A traveler stood at the counter of the airport terminal gift shop, ready to pay for a bag of Beanie Babies. His wife continued to gather more of the popular stuffed animals, shouting to the cashier, "Make that 11, make that 12," and finally, "Thirteen — and that’s the last one."
She seemed genuinely apologetic for holding up the customers behind them and turned to explain as her husband paid. "Our little boy loves to play with these things; his room is full of them. He doesn’t collect them or anything like that; he just enjoys playing with them." Little did the youngster realize that when his parents returned home, he would find himself surrounded by a baker’s dozen bounty of new Beanie Babies.
That scene was merely a small reflection of American society. The vast majority of us have more resources than we know how to use wisely. It’s certainly not a bad thing to want to do for and give to our loved ones out of our material possessions. But most of us have trouble seeing the world beyond our self-imposed borders. Perhaps that is one reason our denomination sets aside certain emphasis days during the course of each year.
One of those is World Hunger Sunday, which we observe this year on October 12. In churches where this special day is at least mentioned, members are reminded of those who are hungry and impoverished, and can’t do anything about it. Many of them are scattered around the world in places deeply affected by poverty. Others find themselves dropping through the cracks in affluent societies.
Consider some of these facts from Bread for the World, an organization that gathers information on hunger and poverty issues and works for public policy changes that can help eradicate both:
— More than 34 million Americans are threatened by hunger. Eleven million people actually go hungry every year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Census Bureau)
— In the United States, nearly 21 percent of children under 18 are poor and 25 percent of children under 6 live in poverty. That is double the child-poverty rate of any other industrial country. (U.S. Census Bureau; Luxembourg Income Study)
— Nearly a quarter of the world’s inhabitants — 1.3 billion people — live in absolute poverty with incomes equivalent to less than $1 a day. (World Bank)
— About 841 million people in developing countries — one person in five — are chronically malnourished. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
Southern Baptists have a habit of reaching out to meet hunger needs. In 1998, they contributed nearly $9 million through the International Mission Board and more than $1 million through the North American Mission Board. Through August 1999, IMB has received $5.4 million and NAMB nearly $780,000. As usual, some of that is prompted by responses to various crises, both man-made and natural.
Christians are motivated to respond on two counts. First, we are moved when we see the needs of others. We try to stay informed about the condition of the human family, whether it is afflicted by spiritual or physical hunger, or both. Second, we are concerned and responsive because our leader, Jesus Christ, expects it of us. His words, "For I was hungry and you gave Me food" (Matt. 25:35), both challenge and motivate us.
We can’t claim to be fully genuine Christians if we only look inward. We look beyond ourselves because Jesus modeled such concern and behavior. Jesus’ words remind us that we will be accountable one day for our response to those in need — including starving and undernourished children and adults. When we are faithful in helping others escape hunger, it is as though we were sharing our resources with Christ Himself. "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matt. 25:40). To fail to help a starving person is to fail to minister to Christ.
The hunger problem is real. And even though the earth’s population is nearing 6 billion, the condition of world and domestic hunger not only is treatable but — according to experts — preventable. But it is a problem that won’t be solved on its own. And it won’t be solved by nations and governments alone. It may only be changed when the people of God are willing to change. For many of us, it may require a reordering of priorities in personal stewardship.
"For I was hungry and you gave Me food."
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.