Ryan with his Campus Minister and fellow Peer Minsters, at Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park
Originally from a small town in central Wisconsin, Ryan Eisenman is an LVC17 Volunteer this year serving at Lutheran World Relief in Baltimore, MD. Lutheran World Relief is a nonprofit organization that helps families in the world’s poorest communities build the resilience they need to thrive, working across 32 different countries. Ryan is serving this year as a Program Assistant for Communication Strategies & Services, supporting the team responsible for LWR’s major external communications. As a program assistant, Ryan might be doing many different things, like editing reports and grant proposals or conducting research for new team projects, as well as daily posts and campaigns on social media (check out Ryan’s Giving Tuesday debut this year).
For many, a Volunteer’s year with LVC is their first experience working full time and in a “work environment,” which can be a challenging transition. When asked about what he had learned so far at LWR, Ryan said,”Working at LWR has definitely taught me to be much more confident in myself and my work. LWR has been an LVC placement site for over 10 years, so they have really reasonable expectations and demands of their LVCers. My team in particular is open to letting me try new things and just see what happens, which I find to be a great confidence-booster. I have also had a crash-course in how International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) work. LWR has a core group of staff in Baltimore, other staff who are scattered across the U.S., and international staff who are based around the world. There may be people I never meet in my year at LWR, but we’re all working toward the same goals, which is really quite inspiring!”
It’s common to see “social justice” as work that we, in the United States, are focused on nationally – however, at placement organizations that have a primarily international focus, one’s engagement with the work of social justice will have to start with different questions. Ryan shared about what he’s learned so far about the work of social justice while working for an international organization, such as LWR. “How can national governments or NGOs in highly-developed countries lift people in other countries out of poverty and give them the tools to lead more equitable and sustainable lives without resorting to methods that shade into imperialism or colonialism? I grapple with this question almost every day, and I think many of my coworkers at LWR do as well, in one way or another. I still don’t know what a satisfactory answer to this is, and I’m okay with that! Something I really like about LWR’s model of international development is that everyone participating in LWR projects are not just participants, but partners. There is an institutional understanding that local partners are best-equipped to identify local problems and offer local solutions, so LWR tries as much as possible to work alongside local organizations in their projects. I think this is a great way of challenging the idea that people in poverty need to be “saved” and are passive recipients of the generosity of those with greater resources. Instead, they can be (and are!) active partners in programs that seek to eliminate poverty.”
Outside of a Volunteer’s placement, one of the biggest challenges within an LVC year is learning how to live in “community” – both within house communities and within their local community. While working for an international organization, Ryan shared feeling both connected to a local, national, and global community through his service at LWR. “I have learned very quickly that “community” can mean more than just the house or neighborhood or city one lives in. LWR is based in Baltimore, has a large base of supporting Lutherans living across the U.S., and operates in over 20 countries around the world, and part of my team’s job is to make sure all those communities are in communication with each other. The people who make quilts or assemble LWR Kits of Care will likely never meet the people who receive those quilts or kits, but by sharing photos and videos and stories, we can create some sort of connection between people who are geographically disparate. But as exciting as that is, it can also be really challenging to balance belonging to the local community that I live in and the larger, worldwide community that I work in. Two of my housemates are at immigration-related placements, and with everything that has happened regarding the end of DACA, the work they do seems much more immediate than my own. However, I think that this helps me have a clearer idea of how to engage with the communities I belong to. My housemates help keep me connected to local communities, while my placement consistently engages with me with broader, more widespread communities. I’ve definitely been trying to learn (sometimes unsuccessfully) to engage with all the communities I now belong to.”
As for his house community, Ryan shared that one of the most engaging practices of his house community has come through personality quizzes. “One of the best conversations my House has had about community came after taking the 5 Love Languages quiz. As we were sharing and discussing our scores, we realized that simple terms were not always so simple. For example, what I consider to be “quality time” is vastly different from what a housemate considers to be quality time. This really opened my eyes to being attentive to what words we use in our discussions and community covenant, to make sure that we all agree on the meaning of the words.” (Big tip for future LVC-ers – personality tests are fun and helpful!) When asked about his hopes for the rest of the year, Ryan said that he was nervous about the “honeymoon phase” of his house community’s development. “One of our Community Mentors recently said our house is still in the “honeymoon phase” of our LVC year. Part of me really hopes that we don’t come out of that phase, but realistically I know that we will, and inevitably we will have more (and larger) conflicts than we have thus far. I think the biggest challenge will be for us to separate disagreements about how much we spend on groceries or how frequently we vacuum from the need to be emotionally supportive of one another. At the end of the day, the only people who really know exactly what I’m going through are the six people I live with, and I know I need to remember that even as little arguments arise.”
Ryan’s interest in both social justice work and doing a year of service came from time spent at the University of Chicago. Ryan shared, “The Lutheran Campus Ministry and Lutheran church I attended while at UChicago placed a heavy focus on the overlap between socioeconomic justice and the Gospel; Christ’s Love IS the liberation we work to bring to the world.” It was through LCM that Ryan met Midwest Program Manager Erika Dornfeld (LVC and UChicago Div School alum), and learned about LVC. “At that time, I was looking for something to do for a gap year between college and graduate school,” Ryan said, “when I learned that LVC was both a year-long program and one dedicated to social justice, it just seemed like everything was coming together to offer an amazing opportunity that I needed to take advantage of.” Ryan said that outside of the work with his placement, he is passionate about “any sort of work that confronts economic inequalities and all the disparities that result from it… I firmly believe that social justice is inherently tied up in economic justice.” He is also very interested in gender and sex equity, as well as fighting for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Ryan is a recent alum of the University of Chicago, with a BA in Art History (specializing in medieval art). While at UChicago, he served as a Peer Minister with Lutheran Campus Ministry and was able to spend a quarter abroad in Rome, where he visited a total of 75 churches, including one of the only Lutheran churches in the city!
Ryan is a lifelong learner who highly values applying the critical thinking skills taught in academia to institutional or systemic injustice in society more broadly. Ryan enjoys reading (both scholarly works and 19th-century literature), watching poorly-written historical dramas, and taking time to explore whatever city he currently finds himself in. He loves cats, art, history, Chicago, coffee, Cookies and Cream Poptarts, iced tea (He says, “thanks Baltimore!”). He is living this year in the Simunye House with six other housemates (check them out on Instagram! @simunyelvc)