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How We Started

In 1945, World War II left an estimated one-fifth of the world’s Lutherans homeless. Here in the United States, Lutheran churches in at least 20 states mobilized to help in Europe through a new agency called Lutheran World Relief.

German children receiving food aid from LWR in 1951
German children receiving food aid from LWR in 1951. Photo courtesy ELCA Archives.

The recipients of LWR’s aid have changed — as has much of our operations — but in thousands of congregations, in millions of offerings and in uncounted prayers, US Lutherans have supported LWR’s work ever since.

With a commitment to end suffering, LWR’s work took shape.

Initially prompted by sending aid to their German and Scandinavian kin, American Lutherans soon realized that aid could be shared fairly only on the basis of need. Hungry refugees all over Europe cried out for help. Service to all suffering people became a vital part of Christian witness. Local partners were responsible for using the shipments wisely.

A growing expertise, the will to help, and ties to overseas missions soon called LWR farther afield. In the late 1940s, 800,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes by the creation of the state of Israel. From the early 1950s in Hong Kong, Korea and Bangladesh, Asia was a continent of considerable strife. During the 1970s and ’80s, civil wars and drought made Africa the new concern.

Around the world, LWR shares far more than relief supplies.

Women in India standing at sewing machines
Over 75,000 refugees poured into the hills of Assam during the early part of 1964. Hundreds of bales of clothing were shipped in by Lutheran World Relief and those that did not fit were retailored into shorts, blouses, and girls frocks. Others were turned into blankets. Photo: Derick Garnier, National Christian Council of India, courtesy of ELCA Archives.

With 100 local partners, LWR works to improve harvests, health and education in some 35 countries each year. LWR partners train local women and men to produce local foods, dig low-cost wells and protect and restore their local environments. Some partners are small village groups on the edge of the Sahara. Others are nationwide programs that may reach across the Andes.

Over the course of 70 years, LWR has learned a lot about walking with people who set out to better their lives and communities.

We have learned that the future in health, agriculture and education often lies with the hearts and hands of women. We have learned that disaster can sometimes be prevented or withstood by effective development programs and that, when disasters do occur, LWR partners may be on the spot well before the world notices and still needed long after the crisis no longer commands front-page headlines.

In a survey on the eve of LWR’s 50th anniversary, a sample of U.S. Lutherans told LWR that they saw the agency as a reliable and efficient way to put their Christian faith into action. They said they trust LWR overseas to express their Christian love for neighbors and that its way of working through those neighbors instills confidence in the organization.