Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

7 posts from March 2009

Urgent Action: Prevent $4 billion cut in International Affairs

Please call your senators by noon Eastern Time, Thursday, April 2, at 1-800-826-3688.  Ask them to support the Kerry-Lugar amendment to restore $4 billion to the International Affairs Budget and oppose any further cutting amendments.

Current co-sponors include: Kerry, Lugar, Feinstein, Voinovich, Brown, Casey, Durbin, Sanders, Menendez, Leahy, Lieberman, Dodd, Kaufman, Corker.

[Note: This toll-free number will connect you to the Capitol switchboard, where you will ask to be connected to your senator's office in order to leave your message.]

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First Test on Global Poverty

Ruth Messinger reflects on the new adminstration's first test on global poverty in today's Huffington Post.  Full post here.

The Judeo-Christian tradition compels us to prioritize the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, whether in our own country or internationally. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is the best interests of our nation that we reach out to the rest of the world at this time. President Obama's administration represents a new opportunity to restore our moral standing in the world. Recognizing and responding to the increased hardship in developing countries caused by an economic crisis not of their making will be the first test of the administration's commitment to addressing global poverty.

Daffodils, Cheesecake and the Emerging Church

Emerging26What is the relationship between daffodils and cheesecake? They both served as centerpieces at a recent conference about the Emerging Church, sponsored by the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque.  Both are also very powerful symbols of a very rich weekend of reflections and sharing. 

The cheesecake (and the chocolate cake) that were offered for dessert after the Saturday evening meal seemed a little too rich to eat all at once.  This was the case with the flow of ideas and discussions.

The daffodils, a common symbol of spring, represented the sense of rebirth, convergence, and emergence that emanated from the discussions. 

At the risk of leaving out important pieces of information, I will attempt to briefly address the spirit of the discussions.  The obvious question: What is it that the church in all its various manifestations and denominations is "emerging" from?  I can answer this in one word: institutionalism. 

Emerging16

But it goes even beyond that.  Presenters like Alexie Torres-FlemingShane Claiborne and Karen Sloan suggested that our motivation must change from being simply "fans" of Jesus to truly become "followers" of Jesus.  This means that the values that were most dear to Jesus, such as walking with the poor and simplicity, must become the center of our own faith experience.

One of the presenters noted an inscription on a banner that said "How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?"

Presenter Phyllis Tickle quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that church had become a place to go more than a people to be.

But as Father Richard Rohr, Rev. Brian McLaren and the other presenters warned us, it's not about creating a new institution, but about promoting a conversion within our own existing structures.  We see our discontent as the very reason we engage the church not disengage.

Shane Claiborne put it in a different and more humorous way: The way I see it isEmerging14 like Noah's Ark.  It stinks inside.  But if you get out, you drown.
 
The discussion, in fact, is about whether we should even call it "emerging church" or "emergent church."  A common suggestions is to call the movement "emerging Christianity"

The passion for change is reaching across the spectrum of Christian denominations, from the liturgical (Roman Catholic-Anglican/Episocpalian) to the Emerging23 reformation denominations (Lutheran, United Methodist, Presbyterian, etc..) to Charismatic, Evangelical and other traditions.  All were represented at the conference. 

In addition to the rich variety of traditions, the event attracted scores of younger persons (under 40), who are drawn to this emerging way of looking at spiritual growth that promotes linking contemplation (a deep personal relationship with the creator) with solidarity with those who are disenfranchised; social justice and holistic mission; and the creation of authentic community. 

To get a greater sense of the movement, I recommend that you read the October-December issue of Radical Grace, where the presenters offered their reflections.  The Emergent Village blog also deals extensively with the subject of Emerging Church and Emerging Christianity

Bread for the World's Role


Emerging4 So, in the larger scheme of things, how does this apply to our work at Bread for the World?  We are still trying to figure out where our movement fits in this transition. 

But I do have one clear example.  A Bread for the World member from a community in central New Mexico mentioned to me that it would be difficult to set up an Offering of Letters at his church because of opposition from the higher-ups. 

But in our discussion, we agreed that for now, letter-writing would not have to be confined to the institution, but that members could meet in community to write letters. By doing this, they would at least have some members of the church writing letters instead of not being able to use their advocacy gifts on behalf of the poor. And hopefully, the small letter-writing activity could become a stepping stone to eventually bring it to the full church.

Additionally, Bread for the World is in the process of reviewing its grassroots organizing strategies, and the values and recent trends related to the Emerging Church/Emerging Christianity are sure to become part of the conversation.

Alternabreak 2009

Last week I participated in a week-long program called alternabreak sponsored by The Hart Volunteer Center at Pomona College. Alternabreak stands for alternative spring break, a community engagement-focused trip for students motivated to give service and learn more about the surrounding communities over their spring break. Participants travel to Los Angeles, San Diego, or San Francisco and engage in projects ranging from work with community farms to construction projects to food banks. I decided to participate in the Los Angeles trip because I wanted to raise my awareness about the issues LA faces today by being there physically, even for a short period of time. It was a very constructive and fun week, so I wanted to share a bit about my experience.

The organizations we worked with include Union Rescue Mission, Communities for a Better Environment, Community Service Unlimited, Inc. and Ronald McDonald House. At Union Rescue Mission we helped prepare and serve a meal for the guests on two different days. On both days we saw many needy families lining up to receive their meals. In recent months, the number of families seeking assistance from URM has risen 400 percent; the number of meals served per day nearly doubled; and the number of food boxes given out to local residents is up 7 times. URM is one of the largest rescue missions of its kind in the United States and the oldest in Los Angeles, providing both emergency and long-term solutions to homelessness particularly on Skid Row. As an intern for Bread, I learned about hunger issues through readings and conversations with organizers, but to see homeless parents and their children firsthand was an eye-opening experience.

The projects we worked on through these various organizations constantly reminded me of Bread and Bread’s mission, as we all share a commitment to community engagement and real change for justice. As Carlos commented in his last entry, we are not alone in our efforts. Whether it be hunger justice, environmental justice, or social justice, we are all working toward a better world in the biggest sense and we should cherish and take advantage of this connection we share.

Reforming Foreign Aid: We're All in this Together

I was gratified when I received an e-mail from another justice-oriented organization (Oxfam America) this week talking about an "impressive group of over 140 businesses, non-profits and former leaders from the government and military" who had signed a letter urging President Barack Obama and Congress to make modernization of our foreign assistance programs a priority.  It also urges that global development become a "co-equal pillar" of U.S. foreign policy alongside defense and diplomacy. 

Sound familiar?  Of course.  This is what we're urging congregations and groups around the country to write in their letters to Congress through our 2009 Offering of Letters.  

Listed among the more than 140 groups and individuals signing the letter is Bread for the World, represented by our president David Beckmann.  The group is actually part of a coalition known as the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN).

What is gratifying about this letter is that it is a reminder that we're not alone in this effort.  Many other organizations who have in the past joined with us in The ONE Campaign are also involved in MFAN and have signed this letter, including secular and denominational partners.  This letter could potentially give some of our denominational partners the opportunity to use the Bread for the World 2009 Offering of Letters to encourage their constituents participate in the effort to reform foreign aid.

With all these voices joining in the call to improve foreign assistance, I think we have a good chance of making it happen.

Starvation and Struggle in Kenya

Two articles published last month describe some of the dire problems facing Kenya. One article was from The New York Times and the other from The Washington Post. Ten million people face starvation in this East African country, partly due to the absence of farmers in crucial food-producing areas who fled their homes last year and have not returned due to threats from ethnic conflicts. Top Kenyan politicians, who are among the highest paid in the world (even though Kenya is one of the world’s poorest countries), have been implicated in scandals involving tourism, fuel, guns and corn. The United Nations had to request the resignation of the country’s policy chief and attorney general after an investigation revealed that more than 500 people had been killed by police death squads. Tourism has gone down about 35 percent in 2008 compared with 2007, leaving even more people unemployed. Most of Kenya’s politicians are avoiding urgent issues like ethnic conflict, land reform, constitutional reform, and the dangerous culture of impunity.

To make things worse, a virulent new version of a deadly fungus called stem rust is ravaging wheat in Kenya’s most fertile fields and threatening one of the world’s principal food crops. Although farmers thought they had defeated this fungus 50 years ago, researchers in South Africa and Minnesota discovered that stem rust had acquired the ability to break through the resistance that had protected wheat for decades. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, eighty percent of Asian and African wheat varieties are now susceptible to stem rust. Since the fungus had spread to Iran, the FAO warned last March that “Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, all major wheat producers, are more threatened by the fungus and should be on high alert.” Following last year’s grain scarcity and food riots, the budding epidemic displays the fragility of the food supply in poor countries and show how vulnerable the ever-growing global population might be to deadly pathogens. Throughout the developing world and particularly in Kenya, hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers are vulnerable to such dangers.

Let us offer our prayers to Kenya and all those suffering from hunger-related problems throughout the world, and hope that international cooperation will help solve these problems.

FY 2009 Ominibus Bill

The fiscal 2009 omnibus spending package that was passed in the House last Wednesday calls for a total budget of $36.62 billion for the State and Foreign Operations, of which $16.82 billion would go to PFDA (Poverty-Focused Development Assistance) according to Bread’s preliminary calculations. This represents a $1.39 billion increase in PFDA over 2008 levels. Almost every single account within PFDA received an increase and USAID Operating Expenses received almost a $179 million increase over fiscal year 2008. This will allow them to continue with their Development Leadership Initiative to hire more capable development expertise and build USAID capacity. The omnibus also brings new attention to agriculture, increasing the funding for agriculture development by nearly $100 million to total $375 million. The bill also includes a $75 million food security fund and calls for the Administration to develop a full Global Food Security Strategy “specifying the intended country beneficiaries, amounts of funding, types of activities to be funded, and expected quantifiable results.” 

President Obama also released his budget blueprint for fiscal year 2010 last Thursday, announcing a $4.5 billion increase over fiscal year 2009 for the State and Foreign Operations including emergency spending. A more detailed budget will likely not be released until mid-April.

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