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Do Justice: December 18, 2018

//Do Justice: December 18, 2018
Welcome to Do Justice, a bi-monthly newsletter of the Virginia Synod, lifting up God’s call and command that we, God’s people, do justice. You will find helpful info about justice ministries in congregations, around Virginia, and through the ELCA. If you have stories of justice to share from your congregation, please share those with me at bayerderrick@vasynod.org so I can share them with others in the synod!
The Rev. Kelly Bayer Derrick
Assistant to the Bishop

On Thursday, December 20, the church commemorates Katharina von Bora Luther, wife of Martin Luther and a reformer in her own right. Luther called Katharina “my lord Katie,” and her management of the Luther family’s complex household became an ideal for most Protestants. As we approach the celebration of the birth of Christ, Katie Luther’s last known words call us all to remember the gift of grace given by God in the babe in the manger, who is the one in whom we hope: “I will cling to Christ like a burr to a dress.”

A New Home for the Holidays

For almost 80 years, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has been a champion for migrants and refugees from around the globe. The article below comes from the LIRS Blog, sharing the story of two unaccompanied minors found at the border and how LIRS has worked with them, placing them with a foster family who is caring for them over the holiday season.

Sofia* and Ana* walked into a bustling home that they’d never known before. Led by a foster mother and father they’d met just a few days earlier, they were greeted by smiling faces and words they couldn’t understand. Just a few months earlier, Sofia and Ana had been identified as unaccompanied minors at the border and were referred to LIRS. They didn’t speak any English. They were just 5 and 6 years old – and they were suddenly dropped into a world that was foreign in every way. But on this day, despite all the reservations that came with a new country, new language, and new customs, they were celebrating Christmas with an American family that greeted them with hugs – abrazos – and warm smiles. It was overwhelming, at first. Thankfully their foster parents spoke fluent Spanish. They were compassionate and understanding. And the smiling strangers… well, they tried to communicate welcome, and Sofia and Ana understood that.
Sofia and Ana didn’t really know one another. Sofia was from Honduras, Ana from Mexico; but they had one very important thing in common. They were close in age – just 5 and 6 years old — in a new country and without a loved one to care for them. That’s when LIRS came into the picture. For [over a decade] LIRS has worked with its nationwide network of partners to place unaccompanied minors in safe, loving homes for the short-term – while pursuing family reunification for children like Sofia and Ana.
At this Christmas celebration, Sofia and Ana were embraced with compassion by people that didn’t look like them – didn’t speak like them. Together around a big table, they ate delicious food. Then it was time to exchange gifts. Shiny bags and packages were excitedly handed out – and Sofia and Ana received gifts just like everyone else. “puedes abrirlo” – “you can open it” “es para ti” – “this is for you” But it took some time for them to understand that these gifts, buried in layers of tissue paper – soft stuffed animals and bright starry lights for their new bedroom– were actually for them to keep.
Ana had been particularly shy in the face of all the new sights and sounds. But as the night of Christmas festivities came to a close, she was feeling safe and loved. She leaned into one of her new “aunts” and, with a laugh that bridged all language barriers, started a tickle battle.
We cannot even begin to understand the trauma that these young girls have experienced when they first faced this new country without their parents. But under the care of their loving foster family, Sofia and Ana were able to return to a carefree and joyful space… where they could just be kids.God willing – and through the diligent work of LIRS and Bethany Christian Services — Ana and Sofia will soon be reunited with their parents, or with close family friends who are well equipped to care for them. Because every child in America – regardless of where they come from – deserves the opportunity to grow into healthy, empowered young adults.
*The names of the girls in this story have been changed to protect the children’s identity.

VBS 2019: Who is My Neighbor?

Are you daydreaming about summer as much as we are? Around the country, ELCA congregations are already making plans for next year’s Vacation Bible School, and ELCA World Hunger is thrilled to invite you to explore our new VBS curriculum for 2019, “Who is My Neighbor?” This curriculum is a free resource that is now available to order and download!
“Who is My Neighbor?” invites children and youth to re-imagine what it means to be neighbors in Christ. Based on the Good Samaritan story, this full, five-day program contains skits, games, crafts, snacks and intentional activities for children to enjoy and learn how our faith calls us out into the world to love and serve our neighbors.
The skits for each day introduce a new character in the Good Samaritan story, starting with the lawyer who asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Each skit shares an important lesson that directly relates to the theme and theme verse, which groups will practice at the start and end of each day.
Themes for each day:
Day One – God loves us (1 John 4:19)
Day Two – Let your light shine (Isaiah 58:10)
Day Three – No fear (1 John 4:18a)
Day Four – God loves everyone (Acts 10:34b-35)
Day Five – Building God’s neighborhood (Romans 15:2)
Based on your feedback, we’ve made “Who is My Neighbor?” more user-friendly for VBS planning teams by organizing each section by activity categories, rather than by days of the week. Organizing the sections in this way allows everyone on the team to be able to flip to the activities that they are assigned so that all of your leaders can find the materials and directions for their roles in one section. The program is organized in the following sections:
Each day begins with a large group opening, including a skit to introduce the daily theme and the animal of the day. This is followed by “family time” – small group sessions to dig deeper into the theme and bible verse. Then, participants travel through five rotations: crafts, games, snacks, storytelling and a “simulation station” – an interactive and engaging activity to learn more about hunger and how our faith calls us to respond. The stories for each day are based on real stories from projects supported by your gifts to ELCA World Hunger. Not only will children, youth and adults hear about the work this church is doing around the world, but through “Who Is My Neighbor?” they will be part of the response!
Leaders will find schedule templates, theme song suggestions and options for younger (K-2nd grade) and older (3rd grade and above) participants so that you can adapt to the needs of your group! Each lesson is rooted in Lutheran theology, drawing on our church’s strong tradition of theology and practice in the world.
The VBS program is also flexible, so you can adapt it to fit your needs. Already have a VBS for this summer? “Who is My Neighbor?” can also be used for Sunday School, family faith formation, and children’s sermons throughout the year.
How can get my whole congregation involved?
A month or two prior to your VBS, create your own “Who Is My Neighbor?” campaign! Set a goal for your congregation to meet before the VBS starts and raise funds for your neighbors here in the United States and around the world through ELCA World Hunger.
Look for free posters, certificates and additional pictures accompanying the Storytime section coming soon!
If you have any questions about “Who is My Neighbor?” or ELCA World Hunger’s educational resources, please contact Ryan Cumming, program director of hunger education, at  Ryan.Cumming@ELCA.org.

Serving with Young Adults

Janelle Neubauer is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, currently serving as the country coordinator of the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) Program in Rwanda and assistant pastor of the Kigali Parish in the Lutheran Church of Rwanda. Her call to ordained ministry and participation in global mission came out of her own experience as a YAGM volunteer in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Below, she shares her experience walking alongside the YAGM volunteers.

The Young Adults in Global Mission program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) sets out to participate in God’s mission in the world by sending young adults to be in partnership with our companion churches. And for YAGM volunteers, their year of missionary service ends where it begins: back home, in a familiar place, but now with a drastically new understanding of life, faith, and how the two intersect in the world.
The experience of going, serving, and returning is as complex and confusing as it is joy-filled and exhilarating. But thankfully, this phenomenon is nothing new. According to the authors of Mark as Story, the Gospel of Mark mimics that same pattern; it is not linear, but cyclical. The end (historically placed at 16:8) points immediately back to the beginning. The disciples are told to head back to the Galilee—back to the place of Jesus’ ministry—where he is waiting for them.
Performed by skilled story-tellers and heard time and time again by early audiences, Mark’s story of good news originally operated like a favorite movie you might watch multiple times, gaining new insight with each go. The first time an audience would have heard about Jesus’ life, ministry, and death, it was sure to be interesting: man performs acts of power and healing in order to subvert the injustices of the empire and reestablish the faithful witness of the Jewish people all the while sticking with a band of hooligan disciples despite their incompetence. Great.
However, after the first time hearing the story of Jesus, the audience was let in on the secret: Jesus’ acts of power and miraculous healings throughout the Galilee are not simply a matter of an extraordinary man of God, but that of God come down to be and dwell among us. And as communities listened again with new ears to the healing ministry that took place in the Galilee, new meaning was layered upon the stories of power and healing. And the invitation became more than an act, but a reality: Christ is arisen and waiting for them to join him with a transformed understanding of how healing takes place.
This is what it means to be a Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM) volunteer: to witness God’s activities in the world like the disciples witnessed Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, and join the masses of the faithful who follow Jesus on the way.
Why? One short answer: So that among a new people these young adults might understand Jesus’ ministry and God’s work in the world with entirely new eyes and ears and that upon their return to the United States they will know how to flex their muscles to join Jesus in acts of power and healing for the sake of their communities, the church, and, yes, the world.
But why young adults? A good question, no doubt, since we are all called to the task of transformation. However, young adults hold a very unique place in the world. Who better to send into service than those who remain students even as they begin to teach, who continue to ask the questions even as they start to provide answers, who are up-and-coming leaders of a church desperately seeking a new way to engage its people and communities?
For the last twenty years, young adults have answered this call to be faithful witnesses, and for the last two years, I have the honor to journey with the volunteers serving in Rwanda as they learn and experience the gospel anew. To dwell with them amidst the transformative power of God’s activity outside of the worlds from which they’ve come: this is my particular joy as I work alongside young adults in this context. Being a program of the whitest denomination within mainline Protestantism, transformation is longing for a home inside our hearts and minds. And just as Jesus waits for his disciples to meet him in the Galilee at the end of the gospel of Mark—so too does Jesus wait for us to join him in the places of transformation throughout the world in our home contexts and abroad.
These places to which these young adults are called have the potential to disrupt and disturb, but not in the ways you might first believe. Most of the young adults in the YAGM program come from places of privilege in the United States in terms of their educational opportunities, socioeconomic status, family support, and living situations. Their year is surely one of sacrifice and commitment—especially for those who do not check every box of privilege dominant society assigns—but the sacrifice and commitment the volunteers witness daily in the communities to which they have been welcomed often far outweighs the losses the volunteers sustain in one year of service. Their year as missionaries quickly begins to disrupt and disturb their understandings of justice (be it political, economic, social, or even spiritual), their understanding of relationship and the experiences that bind us together in an age of appropriation and globalization, and their understanding of power as they see the power of subversion of or obedience to a cause that they’ve never encountered before.
Truly, they take their place among the hooligan disciples from Mark’s gospel, following God’s presence around from place to place and relationship to relationship. And like the disciples, they often wind up standing amazed and confused, indignant and righteous, and/or utterly lost time and time and time again. But it is their following the call to follow Jesus on the way that brings them to unfamiliar places and experiences whereby they see God provide water from the rock and manna in the desert. It is their following that brings them to see the cross in a new context, and the features of Christ’s face in the faces of their brothers, sisters, siblings all around the world. It is their following that finds them searching the tomb for their God who they have seen betrayed, beaten, and killed, only to find that resurrection is in fact real.
And it is their following that brings them back to the beginning of the story of Jesus’ ministry as they return to their communities in the United States, eyes open to their neighbors in new ways, heart planted in the soil of the earth, ready to bloom alongside the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. They are ready to proclaim God’s grace, while working humbly to serve God’s justice. Will they have it all right? Of course not. But just like Paul, they will be able to share the faults of their past and the ingrained misunderstandings of our church and nation in order to speak about the broader grace of Christ that claims each of us under the cloak of God’s love, mercy, and justice.
This is but one facet of a program that promotes breadth as much as depth of experience. You’ll note that this short exploration of the program reveals much about how faithfully engaging with the world affects these young adults and indirectly, their communities back in the United States. This is leaving behind the power of their witness within the global church itself. Unlike the age-old models of missionary service that were generally unilateral, these young adults are shaped and formed through mutual relationship. It is not by any activity of their own that they are transformed. Rather, it is by the witness of their communities and the gifts of faith that are granted to them as they stumble along throughout the course of the year. Much like the people who Jesus heals, speaks to, and dines with throughout the Gospel of Mark, it is the people these young adults encounter on the way that show them the depth of God’s grace.
And where do I come into all of this? As yet another young adult, pastor, practical Bible study leader, and hooligan disciple, giving thanks for the movement of the Holy Spirit among us who helps to make sense of these complexities and compels us to continue meeting Jesus along the way. May we follow the call, seeking God pathway to healing, wholeness, and new life.
The ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) application is open!
The Young Adults in Global Mission is a one-year, international service-learning and faith-formation opportunity in churches and social service ministries for young adults, ages 21-29. The application for the 2019-2020 program year closes  February 15th, 2019. For more information and to apply,  click here.
Young adults serve alongside Lutheran companion church bodies and organizations in one of ten country programs around the world, being shaped by the witness of our global neighbors in a cross-cultural journey of faith. For the current program year, the country programs are: Argentina & Uruguay, Australia, Central Europe, Cambodia, Jerusalem/West Bank, Madagascar, Mexico, Rwanda, Senegal, and Southern Africa. Areas of service include, but are not limited to, health and development, congregational ministry, human rights, education, homelessness, addiction recovery, women’s issues and children and youth. All site placements provide opportunities for young adults to confront issues of wealth and poverty; racial privilege; economic disparity and globalization, all through the lens of faith.
Short-term recruiters will be headed around to ELCA Colleges and Universities, Lutheran Campus Ministries, ELCA Camps, and other young adults ministries throughout the fall speaking about their previous year of service and about the program as a whole! Be on the lookout for their upcoming visits!
For more information visit the ELCA YAGM site at  www.elca.org/yagm
Also feel free to check out the  YAGM Application 2019-2020 Facebook event.
By | 2019-01-04T10:46:12-04:00 December 18th, 2018|News|Comments Off on Do Justice: December 18, 2018

About the Author:

Emily is the Director of Communications for the Virginia Synod. She is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington where she earned her BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, and a minor in Digital Studies.If you have an announcement, upcoming event, or news story idea you would like to share, get in touch with Emily via email or by phone at (540) 389-1000