Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

54 posts from December 2013

Advent Reflections: Coping with the Red Dragon


Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

By Helen Williams

Lectionary reading:

Revelation 12:1-9

In today's scripture we encounter the "Great Red Dragon with seven heads and ten horns . . . that serpent of old whose name is Satan or the Devil."  Once again I pondered that Red Dragon, which is far more than selfishness, unkindness, and gluttony, but true evil.

How can one's belief in a loving God reconcile with the evil in the world!

A possible answer is provided later in the book of Revelation:  "The Red Dragon was worshipped by all except those whose names the Lord that was slain keeps in his roll of the living, written since the world was made."  That predestination-type concept would explain evil: some people as God's true people and the others are lesser beings.  I simply don't buy that explanation.  What other explanations are there?

How are we to cope with senseless evil?  There are those whose professions require them to confront the horrors head on.  A former forensic doctor I met dealt with the victims of horrible crimes.  Years later she can only go to the movies that are gentle, such as Disney, Pixar, or romantic comedies.  I salute the psychiatrists and police who have a courage that takes them into the dark corners of life.

I have concluded that it is counterproductive to dwell on dark matters when I can't prevent them. I don't want to spend my hours paying attention to that Red Dragon. And then I think of the wise advise in Philippians 4:8:

“And now, my friends, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just and pure, all that is lovable and gracious, whatever is excellent and admirable—fill all your thoughts with these things.”

In this time of Advent we can focus on that new birth—the child who showed us that the true way is love.

Helen Williams  is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.


One More Present


Two neighborhood boys play in puddles after a downpour in Guatemala. (Joe Molieri/Bread for the World)

By David Beckmann

Christmas is upon us — the wonderful and holy time that commemorates Christ's birth in the world. As you gather with your loved ones, I pray you will see how you have been blessed, and will open your hearts to do what you can for those less fortunate.

This Christmas, I hope you will make a generous donation to support the work of Bread for the World.

Last week, you heard from Sharon Thornberry, who dealt with hunger as she was raising her two young children. She received help from nutrition programs, such as SNAP (food stamps), and was able to overcome hunger.

That's why your gift today matters. When you support Bread, you are strengthening our efforts to protect programs that lift people like Sharon, and her family, out of poverty.

Thank you for your kindness and compassion for hungry people. I'm so thankful you've chosen to be a part of Bread for the World. Because of you, we've achieved great things through our advocacy work this year.

  • As a result of our conversations with the administration, President Obama's State of the Union address called for an end to extreme poverty in our own country and around the world.
  • Bread's petition to the president, which asks President Obama to set a goal and work with Congress on a plan to end hunger, has been signed by nearly 40,000 people.
  • A vote in the House of Representatives to drastically cut food stamps was much closer than anyone expected. Thousands of letters and phone calls from you and other Bread members made the difference. A number of key representatives changed their votes because they heard from Bread members.

Please take a moment now to give just one more gift — a donation to Bread — so we can help fill the hungry with good things this Christmas season.

May your soul magnify the Lord, and your spirit rejoice in God our savior.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

Immigration Reform: Looking Ahead to 2014

Participants in the Fast for Families, join together in prayer (Photo courtesy of Fast for Families).

In spite of the House of Representatives' inaction on immigration reform this year, 2013 ended with a crescendo of activity among advocates, and planning for a harder push for reform in 2014.

In November, faith, immigrant rights, and labor organizations launched the Fast for Families campaign, an effort to move the hearts of members of Congress, and inspire them to pass just and compassionate immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Bread for the World was one the sponsors of Fast for Families, and on Dec. 5, Bread for the World President David Beckmann prayed and fasted at the campaign tent on the National Mall, just a few blocks from Bread’s Washington, D.C., office.

“Immigration reform will allow people to work their way out of poverty,” Beckmann said.  He added that “immigration is part of the great exodus from poverty that is going on today,” and said that nations with comprehensive immigration policies have been able to more efficiently combat poverty than the United States. 

On Dec. 12, the Fast for Families campaign culminated its activities for the year with major direct action in Congress. More than 1,000 activists occupied the offices of 170 congressional representatives who were inactive on reform during 2013. Bread for the World was a full participant in the daylong action, working with our faith partners on several aspects of the event.

Ricardo Moreno, Bread for the World’s national organizer for Latino relations, kicked off Bread’s participation by leading a prayer service at the fasting tents in the morning. In the afternoon, a dozen Bread for the World staffers participated in the congressional action, “occupying” a congressional office and singing, praying, and sharing stories about the personal, real-world implications of the nation’s broken immigration system for families in the United States and overseas.

The Fast for Families campaign promised that the action was a symbol of increased grassroots engagement 2014.

In addition to grassroots action, Bread for the World staff members have been meeting with House Republican offices–including those of Republican leaders such as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)–to discuss the economic importance of immigration to the economy.Lower-skilled immigrants, in particular, revitalize rural and urban areas through their labor and entrepreneurship.

Although House Republicans didn’t act on immigration in 2013, they have repeatedly stated that it will be on the agenda in 2014. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has indicated he would like to tackle the issue next year. Speaker Boehner also signaled that he is serious about addressing immigration reform when he hired Rebecca Tallent, from the Bipartisan Policy Center, to lead his immigration policy work. Tallent is a veteran on immigration reform, and worked on previous congressional attempts at reform as a staffer for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Next year promises to be important for the immigration reform movement and Bread for the World will be fully engaged on the ground in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country.

Advent Reflections: Cherchez L’Eau

(Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

By Paul B. Dornan

“Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again; but no one who drinks the water that I shall give will ever be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will become a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life.”

The motto of French mysteries seems to be "cherchez la femme," or "follow the woman." If a French detective is at a loss in solving a crime, it's not a bad idea to go back to all the evidence and “cherchez la femme," since often that is what the perpetrator had in mind in the first place.  Similarly, in the Bible, following the water might not be a bad way to proceed. Water runs through the whole story, from the river flowing from Eden to the river of life in John’s vision of the end-days. There is the Nile, the Red Sea, the rock springs in the desert, the Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, and all of those meetings at wells — including the one in the passage for today.

I find the Samaritan woman at the well to be one of the Bible’s most engaging characters. Over the millennia she has maintained her intelligence and her sense of humor. I particularly like it when, after Jesus promises living water, she replies, “Sir, give me some of that water, so that I may never be thirsty or come here again to draw water.”  In other words, stop me from having to lug this water day after day!

But, what does Jesus mean by "living water?" That’s the $64,000 question. I suspect that Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and Nobel Prize winner, did not intend his poem “Wind and Water and Stone” to be an affirmation of Trinitarian faith, and yet it captures the animating power of “living water." An excerpt from the poem:

The wind sings in its turnings,
the water murmurs as it goes,
the motionless stone is quiet.
Wind and water and stone.    

One is the other and is neither:  
among the empty names  
they pass and disappear,
water and stone and wind.                                

Prayer: Holy God, pour Your Living Water on us this Advent Season, cleansing, molding, animating Your people. In Jesus' name, Amen.                                                                    

Paul B. Dornan is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Laid Off, Then Cut Off


By Sonora Bostian

Congress is ending its work for the year without extending unemployment benefits. Now, 1.3 million unemployed workers will be cut off from benefits just days after Christmas.

This is outrageous! But for me, it's also deeply personal. I was laid off and had to receive unemployment insurance to get by. And then, after unsuccessfully searching for a job for over a year, I was cut off because legislators cut emergency unemployment aid.

I’ll never forget the fear that struck me when I received that news. These claims were a major source of assistance during my job hunt. Even with unemployment insurance, my savings were dwindling, and I was nearing the end of my financial rope. And then, the safety net that was holding me up during my search was gone.

1.3 million Americans are about to receive this same news from Congress. Congress just passed a budget deal and hurried out of town. But noticeably absent from that deal was any extension of emergency unemployment assistance.

The economy is improving, but the job market is still tough. Nearly two-thirds of unemployed people have been looking for work for over 26 weeks. I applied for over 100 jobs, and it was well over a year before I received an offer.

Don’t allow Congress to turn its back on unemployed workers! Call (800-326-4941) or email your members of Congress today! Tell them to extend unemployment insurance immediately as their first action in 2014. With so many Americans struggling to find and keep a job, we cannot afford to cut them off when they’re already down. For many, unemployment insurance is the difference between staying afloat and losing everything. Just as it helped me, it continues to help others who are currently unemployed put food on the table, keep their homes, and provide a sense of security through the path of uncertainty that defines the job search.

I count my blessings every day that I was offered a job shortly after my claims ran out. Many Americans are not so lucky. Call or email your members of Congress today and tell them to ensure the strength of the safety net that unemployment assistance provides to so many people.

Sonora Bostian is Bread for the World's online communications specialist.

Fast for Families: La lucha sigue!

(Photo courtesy of Fast for Families)

By Dulce Gamboa

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
 to loose the chains of injustice  and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,  and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"

Isaiah 58:6-7 (NIV)

Last week, I had the privilege of standing with participants in the Fast for Families campaign, an effort to move members of Congress to pass compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform.

I joined the fast for two days, in solidarity with the fasters leading this effort, and my heart was definitely full after meeting immigration reform advocates who fasted for more than 20 days as an act of love, faith, and commitment. I was filled with hope after listening to the stories of fellow fasters and community leaders who have defied the odds to gain the attention of Congress. So many people involved in the immigration reform movement were appalled by the inaction in Congress— the House of Representatives has failed to act on immigration reform—and the idea that reform can wait. In reality, the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country, and their families, cannot wait. Every day, families are torn apart, and millions of people live in fear of deportation.

Bread for the World was one of the sponsors of Fast for Families, which launched Nov. 12 and ended Dec. 12. Several of our staff members, including David Beckmann, fasted, and we participated in both a Dec. 11 prayer service at the fasters’ tent on the National Mall, and a Dec. 12 congressional day of action. During the Dec. 12 action, more than 1,000 people involved with Fast for Families visited 170 offices of members of the House Representatives, in what was called a “day of promise and prayer." We sought to touch their hearts, and move then to enact compassionate reform that includes a path to citizenship for the millions of people living in the shadows.

Bread staff prayed and sang for an hour in the office of Rep. Leon Acton “Lynn” Westmoreland (R-Ga.) of Georgia's third district. We felt re-energized by the prayers, chants, and stories we delivered that day. All the stories we shared of people migrating to the United States had a common thread: each person was escaping poverty and hunger in his or her home country. The stories showed that when we talk about immigration reform, we are talking about people.

Immigrants are making an immense economic contribution to this nation. We are helping to revitalize depressed local economies, everywhere from rural Iowa to Detroit and Baltimore. We are entrepreneurs, dreamers graduating from college. We are part of this nation—a nation of immigrants.

The immigration movement has knocked on many doors for decades now. We have made it this far thanks to the perseverance and sacrifice of great advocates. The fast is now over, but this is the kickoff of the next phase of putting pressure on the House until its members bring immigration reform to the floor for a vote.

Even though we are facing inaction in the House right now, as advocates we must continue to strengthen our resolve and prepare for what’s next.

La lucha sigue! We shall overcome!

Dulce Gamboa is Bread for the World's associate for Latino Relations.

Advent Reflections: Images We Carry

'Giving Hands and Red Pushpin' photo (c) 2009, Artotem - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

By Kathryn Sparks

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 10:5-19

John 4:1-15

Romans 4:1-8

Try as I might to allow words to arise in me, none seem to come as I meditate on Isaiah 10:5-19, John 4:1-15, and Romans 4:1-8. What comes instead is a patchwork of simple images.

I see an assault of Assyria against the Israelites, by God's sanction.

I see Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well as she asks him for "that living water."

These pictures take place against the backdrop of an open hand, signifying that righteousness cannot be attained through work, but is freely received by faith.

Sometimes words cannot express my longings—or God's longings for me. Each Advent, my fingers strum the pages of the familiar story, and I find I'm on the edge of something in my life—a yearly inner birth to mirror the birth of Christ for the world again.

Pictures (in color, movement, clay, music, silence, the flicker of a candle) often help us to "see" differently. And God, I want to see with new eyes. I want to be that Samaritan woman next to Jesus, and let Your Living Water all over the desert corners of my being.

What images do we carry? What are the pictures that point us to our beloved Christ Child, the birth of God? Let's visit and revisit them and see anew!

Kathryn Sparks is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Former Sen. Bob Dole Honored by World Food Program USA

Former Sen. Bob Dole received World Food Program USA's McGovern-Dole Leadership Award last week (Paul Morigi/World Food Program USA).

By Fito Moreno

Last week, World Food Program USA honored former Sen. Bob Dole with the newly renamed McGovern-Dole Leadership Award (formerly the George McGovern Leadership Award). The name was changed to reflect the decades of bipartisan anti-hunger work led by Dole, a Kansas Republican, and the late Sen. George McGovern, a Democrat from South Dakota.

Together, the two men had a huge impact on nearly every U.S. program designed to help feed poor children—including the expansion of the National School Lunch Program, which feeds more than 31 million children, and the creation of Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). They also worked to strengthen school meals and nutrition programs internationally: The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program has provided meals to more than 22 million children in 41 countries.

This award recognizes work that has contributed to progress in the fight against hunger, a fight that has helped reduce hunger globally by as much as 17 percent since the 1990-92 period. Sens. Dole and McGovern were able to contribute greatly to the eradication of hunger because of the bipartisan support they cultivated in Congress. They were able to put partisan politics aside, and work toward helping the most vulnerable, not because it would win them votes, but because it was–and is–the right thing to do.

It seems almost inconceivable that such a partnership could occur today, but although Congress is working slower, and running into more roadblocks than in the past, it is still working. The Congressional Budget Agreement is a step in the right direction. Although it is worrisome that the bill doesn’t include provisions to extend emergency unemployment rates, it does take steps to end the sequester, and hopefully will allow Congress to focus on other issues, such as working together to end hunger. 

Fito Moreno is Bread for the World’s media relations specialist.

Hungry in a Grocery Store

Distribution_picBy Sharon Thornberry

When my children were just 3 and 5 years old, we experienced real hunger for the first time. I was working at a grocery store, but often couldn’t afford to buy the food that was all around me. Food stamps (now called SNAP) changed that. They allowed me and my children to have nutritious meals while we were trying to transition back to normalcy.

Unfortunately, when my boss at the grocery store learned that I was using food stamps to make purchases there, I was told that I'd be fired if I did it again. The stigma attached to using food stamps sometimes prevents people from seeing the good SNAP does, and how well the program supports families during rough times.

I became a member of Bread for the World so that I could help hungry people. I know what it is like to struggle to put food on the table, and I want to help others understand that experience — and motivate them to act.

This Christmas season, I hope you will join us in fighting hunger and poverty, and support Bread with a special gift.

I believe that the quality of our lives is dependent on the quality of the lives of our neighbors — whether they are next door, or on the next continent. We are all God's children, and we must take care of one another. This is what Bread for the World's advocacy work is all about.

As you know, Bread is working to stop Congress from making further cuts to the SNAP program, while also educating people about the importance of tackling the root causes of hunger. Bread is a leader in advocacy for hungry people, and is able to do incredible work because of support from people like you.

I'm not wealthy, but I choose to make a monthly gift to Bread. I give what I can. If you are able to make a special gift this Christmas, please donate now, and support Bread's critical work.

I hope you'll also join us in our prayer that God empowers us and inspires our leaders to fill the hungry with good things.

Sharon Thornberry is a Bread for the World board member and community food systems manager at Oregon Food Bank.

Advent Reflections: God’s Amazing Grace

'Raining on Oaxaca' photo (c) 2011, oz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

By Steve Yu

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 9:18 - 10:4

John 10: 31-42    

Hebrews 10: 19-25

The verses found in this study differentiate between the principles and outcomes of love for neighbor and those born of self serving intentions.  In these passages, we are reminded that loving God is intrinsically tied to love of our neighbors, whereas the path of selfish gain can lead to societal injustice.  

The verses found in Isaiah and John provide a stern warning about the consequences of living self-serving lifestyles. The crimes against the poor in Isaiah remind us that the perpetrators of these offenses are committed by people who engage in vain pursuits of power, admiration, and/or wealth at the expense of the most vulnerable. When the fires of God’s purification finally tear down unjust systems of abuse and power, the oppressed are liberated, and the oppressor is faced with the opportunity to transform.  

In the book of John, Christ also warns us of the danger of becoming obsessed with religious and societal rules (as we understand them) to the point that love for the neighbor becomes secondary or non-important.  This obsession can lead us to minimize love through "justified" condemnation, and rejection of others; even those who do wonderful deeds for the well-being of "the least of these."

On the other hand, I can’t accept the notion of a hateful God who destroys the "wicked" out of pleasure.  I have experienced and sensed enormous love from God. I can, however, accept the notion that we can reap what we sow, and that God is always willing to show us mercy just as she has called us to do likewise to those who have harmed or hated us. 

The Scriptures remind us that God will never leave us alone.  This knowing becomes a calming influence in the midst of personal or societal strife.  This faith helps us cope throughout our lives because we have an inner anchor that keeps us grounded.  It also allows us to take risks, make a stand for justice, and experience what Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned when he said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Finally, these verses remind me that this transformation can only be made through the blood of Jesus Christ. “The new and living way” mentioned by Paul in the book of Hebrews is a reality full of love for our neighbor, creation, and God.  God’s transforming Grace opens our eyes to the beauty of simplicity, to gratitude for what we have, and liberation from vain wants. With a sincere heart that has become full of faith, we can hold to this blessed hope without wavering.  The Kingdom of God is of a greater realm, and this irrational love "provokes" us to encourage and support each other as brothers and sisters in a reality where class, race, and nationality mean nothing in her light.

Prayer: Dear God, have Mercy on us, for we do not know the depth of our own sin. Have Grace upon us, for we are your children longing for redemption. Give us your Holy Spirit, so that we know that we are never truly alone. Give us your Son, Jesus Christ, so that we may gain a loving heart through you. Have Mercy on us oh God, have Mercy on us. And teach us to walk in your ways.  Amen.                                                    

Steve Yu is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

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