Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Lent Devotions: Luke 23:8


Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord. 

Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. (Luke 23:8)

Luke mentioned Herod Antipas three times earlier in his Gospel:

  1. John the Baptist had censured Herod because of his “evil deeds” and because he had married his brother’s wife.  Herod then put John in prison, and later had him beheaded.
  2. Herod heard about all that Jesus was doing and what people were saying. He said, “Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see him.
  3. Some Pharisees came to Jesus when he was on the way to Jerusalem and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.”

All of this would make friends of the Lord uneasy when they learned that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod. We’re not sure why Pilate did this – he and Herod were not on good terms. Was Pilate trying to dump his problem on Herod? Or was he trying to honor Herod and reduce the friction? Whatever it was, Jesus was caught in the middle.

Today Jesus continues to be “caught in the middle” . . .  in wars between nations, or in families, or among co-workers, or between neighbors, or within parishes. 

It helps to remember in any conflict that, whatever the circumstances, Jesus is there, loving people on both sides.  Any “war” in particular come to mind?

Lent Devotions: Luke 23:3-7


Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord. 

Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds, “I find this man not guilty.” But they were adamant and said, “He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to here.” On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean; and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Jesus to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time. (Luke 23:3-7)

The opening words of this passage are the first of Pilate’s three declarations that Jesus is innocent.

In the words of one Scripture scholar, “Pilate has enough sagacity to see through their duplicity, but not enough character to abide by his own judgment. Three times he declares Jesus innocent, but three times is twice too many.”

I am watching the decline and fall of Pilate. Historical records show he was not a good person. Now his path crosses the path of Jesus – it seems by chance. Maybe this was his chance to turn his life around . . . to reach down inside himself and connect with the goodness that God has embedded in the bones of every human being. Maybe his protest of Jesus’ innocence was the flicker of an attempt to turn from evil to good. Maybe.

But later, when faced with the crowd’s demands, Pilate will snuff out this flicker of goodness and condemn to death the man he knows to be innocent.

The Lord will cross my path today in the person of many people. May there be in me more than just a passing flicker of goodness.

World Prayers for March 15-21: Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam

14732007359_f7b5aa1f4d_oThis is a weekly prayer series that appears each Friday on the Bread Blog.

One aspect of Bread for the World’s new Bread Rising campaign is prayer. The campaign is asking Bread members to pray more, act more, and give more. In this blog series, we will provide a prayer for a different group of countries each week and their efforts to end hunger.

This prayer series will follow the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle, a list compiled by the World Council of Churches that enables Christians around the world to journey in prayer through every region of the world, affirming our solidarity with Christians all over the world, brothers and sisters living in diverse situations, experiencing their challenges and sharing their gifts.

We will especially be lifting up in prayer the challenges related to hunger and poverty that the people of each week’s countries face. In prayer, God’s story and our own story connect—and we and the world are transformed. In a prayer common to all of us—the Lord’s Prayer/the Our Father—we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This line from this prayer can also be a prayer for the end of hunger.

We invite you to join Bread in our prayers for the world’s countries to end hunger. And we encourage you to share with us your prayers for the featured countries of the week or for the end of hunger in general.

For the week of March 15-21: Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam

Lord, we thank you for giving us the wonderful people of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Through the years, they have endured much warfare, discrimination, and poverty. But we know you are a powerful God that keeps watch over them.

We pray for those who have suffered losses in the tragic wars and genocides that marked the middle years of the 20th century. Comfort the victims of the Indochina Wars still struggling to build up their lives, victims of landmines in Cambodia, unexploded ordnance in Laos, and agent Orange defoliant in Vietnam.

We especially lift up those who have been exploited like the millions of women and children who have been kidnapped and snatched from their countries for the sole purpose of working in the sex slave industry. And also for those who go to bed hungry and subsist on an average of less than US $1 per day. Strengthen the church-related organizations and other organizations, such as the United Nations, that work in these countries to bring an end to hunger and poverty. We ask these things in the power of your spirit, and in the name of your son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Percentage of the population of these countries living below the national poverty line (2014 figures):

Cambodia: 20.5
Laos: 27.6 (2011)
Vietnam: 17.2

Source: World Bank World Development Indicators as found in the new 2015 Hunger Report.

Photo: Cambodian farmer. Bread for the World.

Lent Devotions: Luke 23:2-3


Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord. 

They brought charges against Jesus, saying, “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Christ, a king.” Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” (Luke 23:2-3)

Jesus stands before the highest Roman authority in Judea, and the accusers shift from the religious issues of “Messiah” and “Son of God” to the secular issues of taxes and kingship.

That Jesus opposed the payment of taxes to Caesar was just plain untrue. Jesus had told people to pay the taxes (“pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar . . .”).

That Jesus put himself forward as a king was also untrue. He never used the title. In John’s Gospel, when the people wanted to carry him off and make him king, he fled.

I can identify with Jesus here. Something I say is taken the wrong way. Or I didn’t say it at all. Or I said the very opposite. But it’s been twisted. I later hear how this is being passed around, characterized in a distorted way, all sorts of motives ascribed. What will others say when they hear about it? Yet I’m helpless to stop it.

It happens in families, at work, in any group. As Jesus stands before Pilate and listens to what his accusers are saying, I can put myself in his shoes. Which, by the way, is a good way to pray. Do it for a few minutes.

Women: The Key to Ending Hunger

By Beth Ann Saracco

I recently traveled to East Africa to learn how international development policies in Washington, D.C., such as Feed the Future, impact and improve people’s lives on the ground in Uganda and Tanzania.

A powerful takeaway from the trip is that women are truly the chief agents the world relies on to fight hunger. But we need more women to be empowered.

That’s the message of our 2015 Hunger Report. And in celebration of Women's History Month, we’ve launched a new video that explains why. Watch the video.

Almost 60 percent of the world’s 805 million chronically malnourished people are women and girls. But if they are among the most vulnerable to hunger, they are also the best solution to the problem of hunger. The majority of the dramatic reduction in child malnutrition made in the developing world over the past few decades is due to improvements in the status of women. For instance, providing girls with just one extra year of schooling can increase individual wages by up to 20 percent.

Supporting Feed the Future can also empower women. It is a proven development program that can help the United States invest in women in agriculture worldwide. Contact your members of Congress and urge them to support upcoming Feed the Future legislation to improve global food security and better combat chronic hunger and malnutrition.

Learn more: Visit HungerReport.org to read the full report and explore interactive data tools that explain the crucial role of women in ending hunger.

Beth Ann Saracco is a policy analyst at Bread for the World.

When 'Reconciliation' Becomes a Bad Word


By Robin Stephenson

For Christians, the term reconciliation is a sacred calling to heal the broken world – a call for heaven on earth. However, in the hands of the 114th Congress, budget reconciliation could become a tool that widens the gap of inequality and pushes more people – especially children– into hunger.

Reconciliation, in the legislative sense of the word, is expected to be included in the 2016 budgets the House and Senate plan to release next week. Both chambers are likely to call for deep cuts in non-defense spending.

Budget reconciliation is a set of instructions sometimes added to the yearly budget resolution – the overall amount Congress decides the U.S. government will spend in one year. Once the budget is passed, each committee is given its share of the total to distribute between all of the programs in its jurisdiction. When budget reconciliation instructions are included, certain committees are instructed to meet spending and revenue criteria – even if it includes finding additional savings by changing policy.

Budget reconciliation makes it easy to slip controversial changes through Congress that are hard to reverse, which is all the more reason we must pay attention to the process. To learn more, read Budget Reconciliation 101.

Under reconciliation, committees could include deep cuts to program funding or pass harmful policy changes to anti-hunger programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Medicaid, and the earned income tax credit (EITC) - programs, we believe, that have giant targets on them. In this scenario, children will pay a hefty price.

3963295139_3351abd412_bOur 2015 Offering of Letters aims to feed our children. The child poverty rate is already unacceptably disproportionate to our resources, but has improved since the height of the recession–nationally, we stand at 18 percent.  Without government interventions, the rate would be 33 percent, according to a recent analysis.

Deep cuts to a program like SNAP, in which half of the participants are children, would be a move in the wrong direction. The earned income tax credit and child tax credit moved 5 million children out of poverty in 2013 and must be protected to make further progress on reducing child hunger. Medicaid, another piece of the poverty-ending puzzle, provided healthcare to 32 million children in 2012.

Defending SNAP from the chopping block is becoming the new normal. Just last year, your faithful advocacy halted deep cuts to SNAP in the farm bill. Up to $40 billion in cuts were proposed during the two-year negotiations. Without SNAP, many families would go hungry. Food banks and pantries, already stretched thin, cannot make up the difference

Every time there is talk of fiscal belt-tightening, the most vulnerable in our society are targeted as notches. This is not the kind of reconciliation that God calls us to and not the kind of reconciliation people of faith should stand for from our leaders. We must speak up early and ensure these programs don't become a bull's-eye for lawmakers' cuts.

Christians across this nation must do the real work of God’s reconciliation--urging Congress to prioritize and protect critical anti-poverty initiatives in any budget reconciliation bill, especially programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and tax credits for families struggling to make ends meet. We have done it before, and we must do it again.

Find more resources to understand the budget process here.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior organizer at Bread for the World.

Lent Devotions: Luke 22:71-23:1


Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord. 

Then they said, “What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth.” Then the whole assembly of them arose and brought Jesus before Pilate. (Luke 22:71- 23:1)

I can look back at the story of Jesus’ birth and see that earlier in his Gospel Luke gave me some hints of what is taking place in this scene.

• At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel told Mary that her child would be given the “throne of David” (he would be the royal messiah) and would be called “the Son of God.” Now, at his trial, Jesus is convicted for allowing himself to be called by these titles.

• At the presentation in the Temple, Simeon took the child in his arms and said that he was destined “to be a sign that will be rejected.” I am watching this rejection happen here.

From Jesus’ own mouth the Sanhedrin heard what they were looking for. Now, off to Pilate to get the death penalty.

Once Jesus enters my life, I have to accept him or “kill him.” He is never just a neutral bystander.

It’s like the sun. I either let it affect me, or block it out.

Sometimes, except for my religious practices, I block Jesus out of my life, or parts of my life.

If it’s being done unconsciously, it’s going to require some soul-searching, and some help from the Lord.

Scriptural Manna: 'Give The King Your Justice'


Editor's note: Bread Blog is running a year-long series exploring passages from The Poverty & Justice Bible published by the American Bible Society (Contemporary English Version). The intent is a theological exploration at the intersection of social justice and religion. The blog posts will be written by members of the church relations staff at Bread for the World.

"Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice." (Psalms 72:1, 2)

God expects those in government to look after the well-being of all its citizens. And special attention should be paid to people struggling with poverty, God says.  In other words, the civil authority has the power and means to help people who are poor and marginalized in society, and it should do so. The Bible is clear that all authority has been given by God and those in authority are God’s servants. However, some in civil authority today do not acknowledge that. The fact is that God holds them and us accountable for the manner in which we exercise the stewardship of the resources that have been entrusted to us. Good governance is one of the many gifts given to us for the common good, and it should be exercised with equality and righteousness to all.

Genesis tells us that God gave Adam and Eve the power to subdue the earth. In doing so, man and woman have been given the ability to develop government systems and structures to care for one another and for the house in which they live, planet earth. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-28 demonstrates that God will hold us individually accountable for our stewardship.  Nations will also be judged based on how they care for poor, the stranger, and marginalized, according to Matthew.

Every individual is responsible for making sound choices that can help him/her become contributing members of society. However, once sin enters humanity and its structures and systems, it brings forth greed, covetousness, oppression, and abuse of power. Therefore, many among the poor and marginalized “have been robbed of the ability to make choices for themselves” (The Poverty & Justice Bible, commentary, pg. 3).

We live in a democratic society in which free speech empowers us to be a prophetic voice to those in authority and “speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8, 9). Let our prayer be like that of the Psalmist in Psalm 72 where our government officials may “judge all people with righteousness, defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the needy, crush the oppressor, and has pity on the weak and the needy.”

BISHOP JOSE GARCIA is the church relations director at Bread for the World. He is a bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy, a worldwide Pentecostal denomination with thousands of churches.

Lent Devotions: Luke 22:66-70


Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord. 

When day came the council of elders of the people met, both chief priests and scribes, and they brought Jesus before their Sanhedrin. They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us,” but he replied to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond. But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied to them, “You say that I am.” (Luke 22:66-70)

This is high drama.

Jesus stands before the highest religious authorities who want to know two things: (1) Does he claim to be the Christ (Messiah)? (2) Does he claim to be the Son of God?

Jesus’ first answer is non-committal – he knew their image of the Messiah was more of a political leader.

His answer to the second question is more direct: “You say that I am.” The words on their own lips are true.

The identity of Jesus. Is Jesus really God, or simply a good person whom God adopted as his “son”? In 325 A.D., the first General Council of the Church centered on this question . . . as did the second in 381 . . . and the third in 431. Jesus is truly God.

The constant affirmation of the Church has been clear, enshrined in the former words of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ . . . true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.”

The identity of Jesus. Imagine him looking to me and asking, “Who do you say that I am?” To which I respond . . .

Growing Up Poor in Rural America


By Robin Stephenson

Clark Fork, Idaho is an idyllic rural community nestled near the northern tip of the state. The town has a median income of just under $28,000 a year and a population of 530. In November, the school district said it could no longer afford to serve hot meals at Clark Fork Junior-Senior High School.

Chris Riggins, the town's mayor, is concerned about food-insecure students. "The hot lunch that they receive here at school, a lot of them, this is the only hot meal they get during the day," Riggins told a local news station. 

Roughly 35 percent of rural populations live in high poverty, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Rural areas are defined as having populations of fewer than 2,500 and not adjacent to a metro area. More than 25 percent of all rural children live in poverty – significantly higher than their urban counterparts.

16160848070_43f57f9ce4_kThe National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a nutrition intervention tool that provides food to children who need it – food that gives them the fuel to learn. But a growing number of rural schools are struggling to make the program work for them.

The Bonner County Daily Bee reports that the numbers don't add up for Clark Fork. The school averages about 100 enrolled students a year and nearly half qualify for the federal government free and reduced-lunch program (available to students in a family of four that earn roughly $44,000 annually). About 20 students opt into the program on a regular basis. The federal government reimburses the school $2.58 for reduced lunch and $2.98 for free lunches. The $70 in revenue, however, is not enough to cover the $395 a day it takes to run the program.

Volume helps cut costs in schools with larger student populations.

Community eligibility, a provision in the 2010 child nutrition reauthorization bill, has the potential to help many struggling schools. If over 40 percent of students qualify for free lunch, all students get free lunch for schools that opt in. By eliminating application and fees, the streamlined process eases the burden on schools and increases the total reimbursement. Unfortunately, for a small school like Clark Fork, the numbers are not in their favor: Only 30 percent of the student body qualifies for free lunch.

The obvious solution to child poverty is stable, living-wage employment for parents. In the absence of adequate work, safety net programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the earned income tax credit, and child nutrition programs increasingly bridge the gap between income and cost of living. Nationally, the child poverty rate stands at 18 percent. Without government interventions the rate would be 33 percent, according to a recent analysis.

Kids deserve the chance to reach their potential no matter where they live. Anti-poverty programs like SNAP and school lunch, which keep hunger at bay, must be strengthened and protected for the sake of our children.

Urge Congress to strengthen our child nutrition programs, particularly the summer meals program. Tell Congress to also protect SNAP and other anti-poverty programs from harmful budget and funding cuts. Call (800/826-3688) or email your members of Congress today.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

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