Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Faith-Based Organizations Aid Poor in Turbulent World

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday, September 23/07

Zack Gross

Bob Granke could be an accountant or a funeral director.  He comes to work in a suit and tie, looking every bit the conservative businessman.  He’s very organized, seems unemotional.  He fools you, when you look at him – if you don’t know him – into thinking he is not passionate, not progressive in his understanding of, and efforts toward, the eradicate of poverty and injustice in our world.

Granke is Executive Director of Canadian Lutheran World Relief  (CLWR), one of the few international development organizations that maintain their national office outside the Golden Triangle, in this case in Winnipeg.  Like many Canadian “mainline” churches, the Lutherans struggle these days with dwindling membership and, therefore, fewer funds with which to maintain their work in Canada and overseas.

Granke has been associated with the Lutheran Church for most of his career, including work with CLWR and the World Lutheran Federation in Geneva, Switzerland.  He also worked with the Canadian Hunger Foundation in Ottawa.  He says that CLWR does good work, but needs to seek out more publicity. 

We act on our faith, he says, but we don’t proselytize.  He is concerned that some international assistance groups do promote their faith on a par with their aid work, and he also expresses concern that denominationally-based NGOs face competition from external, evangelical organizations.  Says Granke: “We act on our faith, but CLWR doesn’t promote any religious conversion.  We seek justice and advocate on behalf of the marginalized, so our model of development also is not just about gathering charity.”

Another faith-based development activist, Alistair Riddell, a retired United Church Minister now living in Winnipeg and involved in a small Manitoba NGO, People to People, concurs.  While the traditional churches may not be as large as they once were, and while Manitoba is not a heavily populated, rich province, he says, there is a wealth of international experience and personal commitment that ordinary, faithful people can bring to world development, and in a positive way.  Even small amounts of money can make a real difference overseas.

When Granke says, “If they need help, we will deliver it,” that includes to people of all faiths.  A powerful example of CLWR’s inter-faith work is at Augusta Victoria Hospital on the West Bank where his workers help the elderly and ill to get medical treatment despite the on-going conflict in the area.  CLWR not only has run afoul of Israeli security forces on occasion, but also has had to wait for the Canadian government to recently lift an embargo on aid to some groups in the Middle East. 

Granke has traveled to the Middle East on several occasions and has been on the scary front lines of aid delivery.  He says that there is always reason to hope that the situation will improve.  Land issues, of course, need to be resolved and the never-ending tensions need to be managed more effectively.  Political leadership that brings all sides together to seek a just and peaceful future must be found, both in the region and globally. 

Granke hopes to increase his organization’s public engagement component so that Lutherans will be more conversant with the issues his agency is involved in.  People to People’s Riddell agrees, in that Canadians need to know enough about the world so that they can understand when aid groups are really having an impact, and when we are just fooling ourselves into thinking so.

Finally, CLWR is making a greater commitment to its work promoting fair trade relationships and sales.  It intends to go beyond supplying its congregations with fair trade items, to opening a major storefront, along with a new national location somewhere in Winnipeg in the future.  The hope is to double sales in the coming years, while using its fair trade profile with congregations and customers to encourage more support for its assistance programs.

As the environment for mainline churches changes, some organizations are adapting to keep up with current issues, while still following their traditional, more liberal principles.  Being prepared to help anyone in need without expecting the reward of a new convert manifests genuine altruism to many faith-based organizations, and may keep them relevant and welcome to coming generations of both the wealthy and the poor of our world.

Zack Gross is program coordinator at the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of 35 international development organizations active in our province.

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