Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

45 posts from December 2011

Educating the Future, One Child at a Time

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Screenshot from "Educate the Future" by the Global Campaign for Education.

“To get to school, I had to walk barefoot three miles, uphill both ways.”

You might be used to hearing this joke, poking fun at our parents’ and grandparents’ views on how “kids today” have got it so easy, compared to what they had to endure in order to receive an education. But all over the world, there are millions of “kids today” who are actually living this reality every day.

Around the world, 69 million children don’t have easy access to education, if they have the opportunity to go to school at all, according to the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), an organization dedicated to promoting access to education as a human right. Nearly 250 million children have to work in order to help their families get by, and it’s hard enough to study for hours without having to worry about helping your family pay their day to day bills … especially when you’re a child.

The GCE is trying to change those figures, by organizing faith-based groups, NGOs, foundations, teachers unions, and other organizations to create a coalition to advocate for a greater emphasis on education as a priority in poverty-focused development assistance.

In a new video showcasing some of the group’s youngest activists, teenage students stand in front of the Capitol building, spelling out “Education for All” with a paper-chain of links decorated by other supporters of the initiative.

One girl emphatically states that she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, but that she thinks that’s the beauty of education — because it gives her the opportunity to choose from so many potential career paths. For many children around the world, the chance to simply have a career is more than they can ask for.

Hopefully someday, the parents worldwide who had to say, “I walked miles without shoes to get to school,” will have children who will  someday joke about it as well—because everyone will have easy access to quality education, and “those days” will just be a memory.  

To learn more about the Global Campaign for Education, watch the video below or check out their website at campaignforeducation.org

Emily-Warner Emily Warne is a communications intern at Bread for the World.

 


Like Children, We Offer Ourselves to the Arms of God

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[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 9:8-17; Tuesday; Matthew 18:1-6; and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 13-17. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.] 

I reflect on today’s verses after Skyping with my sister and her 2-year-old son, Nathaniel, who live in Australia. The connection isn’t great: The picture is blurry, like I’m seeing my nephew’s face from a distance without my glasses, the edges all fuzzy. Even through this imperfect medium, the pleasure I feel when I see him is visceral. I feel delight, when he calls me by name, Aunty Nicki. I feel happiness, to see him wear the gift I sent him, a cowboy vest from Wyoming. I feel such pleasure to see that he looks so much like my sister, until he smiles, when he is suddenly the image of his father; and yet to know that he is entirely himself, a wholly unique little person.

As I read the verses, Nathaniel fills my head. Perhaps for this reason, the verses from Matthew resonate with me most in this moment, because they are so focused on children. These very familiar verses seem to give two distinct lessons, united by their context; first, that a person must humble themselves and become like a child to enter the Kingdom of God; and second, a dire warning against causing a child (or, by implication, anyone) to lose their faith. My reflections here are focused on the first question.

God’s great love for those who are least in the eyes of the world is one of the defining themes of the gospel. Obviously, and without question, we are called to humility. I wonder, though, what it means to humble oneself and become like a child? I’m no biblical scholar or historian, but my understanding is that the children of the Bible were deemed as chattel, the property of their parents. A rudimentary knowledge of the Proverbs suggests they were subject to the strictest discipline and obedience. They were also considered a great blessing from God, the hope and future of their families and communities. In a nutshell, it seems to me that they were both powerless and of enormous value.

Perhaps there is a lesson here. Perhaps God calls us, first, to own and acknowledge our weakness. Children are absolutely dependent, in ways that adults usually are not. In simplest terms, young children die if the adults in their life don’t provide food and clothing and shelter. And so, lacking the capacity to care for themselves, they give themselves up into their mothers’ arms. Perhaps this, then, is what it is about—recognizing that we cannot save ourselves. Though, for the most part we can feed and clothe ourselves and make choices for our lives, we are ultimately vulnerable. Life and death are out of our hands. And so, like children, we offer ourselves up into God’s arms.   

The Taize Community points out that, shortly before the exchange related in these verses, Jesus tells the disciples “The Son of Man is about to be handed over to those who will kill him,” (verses 22 and 23). It is little wonder that Jesus identifies with the child. Understanding that humans often crush the vulnerable, Jesus is approaching the moment of his greatest vulnerability. Thus, even God, the Lord of the Universe, models to us this humility he requires. He did it when he was born a baby to a poor, unwed mother. He did it again on the cross.

To cast us in the role of children, also speaks of the Lord’s relationship to us. Unless given reason not to, a child trusts its mother implicitly. A child trusts without thinking, without questioning. A child knows where comfort lies, where there is safety, where there is sustenance. It’s that simple.  

In this equation the mother, ostensibly, is the one with all the power. However, she is also vulnerable to her child, in a relationship of mutual dependence and mutual delight. Her own health and happiness are inexorably linked to her child’s, who is capable of bringing the greatest possible grief to her life—by death, yes, but also by rejection. When we long for God, when we look for God, does God feel the joy of a mother when her baby reaches out for her, milk drunk and rapturous? I believe God does. It is wondrous that the God of the Universe, the Almighty One, assumes this role of vulnerability, through God’s love for us.   

Nicki Gill is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

Works cited:  Taize Community. “Children: What does it Mean to Welcome God’s Kingdom Like a Child?” Taize. 13 Mar. 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2010.

Hunger QOTD: Norman Borlaug

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"If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time, cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace."

-Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

The Righteous Reign of the Coming King

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Photo by Flickr user  Slideshow Bruce

[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 9:1-7; Hebrews 12:18-29; and Matthew 21:23-32. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.] 

Three very different scenarios for this day. The passage from Isaiah originally served as an oracle for the coronation of a Judean king, possibly Hezekiah, and is describing events in a land eventually divided into three provinces by Assyrian kings on their way to the Mediterranean. The language includes an announcement of a divine birth that probably came from an Egyptian coronation ritual, but from our perspective can be read as the forecast of the birth of Jesus: "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God. Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

In the Letter to the Hebrews, by an unknown author, the text urges the faithful to follow Christ’s example and live as he did. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for indeed our God is a consuming fire. Not exactly a typical Sunday service.

Finally, in the passage from Matthews, following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus is asked by the chief priests in the Temple by what authority did he act and who gave him the authority, and responds by asking them whether John’s ministry was divine or merely human in its origin, to which the priests replied that they did not know, since the first answer would suggest they believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the second would anger those who believed in John being a messenger of God. Since the priests did not answer the question posed by Jesus on authority, Jesus said neither would he answer their question.

Prayer: Creator God, keep us mindful of the perseverance and messages of those who preceded us in our faith history.

Robert L. Doan is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

An Advent Lesson on Waiting

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Photo by Flickr user Pleuntje

[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.] 

Promises, promises. Most people in our United States, indeed even more people throughout the developing world, stake survival on the possibility that their lives will improve. For some, existence is reliant on the spirit within. The spirit of Christmas can inspire that hope, anticipation, and love.

The biblical passages that relate to today should cause us to rejoice in the majesty of God, to believe in miracles, and to have faith in Jesus. At the same time, James cautions patience. My heart turns to my friend Lynne who will be imprisoned for 10 years. Is it possible that even she can come to believe that there is purpose in her suffering and promise in her anticipation of life beyond this one? Or, more profound, is it possible that she will find miracles in the difficult life that she now knows? Isaiah predicts miracles—most remarkable, the birth of Jesus. He promises “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

In the passage from Psalm 146, we are encouraged to believe in these miracles predicted by Isaiah: “Happy are those whose help, … hope … faith (are) in the Lord my God.” Jesus will set the prisoners free, open the eyes of the blind, lift up those who are bowed down, watch over the sojourners, uphold the widow and the fatherless. These are the real gifts of Christmas.

But we Americans, who are married to possessions, captive of comforts, and lacking in patience, are strained to believe. As I examine the life of Lynne, I know that she believes her calling -- to serve as a defense lawyer of the downtrodden -- is finished. She has never been a patient person. So for Lynne, it is none of the material privileges that she is missing or longing for -- it is to achieve justice for “the least of us.” I have trouble imagining her ability to translate her incarceration as a Christmas gift.

Yet, her spirit may move her to exactly that. In the James passage, we learn that patience is in the waiting. We must always be preparing. James’s prophesies of foresight and insight might be the Christmas gifts we are all hoping for. He says, “… you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

Prayer (by Martin Luther King Jr.): Though we choose to walk in the footsteps of the condemned, we refuse to relinquish hope. Though we accept to accompany the ones who suffer, we do not yield to despair. Though we offer to help shoulder the burden of those rejected and excluded, we are not vanquished by death. Though we stand in solidarity and witness the persecution of the innocent, we are not resigned to apathy. Though we wrestle with our own guilt and complicity in the injustice that surrounds us, we refuse to be paralyzed. Though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we shall not fear for with you is found forgiveness and peace. Heal us with your forgiveness, calm us with your peace, inspire us with your love. Amen.

Beth DuMez is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

In Advocacy, 'Please' and 'Thank You' Have Power

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Image by Flickr user Jon Ashcroft

After their Offering of Letters last month, members of Friedens United Church of Christ decided to use the letters they wrote (about 40 total) as an opportunity to meet with Sen. Dan Coats’ (R-IN) local office in Indianapolis, IN. Mike Hastings, one of the leaders of the local Bread group that organized the Offering, recounts:

A couple of us met with Ginny Cain, the regional director for the senator. We had a very good meeting and were able to share an overview of Bread, the Offering of Letters, and our concerns about protecting poverty-focused foreign assistance that fosters development and helps end hunger.

However, the really neat part is that part-way through our meeting, a staffer named Anne stuck her head in and said that it was part of her job to read all the letters that come to the senator's office. She said they had received hundreds of letters from Bread for the World! Anne also said they had recently heard from many members thanking Senator Coats for protecting foreign aid funding for hungry people.

Wow. Clearly, the simple “please” and “thank you” made a big impact! It’s good to remember that our senators and representatives (and their staffers) are real people for whom, like us, a personal and respectful word goes a long way. And with the many pressures to do this or that, it’s nice to hear “thank you” once in a while, isn't it?

Great work to Mike Hastings and the “Indy Southside” Bread chapter on your Offering of Letters and meeting with your senator’s local office! And great work to “Hoosiers” across the state for your letters, emails, phone calls and meetings throughout the year!

The next time you and your congregation or group write letters, consider scheduling a meeting with your local office to deliver them. Click here for guidance on setting up a meeting. 

Zachary-schmidtZach Schmidt is central midwest organizer for Bread for the World.

 

 

In a Season of Joy, Remember the Persecuted

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Photo by Flickr user Cosima's Digital Designs

[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 7:10-25; Matthew 11:7-15; and Hebrews 10:32-39. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.] 

Two of today’s Advent passages are seasonally appropriate because the first passage is the prophecy of Jesus’s birth, and the second passage hints that he is the promised one. Then there’s the third passage. Who would have expected the season of joy and celebration to include a focus on “sufferings … abuse and afflictions?” The unknown writer of the letter to the Hebrews writes about these things, and leaves us to wonder, what relevance does this passage have for us? In the United States, I have never suffered abuse and afflictions for my faith. Teasing, perhaps, or awkward conversation, but I have never experienced real persecution.

But I know that there are hundreds of millions on this earth who have never experienced peace or an end to hunger or fear. For them, Christmas is still a time for suffering, regardless of the holiday. For Christians in Iraq, for example, their faith has put them in fear and danger, as it has our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters around the world, and even in our own neighborhood.

Is there nothing I can do about this? Perhaps there is. I can pray harder, give more generously, and most important, not just hear, but be the “voice of peoples long silenced.” I can speak out to my church and to our government when our national policies put people at risk. I can speak out in our own communities when we see intolerance at home.

Today’s scripture is instructive: “… sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction [ourselves], and sometimes being partners with those so treated.” When our brothers and sisters in Christ, or in common humanity, are abused or afflicted, we are called to be their partners.

Prayer: Loving God, please give us the courage and wisdom to be partners with your people in their suffering and oppression, and give us the words to be the voices of those long silenced.

Mary Krug is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

SNAP Gardens: Turning Food Stamps into Bountiful Gardens

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Daniel Bowman Simon founded SNAP Gardens earlier this year to let SNAP participants know that they can buy seeds with their benefits. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bowman Simon.

Earlier this year, New York City-based gardening advocate Daniel Bowman Simon remembered a woman he had met in a farmers market in 2008 who told him that she was on food stamps and was using some of her benefits to buy seedlings for gardening. Simon did some research and found that in 1973 an amendment was made to the 1964 Food Stamp Act that allowed participants to use their benefits to purchase seeds and food-producing plants.

Today, the food stamp program is called SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the 1973 amendment still applies. SNAP participants can indeed use their benefits to purchase seeds and grow a garden for their family.

Simon decided that more people needed to know about this benefit and began SNAP Gardens, which aims to raise awareness among SNAP recipients, gardeners, and the general public through beautifully designed posters, toolkits, and a short how-to video on easy gardening. SNAP Gardens recently received an Awesome Food grant of $1,000 to further its efforts.

I spoke with Simon on the phone this morning to get the lowdown on SNAP Gardens, why he started it, and what his plans are for the future. Read the interview below:

What was your inspiration for starting SNAP Gardens?

In 2008, I was at a farmers market and a woman approached me. She knew I was a garden advocate and she said that she was on food stamps and she was using some of her benefits to buy seedlings, but she didn’t know anybody else using their benefits that way. I said I’d get the word out. I started to look around and realized that it wasn’t anything that other groups seemed to be promoting. People around me who were gardeners didn’t know about this. People who were in food stamps didn’t know, and some people who I knew on the bureaucratic side didn’t know. So I thought maybe I should really focus on getting the word out and helping tell people it’s possible to garden, to grow some of their own food.

How do people respond when you tell them they can buy seeds and seedlings with their SNAP benefits?

A lot of people are surprised and I’ve met some people who are already interested gardeners and are on food stamps, and they say, how come nobody told me about this? The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

What is your vision for SNAP Gardens? What do you hope to accomplish?

This project is based on putting the spotlight on one piece of a much, much bigger program. The nature of SNAP is that it’s a program where people can make their own choices of what they want to do … so I’m putting useful information out there. I have gotten reports back from a few farmers markets in particular that they’ve definitely seen more people using SNAP for buying seedlings at the farmers markets now that they have the awareness.

It is still the case that people can buy plants. And although more expensive than seeds, plants offer a few advantages to seeds. Seedlings/plants have already germinated, which means one less step -- which can be a complicated step for some plant varieties. Also, seedlings/plants are closer to harvest than seeds, which means food will be on the table sooner!

Why would people buy seeds and seedlings with their benefits when they can buy already grown food?

That’s a fair question (laughing). If you’re trying to eat today, and you’re hungry -- to wait a while doesn’t necessarily seem like the most intuitive thing. But the way SNAP works, someone can decide if they want to start with one plant or two plants, so they can make a small decision and see if that works.  But if gardening is successful, a seed investment can provide a higher return on the investment. There’s an abundance that can be created and there’s a sense of pride that can emerge, and some added beauty.

Another thing that people don’t realize about SNAP is that benefits usually run out before the end of the month, but they are like cell phone minutes, so they can roll over. If you get a garden in and are not exhausting all of your benefits during months when the garden is productive, then they are accumulating more benefits that they can use when their garden isn’t productive.

Lastly, gardening is an activity that can help build community. For a lot of churches, synagogues, and  other faith-based locations, gardens are a way to use some of the other resources that gardening requires that a church congregation might already have and build up more connection between members.

Can you share a story of a person who has been impacted by the work of SNAP Gardens?

 I’ve known a woman who has been gardening for 40 years. I got an email from her and she said, “I just called a friend on food stamps and asked her if she knew about this, and she was really excited.” This kind of word-of-mouth is great for people to find out what they need to know about gardening with food stamps.

What comes to mind is a great quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He says, “A great fact of much import to the new philosophical opinions is the garden discovery that a potato put into a hole, in six weeks becomes ten. This is the miracle of the multiplication of loaves.”

Jeannie-choiJeannie Choi is associate editor of Bread for the World. To learn more about SNAP Gardens, visit their website.


Hunger QOTD: Mother Teresa

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Photo by Flickr user fox_kiyo

"Hungry for love, He looks at you. Thirsty for kindness, He begs of you. Naked for loyalty, He hopes in you. Homeless for shelter in your heart, He asks of you. Will you be that one to Him?"

--Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers 

 

A Lesson from the Wise Men: Bearing One Another's Burdens

111208-wisemen[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Galatians 6:1-10; Matthew 11:1-6; Isaiah 7:1-9. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]

Bearing one another’s burdens is a bit like the inverse of exchanging Christmas gifts; rather than giving someone something at a time of joy, we offer to take someone’s burden during a time of a need. We offer to lift the load someone carries, such as the pain, guilt, or regret she cannot shrug off.

Buying a present seems so much simpler. Once unwrapped, the exchange is complete.  Bearing a burden for someone, on the other hand, is an ongoing arrangement.  It’s a commitment of empathy and support. It’s easy to tell ourselves that our own burdens are more than enough. Or we couldn’t possibly help anyway, so why get involved?

But what better time is there than Christmas to remember that God does not call us to a life of pursuing individual plans in disconnected ways? Christmas is a time to try to rebuild and expand communities, bringing together loved ones in celebration.

The crèche (or nativity scene) is one of my favorite reminders of community at Christmastime. Wise men from the east stand alongside shepherds and barnyard animals. These unusual suspects are brought together by the marvel of our savior -- the baby Jesus -- wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And not only do the wise men arrive from distant origins to witness and worship the Messiah, but they do so after a long and difficult journey.  Surely they felt weary and dispirited along the way. 

As I look toward Christmas this year, I feel a little weary myself. Some days, there doesn’t seem to be any hope for affecting change, or for transforming the world. And so Paul’s call to “not grow weary in doing what is right” rings true, as does his call to act upon moments of opportunity to work for the good of all.

In this Advent, let us stay alert to opportunities, knowing that God calls us to seek out ways of bringing hope to our broken world.  Let us remember and celebrate the way that a baby, born in a manger, could change everything. And amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, I hope that the nativity scene can be a constant reminder not to grow weary, but to be resolved to search for those moments to bear another’s burdens and to build God’s community.

Prayer: God of all seasons, help us to not grow weary, but to be perseverant in pursuing opportunities to show your love and bring about your vision for our world. Compel us to carry one another’s burdens and work for the good of all. Give us the strength of spirit to start each day in this Advent season with a renewed sense of opportunity and of hope, celebrating the coming of our Lord Jesus. Amen.

Kristin Ford is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.

Photo by Flickr user Elessar.

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