Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

36 posts from April 2011

Have All Been Served? Lenten Devotions

Monday, April 18

At the close of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, a simple question: “Have all been served?”

In a larger sense, this is the question we maintain must be asked during this challenging budget and deficit debate.

By now, tens of thousands have joined the praying and fasting in the hunger fast campaign to provide a “circle of protection” around vulnerable people. We pray and fast to God, continually asking the question—on a global scale—“have all been served?”

It was my privilege to attend the March 28, 2011, press conference where this campaign was announced. Since then, I have been on a “third meal” fast, speaking, preaching, song-leading, and facilitating Offerings of Letters in a variety of congregations.

In these events I excitedly assist people of all ages as they awaken to their vocation and a new/renewed sense of advocacy. This awakening comes about by the simple, worshipful act of writing a letter to their elected official(s).

The similarity of the words “vocation” and “advocacy”—and their common Latin root of vocare or “calling”—is striking. It is simply not enough to be called. The fullness of our calling comes when we speak/act/sing/write/express our calling on behalf of others.

This is advocacy. Speaking on behalf of others. Asking if all have been served, if all have received what they need. In a world of abundance, all should have access to what they need.

During 2010, with the assistance of Bread for the World Institute and thousands of individuals and groups around the world, I produced ...until all are fed, an independent project of music for worship with the topic of hunger and hunger action. The title track is my way of singing an answer to the question, “Have all been served?”

verse 3:
How can we stand by/And fail to be aghast?
How long 'til we do what's right?
How could we stand by/And choose a lesser fast?
How long 'til we see the light?

Until all are fed we cry out./Until all on earth have bread.
Like the One who loves us each & every one.../We serve until all are fed.

We serve because we have been served AND because we are sent to serve.

This is our fast.
This is our prayer.
This is our calling.
This is our vocation.
This is our advocacy.

Bread for the World member Rev. Bryan McFarland is a PCUSA Hunger Action Advocate in North Carolina and an independent singer, songwriter, and producer.

Hosanna in the Highest: Lenten Devotions

Sunday, April 17

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, a week of solemn wonder, observed by Christians since the early centuries of the church. It is a week of sorrow and suffering, leading unavoidably through the cross, with the joyful celebration of the resurrection on the other side.

This week, we invite you into solemn wonder over what God has done and what that means for us here and now. Today, we invite you to read the story of Jesus’ triumphal and fateful entry into Jerusalem, knowing what awaited him there.

Mark 11:1-11 (NRSV):

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’”

They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”

They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Let Us Bring Good News: Lenten Devotions

Saturday, April 16

Before he began his ministry, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. The devil tested his faith, yet Jesus chose to stay true to the Father. At the end of this trial, the angels of the Lord ministered to him. That wilderness experience strengthened his resolve to do what God had called him to do. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus went to a synagogue in his hometown, and before the community that had gathered, he proclaimed:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

In a time where slavery was commonplace, the poor were abused and cheated of their earnings, where people were brutally suppressed, imprisoned, tortured, and crucified even, if they spoke out against how heavily they were taxed, Jesus made a dangerous and seemingly foolish prophetic declaration. Who was this man to speak in such a forthright fashion? Who was this man to stand on the side of the least of these? Who was this man to speak against the unjust decisions the authorities made?

As Christians, we believe this man is the living God. And we spend 40 days in the wilderness of Lent focusing on prayer, fasting, repentance, acts of charity, and justice in order to draw closer to him. We enter into Lent, earnestly striving to mature in our faith so we can truly be impelled by the same Spirit that moved Jesus.

Let us be like Jesus. Let us come out of this wilderness experience with resolve, knowing that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us. Yes, let us bring good news to the poor.

Flavia De Souza is Northeast field organizer with Bread for the World.

Where Face Paint and Foreign Aid Meet

When God calls us to “open wide” our hands to the needy and poor in our land (Deuteronomy 15) and pour ourselves out for the hungry (Isaiah 58), God leaves the specifics up to us. We can respond in myriad ways: We can attend rallies, write letters, make calls, and arrange meetings with our legislators. We can give to aid organizations, donate to the food pantry, or volunteer at the local soup kitchen. 

We can even take those dictates literally by actually sharing a meal with hungry people. For example, in Cambridge I’ve had the pleasure of befriending Engio, who has a predilection for cheeseburgers; Mike, who likes to eat chicken fried rice with his hands; and Harold, a gourmand who loves to make his own pizza—and who was so aghast at my weekly spam and rice dinners that he once surprised me with a grocery bag full of fresh foods, including fruit, pie, and pre-cooked chicken wings. “Anything but spam, please!” he said. Given his nonexistent income, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. 

Yet most of these responses, at least for me, preclude participation from my large and rather diverse network of friends. Few—including myself, I admit—are super excited to give up part of their workday to visit their senators or representative at the local office, for example. Food pantries can accommodate only so many volunteers each evening, and outside of church and campus, there are few natural opportunities to organize an Offering of Letters. 

As I celebrated my 26th birthday this year, however, I decided to put another spin on responding biblically to hunger by fusing fun with purpose: I threw a huge party. 

At 26, there was surprisingly little on my birthday wish list—AmeriCorps stipend and food stamps notwithstanding—though I admit it helps that God has blessed me with relatively good health and a childlike affinity for low-cost activities, such as kite-flying and playing with the local stray cat, Mr. Tinkles. Besides, I had already managed to procure animal crackers, juice boxes, and even my favorite dessert—pecan pie—for my “Back to Childhood”-themed birthday party. 


Instead of asking for presents or cards, I invited my friends to come bearing costumes and a different kind of gift—a letter for their senator or representative advocating for the prioritization and reform of foreign aid. I tracked their gifts on a Google doc I shared with them and, for those who hadn’t had time to write their letters, set up a letter-writing station right next to our face-painting station and our smorgasbord of Yoohoos, Twizzlers, and Junior Scrabble Cheez-its. (I admit that the childhood theme doesn’t make for the healthiest party foods.)

With preprinted letter templates, pens, and paper, all it took was five minutes for my friends to handwrite a letter. In the end, I collected a whopping 30 letters from friends across six different states. 

My party took place the day before my actual birthday, and I ended up spending much of my birthday tracking their letters, stuffing envelopes, looking up mailing addresses, and placing adhesive stamps—all over bites of leftover pecan pie, of course. 

And in the end, I couldn’t have imagined a more meaningful way to celebrate turning 26. 

Ada Wan is a Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader from Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Visio Divina: Lenten Devotions

Friday, April 15

We continue following the story of Jesus’ final hours, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, with Mark 15:33-39 (NRSV).

Jesus staring Visio divina (divine seeing) is a form of practice where one prays with art or other visual media. When accompanied with lectio divina (divine reading), it can be a powerful connecting experience and a way to go deeper into scripture by using all your senses.

Read the scripture for the week and focus on one word that touches you deeply. Pray and ruminate on the word, allowing thoughts, images, and questions to open up a dialogue with God.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

View the artwork, continue praying, and feel free to journal while you pray to help you experience the dialogue between you, God, the scripture, and the image.

Ask God to open your heart to what God wants you to see. What new feelings are you experiencing in response to seeing? What does the image remind you of? What do you like or dislike about the image, and how does that connect to your values or assumptions? How does the image or story connect to your own life or the world around you? Is there an action that God wants you to take or a transformation that you need to make in your heart? Finally, end your prayer by feeling the full power of God’s love and grace.

This watercolor is my interpretation based on feelings that arose during my own reading of the scripture. If you want to go further, create your own image as it relates to your experience of meditating on the crucifixion narration.

Robin Stephenson is a Western regional organizer for Bread for the World and in her spare time likes to dabble in watercolors.

“Forsaken,” by Robin Stephenson.



‘Why Have You Forsaken Me?’ Lenten Devotions

Thursday, April 14

We continue following the story of Jesus’ final hours, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, with Mark 15:33-39 (NRSV).

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Are there words or phrases that impact you in this passage?

Who is forsaken and crying out today for God's salvation among your family and friends? At work? In your neighborhood? In our world?

Are your eyes open for opportunities to relieve suffering, or do you find yourself content to wait on others to respond?

What barriers separate you from experiencing God's fullness? What barriers must be torn down to unleash God's kingdom and power more fully in our world?

What quality of Jesus' death do you think convinced the centurion that he was God's Son? What quality of his life do you strive to imitate?

Greg Sims is Southeast field organizer with Bread for the World. 

40 Letters in 40 days: Lenten Devotions

Wednesday, April 13

 Check out this status update from Robyn Hartwig, associate pastor at St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Beaverton, OR:

“Inspired by our congregation's letter-writing campaign with Bread for the World to help reform foreign aid to make it more effective at reducing poverty, I am taking on letter-writing to public officials as my Lenten discipline. I need 40 letters in 40 days, so please share your current policy concerns (preferably those with current policy decisions pending) for which I might write additional letters. Thanks!”

As Lent winds down, we invite you to take up the “discipline” of letter-writing to elected officials. Will you commit to writing one letter? Five letters? What “current policy concerns” will you write about?

Robin Stephenson is Western field organizer with Bread for the World.

Song as Prayer: Lenten Devotions

Tuesday, April 12

Taize As we journey through Lent as a community, our fasting and prayers have also reminded us of the people in our world who do not have enough. Rather than the smooth, cool path we may have hoped to experience with Lent, we have been faced with decision makers tempted to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable.

In the face of struggle and uncertainty, let this moment be a time to celebrate the thousands of people who have united in a call for justice through prayer and fasting, as well as a time of prayer for our decision makers.

Read or sing the following stanza several times in prayer. Taken from the Taizé community in France, this meditative singing becomes a way of listening to God.

The kingdom of God is justice and peace
And joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come, Lord, and open in us,
The gates of your kingdom.

Watch this song being sung, or see the sheet music here.

Sarah Rohrer is North Central field organizer for Bread for the World.

Photo credit: Winam

Hunger in the News: Budget Policy Battles


Obama to Call for Broad Plan to Reduce Debt.  President Obama will call this week for Republicans to join him in writing a broad plan to raise revenues and reduce the growth of popular entitlement programs …. [The New York Times]

Fiscal War's Next Front: Debt Ceiling. As they work to clear the decks of last year’s spending bills and start the fight over this year’s batch, President Barack Obama and Congress are scrambling to gain a political edge on what has been termed the “Armageddon” of budget policy battles—an increase in the statutory cap on the national debt. [Politico]

Budget Rivals Look to Future of Medicare, Medicaid. As Capitol Hill negotiators fleshed out details of last week's epic budget deal, Democrats and Republicans prepared for the next set of confrontations over federal spending, including the future of Medicare and Medicaid. [The Los Angeles Times]

Food Prices around Boulder, Nation Taking a Bigger Bite from Your Wallet. While the costs of food commodities like potatoes rise and fall throughout the year, the cost of processed foods, like potato chips, are what economists term "sticky"—they're slower to rise, but not as likely to fall once they've risen. [Daily Camera]

Farm Subsidies: Sacred Cows No More. The hunt for cuts has come to this: Even agriculture subsidies—billions in spending both parties have embraced for years—are on the table. With the farm economy booming and Washington on a diet, a program set up in the 1990s that cuts checks to farmers could be trimmed or eliminated next year when Congress writes a new five-year farm bill. [The Wall Street Journal]

Ros-Lehtinen Brings Anti-communist Fervor to Once-Staid Committee. Ros-Lehtinen’s six-year effort to free a man she considered an innocent political prisoner—despite what the Venezuelan courts ruled—was emblematic of her crusading political style. A tough critic of left-wing governments such as Venezuela’s, she believes U.S. leaders should be a voice for freedom and aggressively call out human rights violations. [The Washington Post]


Food for Thought. Alistair Wood used to know exactly where his crops would end up. For the last 30 years on his 8,000 acre arable farm in Northern Kenya, he's only found one market at harvest: The local population or their animals. Now his wheat and corn could just as easily be sold onto the world's biofuels market to satisfy the growing demand for energy. [The Wall Street Journal]

Bailout for Portugal Will Put Politicians in a Vise. To secure a bailout worth about €80 billion, Portugal may have to agree to international creditors’ demands that it impose tougher austerity measures than those its own lawmakers rejected less than a month ago. [The New York Times]

King of the Jews: Lenten Devotions

Monday, April 11

Crown of thorns We continue following the story of Jesus’ final hours, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, with Mark 15:25-32 (NRSV).

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.

Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”

In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

So many witnesses to the crucifixion devised their own test for Jesus to prove his deity. What tests do we ourselves design for God?

To the chief priests observing the crucifixion, Jesus’ inability to save himself was a sign of his failure. Why is so much importance attached to self-preservation? Do we make similar judgments?

Jesus was crucified alongside common criminals. How much do we allow association to color our image of Jesus? Others?

This passage ends by telling us that those who were crucified with Jesus also taunted him. When we are hurt or wronged, what is our attitude toward others who are wronged?

David Maus is Upper Midwest and Plains field organizer for Bread for the World.

Photo credit: snow41

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