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On Saturday, September 8, Pastor John Nunes, the CEO of Lutheran World Relief, spoke at Redeemer Lutheran Church. He talked about many of the projects LWR is currently involved in. Some of these Saint John’s has recently supported, such as the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, and others we have supported for quite some time, including the quilt donations.

Pastor Nunes shared that as the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has gradually reduced its funding support of LWR, donations from individuals and churches have increased. LWR is a “lean and mean” organization, especially in the current economy. Only about 10% of donations to LWR go to administrative costs, and they are finding ways to do better work on fewer projects. They have closed down their inner city and advocacy work to focus on combating hunger, water shortages and health for rural areas in countries with the greatest poverty.

To help farmers—typically women—in Africa, Lutheran World Relief provides micro loans through local banks. They help the women form co-ops and learn numeracy and literacy skills so they can better manage their farms and money. LWR believes every person has dignity, capacity and accountability. Justice is seen when women are treated as humans rather than slaves. They also operate on the theory that when women are empowered, the family, community and country benefit. This mode of operation is well-supported and documented by numerous successful agencies dealing with Third World poverty.

John also spoke about the water wells built by LWR and why theirs cost somewhat more than other agencies’. Lutheran World Relief works to help the community designated to receive the well create a committee of its citizens to determine how the water will be distributed. They want it to be done fairly, with access allowed to all. It is also critical to have follow-up maintenance so the well continues to work properly for many years. Again, lives of women and girls, in particular, are elevated, because they don’t have to travel miles to fetch water each day. Instead, girls have time for school and women have more time to work on their crops. In Nicaragua, one such community committee stated “we are in solidarity with all who are thirsty.” They fully understood the spiritual and physical implications behind their motto.

In the recent evacuation of Somalis to the refugee camps of Kenya, Pastor Nunes said many used their quilts, made by Lutheran women in the United States (including at Saint John’s!), to carry their meager possessions as they traveled the many miles to safety. He heard one woman in Uganda say that she loves her quilt so much she wants to be buried in it. For 2013 LWR has a goal to collect 500,000 donated quilts.

LWR donated personal care kits by the thousands after the earthquake in Haiti. Follow-up research revealed lower breakouts of cholera following the quake in families who received the health kits. LWR also provides school kits, baby care kits, fabric kits and cartons of soap for the poor in rural countries.

In closing, Pastor Nunes said not to feel sorry for people in poverty. One man in Ethiopia said he actually prays not to be like people in rich countries, who don’t seem to need God. John joked that we Americans often suffer from “affluenza.” We have lost perspective of what is important and what God is up to. God can reorient our priorities as we engage in development work.

For further information about Lutheran World Relief, look for pamphlets by the Welcome Center, or check out their website at Join the quilters on Monday or Thursday mornings or on the fourth Friday of the month and plan to support the next Lutheran Malaria Initiative at Saint John’s.

Chris Rattenborg is a member of Saint John’s Board of Human Needs, which finds opportunities for the members of Saint John’s to provide a Christian witness by helping people in the community struggling with daily necessities.