International women leaders discuss Lutheran identity, leadership

11/24/2014 12:00:00 PM

     ​CHICAGO (ELCA) – Women leaders from across the Global South discussed the role and contribution of women in church and society as part of an annual seminar supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) International Leaders–Women program. The seminar, which took place Oct. 26 - Nov. 1 in Wittenberg, Germany, hosted 13 women leaders from Mexico, India, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Madagascar, Palestine, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Serbia and Hungary.
     Over the course of the event, the women read and discussed excerpts from Martin Luther’s writings, learned the stories of women of the Reformation including Katharina von Bora, wife of Martin Luther, and shared the experiences and contributions of women in each of the participants’ home country and church. Many of the women were paired with other leaders from their home countries (one established leader and one younger woman with leadership potential) to encourage continued mentoring and networking beyond the seminar. In addition to in-classroom discussion, the women visited the sites of Wittenberg, the grave of Katharina von Bora in Torgau, and a special exhibition titled “A Strong Women’s History: 500 Years of Reformation” in Rochlitz.
     “The Reformation women and the group we had together this week has strengthened my faith and given me hope that no matter what challenges we face, we can still move forward. There is hope and we believe one day we shall overcome,” said Eva Banda, a seminar participant from Malawi.   
     “I have discovered that we all have problems. When you are in your country, you might think other countries don’t have problems, but we all have problems. It has reminded me that Jesus came for the weak. Women are considered weak, but Jesus is here for us, and he will make us strong,” said Banda.
     The Rev. Martina Helmer-Pham Xuan, ELCA Global Mission regional representative in Europe, attended along with teaching staff Wanda Deifelt, professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa; and Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Mike and Marge McCoy Family Distinguished Chair in Lutheran Heritage and Mission and professor of religion at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. Luther and Wartburg are two of 26 ELCA colleges and universities.
     “The seminar exceeded our expectations,” said Kleinhans. “I don’t know whether it was more inspiring to share the stories of 16th century women reformers or to hear the stories these 21st century women brought with them.”
     Through the International Leaders–Women priority of Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA, up to 100 women from across the Global South will be given the opportunity to participate in the annual seminars over the next three years. The program will also develop more than 200 women leaders from the ELCA’s global companion churches through increased scholarship support and educational opportunities. In total, The Campaign for the ELCA aims to raise $4 million by Feb. 1, 2019, to support the International Leaders–Women program and its initiatives.
     “The International Leaders–Women program is our opportunity as a church to invest in the future of women across the world,” shared Tammy Jackson, International Leadership Development program director, ELCA Global Mission. “The time has come for a strategic emphasis on the role of women in the life and development of the church and society and The Campaign for the ELCA is our moment to make that happen.”
     Information about The Campaign for the ELCA is available at
About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.8 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
 *Alix Matzke is marketing communications manager for The Campaign of the ELCA.
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