International Encyclopedia of Civil Society
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
Helmut K. Anheier and Stefan Toepler
Lutheran World Relief

Martti MuukkonenContact Information

(1)  Niinivaarantie, 84D13 Joensuu, Finland

Contact Information Martti Muukkonen

Without Abstract

Address of Organization

700 Light Street Baltimore, MD 21230 USA


Lutheran World Relief (LWR) is the relief agency of the US Lutheran Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Other Lutheran Churches round the world have similar organisations and while their projects are often bilateral, they also join their efforts through the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and the Action by Churches Together. The LWR is the oldest of these Lutheran relief organizations.

Although different missionary associations are involved in similar activities, churches’ relief organizations are regarded as part of their deacon work, not part of the missionary work. However, these activities are always intertwined to some degree. The difference is mostly on emphasis and religious subcultures inside these churches. Thus, Lutheran relief organizations focus more on emergencies while missions focus on planting and nurturing new churches although they have common ground in development cooperation.

Brief History

LWR emerged during the World War II to help German and Nordic (except Swedish who did not need help and were also donors) Lutherans in rebuilding their churches from the ruins of war. “American packages” were for a long time a significant part of the Christmas celebrations of the poor families in these countries. Along with help for individual families, LWF financed new church buildings and helped to rebuild organisational aid capacities of its sister churches.

After the work in Europe, the next large projects were in Palestine from the end of the 1940s and in Hong Kong, Korea and Bangladesh from the early 1950s. LWR started its work in Latin America in 1960s after natural disasters. Due to many civil wars and drought in Africa in 1970s and 1980s the organization focused there.


The mission of LWR and other Lutheran aid organisations can be traced to Luther who quoted the Old Testament: “There should be no poor among you.” Based on this idea, Luther reformed constitutions of many cities of the Protestant part of Germany and Halle Pietists took education as means of eliminating poverty. This elimination of poverty has been a special emphasis in all Lutheran relief activities. According to LWR its “approach to emergency response seeks to bolster impoverished communities’ assets and to increase their access to resources.” In principle, this is an application of the old Lutheran emphasis on everyone’s right to read and interpret the Bible by himself.

LWF defines its mission as follows:

Empowered by God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ, Lutheran World Relief envisions a world in which each person and every generation lives in justice, dignity, and peace.

In this definition justice (sedek) and peace (shalom) are Biblical concepts that were promoted by the American Social Gospel Movement before the WW I. They were also the major concepts in the WCC’s program “Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation” between Canberra (1983) and Vancouver (1991) Assemblies.


LWR traces its activities from its basic beliefs. There are three fields of activities where the organisation works: Justice and Peace, Emergency Response and Sustainable Rural Development. LWR tells that “[a]round the world, LWR shares far more than relief supplies. With 100 local partners, LWR works to improve harvests, health and education in some 35 countries each year.” In addition to relief activities, the LWR promotes Fair Trade.

Structure and Governance

LWR’s board of directors comprises eight members from the ELCA and five from the LCMS. The organization is divided into four main departments: the President’s Office, the International Programs Department, the External Relations Department and the Finance and Administration Department.

In addition to the main office, LWR has 15 field offices in Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines. The total number of staff is 100 of which half are in the United States and half in the field offices.


The total income of LWR in 2006 was US$34.6 million and its net assets were US$42.2 million. 35.5% of incomes come from private donations, 29.5% from church bodies, 15.1% from government and the rest from various sources.

87.4% of expenditures go to international programs, 4.7% to Communication, Education and Public Policy, 4.5% to General Administration, 2.9% to fundraising and 0.4% to Organizational Learning.

Major Accomplishments/Contributions

LWR was a major actor in getting German and Nordic Lutheran churches on their feet after the World War II. After that, it has promoted sustainable development in other parts of the world. In 2004 Newsweek ranked the family of Lutheran relief agencies among the best relief organisations in the world giving it A+ rating. In 2007 the American Institute of Philanthropy gave LWR an A rating.


Charity and Religion

Churches and Congregations


Faith-Based Organizations

Missionary Societies

NGOs and Humanitarian Assistance

NGOs and Sustainable Development

Religious Organizations

World Council of Churches

References/Further Readings

Aaker, J. (1993). Partners with the poor. An emerging approach to relief and development. New York: Friendship Press.
Bachman, J. W. (1995). Together in hope. 50 years of Lutheran World Relief. New York: Lutheran World Relief.