Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

48 posts from February 2013

Lenten Reflections: Without a Psalm

'Day 27: Psalm for the Day' photo (c) 2010, truds09 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Sunday, Feb. 24

Gen. 5:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27                                                        
Luke 13: 31-35
Phil. 3:17-4: 1

By Mary Krug    

 Today’s passages did not hold a great deal of inspiration for me.  The Genesis selection is a genealogy, one male after another living 800 years each.  In Luke, Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ warning that Herod seeks to kill him, telling them that “I must go on my way … for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Paul reminds the Philippians “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” And that leaves the Psalm. 

I am always grateful for a Psalm, and I do not know what I would do without them, in fear, or sorrow, and especially in joy and praise.  I never feel that I am able to praise and thank God adequately.  As I walk up my long driveway from the mailbox each day, flanked by ancient trees towering above me, surrounded by woods and wildlife, I am awed by the setting in which God allows me to live. "WOW!" is a meager and unsatisfying expression of wonder and gratitude.  I simply cannot find the right words to express my sense of blessing.  And when the curse of depression threatens to overcome me, again words fail me, it is so hard to ask "why?" or beg help.

Thank God for the Psalms.  Where would I be without a Psalm?  As I contemplated that question, an old song came into mind, “Without a Song,” by George Benson:  I'll never know what makes the rain to fall; I'll never know what makes the grass so tall; I only know there ain't no love at all; Without a song!  And even emptier, without a Psalm.

At weddings, at funerals, in joy or pain or fear or gratitude, we turn to the Psalms. What we cannot express from the depths of our souls, they do for us. Today’s Psalm 27 covers a gamut of emotions, as David expresses, first, unconditional trust and joy, then a longing to "behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple."  God is 'light", "salvation," and "strength."  But in the second half, verses 7-14, despair and fear set in. Trust continues, however. David is not afraid to reveal his heart and mind to God.

Sometimes, familiarity may make us miss the depths that we find in the center of our Bibles. These are not Hallmark sentiments.  They are real, they are emotional, they are human, and they are a gift. They remind us that God is not some distant being out in the stars, but, for the Psalmists, Someone to praise, to worship, yes, but also to wrestle with, sometimes to accuse or harangue, or question, but always trust.

Lord God, thank you for the gift of Psalms, that express for us our deepest feelings, of love, of trust, of awe and wonder, of fear and anger and despair, all of those too-human needs that we cannot find the words to express or comprehend. Amen. 

Mary Krug is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

Lenten Reflections: Amazing Faith

'Lent votives' photo (c) 2012, Jamie - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013

Judges 13:1-14
Mark 2:23-3:6
Hebrews 5:1-10

By Leigh Hildebrand

Excerpts from the Judges text:  The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.  There was a certain man…whose name was Manoah.  His wife was barren, having borne no children.  And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son.  Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean…No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth.  It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” 

Then the woman came and told her husband “A man of God came to me and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; but he said to me, “You shall conceive and bear a son.”

What people of faith Manoah and his wife were.  Sadly, we do not know her name (and that is a  different topic of discussion), but we know that God chose to bless her with a son—Samson. The Israelites had been captives of the Philistines for 40 years, but God had not abandoned them.  Now if I were this woman—who was not free and who hadn’t been able to bear a child her whole life—I might have laughed out loud if an angel approached me and said “you will conceive and bear a son.”  Her response wasn’t “Huh?” or “What are you talking about?” She didn’t even ask him who he was.  She had no question or disbelief at all—that is some amazing faith!!

During Lent and other times in our lives when we are feeling low and forgotten by God, we should remember the amazing faith of Manoah and his wife.  It was because of their complete trust in God and obedience to his instruction that Samson grew strong and powerful and was able to follow through on God’s plan.

Even Jesus was required to show his faith in God’s plan on the way to becoming our Savior.  The Hebrews passage teaches that “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

Dear Lord, Help us to trust you and have faith in your plan for us, even when we feel alone and when the way forward is hard.                                      

Leigh Hildebrand is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

Lenten Reflections: The Discipline of Kindness

'Helping hand' photo (c) 2011, Judit Klein - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Friday, Feb. 22, 2013

Lectionary passages:

Judges 12: 1-7
Mark 2: 13-22
Hebrews 4: 11-16

By Helen Joseph

In studying the three Bible passages above, several important lessons came to light—all of them pertinent today. In the verses from Judges, Jephthah led Israel’s forces in a victory over the enemy, the Ammonites. Shortly after this he was involved in war with the tribe of Ephraim over a misunderstanding. The men of Ephraim were upset that they were not included in the battle against the Ammonites, but Jephthah said he had called them to help. This misunderstanding led to the deaths of thousands. Communication is such a key issue in relationships. So many unfortunate things can happen if we don’t communicate and try to “hear” what someone is saying.

The passage from Mark cites some events in the life of Jesus that help reveal who he really is.  The actions of Jesus speak much louder than any words. In those days, tax collectors were hated by the Jews because of their reputation for cheating and their support of Rome. The Pharisees were upset when they saw Jesus dining with many tax collectors and sinners. Are we guilty of avoiding certain people because of generalizations? In the end of this passage Jesus tells us not to put new wine in old wineskins.  In other words, be flexible and open to accepting Jesus’ message that will change our lives.

In Hebrews, we are reminded that the “word of God is living and active” and “before him no creature is hidden." He knows us so well, but loves us still.  We should take comfort in the fact that when Jesus was on Earth he experienced many temptations, so he can sympathize with us when we make mistakes.

The following prayer is from an unknown author.

PRAYER:  Lord, I am called to kindness each day, but there are days that this call seems beyond my abilities or my discipline.  And there are days when I simply don’t want to be kind— not to him or to her.  Or, I simply want to be witty and humorous—even if it is at the expense of another.  I want to be smart and incisive, even at the cost of someone’s feelings.  Help me to remember that my call is to be kind, as you were kind.

Help me to practice the discipline of kindness—of putting others first and thinking of how I can offer your love to them.  May your kindness touch those I meet, through my words and deeds.  Amen.

Helen Joseph is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

A Hunger for Advocacy: Derick Dailey

Derick Dailey2
   Derick Dailey teaches a Bible study class at Bethel A.M.E. Church in New Haven, Conn. A seminary student at Yale University, Derick learned about sharing his bounty from his grandmother as he was growing up in Little Rock, Ark. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

The Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof ....
—Psalm 24:1

When Derick Dailey’s grandmother passed away in August 2012, he was asked by his family members to send a message to her as she departed.

"I said her favorite verse in her ear. I whispered, The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all that dwell therein."

Derick recalls his grandmother repeating that verse frequently while he was growing up in her home in North Little Rock, Ark., with his twin, Eric. "Whether I was sitting on the piano playing and she was singing the hymn — or she would just sometimes just break out in that verse because she believed deeply in that," says Derick.

"That everything on this earth belonged to God."

"She was part of the Women’s Missionary Society of our local church," says Derick, "so she would start early Saturday morning cooking ... and oftentimes we would get confused thinking the meal was for us and she would remind us, 'no, I will cook something for you all on Sunday evening; this meal is for the sick and shut-in.'"

Derick, now a graduate student at Yale Divinity School, has seen hunger and poverty firsthand. "Arkansas is this rural community," he explains, "and it struggles deeply with food insecurity, with hunger, with poverty, poor education, crime, and poor infrastructure. You name it and Arkansas is confronting it."

As a sophomore at Westminster College in Missouri, Derick and his friend Eyob researched poverty in Phillips County in southeast Arkansas, one of the poorest counties in the nation. The two met with mayors and church leaders to talk about the conditions and causes of economic devastation along the Mississippi River. Derick recalls that at one point, Eyob, who is Ethiopian, exclaimed, "Wow, this looks like rural Ethiopia."

"It never occurred to me that a place in this country, the wealthiest country in the world would look like something in rural Ethiopia," says Derick. "It was a big wake-up call for me that the core of poverty is lack of opportunity and lack of resources."

"Listening to the stories and hearing the challenges [of local leaders] made clear to me that hunger and poverty are not just some abstract social science terms. These are realities for people, and not just realities for people in Third World countries but realities for people in my state, a state that I love — whether it's in Phillips County or in Little Rock seeing my own family struggle to make ends meet."

Those experiences motivated Derick to get directly involved in ending hunger and poverty. He joined Bread for the World and was one of Bread’s first Hunger Justice Leaders. Following that training in advocacy, Derick founded the Westminster Poverty Initiative, which runs a food bank and facilitates donations of clothing and household items to people in need in the community surrounding the college. Derick and Eyob also raised funds and opened a library in Ethiopia.

But Derick knows that larger actions are necessary.

"I thank God for Bread for the World for having this sort of forum where people of faith can actively engage on issues of policy in a real way without feeling that they are somehow outside the norm or they are doing something that is unchurched or unreligious," says Derick.

"The reality is that in order to break free from the bondage [of poverty] in this country and the world, we need elected officials to make good on their words and put love thy neighbor at the center of our legislative agenda."

[This piece originally appeared in the February edition of Bread's e-newsletter.]

Lenten Reflections: Lent as Noisy, Communal, Nourishing


Tammanna Akter and her child Joy, 18 months, pose for photographs in Char Baria village, Barisal, Bangladesh, on Thursday, April 19, 2012. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Thursday, Feb. 21

By Rev. Meagan Manas

Themes of pregnancy, birth and nutrition easily correspond to the practices, rituals, and liturgical cycles of Christianity. We journey with young pregnant Mary through Advent, and rejoice at the birth of her child—even while we notice that he is born without the care that we would want for our own children. Our most common action, participating in Christ’s communion table, is at its core about eating and nourishment.  We are nourished spiritually as we literally eat together.  But can we find these themes in the season of Lent?

I didn’t grow up in a church that practiced Lent, so for a long time I understood the season as one of personal sacrifice.  "What are you giving up for Lent?" my classmates would ask me. "Chocolate? Pop?" That was the extent of our engagement in this liturgical season. Later, when I joined the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I learned about the spiritual elements of Lent. The season was not about just giving up something you really liked just for the sake of doing it; instead it was about removing obstacles standing between you and God. It was about a realization that the things that seemed so important sometimes were not. Still, the gist of Lent was personal, introspective.  We heard about Jesus in the desert—alone—for 40 days. We thought about the desert as a place for soul-searching, for looking inside, for individual growth. 

40-for-1000_logo_blogThis Lent, I am thinking about another story of 40 in the wilderness. This time it is 40 years, Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert. This story might help us reconsider Lent.  It is not an individual, introspective story.  It is a communal story. And this wandering community, while also considering the big questions about God and their own relationships with God, is concerned with very practical needs: food and water.  Remember the manna from heaven?

This Lent, perhaps we could commit to wandering in the wilderness together. Together with women and children around the world.  And as we wander together, let us cry out for the food each woman and each child needs to get the proper nutrition—especially in that critical 1,000-day window. Maybe this year what we “give up” will be some of our time, so that we can act in solidarity with our sisters and their children everywhere.  Let us cry out through our prayers, through our letters to our representatives, through our conversations with family and friends.  Let us journey together, and let us raise our voice!

Rev. Meagan Manas is staff specialist for Justice and Peace, Presbyterian Women in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and also works part time as program coordinator for World Day of Prayer USA Committee (www.wdp-usa.org).

The Importance of the Best First Food


A five-month-old boy rests on his mother's back in a small town near Comitan, Mexico. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Nina Keehan

Let's discuss one of the most basic forms of nutrition. It's the first, and most important, food in a child’s life: breast milk.

Whenever the subject of maternal and child nutrition comes up, more and more people are talking the critical 1,000-day window of opportunity, which is the period from start of a woman's pregnancy until her child's second birthday. According to a growing body of scientific evidence,  undernutrition during this time is disastrous.

"Healthy development, particularly brain development, depends on getting the right foods at this critical time," according to information in Bread for the World Institute's 2013 Hunger Report. "Hunger during this time is catastrophic, because the resulting physical and cognitive damage is lifelong and irreversible."

When the medical journal The Lancet ran a series on maternal and child undernutrition in 2008, it identified exclusive breastfeeding as one of the most successful interventions for improving child health and nutrition.

That means starting early is vital—and early means during the first 60 minutes of life. A recent Save the Children report, "Superfood for Babies," found that 95 babies would be saved every hour if they were immediately breastfed after birth. Equally impressive is the fact that infants who are exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their lives are up to 15 times less likely to die from diarrhea and respiratory infections, leading killers of young children.

Yet fewer than 40 percent of infants in developing countries are exclusively breastfed. And those low numbers are not isolated to the developing world: An article published by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the United States has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the industrialized world, and one of the highest rates of infant mortality.

"Data from 2003 indicate that 71 percent of U.S. mothers initiate some breastfeeding, and only 36 percent report feeding any human milk to their infants at six months...." the article stated. "Those numbers stand in marked contrast to Sweden, for example, where the breastfeeding initiation rate exceeds 98 percent and the rate at six months is 72 percent.”

Infants who are exclusively breastfed have fewer dental cavities, stronger immune systems, and, research shows, fewer psychological, behavioral, and learning problems as they grow up. Mothers  in the United States also get the advantage of a savings of $1500 a year on formula and feeding supplies.

There are many mothers who cannot, or choose not, to breastfeed for a variety of valid reasons—personal, situational, and otherwise. Still, it’s important to remove barriers to breastfeeding and ensure that all mothers who have a choice in whether or not to breastfeed have all of the information on its benefits.

Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.

Lenten Reflections: Encouraging Faith Through Pain

Woman_at_ntl_gatheringWednesday, Feb. 20

Judges 11:111

Mark 1:29-45

Hebrews 3:12-19

By Elisa Jillson

In the passage from Judges, we meet Jephthah, who, though a “mighty warrior,” is driven away by his family and people because his mother was a prostitute.  Cast out, he holds company with a “gang of scoundrels.” Despite this rejection and Jephthah’s questionable company, God does not reject Jephthah. And, ultimately, Jephthah does not reject God. When the elders of Gilead ask for Jephthah’s help in fighting the Ammonites, he acknowledges that any victory will come from God (“the Lord gives them [the Ammonites] to me”). Jephthah, once scorned and rejected, becomes the “head and commander over them.”  

In the passage from Mark, Jesus heals many people—Simon’s mother-in-law, the demon-possessed, a leper. He heals them without regard to whether they “deserve” sickness or healing. Simon’s mother-in-law immediately shows her gratitude by serving him, but the leper immediately disobeys Jesus’ command not to tell anyone.

The passage from Hebrews warns us not to have an “unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” It exhorts us to “encourage one another daily” so that no one will be “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

These passages tell us a bit about pain, faith, and encouragement. When we experience pain or difficulty, it is tempting to explain the inexplicable with two fallacies: God clearly doesn’t care about me because God did this to me, or I deserve this bad thing because of something bad about me/something bad I did.

But these are fallacies. God loved and blessed Jephthah no matter his parentage, no matter his rejection by his family, no matter his decision to take up with bad company.  And Jesus loved and healed the sick no matter the nature of their illness, no matter how they got sick, no matter what they would do upon being healed.

In our pain, we can find strength in faith in God’s love for us. Sometimes, as we believe, the immediate source of pain will go away (Jephthah was welcomed home as the head of his tribe; illness was miraculously healed). But sometimes it won’t. That doesn’t make God’s love any less real, but the pain can feel insurmountable. That’s why the passage from Hebrews tells us to believe and to encourage one another in our belief. Faith isn’t easy. We need community with God and with other believers to meet pain with faith.

PRAYER: God, thank you for your unchanging love. Please help me to believe even when I feel rejected, disappointed, or afflicted. Thank you for the encouragement of my church family. Please help me to remember to encourage others in their faith.

Elisa Jillson is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission,  from NYAPC's 2013 Lenten Meditations booklet.

Photo: A woman praying during the second day of Bread for the World's 2011 Gathering at American University in Washington, D.C. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl)

40 Days of SNAP: Figuring Out a Food Budget

'200464129-001' photo (c) 2012, U.S. Department of Agriculture - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog. 

By Ivan Herman

“So, how much do you get in food stamps?” That’s been the question folks have been asking me. Let me be clear:  We’re not receiving actual food stamps or SNAP benefits—we’re just setting our family’s food budget during Lent to mirror the following pretend scenario.

There’s a simple answer and a complex rationale. First, the simple answer: $396 per month.

To put it another way, that comes to about $1.10 per meal, per person for our family of four.

We have calculated that with the federal SNAP Prescreening Eligibility Tool.

The pretend scenario goes like this: We are a family of four. Parents are able-bodied. One parent works full-time earning $11.50 per hour. This is the total family income of $23,000. The Federal Poverty Level for a family of four in 2012 was $23,050. The second parent cares for the dependent children and assists an elderly parent who lives nearby. This parent receives no income from these jobs.

According to the CalFresh (California’s version of SNAP) website, “All able-bodied persons (ages 18-49) without dependents must work 20 hours per week (monthly average 80 hours) or participate 20 hours per week in an approved work activity or do workfare. If not, these persons receive only 3 months of CalFresh benefits in a 36-month period.”

I calculated the rent to be $850 (imagine a two-bedroom in Carmichael, Calif.) with utilities not included. No additional assets, unearned income, dependent care expenses, child support, or savings.  Like many American families, we live paycheck to paycheck.

Under this scenario we would qualify for between $390 and $399 in SNAP assistance each month. This falls in line with many other food stamp challenge budgets.

That is our starting point. But our execution of this discipline and challenge gets still more complicated.

Continue reading "40 Days of SNAP: Figuring Out a Food Budget" »

Lenten Reflections: Food for Thought


Fresh vegetables for sale at a local market in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Racine Tucker-Hamilton)

Tuesday, Feb. 19

By Inez Torres Davis

I just finished writing a Lenten Bible Study for Bread for the World, and I'm thinking about what it means to live in a nation of plenty. And, well, I feel somewhat ashamed for planning an Easter with special foods. Food snobs take note! 

I am obese. Obesity is a problem in our nation even as many, in the United States and around the world, suffer from hunger.  The importance of different dietary elements in causing obesity remains controversial. While there are no substantial long-term studies to turn to, short-term investigations indicate that consumption of high-Glycemic Index (GI) carbohydrates may increase hunger and promote overeating relative to consumption of items with a lower GI.

40-for-1000_logo_blogSo, maybe there is a place in all of this planned consumption of sumptuous food to consider what it is that I/we really need to eat to live? How much is enough? 

Clearly, we do not live by bread alone! We live by all manner of dietary concoctions. So, I have to wonder—if I could, would I turn stones into bread as evidence that God is with me?  If you could, would you?  And, each time I bless food that, nutritionally, is not best for my obese self, am I daring stones to try and stub my toes because, after all, God is with me?

Belonging to God and living in the world is a conflict waiting to happen from the start. God is not surprised by the dilemma! But, how often do we pretend we have not succumbed to the desires of our nature while at the same time judging the politician or another neighbor for failing to acknowledge the way of the gospel in the decisions they make? 

There are no answers in this blog. Just some reflections since reflecting is one of those things we are asked to do in Lent. Consider it food for thought!

Ines Torres Davis is director for justice at Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Lenten Reflections: Making a Difference, One at a Time

Lunch for homeless people is distributed after Mass in the Lafayette Park. The liturgy is part of a program called Street Church, run by Epiphany Episcopal church in Washington, D.C. Crista Friedli/Bread for the World)

Monday, Feb. 18

By Marilyn Lariviere

“What you did not do for one of these last ones, you did not do for me.” Matthew 25:45

This familiar scripture is a commandment to all those who would follow Jesus to reach out beyond their comfort zones. He never told us to build cathedrals    or create liturgy—he simply told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners. 

In 2007, while working as a youth minister, three of my youth challenged me to begin a program for the homeless on Cape Cod patterned after Ecclesia Ministry in Boston. For all those involved, it was a time of trusting that God would bless our endeavors and that funding would materialize.  Today, Youth StreetReach is a vibrant program supporting seven events each year that involve teenagers from area churches and schools working with and for the homeless providing hospitality, food, and clothing.  

40-for-1000_logo_blogThe key is in providing an atmosphere that is more than a soup kitchen.(although soup kitchens are certainly valuable!)  Using tablecloths, centerpieces, homemade casseroles, fresh pancakes, and homemade doughnuts provides an atmosphere of hospitality. Games such as Jenga, checkers, chess, and playing cards are on the tables.  Looking out to see teenagers and guests enjoying each other’s company is a living example of the message of Matthew 25.  

At first, when new youth come, they are a little hesitant to reach out, but as the morning wears on, the magic begins to happen. As physical bread is shared, spiritual nourishment is provided for everyone.  The youth learn through hearing stories from our guests that homelessness is not limited to those who suffer from addiction and mental illness.  We meet the homeless who are teenagers, families, folks of all ages, educational backgrounds, and ethnicities.  These are the “anawim," the poor folks who need our love and support.  And yet, we too are the “anawim” as we struggle with our own spirituality.

We celebrate when folks return to tell us they have moved into housing, and we mourn when others return to the Father.  Over the years, the teenagers have moved on to college and employment, but they carry with them the reality that they have seen the face of Christ in those they met.  The guests are able to receive a special touch of grace along their journey.  The motto for the program is the familiar story of the starfish:

“A young boy walked along the beach, picking up starfish who had washed up on the beach and tossed them into the water.  An old man asked 'Why are you doing that? It can’t make a difference, there are too many of them !' But the boy replied, as he tossed one back, 'It made a difference to that one!'"

"Making a difference …  one at a time”  is a motto we can all adopt in our daily lives.

 The following prayer was written by the youth as part of the closing worship for the first Youth StreetReach event in 2007.

O Lord, we live in a world where it is often forgotten that everyone is Your child—the rich, the poor, the hopeful, the hopeless, the ignorant, and the open minded.  Please help us to obliterate the hurt and the hopelessness in this world. Give us the strength and faith to break through the window and embrace your people, so that we can reach out to those in need to tell them they are loved.  In Your name we pray. Amen.

Marilyn Lariviere is the National President of Church Women United, Inc., and the coordinator of the Youth StreetReach Program. She lives in Hyannis, Mass.

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