From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans Reflect on God's Mission in the World

Date Tue, 29 Jul 2008 15:09:22 -0500

Title: Lutherans Reflect on God's Mission in the World

>July 29, 2008  

Lutherans Reflect on God's Mission in the World

LA CROSSE, Wis. (ELCA) -- Bearing the realization that for
three generations her ancestors were the largest slave-trading
family in U.S. history, Katrina Browne told more than 1,500
Lutherans gathered here July 17-20 for the 2008 Global Mission
Event of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that
"no one wants to be related to bad guys.  It brings up shame,
guilt and pain, and it raises uncomfortable questions about what
to do now."

Browne, an Episcopalian, is director of the 2008 Sundance
Film Festival selection "Traces of the Trade:  A Story from the
Deep North."  She spoke July 17 at the opening plenary of the
ELCA Global Mission Event.

"I decided to make a film about my family history and my
family coming to terms with (its history) because I realized that
my family was a microcosm" of the slave-based economy in New
England, said Browne.  Her ancestors, the DeWolfs, sent ships
from Rhode Island to West Africa, bringing back men, women and
children for slave trade in the United States.  Although the
smallest state in the United States, Rhode Island sent the most
ships to Africa, she said.

"If anyone knows about this history, it is the White
Southerners who have taken the sole blame for slavery," said
Browne.  "Winners write the history books, (and) because the
Civil War was won by Northerners, we have this huge notion of
Northerners as 'good guys' and Southerners as 'bad guys.'"

"Thinking about the nation as a whole, we naturally tend to
want foundational narratives that are triumphant, positive.  We
think that if we have to face the ugly parts of the founding of
the nation, like slavery and Native American genocide, we will be
diminished, tarnished.  We won't be able to be the proud
Americans that we're raised to want to be."

Browne told Lutherans that the more she has faced her
ancestry "the more solid, grounded, relaxed and free" she's
become.  She said, "By bringing the history out of the shadows
and into my conscious and spoken life, I'm saying to people of
African descent, 'I've seen what happened, what my people did to
your people.  I see what kind of wreckage is left in the wake of
this atrocity.'"

"We look for all kinds of fancy solutions as to what we
perceive to be the complex problems of racism in America, but a
lot of it boils down to the basic respect that we all experience
when we are fully seen," Browne said.  "It's generally not
considered politically correct to talk about how slavery hurt
white people, how any privileged group is suffering.  But true
freedom and transformation of society comes when those of us
who've been denied full humanity and those who've been doing the
denying are both liberated," she said.  "Understanding history is
crucial to our Christian mission work."

The 2008 ELCA Global Mission Event theme, "God's Work, Our
Hands," was explored through stories, worship and global music.
Activities on July 18 focused on the topic of HIV and AIDS.

In a workshop the Rev. Lisandro Orlov, a pastor of the
United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Argentina and Uruguay,
offered a pastoral approach about engaging in ministry with
people who are HIV-positive or living with AIDS.  Orlov, a
regional coordinator for the Lutheran World Federation Global
Campaign against HIV and AIDS, also led a Bible reading through
the "eyes of people with HIV and AIDS" at the July 18 morning

"The challenge for us (as Lutherans) is how to be the
church.  When people have been given an HIV diagnosis, people do
not know what will be the reaction.  We (tend to) confuse a
medical diagnosis with a moral diagnosis," he said.  "It is not a
health issue.  For us, it is a theological, biblical and pastoral

For Bayo Oyebade, Jos, Nigeria, "the whole essence of life"
is that "somebody can make a difference in the life of someone
else.  It is not always about me.  I know the (United States) is
about 'my space.'  But I think it should be more about, 'what can
I do to make life better for another person.  What can I do for
women who are living with HIV and AIDS in Africa?"

Oyebade is international coordinator of the Mashiah
Foundation, Jos.  The foundation operates a holistic HIV and AIDS
education, prevention, testing, counseling and health ministry,
including the Women of Hope Program, which serves about 140 women
who are HIV-positive.  The foundation is supported by gifts from
ELCA congregations and through ELCA Global Mission.

Azur Ricki is participant of Mashiah's Women of Hope
Program.  She told the Global Mission Event audience, "I am glad
to be a Lutheran."  Riki tested positive for AIDS in 2006.  "I
was rejected from the community, left homeless and without a job
with two children to support," she said.  "I was accepted by the
Mashiah foundation, which gave me hope (and) gave me a home.  By
the glory of God, I know now how to make peace.  Pray that God
touches the heart of every member of the ELCA."  Through the care
of Mashiah, Riki is now able to support herself and her two

A "community marked by justice" served as the theme for July
19 activities.  Dr. Parichart Suwanbubbha, Mahidol Research
Center on Peace Building, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand,
shared how interreligious dialogue is a "powerful tool" for
reducing community conflict and building peace.  "If we are to
have peace, we must have justice," she said.

Engaging in interreligious dialogue is a process that
involves "deep listening" and "humans treating one another
humanly," said Suwanbubbha. "You can keep your own position,
conviction and duty, but it is important to create the space for

Other highlights of the ELCA Global Mission Event
included 90 workshops called Global University Sessions, six
"global tracks" ranging in topic from hunger to cross-cultural
relations, and a GlobalFest, which featured interactive exhibits
of various missions and ministries around the world.

"We welcome (those) that have come to teach us and to preach
to us about Jesus Christ, to energize us about the Good News of
Jesus Christ," said the Rev. April Ulring Larson, bishop, ELCA La
Crosse Area Synod, who welcomed guests from around the world to
the event.  She said one of out 10 Christians in the Coulee
region of Wisconsin are members of the ELCA.

"The ELCA invests about $30 million a year in support of
God's mission in the world," said the Rev. Rafael Malpica
Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission, Chicago.

ELCA Global Mission provides grants to ELCA "companion"
churches overseas to support building institutional capacity,
evangelism and Christian education programs, schools, water
systems, health care facilities and more.  It also provides
scholarships to develop and educate leaders and provides funding
to train and support the work of more than 260 missionaries, said
Malpica Padilla.  ELCA mission personnel are serving in 48

"Accompaniment and relationships are what we are all about,"
said Sunitha Mortha, director for global formation, ELCA Global
Mission.  The ELCA Global Mission Event is about "celebrating
what God is doing in the world," she said.
- - -

Information about the ELCA Global Mission Event is at on the Web.

Audio of comments by Bayo Oyebade is at 
and by the Rev. Lisandro Orlov is at on the Web.

For information contact:

John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or
ELCA News Blog: 

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