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Lent Reflection 1: Journey in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

Week 1: Journey in the Wilderness

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor”
(Deuteronomy 26:5)

Read

  • Deuteronomy 26:1-11
  • Psalm 91:1-2, 9 -16
  • Romans 10:8b-13
  • Luke 4:1-13

Reflect

We have a curious set of readings for this first Sunday of Lent. Biblical scholars believe that Deuteronomy 26:5-10 is a script for someone making an offering of what was called the “first fruits,” a religious practice for farming communities. Following the first harvest that the Israelites reaped in the Promised Land, they were to gather a basket of select produce from the fields and carry it to the priest. When the priest laid the basket at the altar, the person making the offering would then say the following:

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me (Deuteronomy 26:5-10).

These verses fit well with this somber season. Lent is, if nothing else, a time of looking backward and a time of looking forward. In its 40 days, we remember how far we have fallen short of the glory of God. In it, too, we look ahead with longing to the breaking of the Easter dawn and the unveiling of the promise of God, who by grace offers us a future we could never earn.

With Lenten memory, we recall the journey of our biblical ancestors, the Hebrews led by God from slavery to freedom through generations in the wilderness, and we too reflect on what being descendants of oppressed slaves whom the Lord brought “out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” means for us today. The formulaic verses of Deuteronomy recall this history, reminding the worshiper with their produce just how far God has carried God’s people, from the “wandering Aramean,” Jacob, through Egypt, and to a new life and new covenant with God.

The danger inherent in this journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is difficult for us to capture today. Even without the threat of Pharoah’s army, to wander in the wilderness without permanent shelter, a stable source of fresh water or the means to grow food meant risking death from all sides. The lament of the people is understandable. They cry out to Moses, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt … for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3). The Hebrews, led by Moses, were dependent on God’s response to their complaint: manna, a bread-like substance, rained down at night to fill them.

For our ancestors, the wilderness may have seemed like a trial to be endured and, if lucky, survived.

Perhaps that trial isn’t as hard for us to relate to that trial as it might seem. How often do we experience life as having more risks than rewards or more trials than triumphs? With rates of hunger around the world skyrocketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, natural and unnatural disasters wreaking havoc, and conflict uprooting lives, the world can often feel like a wilderness to be endured and, if lucky, survived.

The witness of our biblical ancestors is critical for us during Lent. The history recalled in the ceremony of the offering of the “first fruits” in Deuteronomy reminds us of two important truths as we begin this season. The first truth is that God is not the source of suffering. Even as the wandering Hebrews saw their time in the wilderness, at times, as a grueling test administered by an exacting God, it was God who journeyed with them. God responded to their cries with sustenance and protection that enabled them to survive.

The second truth might best be summed up in the popular quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring: “Not all those who wander are lost.” Even when the way seemed uncertain for Jacob, the “wandering Aramean,” he was never alone as he sought a land to call his own. God was leading him somewhere as surely as God had greater things in store for the Hebrews than a mere flight from Egypt.

These truths lie at the foundation of the church’s witness today — even as so many of our neighbors face the uncertainty of survival in a world where as many as 811 million people are undernourished. In the Chiredzi District of Zimbabwe, Emma Mangwende gives voice to this uncertainty when she wonders, in her words, “how to survive as an old lady looking after seven grandchildren.”

What would being grounded in these truths look like for us — a church accompanying neighbors with challenges like Emma’s?

We can start by responding to the realities of hunger and poverty now and working with companions and partners with a vision for the future. In Zimbabwe, Lutheran Development Services (LDS) embodies this vision, working with Emma and other residents of the Chiredzi District to implement new models of farming that conserve water, preserve soil and increase yields. This work reflects the LDS vision of “transformed, robust and resilient communities living a just, peaceful and dignified life manifesting God’s love.” It is a testament to the two truths revealed in the story of God’s journey with God’s people in the readings for this Lent.

As we respond to hunger in the world, we do so knowing that God has provided abundantly to meet our every need, even as inequities and injustice prevent so many of our neighbors from enjoying the fruits of God’s creation. Our response — and our Lenten confession of the ways we have fallen short in responding — bear witness to the truth that inequities ought not to be. Amid risk and uncertainty, the work of neighbors such as Emma and LDS and of congregations in the United States and around the world is a testament that, even now, God is giving life to a promise of “a land flowing with milk and honey,” a world in which hunger and poverty will be no more.

This Lent we look back, remembering the ways God has been with us in our journey, and we look forward, longing for the fulfillment of God’s Easter promise. And we work, trusting that the God of our wandering ancestors is being revealed still today in our neighbors as we find our way through the
wilderness together.

Ask

  1. Think of a time when a situation seemed particularly uncertain or challenging. In what ways was God present with you?
  2. How might the church’s work alongside people facing hunger and poverty bear witness to God’s promise for the future?
  3. Imagine you had to rewrite the offering prayer from Deuteronomy 26:5-10. What would you include? What moments or events from your life or the life of your community would be part of your prayer?
  4. How does (or should) being descendants of “a wandering Aramean” such as Jacob shape the work of the church today?

Pray

God of our yesterdays and tomorrows, you guided our ancestors through the wilderness to freedom, a new home and a future with promise. Turn our hearts toward our neighbors who face uncertainty, insecurity and risk today. Inspire within us compassion for their needs, gratitude for their gifts and a holy yearning for justice, that all may experience safety, security and hope in our world today. In your name, we pray, amen.

Learn more and follow ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of giving throughout Lent by visiting ELCA.org/40days.

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 https://elca.org/hunger/resources#VBS.

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 https://vimeo.com/showcase/7224146.

Share your story! If you use “River of Life” with your congregation or group, let us know! Email Hunger@ELCA.org 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!

Lenten Reflection 3: What Will It Take to End Hunger?

Justice

“The direct service of providing filter pitchers and the organizing work of bringing demands to our alderpersons, health department and mayor all lead us back to the font, where we stand with people at the holy water that makes us God’s children and sends us out to serve God’s justice.”

 

If we don’t listen carefully to Jesus’ words, we might think of him as meek and mild-mannered, the patient and perfect willing sacrifice, who admonishes his followers to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Some might even think we are called to be docile and, at times, subservient. In many forms of American Christianity, believers are encouraged to acquiesce to their circumstances, to accept their lot in life with, if not good cheer, at least indifference. In fact, for some Christians, protest or rage must be reserved only to chastise “sinners” for their “immoral” ways.

If there is a story from the Gospels that challenges this picture of Jesus and Jesus’ followers, it may be the story from this week’s reading of Jesus clearing the temple in Jerusalem. The man who would stand reserved before Pilate here is described by the author of John’s Gospel as angry, wielding a whip and overturning tables. Clearly, even for the normally peaceful Son of God, there are some things that are too much to bear in silence.

The temple was the center of worship for the community in Jesus’ time. Here, the faithful would gather for holy days, as Jesus did in the story, or to offer the required sacrifices. The temple was also a center of commerce, with merchants selling wares to travelers outside the court. Because Roman money bore the likenesses of Roman leaders, it could not be used in the temple and needed to be exchanged to pay the temple tax, a fee assessed on all who entered.

There is some debate about the fairness of the moneychangers. While some writers claim the moneychangers were greedy or predatory, others note that, in general, the moneychangers at the temple dealt fairly with their customers. In any event, they were a necessary fixture at the temple, as were the merchants selling animals for sacrifice. Wealthy Jews would purchase sheep or cattle whereas working-class or poor Jews would opt for cheaper animals, such as doves. To say that the system was necessary is not to say that it was fair. Even if the moneychangers did not engage in outright exploitation, the temple tax was especially felt by people living in poverty, for whom even a half shekel would have been more than they could afford. When added to the cost of sacrificial animals, the financial burden for people in poverty was high.

What drove Jesus to fashion a whip and erupt in anger was not the mere presence of commerce — after all, both the tax and the animals were necessary — but the unequal burden borne by the very people for whom the temple should have been caring. What inspired Jesus’ rage was not the temple or trade but the way these two systems combined to leave people in need at a disadvantage, day in and day out. This injustice is simply too much for anyone to remain docile. Docility in the face of injustice is complicity.

Still today, an unequal burden continues to be fostered by systems and structures that leave many communities bearing the marks of injustice — sometimes in the very bodies of the people.

We’ve known for decades the dangers associated with lead, a metal that for many years was used in plumbing and paint. This hazardous metal can cause severe, long-term effects, including stunted brain development, anemia and kidney damage. As older pipes corrode, lead can seep into drinking water, and particles from paint in older homes can be inhaled. It can become part of the very water we drink and the air that we breathe, making it hard to keep adults and children safe. Over the last decade, lead contamination has been found in water systems in Flint, Michigan, Newark, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago and many other cities, both large and small. It has been found in homes, hospitals and schools and has been recognized as a national problem across the United States.

But that is not to say that the burdens of unsafe water are shouldered equally by all communities. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found, African American children are nearly three times as likely as white children to be exposed to lead. Some studies have found the prevalence of lead poisoning in some Black and Latino neighborhoods to be as high as 90%, which means that as many as nine in 10 children have tested positive. Children living in poverty are also at higher risk, with higher rates of exposure and fewer means to address lead poisoning to prevent long-term consequences. This can create a vicious cycle. Families living in hunger and poverty are more vulnerable to environmental risks that can lead to high health care costs, illnesses that keep adults home from work, and developmental delays that can inhibit children’s education — the very stressors that contribute to long-term, generational hunger down the road.

At Hephatha Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wis., a city with high rates of both poverty and lead exposure, leaders are working hard to keep children safe. The church, with support from ELCA World Hunger, provides lead-free kits with water filters, tape and mops. The tape can cover lead paint that is chipping, and the mops clean up dust from the paint so that children don’t inhale it. The church also helps adults learn about the dangers of lead.

But filters, tape and mops can go only so far. The issue of lead — and the crisis of unsafe water, more generally — is an issue of justice. Environmental policies, housing regulations and health care access are all woven together when it comes to keeping people safe from lead poisoning. That’s why Hephatha also worked with neighbors to start an advocacy group to talk with legislators about keeping the community safe. At a deeper level, access to clean water is not just a matter of what comes out of our taps but what goes into our laws. It’s about the community we live in and not just the water we drink.

Pastor Mary Martha of Hephatha links this work to the calling of the church. Advocacy and education “[lead] us back to the font, where we stand with people at the holy water that makes us God’s children and sends us out to serve God’s justice.”

In the Gospel reading, Jesus recognizes the necessity of institutions such as the temple and commerce. But he also believes these same institutions should be held accountable for how people in need experience them. In Milwaukee, God is at work through a community driven by hope that things can change — and guided by the wisdom that what we need is not just clean water but justice.

As we continue in our Lenten journey, learning about the tools we will need to share in God’s work of ending hunger, the story of God at work in Milwaukee reminds us that the future we seek is a world where “justice will roll down like waters” — clean, safe, lead-free and life-giving waters accessible to all.

Reflection Questions

  1. Think, share or journal about a time when you felt that something was unfair or that you were at a disadvantage. How did you react? What did you do to try and change the situation? What powers resisted attempts at change?
  2. Jesus’ display of anger in the temple is often categorized as righteous anger or anger over mistreatment, insult or the malice of another. When can anger or even rage be a productive emotion?
  3. How can you identify anger that is helpful and not harmful? How can you use anger in a productive way, to help your neighbors in need?
  4. Where is there a need for justice in your community? What will a “just world” look like in your neighborhood?

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, at the font you wash us in water and the word, and name us all your beloved children. With that love, inspire our prayer, work and generosity, that all people may have an abundance of clean, safe water. Amen.

Learn more and follow ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of giving throughout Lent by visiting ELCA.org/40days.

ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starter- Pentecost

 

These reflections are a part of ELCA World Hunger’s Sermon Starter series which is published via email every Monday. You can sign up for the weekly email here on the right side of the page if on a computer or near the bottom of the page if viewing from a phone. This reflection was written by Rev. Dr. William Flippin. Rev. Dr. William Edward Flippin, Jr. served as an ELCA parish pastor in Columbus, Ga., and Atlanta, Ga., for eleven years. He was the first African-American pastor at both churches.  He currently serves as Assistant to the Bishop, Director of Evangelical Mission for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. He served on the ELCA Church Council 2013-19 and is on the Lutheran World Federation Church Council as Co-Chair for Advocacy and Public Voice. He received the “Prophetic Voice” Award in 2016 for Faith in Public Life, Washington, D.C., and serves on the Alumni Board for Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He also was inducted in 2017 to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers and Laity at his alma mater Morehouse College. He has been married for seventeen years to Kedra Phillips-Flippin, a nurse care manager, and are the proud parents of Shamel Emani.

May 31- Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

Today is Pentecost, a day for remembering where the church came from, how the church came to be, and for asking what on earth the church is for and where in heaven’s name the church is headed. This is the day when we should envision what the Church could be, what its field of dreams would look like — and to start working to bring that dream to reality.

The disciples who were situated in the Upper Room, as the poet Langston Hughes described, had a “dream deferred” vaporized in their Messianic expectations. Despite their realities, Pentecost came with the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on them in a topsy-turvy world. How can we still have hope for a field of dreams?

We must pour out our hearts: Jesus always reminds religious leaders, spectators, and followers that humanity examines them from the outside, but the spiritual dimensions are found in the heart. Pentecost reminds us that the authentic expressions of disbelief from the disciples were the catalyst of transformational change. This birthday celebration of the church reminds us that we do not need a lovely building, a good choir, a well-run church school, or any ordained clergy to be a church. Instead, we need the Spirit of Christ in order to be a Christ body community. This allows Christ to be enfleshed, incarnated, embodied through a Spirit-filled community, the Church must pour out a heart filled with self-sacrificing love.

Even in our present “dreamless” state, the church has managed pretty well to offer to helping hands to people in need. We run soup kitchens, stock food pantries, and provide showers, online worship and devotions, and shelter. But there should be a difference between being a “good citizen” and being the church. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ELCA World Hunger is expedited and advocated through the means of sacrificial giving through accompaniment and trustworthy service to neighbors. Through being the embodiment of God’s hands, the works of love  are manifested in the global realities of hunger being minimized. To find stories about ELCA World Hunger’s transformative work, read the reproducible stories found here: https://www.elca.org/Resources/ELCA-World-Hunger#Stories

There is a new field of dreams that are endless for those to hear the clarion call of leadership. Jesus affirms that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Why is the church stagnating? Could it be that the church, which began as a field of dreams for the outcast and outsiders, has become a field of keeping the status quo? An area of ideas seems outside the reach of even the highest imagination.

Nearly two centuries ago (August 18, 1807), someone watched as Robert Fulton tested his steamboat. He kept yelling, “It’ll never start! It’ll never start!”

Just then, the steamboat pulled away from the dock and moved majestically up the Hudson River. That observer quickly changed his tune.

He yelled: “It’ll never stop! It’ll never stop!”

We all know these people. They go by different names: the failure-predictors, the trouble-warners, the obstacle-visionaries, the problem-imaginers, the “we-can’t-afford-it” cost-estimators.

The truth is that the church — no matter how stodgy and out-of-shape it has become — is still in God’s hands. The church’s future is never predictable or plotted out because the Holy Spirit, the animating breath of the church, blows up storms and whirlwinds without any notice.

The Spirit must be allowed to circulate through the sanctuary, pushing us to our knees at unexpected moments. Does anything ever bring tears to our eyes in Church (besides the annual budget report)? Can the Spirit make us smile, or even laugh out loud in church?

 Just as found in the impetus of the Spirit, it is time for the church to spread her wings in being willing to “trust the Spirit.” We cannot take flight under our own power. Peter Pan’s “flying song” in the Disney version of this childhood dream story still offers sound advice. To soar, “all it takes is faith and trust … and a little bit of pixie dust. The dust is a definite must!”

As Christians, we can provide the faith and trust — while still admitting that we are mere dust and to dust we shall return.

At its heart, this is what building a church that is a “field of dreams” takes — the willingness to spread our wings and step off the edge, believing that the breath of the Spirit will bear us forward into the future.

John 7:37-39

In 1999, I was a Peace Corps Intern for Mickey Leland Institute of World Hunger and Peace, residing in the remote villages of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). My primary task was health education and the building of water latrines. On the surface, the water looked clean, but the children kept getting sicker and sicker. Malaria was the cause of this dilemma, affecting sixty percent in the village and within a fifty-mile radius. As I was treating water sources with chemicals, I would always think that new life begins with just one drop.

Jesus knows this, which is why he cries out, “Let anyone thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38).

Whenever the Bible speaks of “living water,” it is pointing us in several directions. Living water can mean fresh, running water – water from a spring, as opposed to a container. It can also mean life-giving water. In this case, Jesus is suggesting both because he knows that fresh, running water is also life-giving water – something everyone needs for a life of health and vitality. Just ask the residents in countries I witnessed in the remote villages of West Africa.

But John, the gospel writer, offers a third meaning in the very next verse: “Now [Jesus] said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified” (v. 39, emphasis added). John believes that living water Jesus offered is nothing less than the fresh, running, life-giving Holy Spirit of God, which comes to Jesus’ followers on the day of Pentecost.

Living Water. Holy Spirit. Both change our lives. Both give us hope for the future. Clean water and the Spirit of God can flow together in some powerful ways in the mission of the church today. The simple presence of one clean-water well can transform a community. Clean water leads to health, which leads to productivity, which leads to education and commerce and forward progress.

It isn’t just about a cup of cold, clean water. It’s about the future.

Jesus tells us the power of the Holy Spirit has the same effect. When we turn to Jesus in faith, we receive a free-flowing and life-giving Spirit who can transform our lives. The Spirit makes us happier, healthier, and better able to serve God with passion and purpose.

Just one drop. That’s where it begins. Then the flow of the Spirit in Pentecost and Christ’s divine breath becomes a river of living water.

All were together and filled with the Holy Spirit. The river of living water drenched all.

Our transformation begins with just one drop – a drop of concern for a child in poverty. If the Holy Spirit is working for health, welfare, and education, then we should too. We can volunteer at a free medical clinic, deliver food to a low-income family, or tutor a child requiring help with homework.

Such a drop turns into a trickle – a trickle of help for a neighborhood in need. If Jesus is the embodiment of divine power, overcoming the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness on humanity, then our challenge is to be Jesus’ healing and helping hands in our communities. We can support dental clinics for the homeless, affordable housing for the working poor, and English classes for immigrants.

This trickle can become a river of living water – a river that carries the good news of God’s love around the world, washing over people with improvements to their spiritual and physical health. Whether

fighting cholera in Haiti or installing water filters in my own experiences in

West Africa, Christians are changing lives as they follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. Jesus’ words are coming true: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

It can start with just one drop. The installation of one water filter. The digging of one well. But once the water begins to flow, nothing can stop it. Same for the Holy Spirit.

Children’s Message

Pour a pitcher of water into a bowl and let the children watch and listen to the flowing water. Explain that this is what the Bible means by “living water” (v. 38) – water that’s fresh and running freely instead of sitting still. Then ask if everyone needs to drink water in order to stay alive. Nod your head yes and say that a person can live for only about three days without water . As you put your hand in the bowl and stir the water, share this second meaning of “living water” – life-giving water, the water we all need to stay alive. Then say that Jesus defines “living water” in a third way: He says that it is the Holy Spirit, which believers in Jesus receive from God (v. 39).

The world is mostly water, but most people can’t drink safe water that we can get at home in the United States and use for drinking, cleaning or bathing. Emphasize that this Spirit is like water because it’s running freely, and it gives everlasting life to us in this world and in heaven. Let them know that each of us has a soul and a body, and our soul needs the Holy Spirit just as our body needs fresh, clean water.

ELCA Advocacy Alert – Support Funding for Flint

Take action to support Flint and other cities facing lead crises!

Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com

Linda Parton / Shutterstock.com

It has been nearly a full year since the City of Flint, Michigan, first declared a state of emergency over the widespread lead contamination of its water supply. In that time, churches and service agencies have worked tirelessly to provide clean water to city residents—but significant challenges remain. Despite ongoing progress by state and local officials, Flint’s infrastructure is still not in a sustainable place. Citizens are still not able to drink water without filters.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Rev. jack Eggleston and Rev. Ken Fouty from the Southeast Michigan Synod distribute water at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Mich.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Rev. Jack Eggleston and Rev. Ken Fouty from the Southeast Michigan Synod distribute water at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Mich.

Earlier this year, the Southeast Michigan Synod of the ELCA and ELCA Advocacy urged Congress to take action on this federal emergency. Now, the U.S. Senate is nearing a compromise to provide federal assistance to Flint and help the city recover its drinking water infrastructure. The current deal would also include assistance to states with similar emergency drinking water

situations, which often go overlooked. Congress does not have much time to act, and opposition to the bill still remains. Your Senators must hear from you now!

Call on your members of Congress at the ELCA Action Center to support Flint now!

ELCA World Hunger is continuing to accompany and provide assistance to the people of Flint. Support ELCA World Hunger initiatives by clicking here!

ELCA Advocacy works for change in public policy based on the experience of Lutheran ministries, programs and projects around the world and in communities across the United States. We work through political channels on behalf of the following biblical values: peacemaking, hospitality to strangers, care for creation, and concern for people living in poverty and struggling with hunger and disease.

Walking for Water

At tW4W_5his time of year we see seasons changing with the last bit of winter frost fading to the warm air of spring. The seasons of the church change as well from the somber time of Lent into the celebration of Easter. During the season of Lent Messiah Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Washington, decided to spend their weeks not only in worship, but educating their congregation about water.

“Stay Thirsty” was the name of the Wednesday evening sermon series for the season of Lent and each Sunday there was a children’s message about water. In the midst of abundance, Messiah Lutheran Church decided to talk about scarcity of a resource that we all depend on: clean water.W4W_6

The first “Stay Thirsty” evening, the congregation put on their own Walk for Water. They set up three tracks going throughout the church with stops along the way to learn about waterborne diseases and the reality of water all around the world.

Each track lets you walk in the shoes of a real story, and simulate the difficulties of not having accessible water.

At Messiah there were a large number of people who wanted to participate, so the congregation provided various sizes of water containers to accommodate the inter-generational walk with participants as young as three.     W4W_7

This first event provided a way for the whole congregation to get acquainted with the theme of “Water for the World”, and learn more about what the ELCA is doing around the world.

As a retired teacher, Hope Quinn took on the responsibility for writing and delivering the children’s messages each Sunday. Each week provided a different lesson on water, and a box for collecting coins to contribute to ELCA World Hunger’s water programs. “Water for the World” was the theme that was adopted and a wishing well was placed in the narthex to collect prayers of the congregation on a clothesline with a thermometer to gauge how much money they raised.

The first Sunday the theme was introduced with a simple question to the children, “When you want a drink of water at home, what do you do?”. The answer would be the same for many of us, that we simply go to our sinks and turn on the faucet. There might be a water filter involved, but nothing strenuous. Answers from the children prompted a conversation on how many people in the world do not have this same luxury, with an illustration from the Walk for Water video. The children were given coin boxes to collect money during the week and told about how their coins can help give people safe water to drink.W4W_10

Wells were the next topic, and understanding what kind of well water is actually safe to drink. Quinn pointed out that well water can contain debris and other materials to make the water unsafe to drink. Porterville, California, is an area that relies on wells to provide water but due to drought their wells are running dry. Quinn lifted up that ELCA World Hunger is helping provide materials to aid the people of Porterville, which is only a two-day drive from Vancouver. After this children’s message many adults came up to Quinn saying that they had no idea that ELCA World Hunger worked domestically!

W4W_3Women are usually the ones faced with the burden of gathering water for their families, and that was illustrated in the third week of Lent. Quinn asked for two girls to volunteer from the group to carry an empty bucket and an empty jug. The volunteers illustrated how difficult it is to carry the bucket instead of the jug and learned that with only two dollars from their Water for the World boxes they could buy one of the jugs! Also with only one dollar from their boxes they could provide 140 water purification tablets! The last Sunday showed what happens when an area gets clean water. Quinn showed a PowerPoint that illustrated the different components to getting clean water and what it meant for a community in India to gain access to clean water with the support of ELCA World Hunger.

Messiah wanted to show through education and giving that we really can make a difference by coming together as sisters and brothers in Christ. This congregation took a season to learn about the ELCA in the world, and at the end of their time they raised nearly $2,500!W4W_8

Let us take a season, a Sunday, or just a moment to bear witness to what we as a church can do in the world, and how something as simple as clean water can make all the difference.

Reblog: Flint Water Crisis: When Water Becomes Unsafe

 

 

(This post originally appeared as “Living Earth Reflection: When Water Becomes No Longer Safe” on the ELCA Advocacy blog. It was written by Rev. Jack Eggleston, Director for Evangelical Mission and Assistant to the Bishop for the Southeast Michigan Synod of the ELCA.  Flint, Michigan, is in the Southeast Michigan synod.)

Rev. Eggleston holds a bottle of water drawn from the tap at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Mich.

People around me know that I drink a lot of water. Many years ago, Carl, a member of the congregation I served, told me of the health benefits of

drinking water. I drink at least 80 ounces of water a day. When I am tired, a glass of water refreshes my body and renews my energy. Nothing renews like the life-giving water Jesus offers (John 4), but safe water is one of our most basic needs.

Last fall, when refilling my water bottle at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Mich., numerous people told me they had concerns about the water and that I should use bottled water. I filled my water bottle from the faucet, but along the road found it discolored and did not taste right. Only later did I learn how dangerous the water is. Flint’s water is unsafe, toxic and a danger to health.

Water pipes are corroded throughout the city, and lead contamination in many homes and at Salem Lutheran Church far exceed safe limits. Lead harms the blood and can damage the brain. After extended exposure, it builds up in organs and bones, remaining years after exposure. All of this contamination could have been prevented. When people complained and physicians reported unsafe levels of lead, the concerns were dismissed. After 18 months, the water is still unsafe for consumption, cooking or even doing the dishes.

Flint is one of the more impoverished cities in America. Local General Motors employment fell from a high of 80,000 in 1978 to under 8,000 in 2010. More than 40 percent of the people of Flint live below the poverty line. The population has declined from a high of 196,000 in 1960 to just under 100,000 today. The city, under an emergency manager, decided to switch water sources and failed to adequately treat the water. The state of Michigan houses nearly one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. It is hard to comprehend unsafe water with such great water supplies nearby.

The long unheard cries of people in Flint remind me of the Israelites refusing to drink the water at Marah because it was bitter (Exodus 15). They complained to Moses, and he cried out to the Lord. The Lord and Moses made the water sweet. Every day, the water crisis in Flint touches me more deeply and reminds me that there are many water concerns throughout the world. Global warming is drying up lakes. The Aral Sea, once one of the world’s largest inland seas is mostly desert now, having receded by more than 75 percent in recent decades. Lake Chad in Africa has diminished by nearly 80 percent over the last 30 years due to global warming, reduced rain and water extraction.

Sharing God’s gifts and life-giving water with people in Flint

After visiting Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Bishop Donald P. Kreiss and Robin McCants, assistant to the bishop for advocacy and urban ministry, both of the ELCA Southeast Michigan Synod, shared the expanding depths of the crisis with the synod and the ELCA. With some government support

and generous response from the synod, ELCA World Hunger, and people around the ELCA, Salem is now one of the largest distributors of fresh bottled water in the city. Claimed in baptism, refreshed by life-giving water from Jesus that gushes up to eternal life, members of the ELCA are sharing God’s gifts and life-giving water with people in Flint.

Flint will need water for a long time to come. Find out how you can help by visiting the Southeast Michigan Synod website at www.semisynod.com.

Congress is currently considering funding for resources to make the water in Flint safe to drink again. Find out more and take action by visiting the ELCA Advocacy Action Center.

This Sunday when I preach at Salem, I will bring cases of water and two of my own large drinking water bottles. When I return home I will refill them from my faucet and remember the people in Flint. I will be more attentive to ELCA blogs and advocacy requests. Jesus, who gives life-giving water, compels me to do this and to act.


Finding Faith in Flint

Few experiences produce anxiety much like washing your hands in water that you know can poison you.  I’m watching a natural resource come natural hazard spill over my hands from a tap in Salem Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Flint, Michigan.  Like many other buildings and homes, the church has lead in its water — water it has used for drinking, cooking and baptizing infants.  Before my meeting with Pastor Monica Villarreal of Salem, I had stopped by a downtown coffeeshop for an iced tea, something I do far too often in my own city without batting an eye.  But here in Flint, even this simple act carries with it pit-of-the-gut worry.  It’s one thing to trust that your barista has put enough milk in your latte.  It’s quite another to trust her when she tells you the water is safe.

Flint bears all the marks of any number of Midwestern towns abandoned by manufacturing firms in search of cheap labor.  Liquor stores dot barren blocks.  Once-proud homes loom in disrepair from untended lots. Violent crime is a regular experience. And a river runs through it.  A river filled with bacteria and, now, so corrosive it can damage pipes and car parts.

Water BottlesIn politics as in war, the first casualty is truth.  Finding reliable information on the water crisis is difficult, even from reputable news sources.  What we do know is this: people in power gambled with the lives of people in poverty and lost.  When residents complained about the water, state officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality responded with “aggressive dismissal, belittlement and attempts to discredit these efforts and the individuals involved,” insisting that the water was safe.

The first “strategic goal” of the MDEQ is to “protect public health.” They failed. Miserably.  But no apology  from state officials, no number of resignations will be enough.  Those officials get to go home and drink clean, cheap water from their taps.  The people of Flint are stuck paying for poison in their homes.  The state leadership in Michigan was as corrosive as the Flint River, eroding trust and sowing fear as quickly as the water they provided corroded pipes and spread lead.  This water was given to babies, infants, and children because people in power said it was safe.

My work with ELCA World Hunger has carried me to places of rural poverty in Iowa, drought-stricken neighborhoods in Central California, and the corrugated metal-covered homes of displaced people in Colombia in search of answers to the same two questions: Where is God? and Where is the Church?

As I sit in Pastor Villarreal’s office holding a bottle of murky brown water drawn from the taps at Salem Lutheran, she tells me about the deep pain resonating throughout her neighborhood.  She describes the guilt of parents who gave their children lead-filled water to drink, of the frustratingly slow state response, of the opportunistic lawyers and media now spilling into Flint.

But she also shows me a list of the congregations and individuals that have reached out to her with donations of time, money, water, and filters.  She describes a young girl who was so moved by what she learned about access to water at the ELCA Youth Gathering in 2015 that when she heard about Flint, she felt called to help.  I hear about churches working together to prepare truckloads of water to ship to Flint, plumbers and pipe-fitters offering their services pro bono.

Pastor Villarreal describes interfaith groups and ecumenical groups coming together to support the community, of Muslims, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, and others in conversation and in partnership. Last week, ELCA World Hunger joined that list, by providing $5,000 to the Southeast Michigan Synod for Salem Lutheran Church.  This support will help Salem purchase bottled water to distribute to people in need.  It will also provide support to Salem’s food pantry, so that they can purchase food that meets the nutritional needs of people affected by lead.

And I have my answer.  We may not be eating bread and wine at an altar or singing hymns, but here, in this office, this is Church in its most basic form — a site of relief for those in need, a safe space to share dangerous stories of guilt and pain, and a place to unite to hold our leaders accountable when they fail to protect the well-being of all citizens.

Here, too, we are surrounded by weighty symbols — the brown water and corroded pipes that symbolize injustice, and the donated water from across the state and letters of support from all over the nation that symbolize a community committed to not let that injustice stand. The icons here represent a community of neighbors that transcend boundaries to accompany one another.

It is impossible to miss the sacramental volatility of water, that medium that gives life and takes life. It encapsulates the irony of living in the Great Lake State without clean water to drink. It symbolizes both the life-giving grace of the created world and the death-dealing abuses of power that come when we silence and marginalize our neighbors.  It is the touchpoint that knits together people across the spectrum of faiths and no-faith. It has become a rallying point for a community to come together.

Long after the media has left, Flint will still be dealing with this catastrophe.  The lead will still be in the pipes, and the chemicals and bacteria will still be in the river.  But people of faith and people of goodwill will still be here, too, to accompany one another and to hold government accountable.  ELCA World Hunger will continue to be present, too, and to accompany our brothers and sisters in the area with prayer, conversation and financial support.  As we learn more about the shape that this accompaniment will take, we will provide updates both here on the ELCA World Hunger blog and on social media.

What can you do to support Flint?

Pray – Include the people of Flint in your personal prayers and during worship with your congregation this Lenten season.

Advocate – This is a federal issue, and ELCA Advocacy recently released an advocacy alert related to the crisis.

Give – ELCA World Hunger will continue to support the community of Flint and Salem Lutheran Church through the long-term work that will be needed to find a “new normal” after this catatstrophe.  Prayerfully consider supporting this long-term work by making a gift to ELCA World Hunger.

 

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the program director of hunger education for ELCA World Hunger.  He can be reached at Ryan.Cumming@ELCA.org.

The Music of the Future

In Wichita and many other communities across Kansas, more than a month of high temperatures and no rain has harmed crops and triggered water conservation efforts. The swimming pool in my Holiday Inn is closed. There’s no drain plug in the bath – a hint to take short showers only, perhaps?

Whether global climate change is behind this is controversial. Yes, says a scientist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research: “When climate change and natural variability happen in the same direction, that’s when records get broken.” Others disagree. On blogs about the weather and human behavior, a lot of name-calling is going around.

In the clamor, I’ve been encountering darker, more pessimistic views about what lies ahead of us. “I am not about despair, but I am leaving hope up to someone else,” one young man told me. A friend who consults with businesses on sustainability no longer believes that her work will have any impact on the near future. She says she is working for people in the far distant future—the small group of humans who will survive whatever comes next.  And responding to a climate question in a lecture on gardening, writer Jamaica Kincaid shrugged her shoulders and said: we are ephemeral. The world lasts. People don’t.

For an optimist who lives by the saying, “hope is the ability to hear the music of the future. Faith is dancing to its tune,” this was hard to take.  But my friends who hear a dirge have a point. Maybe our actions have little immediate impact. Maybe no one cares. Maybe temperatures will rise, rainfall decrease, ocean currents change direction, disasters overwhelm us, and our era on earth draw to a close. We don’t know. Instead of being optimistic or pessimistic, we can let go of the outcome, and strive to make choices now and live in ways today that care for the earth and its future residents.

Weeds are growing in the Little Arkansas River bed. Wells are dry.  The Kansans at this weekend’s Glocal Mission Gathering can only pray for rain. Act on their new-found solidarity with people contending with drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. Remember that God is good, and turn off the tap water.

Thank you for your hopeful music, Kansas. May it rain soon.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity

Rainbarrels and raingardens

Now that the calendar says it’s officially spring, one of God’s most precious gifts should regularly start falling from the heavens – water.  The Bible is full of references to water, and it is through water that we are baptized.  Water is a wonderful gift, but can often be taken for granted, or even become destructive.  This year when the rain comes, I encourage you to manage the water that falls into your yard (or church property!) in an environmentally friendly manner. 

How does rainwater management relate to care of God’s creation?  During a rainstorm, the excess water that isn’t immediately absorbed into the ground runs off your property, carrying any chemicals you may use on your lawn.  It travels across your driveway/sidewalk/street/parking lot gathering chemicals along the way, and into the storm sewer system.   This water ends up in local streams, rivers and lakes – as well as the contaminants it has picked up on the way.   Not only is this contamination harmful to aquatic plants and animals, but also to people who eat the fish from the lake, or take a swim at the beach.  It can also result in higher costs to treat that water if the polluted water happens to be a source of drinking water.  Excess rainwater can also cause erosion and flooding. 

Installing a rain barrel (or two) at your house and/or congregation is both environmentally and financially advantageous.  The rain barrel collects the water from a downspout, and saves it for future use in watering plants, gardens, or grass.  If you are a gardener, or just like to water your grass, using water from your rain barrel will also save you money.  It is also better for your plants as the water hasn’t been chemically treated.

Anything that slows down the flow of water helps recharge the water table by increasing the amount of time the water has to soak into the ground, rather than becoming storm water runoff.  A rain barrel reserves the excess water to future use, but a rain garden is another way to slow down the flow of water.  A rain garden is an area where excess rainwater is diverted after a storm and allowed to pool.  This area is planted with native plants that like “wet feet” and will allow the water to gradually recede. Here in the Midwest, plants like Queen of the Prairie, Blue Flag Iris and Obedient plant will thrive in these seasonally wet conditions and attract wildlife to your yard. 

Instead of allowing God’s precious gift of water to rush through your yard and into the nearest stream, I encourage you to slow that water down and enjoy it.  During the heat of the summer, it is refreshing to take advantage of saved spring rains to revive your thirsty plants. 

Rain barrels can be purchased online, or at local retailers.  You can even build your own –there are many different sites online that provide instructions.  What plants are native where you live?  Check out information about native plants that thrive in your area, as well as nurseries that sell them, at www.plantnative.org.  My neighborhood hosts a native plant business during the growing season (www.EarthWildGardens.com), but if you’re looking for mail order native plants suited to the Midwest, try Prairie Moon Nursery (http://www.prairiemoon.com).  Welcome to spring!

Erin Cummisford