Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Advent Devotions: Listening Can Be Dangerous


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 

By Adlai J. Amor 

Mark 1:1-8            

Listening - and answering the call - can be dangerous.  In the case of John the Baptist, he listened to God, proclaimed God's word, baptized many, and baptized Jesus Christ. But I wonder: Would John have done what he did if he knew Herod was going to order his beheading at the behest of Salome? 

But the Gospels are clear. John listened and acted on what he heard. There are many like him today, who, while they are not able to baptize Jesus, listened and acted on God's call.

I am reminded of my feisty journalism classmate, Connie Jayme Brizuela. In 2009, she was massacred - along with 58 women, children, and men - as they accompanied a rising politician to register his candidacy.  All of them were killed by the old political kingpin whose authority they dared to challenge. Justice still has to be served for these victims. Connie died as she lived: passionately working to right injustice wherever she saw it. She listened and acted on her calling.

But not all acts of listening - and following what you have heard - are dangerous. I had two spinster grand-aunts - the late Doña Alicia and Doña Dionesia - who lived in a large wooden house with many crannies. These nooks housed several statues of saints, including San Juan (St. John). Every year, they take these statues and mount them on carozzas for the town's annual fiesta procession. I often asked them why they kept them when their church was big enough to house the statues. They simply said that it was their calling.

There are many Johns, Connies, Dionesias, and Alicias today. I am inspired by all of them. Whether they died horrible deaths or passed on peacefully, I admire the strength of their beliefs - their passion to do what they have been called to do.

So during this Advent season, my prayer for you is that God grants you the ears to listen, the faith to act on what you have heard, and the perseverance to do what you have been called to do in this life. 

Adlai J. Amor is the board of trustees vice-chair at San Francisco Theological Seminary and the director of communications at Bread for the World



St. Nicholas: An Early Champion of Ending Hunger

451px-Icon_c_1500_St_NicholasBy Stephen H. Padre

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas. He was the Bishop of Myra, which is part of modern-day Turkey, and lived from 270 to 343. While he’s the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, pawnbrokers, and students, you may know him best as the model for Santa Claus because he had a reputation for secret gift-giving.

There are various legends surrounding St. Nicholas, and some contain some gruesome details. According to one, Nicholas was visiting an area that was suffering from a famine to care for people who were hungry. A butcher lured three little children into his house and killed them (another version says they were clerks who wanted to spend the night). He placed their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Nicholas resurrected the three victims through his prayers.

In another legend, Nicholas is in his hometown of Myra during a famine. A ship was in the port, loaded with wheat for the emperor in Constantinople. Nicholas asked for some of the wheat from the ship for people who were hungry. At first, the sailors refused, but Nicholas promised them that they would not get in trouble for sharing. When the ship arrived at its destination, the sailors discovered that the weight of the load had not changed, even though some wheat had been removed. The amazing thing was that there was enough wheat to supply the town for two full years with enough for planting.

The Christian traditions that honor saints like Nicholas do not worship the saints themselves but view them as models of a godly life. As individuals and through our collective work, we can follow the examples of the saints in our own efforts to live as God intends us to.

With a reputation for assisting people who are hungry, Nicholas should perhaps also be the patron saint of the anti-hunger movement. The wheat sharing legend is, in a way, a model that Bread for the World follows. The food that was taken off the ship was somehow multiplied, its usefulness extended for a time and for other purposes. Bread for the World is also in the multiplication business. Its advocacy before Congress influences the national policies, programs, and conditions that can bring hunger and poverty to an end. When Bread wins advocacy victories in Congress, people who are hungry and poor benefit in multiple ways—for years after a bill is passed, or through a safety-net program that allows an unemployed worker to feed her family while she searches for a new job.

For many, St. Nicholas Day is an occasion for giving candy to children (who leave their shoes by the door the previous night and hope they don’t receive a lump of coal instead). But given Nicholas’ supposed connections to famines and his deeper reputation of helping people who are hungry, he is a worthy example to consider in our work of ending hunger. He’s also known in song as “jolly old St. Nicholas.” Surely we can be jolly with him at Christmastime, but we can also live like him and remember people who are hungry and poor in our prayers and actions. 

Rejoice in God's saints, today and all days!
A world without saints forgets how to praise.
Their faith in acquiring the habit of prayer,
their depth of adoring, Lord, help us to share.

--Rejoice in God’s Saints Today and All Days, vs. 1 (Fred Pratt Green, 1977)

Stephen H. Padre is the managing editor at Bread for the World

Photo: Russian icon depicting St. Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. (Wikimedia Commons)


Advent Devotions: Listening Well During Advent


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 

By Rev. Dr. Scott Sullender        

II Peter 3:8-10a           

If one year is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one year, then surely we must be patient, waiting for the Lord, waiting for the new creation.  And if the Day of the Lord is going to come "like a thief in the night," then we best learn to be good listeners.  My dog, who protects my home from thieves who may enter at night, is an excellent listener.  (He is also an excellent smeller, but that is another metaphor.)  If we listen well, we will recognize the Lord when he comes.  Yet, listening is hard work, particularly in this age of hyper-over-information.  Taking in information is not listening.   Listening requires sustained attention.  Listening requires sustained focused attention.  Listening requires time.  Listening requires setting aside our own agenda and needs to truly pay attention to another. 

We also know from the world of pastoral care that listening is multi-layered.  Consider these dimensions of listening:

  • We can listen for content
  • We can listen for emotional tone.
  • We can listen to what is not said.
  • We can listen to verbal and nonverbal messages.
  • We can listen for the patterns and themes that connect stories and storytellers over time.
  • We can listen with what the spiritual directors call, our "third ear, listening for the presence of God in the other's story.            

So as we wait so patiently for the Day of the Lord, for the coming of the Lord this Advent season, let us sharpen our listening skills, incorporating some of these listening skills or dimensions of listening into our spiritual walk.   We might be amazed what we hear.

Rev. Dr. Scott Sullender is professor of pastoral counseling at San Francisco Theological Seminary   





A Potentially Deadly Question: What Will Syrian Refugees Do With No Money to Buy Food?

By Beth Ann Saracco

“I ask the U.N. not to leave us. We need food, diesel, and clothes…Soon it will start to snow. What do we do?”

These questions and this desperate plea were voiced by Aisha, a Syrian refugee, in an article by The Associated Press, who painted a picture of a dire situation coming together for people like her who have fled their war-torn country. Recently “60 Minutes” covered the Syrian refugee crisis and how essentials like access to food could soon dry up.                              

On Monday, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) announced it would suspend its food voucher program due to a severe cash shortfall, a decision that will leave nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey struggling to pay for food. Prior to the program’s suspension, the WFP was providing refugees with $15 to $45 monthly voucher cards to purchase food in local markets. The suspension couldn’t have come at a worse time – as winter approaches. 

The demand for humanitarian aid around the world is unprecedented at the moment. In fact, the United Nations has declared “Level 3” humanitarian emergencies – the highest U.N. classification for the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises – in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and West Africa.

 The WFP made the decision to suspend the Syrian refugee program due to the complex nature of the Syrian crisis and a shortfall in funding from pledges not received. At a pledging conference earlier this year in Kuwait, more than $2 billion was pledged by donor countries, but only about 40 percent has been committed, leaving a shortfall for this month of $64 million. Refugee operations in Kuwait cost approximately $35 million a week.

To fill the gap, the WFP is calling on major donor countries like the United States and Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain to make good on their pledges.  While the U.S. has met a large portion of its commitment, it needs to place this issue at the top of its diplomatic agenda and use its leadership to urge other nations to meet their own pledging commitments.

Furthermore, Congress needs to take action and pass President Obama’s Ebola supplemental request of $6.2 billion. The request is critical because the money supports the International Disaster Assistance account which funds not only the U.S. response to Ebola overseas, but also some of the U.S. contribution to the WFP. We urge Bread for the World members to call Congress and ask their senators and representative to pass President Obama’s Ebola supplemental request and include funding for the International Disaster Assistance account.

Beth Ann Saracco is an international policy analyst at Bread for the World

World Prayers for Dec. 7-13: Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal

Cape Verde, isle of Santiago: street market in the town of Assomada. Photo by Claude Meisch from Wikimedia Commons. 

This 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 increase their commitment 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 December 7-13, we pray for Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal:

God of glory, in this season of Advent, we remember that your son spent some of his earliest days after his birth in the land of Egypt—in Africa. It was a land that received Jesus as a child and as a refugee. This week, we continue to lift up to you in prayer countries in Africa. Nurture the people of Africa today, especially in the countries of Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal, as the people of Africa nurtured the young Jesus centuries ago.

God, we know that some of the countries we pray for this week have special connections to our own country because of slavery. Help us as a nation to reconcile with these dark periods in our history, when we took people forcibly from these countries and enslaved them. Help us to find ways to atone for the wrongs we as a nation committed while involved in the slave trade.

We pray for people who are poor and hungry in these countries. Protect them from the causes of hunger and poverty, including climate change, war and conflict, water shortages and drought, overgrazing, over fishing, desertification, and soil erosion.

Sustain community and religious organizations that work in these countries to improve food security in rural households, to educate and end illiteracy, to support refugees from neighboring countries, and to provide care for people living with HIV and AIDS. Give doctors and health care workers who are treating people with Ebola and people suffering from the disease strength.

The nations that we pray for this week are physically the closest in Africa to the United States, yet they are so far from us in our knowledge of them. We pray that we will come to know and understand them as our neighbors, as people worthy of our prayers and support, for we are all your children. In the name of Jesus, our savior. Amen.

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

Cape Verde: not available
The Gambia: 48.4
Guinea: 55.2
Guinea-Bissau: 69.3
Senegal: 46.7

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


Advent Devotions: Hope Moves Us to Life


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Dr. Deana J. Reed

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13           

The sanctuary is ready!  The candle of HOPE has been lighted.  Our journey toward Bethlehem has begun.  The excitement is growing as Advent begins...

HOPE!  I heard it said just the other day:  "Where there is hope, there is life."  The Psalmist reminds us, "God, you smiled on your good earth!"  The thought of God smiling on God's good earth encourages me toward HOPE, inviting me to move beyond simply waiting for the birth of the baby once again, to letting myself become an actor in this seasonal play. Becoming a partner in the creation of a realm of life that encourages God's smile to be big and broad across this global village.  It is true,"Where there is hope, there is life." 

HOPE - how in need of hope we are!  Hope for and in Ferguson, Missouri. Hope for and in the countries of West Africa.  Hope for and in the Middle East.  Hope for and in the urban centers of our land. Hope for and in the communities where we reside.  Hope for and in the households we call home. Hope for and in our communities of faith...

The Psalmist today goes on suggesting that "Love and Truth meet in the street, right living and whole living embrace and kiss!"

Advent may be a time of waiting, but it is also a time to envision and live into God's realm of hope and peace; justice and love.  

The sanctuary is ready. May God find our hearts ready as well.

Rev. Dr. Deana J. Reed is director of field education at San Francisco Theological Seminary


Tax Breaks for Race Horses but not Working Moms?

HeatherBy Eric Mitchell

In Advent, which began this week, we wait for a poor baby king to turn the ways of the world upside down. Last week, we were reminded how backward our world can be sometimes.

What happened? Congress was about to permanently extend tax breaks to businesses and other wealthy interest groups while failing to extend them for working moms and families trying to escape poverty.

Thankfully, that deal was stopped. But the fact that it almost happened shows how misaligned priorities are in Washington. And make no mistake: leaders of both parties in Congress signed off on this deal before it was stopped by a presidential veto threat. But just yesterday, the House overwhelmingly voted to extend tax breaks for race horses and NASCAR owners.

I ask you to tell Congress to get its priorities straight: put low-income, working families before race horses and other wealthy interest groups.

Lawmakers need to hear this. Recent expansions to the earned income tax credit (EITC) and child tax credit (CTC) lift more people out of poverty in the United States than any other program, excluding Social Security. Allowing the 2009 improvements to these credits to expire would create more poverty.

A single mother with two kids working at minimum wage would lose $1,725 per year in child tax credits if these programs expire (currently scheduled for 2017).

Can you take two minutes right now to email your members of Congress? Remind Congress that they need to make permanent recent improvements to the EITC and CTC, especially if they're going to expand or make permanent any tax breaks for businesses.

With only 8 days left in Congress' schedule this year, Congress will likely punt these 50 business tax breaks for another year. Don't wait — email Congress today.

Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations at Bread for the World.

Photo: Heather Rude-Turner, 31, kisses her daughter Naomi, 5, after attending church. (Laura Elizabeth-Pohl/Bread for the World)

Advent Devotions: Jericho Road


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Dr. Polly Coote        

Isaiah 40:1-11           

"Comfort ye, comfort ye," the voice of a tenor - singing in concert halls and churches with Handel's glorious music - announces the advent of the Messiah. Comfort is the theme of entire first "Christmas" portion of the oratorio, beginning with this familiar passage from Isaiah 40 and concluding with "his yoke is easy and his burthen is light (Matthew 11:30)."  When, however, the voice is that of John the Baptist, as the gospels have it, crying out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God," the single verse quoted from Isaiah becomes less comforting.  John's voice announces an unsettling call to repentance, rather than assurance that all terms have been served and penalties paid.  Preparing the way for the triumphant entry of the Sovereign into the new reign requires serious rethinking (metanoia) as well as hard labor. 

The road Isaiah was urging the returning exiles to take out of Babylon - across the Jordan, past Jericho, and back to the home in Jerusalem that their generation had never known - was not an easy one.  The old Jericho road was steep, crooked, and rough in Isaiah's time, as it was when Jesus made the same trip on a donkey on the first Palm Sunday, and it still is today.

But now a new road, a straight smooth level road, the product in part of our US tax dollars at work, makes its way from Jericho and the Jordan toward Jerusalem. Toward, but not into:  outside east Jerusalem it meets an enormous barrier wall, part of the multi-layered fence system crowned with barbed wire that zigzags through farmland and towns to separate Israel from Palestine.  The highway in the desert has been made straight - for whom? Going where?

When Jesus comes back to bring in the reign of God, will he lead his forces in a convoy up to Jerusalem on a new straight secure access road?  Or will he come with his friends from Galilee in a pickup truck on the steep and bumpy winding roads through the outlying villages and olive groves and stop in Bethany just outside the wall?  As a born Jew, he'd be entitled to ride on the straight roads and pass without hindrance through the checkpoints into Jerusalem.  Many a child born in Bethlehem today would not.  

Dr. Polly Coote is an adjunct faculty member at San Francisco Theological Seminary

Rural Oregon School Drops School Lunch Program

In Oregon, 27.3 percent of children were food insecure in 2012. Nationally, 15.8 million American children lived in food insecure households. (Robin Stephenson)

By Robin Stephenson

We have a problem in Oregon: We have one of the highest rates of hunger in the nation. Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn wrote that if there was a town called poverty it would be the largest city in Oregon.

That town would look a lot like Jordan Valley in rural Malheur County. The beauty of the high desert landscape belies a hidden reality of hunger and poverty; one in four residents live below the poverty line. In 2010, 24.3 percent of residents utilized food stamps, compared to 14.6 percent in the Portland metropolitan area. Malheur County has a 30.1% rate of child food insecurity - meaning kids are skipping meals.

Like jobs, resources in Jordan Valley are limited; the nearest full-service grocery store is nearly 100 miles away. Approximately 80 students are bused to school each day from remote ranches and 50 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch based on family income.

So, hearing Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) report that Jordan Valley dropped their free and reduced-price lunch program made my jaw drop. This makes no sense.

Kids learn better, graduate at higher rates, and are healthier when they have access to a nutritious lunch. There is a lot at stake here. The United States has a federal program that subsidizes school lunch, but the program is optional.

The problem is that the program isn’t working for Jordan Valley. 

Sharon Thornberry, a Bread for the World board member, sees the urban-rural hunger divide in her work as the community food systems manager at the Oregon Food Bank.  She views hunger at the community level. Thornberry says Jordan Valley exposes a policy issue that needs attention. She told OPB that the lunch program no longer works for rural communities. “I can remember them telling me in Jordan Valley that each meal cost them a dollar more than the federal reimbursement,” she said.

Economically depressed districts need full reimbursement for school lunches or other policy interventions that are specific to the circumstances rural communities face today.

Jordan Valley is not unique – rural towns across America experience higher rates of hunger and poverty.  Of course, the permanent solution to our hunger problem is a job that pays enough to support a family.  In the meantime, the school lunch program is a critical tool to combat child hunger.

I grew up in a town similar to Jordan Valley and bused to school from our small family farm. I am thankful for the free lunch I received that took the pressure off my parents during some tough economic times.  Sometimes, we all need a little help.

The program that authorizes the national school lunch program expires September 30, 2015. In the reauthorization process, members of Congress have an opportunity to strengthen the program so it works for dual communities, especially Greg Walden, who has constituents in Jordan Valley.

Learn more in this new briefing paperEnding Hunger in the United States.

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

Advent Devotions: After the Trauma...


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Bentley Stewart

Mark 13:24-37           

Jesus warns the disciples of the destruction of the temple.  He tells them to beware of false teachers.  There will be rumors of wars, geopolitical struggles, and natural disasters.  He warns of beatings in houses of worship, interrogation by authorities, and familial betrayal.  And then, after that suffering ... apocalypse.

Shelly Rambo, in Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, writes that "trauma is ...an encounter with death."  While "suffering is what, in time, can be integrated into one's understanding of the world, trauma is what is not integrated in time; it is the difference between an open and a closed wound."

After the fatal shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, there were 100 days of protest.  After the announcement that the grand jury found no probable cause to indict - on any charges - the white police officer who shot the African American teenager, some protestors resorted to violence.  There were lootings and buildings were set ablaze. 

Of course, that's not where the tragedy begins.  To begin with the shooting is to tell the story beginning with "secondly."  The story of why a large portion of our country cannot trust the justice system of the United States has a long history.  It dates to back to being legally defined as only 3/5 of a human in the text of the United States Constitution.

After the trauma of slavery, there was the suffering of Jim Crow.  After that suffering, lynchings morphed into the criminalization of blackness and mass incarceration.

After the trauma, after the world as we have known it has come to the end, we are promised to "see the Son of Humanity coming."  Not the Son of God.  Not even the Messiah.  The child that God births from our own blessed and wondrous frailty. 

After the trauma, we navigate lives that are marred by the ongoing enigma of suffering.  May we have the courage to attend to the open wound of systemic racism. Through creative nonviolence, may we resist all oppression and discover the Compassionate One who is very near, nearer than our own breath. 

Bentley Stewart is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary


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