The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Why not child sponsorship?

Here’s why ELCA World Hunger practices accompaniment

Recently The Lutheran interviewed ELCA World Hunger director Daniel Rift, hunger education director Ryan Cumming and Mary Marete, ELCA Global Mission program director for sustainable development, about why the ELCA doesn’t use child sponsorship to help people who are vulnerable or living in poverty.

The Lutheran: ELCA World Hunger takes a different approach. Why? 

Daniel Rift: Our approach is aimed at accompanying communities to care for their own … principally through church-related integrated development and relief efforts. We provide financial support that will allow those communities to care for children of their community themselves. In the long run, we see efficiency in equipping a community, building up self-sufficiency for a family, [and] instilling a sense of local stewardship and responsibility. 

Is accompaniment better than child sponsorship? It’s certainly more authentic to who we are as an evangelical church. 

Ryan Cumming: With child sponsorship there’s very much a focus on one group being needy and the other group having all the resources. As the ELCA, we find that it’s not that one partner has the resources and one partner has the need. We come together in mutual need. 

We remain open to God and open to stories of our history together [that] are sometimes uncomfortable. This is an important part of the ELCA’s relationships with our global companions. We can’t forget there’s a history that we’re all still living in of colonization, marginalization, subjectification and violence. One of the problems with child sponsorship is that [it] ignore[s] those realities or [doesn’t] bring enough attention to them.  

Those are important differences. Can you say more about accompaniment?

Mary Marete: As a church we uphold values of mutuality, inclusivity, vulnerability, empowerment and sustainability. Our companions identify and prioritize the projects and problems they want to focus on. We walk with our companions to help them address those needs, also building a relationship between communities — the companion churches and the ELCA synods.

This is a rights-based approach that builds the capacity, competence and confidence of people to address their needs as individuals, family members and community members. 

For example, our companions have identified projects such as the Pangani Children’s Center in Kenya; community rebuilding after the tsunami in Indonesia; and in Zimbabwe, training that farmers can use on their own farms and then teach to others, farmer-to-farmer. So there’s a multiplying effect. Those same farmers also share some of their harvest with the community feeding center for orphans and vulnerable children. 

Does accompaniment help children in ways that child sponsorship hasn’t? Is there a cost to the personal connection of photos and letters a sponsored child sends and sometimes receives? 

Rift:  We believe a child should see neighbors helping each other, supported by Christian believers from around the world, rather than for much of their childhood being the recipient of support from a stranger in another land. …We are concerned about the kind of relationship and self-image instilled by a child in a distant land whose only hope … is from “outside” his or her community, nation and culture.

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