Mikka from ELCA World Hunger in Chicago, Illinois
This year’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) was my seventh experience in that space. Each time, I am reminded that the Spirit works in mysterious ways…
During our time together, the ELCA Young Adult Cohort focuses on leadership development at the intersection between faith and justice. Lately, that conversation has been leading me back to the promise of baptism – through water and the word, we are claimed, gathered, and sent for the sake of the world.
This past summer, ELCA World Hunger engaged tens of thousands of youth and their congregations in the conversation about clean water through ELCA World Hunger’s Walk for Water. According to the United Nations, women in Sub-Saharan Africa walk, on average, 3.7 miles for water each day. This often conjures images of drinking glasses, water jugs, and water wells, but there is so much more to the story.
In June 2014, I had the opportunity to visit and learn more about the 13 Lutheran churches in the island nation of Indonesia. One of the ministries we visited was a women’s crisis shelter of the GKPS (Gereja Kristen Protestan Simalungun – Simalungun Protestant Christina Church). During that visit, we met a woman named Rusti.
As we were settling down in a circle for conversation, I thought to myself, “ELCA World Hunger certainly partners with and supports many health ministries, but the focus is on women’s empowerment – how am I going to tie this back to the program directly?” And as the Holy Spirit does hear our wonderings, the first words out of Rusti’s mouth were:
“I don’t have indoor plumbing in my home, so I have to walk to an area away from home.”
In short, Rusti travelled to a communal water source where she spent time as expected — washing, cleaning, bathing, etc.— but unfortunately, this was a situation that made Rusti vulnerable and a neighboring man attacked her. At the crisis center, Rusti was receiving basic medical testing and group counseling in the care of the church. In that moment, I was overcome by the words of a well-known hymn, “the Spirit intercedes for us, with sighs too deep for words to express.”
One summer later, as we headed into the ELCA World Hunger’s Walk for Water planning and the “Lutheran Long-Drop Latrine” was added to the ELCA Good Gifts catalog to highlight the importance of not just water jugs and wells, but of hygiene and sanitation of how much more there is to learn, I thought of Rusti.
Now fast forward to the UNCSW this year – and who should happen to be present but Julinda, the director for the GKPS women’s crisis center? Through her leadership in the Lutheran World Federation Julinda was speaking on a panel on gender-based violence and sustainable development. In the passing moments, I asked Julinda about Rusti. How is she?
Julinda shared that Rusti is now part of the economic empowerment programming at the women’s crisis center and is weaving ulos, the traditional cloth of the Batak people in the region, for income. Though Rusti continues to face ongoing challenges within her community and family, with help from her daughter, she can now afford to and has put in an indoor water source, toilet and a “tepas” or bamboo wall for privacy.
And I remember yet again that as Julinda shares, the most important thing for Rusti is not the installation of the toilet, but the privacy wall that insures her comfort and safety. What matters most is not the “stuff,” but the wholeness and dignity of her life in family and community.
As the ELCA, we don’t participate in “good works,” because we have something to prove or gain. We participate in service with the neighbor, because we acknowledge the abundance that God has created and the grace gifted to all through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Spirit continues to intercede in the places where words don’t come, where healing happens, where global connections persist and wherever She is needed.
I’m continually grateful for the work and service of ELCA World Hunger, but also for the members of the ELCA Young Adult Cohort who have said “yes” to being part of this work, as well.