Never give up

A kaleidoscope of color is streaming in from the stained-glass windows of the Church Center of the United Nations. The warmth of this light fills the room and the hearts of those singing, “Bambelela! Bambelela! – Never give up! Never give up!”

“Bambelela” is a South African song that our delegation Lutheran World Federation chose to match our given chapel text from Esther. Esther never gave up in protecting and advocating for her people. At times, gender-justice work seems overwhelming. This year is the 61st session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. Sometimes it feels appropriate to ask, “How much progress has been made in these 61 years?”

In his opening remarks on the theme of women’s economic empowerment to the General Assembly, Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “Empowerment is about breaking structural barriers.” He continued by saying, “Women’s rights are human rights and attacks on women are attacks on all of us.” We are all part of the body of Christ. When we harm one member, we harm us all.Gender-justice work is a marathon. As we move forward, we remember those who came before us. We think of those who will come after us. And we think of all of those that we are held accountable to in this work, and we remember that we carry hope in Christ Jesus and his love for all.

Gender-justice work is a marathon. As we move forward, we remember those who came before us. We think of those who will come after us. And we think of all of those that we are held accountable to in this work, and we remember that we carry hope in Christ Jesus and his love for all.Bambelela! Never give up. Amen.

Bambelela, Bambelela,

Oh, Bambelela, Bambelela
Bambe, Bambe, Bambe, Bambe, Bambe
Oh, Bambe, Bambelela

Never give up, Never give up,
Oh, Never give up, Never give up
Never, Never, Never, Never, Never
Oh, Never, Never give up

Marit Johnson is the current Lutheran Volunteer Corps member serving as the Assistant for the Justice for Women Program at the ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago.


“I carry her with me.”

In preparing for the trip to the 61st U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW 61), some thoughts would keep coming to mind: How will what is learned from this experience influence my work? How can I share 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 for not just myself but also for all those in attendance what they will be led to do after this experience.

My maternal grandma’s face keeps popping up in my head when I hear the words “care giver,” “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 caretaking 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, 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 


Jennifer Kirkby is a member of the ELCA Young Adult Cohort and Eben Ezer Lutheran Church in Oaks, Oklahoma. 

J Kirby Blog

In Honor of Wynona J. Fields (pictured)


Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  1 Peter 4:10

God’s Someones

Pr. Meredith BlogThis is roughly the sermon preached by the Rev. Meredith Harber during the Lutheran-led worship for the 61st session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women Ecumenical Women’s worship on March 14, 2017. Since sermons are lived experiences where the Holy Spirit shows up in her glorious and gracious way, these words aren’t verbatim. This sermon is based on Esther 4:16.


When I was 22 years old, I worked for an elementary school. One of my kids from the school invited me to come have dinner with her family. While her mother was working in the kitchen to finish dinner, I sat with my student’s grandma. In our general introductions, grandma learned my name and then asked me if I had a husband. I generally use humor in these situations, so I said, “No, no. Husbands are a LOT of work and I don’t want to deal with that!” She laughed and agreed, but she persisted. “Why don’t you have a husband?” she asked, with concern painted across her face. I said, “Well, I’m young and I don’t want to rush into anything.” She said, “Yes, you’re young, but you’re fat. And no man is going to want a fat wife. And really, you’re not that young.”

This moment has stuck with me over the last eight years, because this moment captured a feeling that I and many other women experience on a regular basis. My identity was attached to a husband – or my lack of a husband – and to my age and to my weight and to any other outside factor. Anyone else ever have that experience of being reduced to labels and property, rather than to be seen for your whole personhood?

This morning, we heard a bit of the story from Esther, specifically Esther 4:16 that says, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” If you haven’t spent time with Esther, I invite you to do so, because she is a fierce woman. This one verse may not seem like much, but this one verse is the turning point in Esther’s story from powerless to powerful.

See, Esther was as powerless as she could possibly be. She was born a girl, to parents who both died in her childhood, leaving her as an orphan. When her uncle, Mordechai, adopted her, she became a tool for him to accomplish his political goals. She was also prejudiced against for her religion and culture as a Jew. King Ahasuerus, the ruler of the land, put out a call for the prettiest virgins to come present themselves to be considered for the king’s harem. Mordechai sent Esther to be reviewed for her beauty and virginity, and she was eventually chosen. She was sent by a man to be chosen by a man to be a sex slave.

Esther was labeled as property by the men in her life. Girl, orphan, Jew, sex slave. She was as powerless as she could be.

But see, Esther wasn’t just someone’s ward or someone’s sex toy. Esther was someone. She worked her way up through the harem, building relationships with those in power, to become the queen of the whole land. She was always powerful, despite the labels placed on her that tried to tell the world – and Esther – that she was worthless.

She was God’s someone.

The beauty of Esther’s story is that while she had harsh words from those around her about who she was and was not, the ultimate word from our God is that we are God’s someone.

YOU, dear friends, are God’s someones.

YOU are powerful beyond belief.

YOU, whether you’re …
married to your husband or wife or partner
a mother
an auntie
a stepmother
painfully childless
happily childless

YOU, no matter your …
socio-economic status
religion or denomination
gender identity
assigned place in society

YOU, dear friends, are God’s someones. And YOU, as God’s someones, are powerful beyond belief. Thanks be to God. Amen.

People of Faith Must Fight Against All Injustice

Shawanda Jackson

When I think about my time at the 2016 International AIDS Conference there are three words that summarize my experience – Faith, Justice and Action. As a young adult leader who lives and works daily towards the fight against injustice, I was extremely excited and anxious to learn from other movers and shakers who are advocating for human right and freedom for all people. I was excited to go to an unfamiliar place and grow and learn about such an epidemic that is not discussed in the many communities that I am apart of.

The week started with the EAA Interfaith Pre-Conference. At the interfaith conference there were conversations led by people who were living with the disease, people who were researchers, advocators and individuals who in some shape or form are affected by this disease. We discussed the roles that faith leaders and individuals have in the conversations about faith and sexuality. There was discussion about global prevention, treatment targets, new research, global responses to the AIDS response and funding. There was discussion about who are most affected by HIV & AIDS – the vulnerable, transgenders, gays, women between the ages of 15-25,sex workers, drug users, lesbians and youth.  All of these conversations ended with charging us to respect the human rights of all people and  to continue to fight for equality and continuing to respect and always live in love.   Continue reading “People of Faith Must Fight Against All Injustice”

Listening. And Then Listening Some More.

Adwoa Afreh (Twitter: @Afresh_handle); ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission Alumni – Southern Africa

Earlier this week, I arrived back in South Africa, a familiar place, a humbling place and forever a teaching place. Being in this space for the 21st International AIDS Conference is strengthening. The truth telling that I have witnessed has been the highlight of my time here. I applaud this conference for creating spaces for various organizations and movements to stand in their truth and call upon more allies to stand in solidarity with them. During my time here, many panelists and speakers have advocated for vulnerable and stigmatized groups like sex workers, young children, LGBTQI, gender based violence victims etc., to be invited at the conversation table regarding the eradication of HIV.

In these past days I’ve been spending time listening and listening and listening some more to sex workers, interfaith leaders, pharmaceutical representatives, activists, and conference goers. It seems like this 2030 goal is what most people have been speaking of the most. The goal being ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by the year 2030. Realistic? Possibly. Is the work going to be difficult? Most definitely. Nonetheless, I will be honest and say that I have a few doubts about that goal date.

Continue reading “Listening. And Then Listening Some More.”

Listening to Unheard Voices

Starshine Christian, Public Health Student, University of Nevada

I have been away from home for officially a week, and today is my favorite day yet. I’ve explored the city, visited the beach, eaten well, but today is different. Today is the second full day that I’m attending the International AIDS Conference.

At this conference I am surrounded by scientists, activists, journalists, sex workers, public servants, government officials, musicians, actors, ranging from all ages, races, identities, and classes. The night before last I saw both Nelson Mandela’s grandson, and Charlize Theron speak on the same stage. Yesterday, I watched a panel consisting of a queer woman from Cameroon, a queer man from Pakistan, a gay Mexican person living in New York, a tranmasculine person from Taiwan, and a woman who is a sex worker from the Netherlands discuss the intersection of sexual pleasure, health, and rights. And today, I have the opportunity to see Bill Gates speak. Continue reading “Listening to Unheard Voices”

Supporting Adolescents Through Early Disclosure: A Call To Justice

Victoria Mumbula, Youth Advocate and Activist; Lusaka, Zambia

I’ve been inspired to write this after attending a session on Tuesday  19th July. I have been  living with HIV for 22 years now and it took me until 2012 for me to disclose my  status. It happened when I was given an opportunity by the ELCA and LWF to attend the 19th IAC in Washington D.C.

When I arrived, I didn’t know to expect. It was my first time being in an environment where HIV/AIDS  was the key subject.Since that time, I have taken every  opportunity that I am given because I want to be an instrument to friends, family, church and community. I want people to use me and learn from my life experiences as a person living with HIV and a person with hope for a better  tomorrow!

It wasn’t until  Tuesday, 19th  July that I stopped blaming my auntie, whom I call my  mother, because she’s the only women I have  known and is the best. I have always blamed her for allowing me to have so many friends and live a normal childhood like  all  the normal  kids. I have a best friend who does not know about my status. I have known  her since we were in the 3rd grade. I have not told her because when I bring up the topic  of  HIV, she says, “I swear that one day I will test HIV  positive and I will die.” I know understand my mother’s reasons for note telling me. Continue reading “Supporting Adolescents Through Early Disclosure: A Call To Justice”