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Facing Goliath: Faithful Advocacy and Food Aid Reform

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Because of policy changes allowing flexibility in how we deliver food aid, USAID was able to commit $10 million dollars to be used to purchase food in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.  (USAID photo)

I have a confession to make: I occasionally have moments of despair as an anti-hunger advocate. Then I go through a few stages that remind me faith has the power to move mountains – or topple giants as the case may be. 

Despair weighed me down when I learned a harmful bill, which cuts international food aid to starving people in deference to shipping companies hungry for profit, passed the House. Three private, foreign-owned shipping companies would largely reap the benefits of a cargo preference provision quietly added to the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 (HR 4005). Their profit would come at the expense of U.S. food=aid programs. The bill  now sits in the Senate Commerce Committee for consideration

I’m now hopeful that we can fight this harmful provision, but it took me a little while to get here. If you sometimes feel hopeless in your work to end hunger, don’t worry—it’s normal and necessary. Sometimes we must feel sadness and despair—they are the very things that move us to act. Usually, I experience this in four stages: 

I feel sad and tired.

I recall a scene broadcast on the news after Typhoon Haiyan devastates the Philippines: A distraught teenager wails and beats on the one remaining wall of what was once his family’s home– his lifeless mother lies in the rubble nearby and his father looks at the camera and pleads for help. I cry. The next scene shows international compassion for humanity as helicopters drop food and water to survivors. 

Flexibility on where food can be purchased is a major factor in getting life-saving aid to the Philippines quickly. Reforms in the 2014 farm bill could help up to 800,000 additional people at no additional cost. It is good to see the results of advocacy as lives are saved.

But some want to turn back the clock. Food shipped under cargo-preference law from the United States takes an average of 14 weeks longer to reach people in a crisis. Increasing cargo preference, as stipulated in the Coast Guard bill, would deny an estimated 2 million hungry people access to food aid and reverse improvements made in the farm bill. I wonder how lawmakers could make such a choice: a few shipping companies over 2 million lives.

I feel outraged.

Powerful maritime lobbyist versus a group of Christian advocates seems like a losing battle. However, time and time again, our collective Christian voice wins victories by using gifts of citizenship. The Bible is full of inspirational stories that remind me that faith and “right” is more powerful than money and might. I turn to scripture.

I feel hopeful.

I read 1 Samuel 17 — the story of David and Goliath. The odds of a little guy defeating a giant warrior seem laughable. The soldier’s tools of battle are too heavy, so he is left with a sling and some stones. But David does not go into battle alone and he knows this is the Lord’s fight — David answers a call to act. With a single stone, David topples a giant.

I feel called and ready to act.

There are always giants on Capitol Hill, whether special-interest lobbyists, or lawmakers themselves. Like David picking up the rock as he faces impossible odds against Goliath, anti-hunger advocates can pick up phones, send emails, visit their members of Congress and send a powerful message to the Senate: reject any actions that would increase transportation costs for food aid and prevent hungry people around the world from receiving U.S. food assistance.

We make a difference and we carry with us a sacred call to end hunger. When we live that call out together, giants topple.

Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national lead for social media and regional organizer, western hub.

 

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