Imagine 100 cities the size of New York City, all bunched together in one location. One by one, the people walk by you, begging for a piece of bread or chunk of cheese. And imagine that happening again tomorrow, and the next day and the next.
It is a fact. Every day, 842 million people in the world are hungry. More than one in five children in the U.S. live in households that struggle to put food on the table. If you doubt this fact, contact your local school and ask what percent of your school district’s children qualify for free lunches.
In some future time, when archeologists and historians study the 21st century, I believe they will ask the question, “Why did Christians not do more about global hunger?”
Don’t get me wrong. Many wonderful things are happening within congregations to feed hungry people. Your church may have a food pantry or an after-school program. I am proud to say the church I serve helps with “buddy packs” during the summer — providing lunches for children who count on free meals during the school year. We also offer a community meal twice a month on Thursday nights to homeless and needy friends. As many as 80 show up regularly for these occasions. I am also thankful for community agencies, including the area food bank. Through all of these efforts, many people are fed.
But these efforts involve charity. There is a difference between charity and justice. Charity treats symptoms; justice addresses causes. A well-worn but appropriate analogy goes like this: A church may stand on the riverbank, rescuing children who have been mercilessly thrown into the current. But eventually, the church should go upstream and ask, “What is creating this crisis? Who is throwing babies in the river?”
I recently took part in the 40th anniversary gathering of Bread for the World in Washington, D.C. Bread for the World is a non-partisan, Christian citizens’ movement that has one goal — to influence public policy in such a way that we end hunger worldwide by 2030. Bread’s founder Art Simon and current president David Beckmann co-authored a book in which they aptly describe the two legs that offer hope for the world’s hungry: One leg is charity and the other is public policy (working for justice). We need both.
During my time in the capital, I was able to visit with several of Missouri’s congressional delegation or their staff members to discuss steps Congress can take that would cut the cost of feeding hungry people while feeding more in the process. In other words, there are ways to use fewer of our tax dollars to do more good. If you want more details on how that can happen, contact me or look at Bread’s website (bread.org).
Since more could be done with no additional cost, you might ask why it isn’t happening. This would seem like a no-brainer — even for Washington! Sadly, there are several reasons. Here are two. One, hunger isn’t enough of a national priority, so legislators do not have it on their “values” list. Two, special interest lobbies are stronger and more passionate about their point of view than Christians are about ours.
We are called by God to speak truth to power and be the voice of the voiceless. Are we speaking up? I have timed it. In less than two minutes, I can email or call my senators or congressman in Washington. In about 120 seconds, we can tell those in the capital who work for us that hunger is a priority to us as voting citizens.
Here is another challenge. Write on a piece of paper the following: The number 842 million (the number of people in the world who are hungry). Or write the figure $1.25 (nearly 1.5 billion in the world live on this amount per day). Or put on the sheet the number 16,000 (the number of children who die each day from hunger-related causes). Now place that slip of paper on your refrigerator. Each trip to your refrigerator will be an opportunity to think and pray about these things.
God cares deeply about physical as well as spiritual hunger. Jesus did not divide human beings up into sections and say, “I care about getting people into heaven, but not about their empty stomachs.” It mattered to God that the Hebrew people, wandering in the wilderness, were famished. He gave them manna. It mattered to Jesus that 5,000 people were hungry, and so he fed them with five loaves and two fish. It matters to God and to Jesus that people are hungry today.
The question is: Does it matter to us?
Doyle Sager (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo.