papua New Guinea, you have to be invited in. After taking a power boat 3 hours up the coast from Madang, I arrived at the tiny village of Saibor, home to around 200 people. The villagers greeted us singing what sounded like Christian rock on guitars, placed two leis around my neck and escorted me to the entrance of the village where they had created a giant doorway out of palm fronds. They asked me why I had come to the village – the correct response is “to pray with you” – so I said that, and then we prayed together. Then I broke through the palm fronds to the other side. It was kind of like a football team breaking through the paper before the big home game. On the other side men were wearing red paint, grass skirts, and doing a ceremonial dance. They threw some flower buds at me, painted my face, and I was in.
Of course I was asked to make several speeches and offer official greetings from the United States. Not used to pontificating in public, which they are all pros at, I had a hard time finding the words to say… “Greetings from New York City, we have big bridges and tall buildings, but no one welcomes you like you have welcomed me…”
After the speeches, the village presented me with billums – purses they had woven out of twine or yarn that are to be worn with the strap crossing your forehead. Every man, woman and child in PNG carries one of these. The bag is a big part of the culture, and my hunch is they mainly exist so everyone can carry their beetle nut, a narcotic that turns your teeth red, looks like a big green acorn and grows on trees. To get the effect, they chew the nut mixed with mustard stick and powdered lime (as in the chemical). The combination creates a stream of bright red saliva that spews out of the mouth– so watch out for the pools of red spit on the roads. Anyhow, after visiting 3 villages I was presented with nearly a dozen billums, ranging from bright pink woven straw, to knitted mauve with the red and black PNG flag, to a plastic black and white one with sea shells attached with strings. You can tell where someone lives in PNG by the type of billum they carry. A billum can be used to do many things — like strung up to hold a sleeping baby, or wrapped around the front of the body as a shirt.
But having returned to NYC, the city of no welcome, I am thinking about the gesture of peace the Papua New Guineans make by building that palm fence. A country with a long history of colonization, tribal wars and even cannibalism, it’s no wonder they ask the visitor, “why are you here?” Visiting the remote coastal towns, I was impressed by how pristine they were, still practicing their same customs, communal and egalitarian, untouched by globalization. They farm and raise pigs and still trade for a lot of their goods because money is hard to come by. It seems idyllic — until you need to give birth or get malaria. Hospitals and health clinics are long journeys from many coastal and highland villages, and women sometimes end up giving birth on the back of bison as they travel to get help.
Papua New Guinea culture is changing, some of the old traditions are slowly disappearing, but I think alot will stay the same for a long time out of sheer isolation. With no roads, tough terrain and high petrol costs for boats, “development” is just too expensive. For Papua New Guinea, this is both a blessing and a curse.

Emily Davila

Education and Women’s Rights in Papua New Guinea

The following was written by Emily Davila, Assistant Director, Lutheran Office for World Community.

I spent the last week in Papua New Guinea – not something I ever expected to do! With over 800 languages, communication in PNG is fascinating. There is no internet and even phones are hard to come by, a few cell phones are here and there. Most people I met promised to write me – as in a letter. We will see how that goes.
I went to PNG as an invited guest to a Lutheran women’s conference. Colonized by Germans, more than one-fifth of the country is Lutheran. One of the key features of the conference was a bible study called “Jesus Liberates women in PNG from male dominated cultures.”

png1-761056Growing up, Pastor Michael, a seminary professor, watched his mother suffer in a polygamous marriage. His father, a “bigman” would forceably take the pigs she raised so that he could enjoy a high status in the community, beating her if necessary. When menstruating, women were (and still are in some places) secluded, and some believe that even the food they touch is contaminated so they are not allowed to cook meals. After the age of 13, Michael was discouraged from spending time with his mother. Because of a tradition called the “Bride price” -similar to a dowry- a woman cannot divorce her husband because her family is expected to pay the money back. By paying for their wives, it encourages a culture where many men consider their wives a possession. In the case of Michael’s sister, despite the fact that she was often beaten by her husband, culturally, it was impossible to divorce him and she eventually committed suicide.
All this caused Pastor Michael to read the bible searching for stories of women’s liberation. At the conference he distributed a 60-page book written in Pidgin (the national language) and English that systematically unwraps the stories of women in the bible to deliver a message of respect and encouragement for women’s leadership. It ends with a chapter: “Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan Women (and others) could be a model for PNG men to follow.” Some of the suggestions:
-PNG men should put aside their beliefs of gender-based concepts of clean and unclean…
-Women ought to be given equal invitation and opportunity for leadership roles in the church
-Women should be given equal theological education…
-Women should be ordained
Now – the format of this communication was not modern: it came in a dense booklet – footnotes – even the original greek in some cases. But he systematically made the argument for gender equality in a country where it is an urgent life or death issue with one of the highest infant and maternal death rates in the world. He took nearly 8 hours over four days to deliver his lecture to 1,000 women and some men, including high ranking pastors and the Bishop.
But this is an oral culture, so the women may not read this thesis booklet. But they will remember his new interpretations of the Samaritan woman and the woman at the well, and they will take it home to their villages and retell the stories. They asked him to address the synod meeting next year, which will be mainly men, and hopefully this will happen. In a male-dominated culture, it will help women gain credibility to have a man – and the Bible – speaking on their behalf.
I think this was a historic occasion in PNG, and it speaks to the power of education. He went to school and chose to study this subject, and is now preaching a new gospel in his own language in a country that is hungry for it. The “West” cannot export gender equality, it has to come from the grassroots within. PNG is a very religious country. They have mixed Christianity with their own beliefs and it permeates almost everything they do. I can’t think of a more credible way for a gender equality movement to gain foothold in this country.