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Advent 2020- Week Three Study Guide


This advent reflection is part of ELCA World Hunger’s 2020 Advent Study. You can download the full study here. You can also download the corresponding advent calendar here

Advent Week Three



Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
I Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28


Volunteering has always been the lifeblood of Cacilda Rodrigues Barcelos. Born in São Borja, Brazil, she moved at age 13 with her family to the metropolitan region of Porto Alegre. Alone, her mother raised 11 daughters and sons, until her 50th birthday, when she died. Cacilda was 22 at the time, and the community helped to support her. “People taught me how to do what I do, because I was welcomed by them,” she says.

Now 63, Cacilda has dedicated years to giving back through volunteering. Early on, she worked with young boys in the community to make and sell food at fairs to help pay for uniforms and tournaments for their soccer team. Today, as a member of the management board of the Fair Trade and Solidarity Network (a project of the diakonia foundation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil), she helps train other women in entrepreneurship and helps plan workshops and fairs where they sell their goods. She also volunteers in the Peace Service and teaches women to prevent and overcome violence.

As much as Cacilda has changed her community, the biggest change has been in her personal life. “I learned to put myself in other people’s shoes and respect each other. I was very angry, as a way to defend myself, and it was in these meetings and meetings [with other women from the Fair Trade and Solidarity Network] that I grew and improved,” she says. “That’s why I say I’m the one who gains the most.”

As common — and often justified — as anger is, it is one of those emotions that we struggle to deal with in the church, at times. We might find it difficult to place raw, tumultuous emotions within the life of the people of God. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that this season we will sing songs about the “holy infant so tender and mild” (“Silent Night”) or “that mother mild” (“Once in Royal David’s City”) while we still await the writing of an ode to Jesus’ overturning of tables in the temple. Volatile emotions, particularly in the seasons of Advent and Christmas, feel so out of place. We aren’t quite sure what to do with them.

That has made 2020 particularly hard to navigate. This year, we have lived with the grief of the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have mourned isolation from one another and the loss of that most basic human need of touch, even as we understood the risk that accompanied handshakes and hugs. We grieved together as loved ones and neighbors died alone in hospitals or nursing homes. And when we couldn’t gather together for funerals, we lost a key ritual for processing our grief as a community.

We grieved the loss of livelihoods and the closure of family businesses that had been part of our communities for generations. We feared the long-term consequences for our communities as jobs were lost and more and more people around the world went hungry.

And we were angered together by the deadly injustice of racism and the persistent inequalities that exacerbated the pandemic in many communities. Demonstrations filled streets in cities large and small as a collective voice of rage was raised against a racist justice system that continues to disproportionately permit and even sanction extrajudicial killings of people of color.

Certainly, our hope rests in that just peace (shalom) that “surpasses all human understanding,” which will “wipe away every tear from our eyes” and bring such equity and harmony that the lion will lie down with the lamb and the child will play with the viper and not be harmed. But there are times when it is difficult to see this promise through the lens of overwhelming grief and righteous anger. And there are times when grief and anger are what we need to move us toward justice, which is the form of the love of neighbor takes in society. For many of us, 2020 was one of those times.

The promise of Advent is not merely the promise of a future when all shall be made well, when all grief and anger shall cease and when the weight of heavy emotions shall be lifted from our shoulders. The promise of Advent — or, perhaps, the comfort of Advent — is that, amid our grief and anger, God is present, walking with us, consoling us, inspiring us and prodding us to walk together toward the future
where justice and peace will kiss (Psalm 85:10).

The future day promised by Isaiah in this week’s reading is a promise not to those who are comfortable but to those who are afflicted. In “the year of the Lord’s favor,” God will “provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:2-3). It is a promise that those whose burdens have left them with a “faint spirit” will be given the strength of “oaks” and that God will “cause righteousness and praise to spring up” like the first plants of spring (61:11). It is a promise that God, who “loves justice,” (61:8) will establish the same — and an invitation for us to be part of this.

Perhaps that is the reassurance of the Scripture readings for this week. The grief and anger that have marked so much of this year — and that mark so much of every year for many of us living in vulnerability to disease, injustice, hunger and violence — is where God meets us. We need not gather the strength to move on nor ignore the depth of our pain in order to find God. God finds us in these depths.

Cacilda, working tirelessly with neighbors in Brazil, was able to let go of her anger and felt herself changed by the experience. But God did not wait for that moment to work transformation and renewal through her. Indeed, it may be through this very tumult that God moves us toward greater actions of justice. Christ did not wait for a comfortable bed but was born in the sharp, chafing, ill-fitting manger, amid the noise of the animals and the loneliness of the stable. We need not wait to be comfortable, for our grief to resolve or our anger to subside, in order to draw close to God.

God has been there all along.


  1. What caused you to mourn or angered you this year?
  2. How does God meet you amid your grief and anger?
  3. How can the transformation of our grief or anger help spur us to
    deeper acts in service of one another or in service of God?
  4. What would a just peace (shalom) look like in your community?
    In the United States?


Comforting and empowering God, you meet us amid our pain and ease the load of our burdens. Be near us in our grief and anger, comfort us as we mourn and move our will toward acts of justice for one another. Grant the world just peace this season, that we may find rest and hope in you. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.


Field Report: Literacy in Malawi


Last week, ELCA World Hunger and ELCA Global Mission staff visited with companions in Malawi, learning more about the great work local volunteers and leaders are doing with support from ELCA World Hunger. Below, David Mills, the program director for budget and operations on the Diakonia team in the ELCA’s Global Mission unit, shares one of the stories he has heard during the visit. For a previous field report on Malawi from David, click here.


Siteliya Lakisoni knows her name.

Siteliya is a mother of six children, including her daughter, Patilisha, whom she adopted after Patilisha became an orphan. For two years, Siteliya has been attending Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi (ELCM) adult literacy classes offered in Salima, Malawi.

She told me, “Before I started attending class, I could not read or write. I knew nothing.”

Today, she wrote her name on the board, her hand moving with confidence and pride. When I asked her how gaining the ability to read and write had changed her life, she said,

“I used to receive letters and notifications about community services being offered, and I could not read them without help. Now I can read them, I can interpret them for my community.”

Patilisha was standing by her side as Siteliya and I conversed. She was composed and steady, sharpness of mind evident before she even spoke. I asked her what it meant to her that her mother could read and write now, and she told me plainly and confidently,

“When I see my mom read and write, I feel good. I want to learn from my mom. When I grow up, I want to be a teacher.”

When a woman gains knowledge, that knowledge washes like holy water over every layer of community, bringing nourishment and new life to the people and to the land. And a generation of young girls are inspired to follow the trail blazed for them, leaving that path wider and more trodden still for the ones who will come after.

When a woman knows her name, the world is never the same. Thanks be to God, Siteliya knows her name.

Learn more about how you can walk alongside the women like Siteliya who will forge Malawi’s future through ELCA World Hunger’s “40 Days of Giving.”

Reflection on the United Nations’ 62nd Commission on the Status of Women


In March 2018, the 62nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) brought together leaders from around the world. Established in 1946, the CSW is the principal international intergovernmental body dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The annual session is the largest UN gathering each year. This year, CSW62 focused on rural women and, specifically, two themes:

Priority Theme: Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls; and

Review Theme: Participation in and access of women to the media, and information and communications technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women (agreed conclusions of the forty-seventh session).

Below, guest writer Angela Marie Dejene, president of Dejene Communications, reflects on these themes, her time at CSW62, and the critical importance of narrative – “truth told well.”

Even in the United States in 2018, women still face very different challenges and live very different lives than men.

But the stories the media has told, until very recently, have rarely reflected those female narratives and the daily inequalities with which they struggle.

I am the granddaughter of South Dakota farmers, and I grew up on the prairie in Crookston, Minnesota – a farm town of fewer than 8,000 people in the far-away northwest corner of the state.

You knew you were getting close to reaching the edge of town when you started to smell the odor of rotten eggs from the sugar beet plant.

Health complaints from local mothers were ignored – it was and still is a mostly male world in the sugar beet plant and in the fields … and only the local land-grant university had a greater impact on the local economy.

The local newspaper, the Crookston Times, reflected the male-dominated agricultural industry mostly when I was young – and still does today. The front page story last Wednesday featured a meeting of the Mid-Valley Grain cooperative and showed a group shot of male-farmer members.

My grandmother held up “half the sky” on that remote South Dakota farm where my mother grew up and where I spent wonderful summers as a young girl. But where is that female narrative if I don’t find it … if I don’t tell it?

Without truth-telling narratives, there is rarely progress.

Progress for women in rural northwestern Minnesota remains bleak today:

  • According to the US Census Bureau, fewer than 1 in 4 (23%) of residents there, in Crookston, Minnesota, have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Full-time male employees make 1.34 times more than female employees in Crookston.
  • According to the Minnesota Department of Health, in isolated rural areas of northern Minnesota (the greater region surrounding Crookston) there is only 1 physician for every 3,191 people.
  • Only 4 percent of the state’s physicians are located in the northwest counties of the state, the most rural part of the state.
  • About 1 in 5 people still live below the poverty line and the largest demographic living in poverty are females ages 18-24.

But you have to dig deep for that statistic and deeper still for the story behind it. Without narratives, there is no progress.

I was raised by a single mother who worked full-time as a university professor. Still, she had to struggle to make ends meet. I remember going to the local grocery store, HUGOS, on Saturday mornings with my mom and brother, and with my mother’s purse-sized calculator in hand, we would add up the prices of each item we put into the cart. She needed to make sure she had enough in her bank account to get us fed until she got paid the following week.

I always did well in school, and fortunately, those grades and perhaps a compelling narrative in my applications helped me qualify for academic-based scholarships when I started applying for college. With the generous help of those scholarships, I enrolled in Augustana University, an extraordinary liberal arts university affiliated with my Lutheran faith, located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. At Augustana, I double-majored in journalism and government/international affairs and served as an editor for the school newspaper.

I’ve always had a passion for uncovering and telling true stories. When women are in charge of the narrative, policies change, communities are empowered and the lives of women and girls are transformed. I started my career as an unpaid lobbying intern in Washington, DC, advocating for health care policies that would improve the lives of women and children. I spent most of my time on Capitol Hill finding and sharing the true stories of how the U.S. healthcare system at the time was failing women, families and children.

These were stories that reported on real families, some forced into bankruptcy because a mother, a wife, or a sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and their health insurance policy had a “lifetime limit” on how much of the treatment would be covered.

These were stories of real families who relied on the Children’s Health Insurance Program for their children’s critical visits to the doctor to manage a chronic condition like asthma or Type 1 diabetes.

These were stories of real high school girls who were experiencing teen dating violence but had nowhere to turn because the local legal system had failed them.

The re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act was signed into law on March 7, 2013. The new law made targeted expansions to address the needs of especially vulnerable populations and help prevent violence in future generations.

The Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010, giving millions of families new-found hope and access to affordable, high-quality health care.

Narratives – truths told well – were the empowering difference.

Stories of horror and struggle.

Stories of compassion and empowerment.

Stories of survival and success.

If we strive to find and to communicate, if we work to broadcast the truth about women from and to even the most remote of places – we fuel and ignite progress everywhere.

Narrative – truth told well – by women and about women – can advance and empower the lives of all who live on this planet.

“I Carry Her with Me”: A Reflection from the UN CSW


This post is in honor of Wynona J. Fields.

The ELCA Young Adult Cohort is a partnership of the ELCA Justice for Women program, the ELCA Strategy on HIV and Aids, the Young Adults in Global Mission Alumni, ELCA Young Adult ministry and ELCA World Hunger. These networks have identified a shared interest in young adult leadership development and faith formation within a social justice framework. In March 2017, members of the cohort participated at the United Nations 61st Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW).

In preparing for the trip to the UN CSW, some thoughts would keep coming to mind: How will what is learned from this experience influence my work? How can I share this with my church and community? How can I share with the team I work with on a daily basis? In this extraordinary space, there are signs of God’s work all around us, and as I hear the stories, it will become more clear not just for me but also for all those in attendance what we will be led to do after this experience.

My maternal grandma’s face keeps popping up in my head when I hear the words “caregiver,” “care work,” “domestic” and “economic impact of women.” As my grandma aged and was looking at how she was going to support herself in her later years, she was told she did not work enough in her lifetime to receive any Social Security benefits. The amount of money that she received was dependent on her husband’s work and the fact that she was his caregiver. Her worth in dollars was tied to her marital status and caring for him; therefore, it was deemed that she could receive an income. I remember thinking, as a kid, how could they say she has not worked enough? My grandma was always busy, working and taking care of someone else’s needs. She raised seven kids and helped raise several grandchildren, myself included. The regular income she worked for in her lifetime was for cooking, cleaning and care-taking jobs for a local school, children’s home and local people. As kids, if we wanted extra money for special events, she was the first one to tell us we needed to work for it, and she would take us to pick strawberries, wild blackberries, wild onions and walnuts to sell. Many times my grandma did those same things for extra money for gas, food or personal care needs. Other times when she would need money, she would make pies. I would go door-to-door and sell the pies.

Looking back, I would give anything to have those times again, to be able to say, “Grandma, you have worked too hard, let me care for you, tell me what you need.” She was a strong, Cherokee woman. She was a fighter, and she had great faith. She had faith that her Lord and Savior would provide for her family. She had faith that she would be taken care of despite her struggles, and she had faith that these values would live on in her family.

Throughout my time here at UN CSW 61, I carry her with me; I carry her spirit and her dreams of independence. There are many stories like this and many more that have not been told.

Thank you to ELCA World Hunger, The Lutheran World Federation, and Ecumenical Women for advocating for women to be recognized for their work and contributions. I am honored to be here with such phenomenal women who use their gifts selflessly to make the world a better place for women and children.

Jennifer Kirby is a member of the ELCA Young Adult Cohort and Eben Ezer Lutheran Church in Oaks, Oklahoma. This post originally appeared on the ELCA Young Adult Cohort’s blog at


International Women’s Day – March 8

Often on days like this, I am moved in remembrance of stories. Perhaps this day invokes memories of women whom you have loved and who have loved us. Perhaps you remember the fierce women from the sacred texts — my personal favorite: the Daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27). Maybe you reflect on women who have led their communities and world and need no introduction, from girls like Malala Yousafzai to women like Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and ELCA International Leaders scholar Leymah Gbowee to those who names have been hidden like Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, most recently illuminated in the major film “Hidden Figures.”

The global agenda for women is driven by a seminal meeting of the United Nations “Fourth World Conference on Women” in 1995 in Beijing. It was at this meeting that Former Secretary of State – and then-First Lady – Hillary Clinton brought to prominence the phrase “Women’s rights are human rights; and human rights are women’s rights.”


Each year, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) convenes the “Commission on the Status of Women” (CSW), the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. This year marks the 61st year since the United Nations First World Conference on Women (Mexico City), and the theme for CSW this year is “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work,” a critical theme for those of us dedicated to a just world where all are fed.


Take this quick quiz to see how much you know about women in the global economy!

UN Women


ELCA World Hunger is a founding member of the ELCA Young Adult Cohort, a group of young adults engaging at the intersection between faith + justice. One of the signature leadership experiences of this Cohort is at the UN CSW, and beginning next week, this group will again join hands, stories and voices together to learn, convene and strive toward a just world where are all are fed and all might flourish. You can follow along with the larger movement through Ecumenical Women online and on social media by following @ELCAWorld Hunger (Twitter and Instagram) and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, with the #ELCAYACohort hashtag.


ELCA Global Church Sponsorship and ELCA Global Mission leaders often also join the Lutheran delegation at UN CSW and have produced some great materials for ELCA congregations and friends to use on this day. This International Women’s Day booklet is a great place to start, full to the brim of excellent ideas to learn, share and support this ministry.


But perhaps my favorite parts are the smiling faces that greet us on the front cover and throughout the materials. These are the women whose stories we know and can journey alongside as they build stronger communities and a more just world.


I could write about many of them by name and you can learn more about the ELCA International Leaders program and meet some of them in this video. But today, I leave you with an example of how our work together as a church is interconnected, or as Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton says, “We are church together!”

On the top left corner of this booklet cover is a woman named Julinda. Julinda is the executive director of the Women’s Crisis Center, a ministry of the GKPS church in North Sumatra, Indonesia. I have written more about her ELCA World Hunger supported work and ministry here. Julinda has advocated at the UN CSW (pictured below), is also an international women leader and has participated in one of the signature leadership events, a series of seminars hosted in Wittenberg Germany, birthplace of the Reformation, for women from the Global South to come together for conversation and ongoing reformation.

In this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, let us:

From stories of Leymah and Julinda to those who will advocate and educate at next week’s UN CSW, we are church together. Join us. (Have a “her-story” to share? Check out Lutheran World Federation’s “Women on the Move” her-stories project.)

2016 UN CSW Delegation, Julinda pictured second row, second from the right.

Mikka McCracken is the Director of Planning and Engagement for ELCA World Hunger.