Dr. William J. Craft, the newly elected chair of Lutheran World Relief ’s board of directors, is the president of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Here he reflects on his first opportunity to see an LWR project, when he visited coffee and cocoa farmers in Honduras.
LUTHERAN WORLD RELIEF is perhaps best known for the way it responds to the suffering induced by natural disasters. But day in and out, LWR works far beyond emergency operations. In particular, LWR staff partner with local farmers around the world to help them grow crops more effectively — both to sell and to feed their own families. This is the work I saw in the steep, wooded hills of coffee and cocoa country at the western end of Honduras.
On one foray, we head in pickup trucks up, and up, into the hills, up a road that I think we can’t climb in our pickup, until we finally come to a cacao farm. To me, it looks like an uncultivated forest, but quickly I learn that nearly all the vegetation around me has been carefully planned over dozens of years. Cacao trees — about 15 feet tall — stand in the midst of plantains and of orange and mahogany trees. Everything has a function.
CECILIO SOSA, a father and grandfather, talks us through the growing of cacao, and then breaks open one of the pods to reveal a milky, gelatinous tower encasing the cocoa beans. We’re all prompted to reach into that tower and try the sweet taste of the pulp. We find out that when the beans are fermented in the pulp, they absorb its sweetness — otherwise they’d be very bitter.
Cecilio’s daughter MARIA, a trained and gifted cocoa farming agent, shows us how a poorly producing tree can be given new life by grafting onto it the branch of a more fruitful tree. While I am at the farm with some LWR folk, others are learning how the cocoa beans are fermented, dried and sold through the village cooperative.
What did I learn on my journey? I saw very clearly what I had heard about so often at LWR board meetings: this is an organization at once idealistic and tough-minded. Only what works to sustain farmers and families is funded; what doesn’t, isn’t. The world becomes a better place not merely by wishing it so, but when idealism meets the discipline to solve unscripted human problems with imagination and courage.
And I saw something else. I saw what the liberating love of God means to people whose lives are lifted up in partnership with one another and with neighbors from around the world. I saw our common cause in human labor and human dignity. At our worship there, the Gospel was Mary’s Magnificat, her song of joy that God has chosen her — a poor woman of no social standing — to bear the very embodiment of salvation. God has “brought down the powerful from their thrones,” Mary sings; he has “lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
I saw in the lives of others what it means, in faith and in learning, to become responsibly engaged in this world.