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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A web of Lutherans

The Companion Synod program developed by the ELCA Division for Global Mission connects the ELCA with churches worldwide

Lutherans have their own worldwide web. And it's more than virtual reality. The Companion Synod Program coordinated by the Division for Global Mission connects the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with churches worldwide in a web of partnership.

This year three ELCA synods--Metropolitan Washington, D.C.; New Jersey; and Southwestern Washington--sent nine representatives to help train parish deacons for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia.

An ELCIN pastor, David Iileka of Okahao, Namibia, suggested the project. When he visited the United States in 1994 on a Metropolitan Washington, D.C.-sponsored exchange, Iileka became interested in the Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers program as a training tool for Namibia's deacons.

With a population of 1.6 million, Namibia has some 500,000 Lutherans. ELCIN members live mainly in the northern fourth of the country, an agricultural area. Most of their deacons are women who range in age from 19 to late 60s. Many of them walked to the training site where we were. One woman in her 70s walked about seven miles with her cane in the Namibian heat (110 degrees some days).

Most deacons have three years of training, much of it hands-on work. Our effort pointed them toward expanding community participation for caregivers and caregiving. What ELCA congregations do through Lutheran social service agencies, county health departments and federal grants, ELCIN deacons accomplish with minimal local resources. The deacons provide a variety of help to people facing hunger, homelessness, malnutrition, unclean water, serious diseases, physical handicaps, elderly loneliness, teenage pregnancies, suicide, alcoholism, blindness, mental disability and HIV-AIDS.

Their can-do attitude is infectious. When asked what difficulties they saw in expanding their care, one older woman answered, "Oh, there will be difficulties all right. But none that will keep us from achieving it."

The Companion Synod Program exposes ELCA members to the new ideas and enthusiasm of sisters and brothers in partner churches worldwide. That's a network worth developing.


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