Geneva – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has commended the efforts of humanitarian personnel worldwide while voicing concerns about the shrinking space for this work.
In a statement issued for the U.N.’s World Humanitarian Day, Aug. 19, LWF General Secretary the Rev. Martin Junge called decades of humanitarian response by the Lutheran communion an “expression of faith and therefore an integral part of their mission,” according to a LWF news release.
Often, local churches have the first contact with those in need, and in many cases the church itself “lives among people living in poverty and suffers displacement as it accompanies the poor and oppressed,” he noted.
Junge praised the “tireless effort of LWF member churches and their diaconal organizations in working together at the global level through the LWF’s Department for World Service” to support people affected by drought, violence and hunger.
The department provides assistance to 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons around the world irrespective of race, gender, creed, nationality or political conviction, he said. “Each of these refugees and displaced persons is supported by 47 Lutherans.”
Junge commended the 5,000 World Service staff worldwide, who often work under difficult conditions and face considerable danger as they respond to humanitarian situations.
He also called for threats to humanitarian work to be addressed.
“International humanitarian law is increasingly ignored or intentionally disrespected in conflict zones,” he said, noting the misuse of civilians as human shields and children as soldiers, and the use of sexual violence as a military strategy.
Humanitarian workers as well as infrastructure such as hospitals are also increasingly targeted in conflict zones, while aid labeled as “humanitarian” is carried out with political motives by armed groups and fighting parties, added Junge.
He urged governments and the international community to ensure the protection of civilians and humanitarian personnel in conflict zones, and to “uphold humanitarian principles and values.”
Cooperation with faith communities as “effective and vital actors addressing humanitarian needs” should be increased, Junge emphasized.
The statement also highlighted the LWF’s commitment to strengthening ecumenical cooperation through ACT Alliance, of which it is a founding member, and furthering collaboration with interfaith partners, U.N. bodies, local and national governments, and others.
The U.N. General Assembly established World Humanitarian Day to honor those devoting their lives to humanitarian causes. It is observed each year on 19 August to coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Iraq, which killed 22 U.N. staff.
The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. It includes 145 member churches in 79 countries, representing more than 70 million Christians.