From Kenyan village to LWF’s United Nations office

3 Feb 2023

From youth leader in her native Kenya to her current job as head of the Lutheran Office for World Community in New York, Christine Mangale reflects on her journey to lift up the voices of local churches in promoting justice, peace and human rights.

Christine Mangale, director of the Lutheran Office for World Community. Photo: Andiesam

Christine Mangale, director of the Lutheran Office for World Community. Photo: Andiesam

As director of the Lutheran Office for World Community, Christine Mangale looks back at her journey to the UN

(LWI) - Lifting up the voices of Lutheran churches around the world to the highest levels of United Nations diplomacy and decision making. That is the challenging task facing the new director of the Lutheran Office for World Community (LOWC), Christine Mangale, the first woman to hold this high-profile position.

Mangale, who was appointed to the post last September, is well equipped for the job, having served in the New York office since 2008, first as an intern, then as coordinator and program director. In a sense, she has been training for this role all her life, spending her early years deeply engaged in networking, campaigning and community organizing among young people in her native Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church.

“As a young person, I was really passionate about issues like poverty and unemployment so I volunteered in many different capacities,” she recalls. “Both my parents were very active in the church, my father as an evangelist and my mother as a committed member of the women’s group. For me, the church was more than just a space to occupy on a Sunday morning, it was really a community that nurtured my desires and talents to be a church leader,” she says.

Christine Mangale, director of the Lutheran Office for World Community. Photo: Andiesam

Christine Mangale, director of the Lutheran Office for World Community. Photo: Andiesam

It was not long before those talents were noticed and Mangale was elected as a youth leader, both for her church in Kenya and as regional youth secretary for East and Central Africa. It provided her with opportunities to travel and make contacts with like-minded people in other parts of the Lutheran world.

In 2001 she was selected to work as an intern with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) youth program. In 2003, she served as a steward at her first LWF Assembly in Winnipeg, Canada. “These are all parts of the journey from my village to the United Nations,” she reflects.

Since those early days, Mangale has represented the LWF at UN forums and discussions on topics including peace, human rights, migration, sustainable development, gender justice and HIV-AIDS. The LOWC was set up in 1973 as a joint ministry of the LWF and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to bring the concerns of grass roots Lutheran congregations to the United Nations, as well as to inform the local churches about policies and developments that may concern them.

Gender justice and women’s empowerment

Among her most notable achievements so far, Mangale lists the work she has done to “amplify Lutheran perspectives on gender justice within UN processes,” such as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which meets in March each year. Successes include the preparation of LWF delegates to lobby their governments and UN representatives, the sharing of best practices among member churches and the organization of parallel and side events in New York to showcase Lutheran and other faith groups working to advance women’s rights.

“In the beginning we worked with some other churches and interfaith groups but now we coordinate much more intentionally to amplify our voices,” Mangale notes. Despite the continuing challenge of “backsliding and a very troubling reprisal of attacks on women human rights defenders on the ground,” she says, there is a growing appreciation of the way in which the LWF and other churches work to counter “fundamentalist religious actors who are suppressing women’s human rights.”

A key part of [the] work is doing faith literacy within UN spaces.

– Christine Mangale, director of the Lutheran Office for World Community

Playing an active role in both the ‘Ecumenical Women at the UN’ and the ‘Faith in Beijing’ coalitions, Mangale says a key part of her work is “doing faith literacy within UN spaces.” Helping to develop LWF’s annual Women Human Rights Advocacy Training program by strengthening links with the various UN platforms has been another important success for her.

This year, Mangale and her small team (a new program director and key consultancy from former LOWC head Dennis Frado) have hit the ground running, as LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Anne Burghardt visits the UN in New York during the first week of February for meetings with partners and policy makers. “Amid a shrinking space for civil society and an undermining of multilateralism, it’s really important that she comes here to lift up the work that we do and to highlight our local to global methodology,” Mangale emphasizes.

The new LOWC director is also looking forward to her next LWF Assembly in Poland in September, where she will be working as part of LWF’s Action for Justice team. “Building relationships with member churches has been a source of strength for me,” she says, especially focusing on the empowerment of women and young people. “I am a product of other women who have mentored me and given me a voice, so I spend time mentoring young people, working closely with ELCA and LWF’s youth programs. I myself am no longer a youth, but the importance of that work has never left me!”

LWF/P. Hitchen