Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
[Luke 30:31 NRSV]
We all acknowledge that the world is a better place when people do good, rather than evil, and practice love toward one another. Everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, benefit when society holds care and compassion at its heart. We all want to live in that kind of world.
Around the world today a multitude of organisations, and many thousands of people, are dedicated to caring for those in need. The work these organisations and people do is a sign of God’s hidden work in the world. How much darker and harsher it would be without the good people of many beliefs and backgrounds loving and serving their neighbours.
‘World Humanitarian Day celebrates the work of humanitarian workers from all over the world. It commemorates a terrorist attack on the United Nations headquarters on 19 August 2003, which killed 22 people, among them the UN top representative in Iraq. Five years later, 19 August was designated as World Humanitarian Day. On this day every year, the humanitarian community advocates for the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers, and for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crises.’[Lutheran World Federation, https://www.lutheranworld.org/content/world-humanitarian-day-2018]
The UN official killed that day was Sergio Vieira de Mello. He had worked for the United Nations for over 34 years, coordinating responses to refugees and promoting human rights. He served in our region as the UN’s Special Representative in East Timor from Dec 1999 – May 2002 as it transitioned to independence from Indonesia. World Humanitarian Day focuses on the protection of civilians: Non-combatants in conflict zones, especially women and children, but also volunteers, medical staff and aid workers.
We know of many of the humanitarian organisations involved, such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and World Food Programme, Red Cross, Caritas Internationalis, Lutheran World Service, Doctors without Borders, CARE and World Vision and so on. There are also thousands of lesser known smaller agencies. Many workers in these organisations themselves come from the vulnerable communities they serve, so they understand the needs and the type of help required.
Our LCA’s own overseas aid agency, ALWS, is no stranger to these challenges. Just a fortnight ago the Lutheran World Federation team in South Sudan that ALWS supports came under direct threat from rioting youths, forcing the evacuation of the whole team. Elsewhere, other LWF workers supported by Australian Lutherans have started work to support school children in a 15 kilometre wide ‘safe zone’ in Somalia.
Humanitarian work requires a special kind of person, with a high capacity for patience, resilience, and perseverance. Being present and helping those affected by war, trauma, famine, disease and other crises is emotionally, spiritually and physically challenging. In conflict zones humanitarian workers are themselves placed at risk. Militia groups will target aid workers and those they are trying to help.
This year, Sunday 19th August is an opportunity for the congregations and members of LCA/NZ, where we enjoy peace and prosperity, to gratefully acknowledge humanitarian organisations and their workers around the world, and to pray for the work they do and for their safety.
As we do, we also give thanks for the generosity of our Lutheran family across Australia and New Zealand who already support this work through ALWS, and other agencies.
Prayers for World Humanitarian Day
Dear Lord, lover of all people, today we give thanks
- for the good work that humanitarian organisations and their paid workers and volunteers do
- for private citizens who generously give to support their work
- for governments which commit funds to support their work
- for faith to freely love and serve our neighbour because God so loved the world that he became human himself and died for all so that all might be saved.
- for humanitarian workers, that you will uphold them in their work and help them to perform it well; defend them from all forms of physical, mental and spiritual illness and preserve their sense of compassion for those they serve
- for the Lutheran World Federation teams our local Lutheran family supports through ALWS in high-risk regions including South Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Iraq
- for the security and safety of hospitals, refugee camps, supply vessels, vehicles and aircraft and their cargoes and all other humanitarian property
- that all who need humanitarian assistance will have their essential needs met, and be protected from all forms of abuse and exploitation
- for an end to the wars that cause the majority of humanitarian crises like refugee movements, famines and outbreaks of infectious disease
- and finally for ourselves: help us all to recognise God’s call to serve as his hidden helping hands in the world; and help us all to recognise God’s hidden face in the faces of needy neighbours.
Pastor John Henderson,
Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand