Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Advent Devotions: Jericho Road

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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

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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...

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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

 

Former Bread Staffer Gyude Moore Takes On Liberia's Roads as Public Works Minister

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Gyude Moore. (Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

Former Bread for the World staffer and board member Gyude Moore is paving the way for a more food-secure Liberia. Bread is pleased to learn that Moore, a native of Liberia, was confirmed today as the West African nation’s new Minister of Public Works. 

Leading the government agency responsible for fixing Liberia’s road system, Moore faces a daunting, but not insurmountable task. The nation is still recovering from a 14-year civil war – recovery that is now complicated by the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

The Ebola virus, affecting several West African countries, is expected to leave a full-blown food crisis in its wake. More than 3,000 Liberians have died from Ebola, leaving harvests endangered, markets disrupted, and food prices high. Increased food insecurity adds urgency to fixing Liberia’s highways and byways, conduits to move life-saving resources throughout the country. The deplorable state of roads makes reaching quarantined communities with food and health services unnecessarily difficult and time consuming.

Moore is ready for the challenge. “Ebola has re-emphasized the need for these roads as they are the major connection between rural communities and health facilities,” he wrote in an email to Bread after his confirmation. “I am excited about the opportunity of expanding these roads into parts of the country that are yet without roads.”

Roads-Liberia1Liberia has 66,000 miles of roads, but less than 7 percent are paved. USAID reports, “it is cheaper, by volume, to ship rice the 7,500 miles from Thailand to Monrovia than it is from Gbarnga, a leading agricultural community just over 100 miles away.”

Although the resource-rich nation remains one of the poorest, Liberia has made steady economic progress through hard work and strategic partnerships.

“Our road infrastructure development is a critical portion of our poverty reduction and development strategy,” Moore said in the email.  “This is especially true for our farm to market-feeder road programs.”

The West often takes roads for granted, but for fragile post-conflict countries like Liberia, an impassable thoroughfare is a roadblock keeping agricultural products from markets with dire consequences for farmer’s livelihoods.

Agriculture accounts for 61 percent of Liberia’s GDP, and strengthening the industry is a key component in overcoming high rates of hunger and malnutrition. Investments from U.S.-funded Feed the Future and companion programs are critical to Liberia’s efforts to build agricultural resiliency. Feed the Future takes into account the entire agricultural value chain – all inputs required to move a product from farm to consumer.

Earlier this year, Feed the Future helped farmers produce a rice surplus in Lofa County. But surpluses won’t lead to economic self-sufficiency if farmers can’t reach a market to sell them. Passable roads are an important link in the agriculture value chain.

Moore’s days as a grassroots organizer may seem like a lifetime ago, but he has never forgotten them. “In essence, I never really left Bread,” he said in the email, “because even in this role, I’m doing the same things we did at Bread, except now in a different capacity.”

Read more about Moore’s path back to Liberia in this 2012 Bread for the World interview

You can support legislation to make Feed the Future permanent by contacting your member of Congress today and urging them to cosponsor the Global Food Security Act of 2014.

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

Inset photo:  Liberian road. (USAID)

It's #GivingTuesday, Give Your Tue-Cents!

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By Ryan Quinn

As a countermeasure to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, today is #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. Giving Tuesday reminds us to give to people who need it most. Thousands of organizations across the world are taking part in this new holiday tradition of generosity.

Today we are asking you to give your Tue-cents in two ways: At Bread for the World, we welcome your generosity and gifts to support our mission. But today we also encourage you to give back through your advocacy.

In fact, your giving and advocacy efforts toward ending hunger have been working already. Right before Thanksgiving, a House committee unanimously approved the Global Food Security Act (HR 5656). It still needs to pass through a Senate committee before being voted upon in the full House and Senate.

With only 10 days left in Congress’ schedule this year, now is the time for it to act to improve global food and nutrition security. We need you to email your members of Congress today. Tell Congress to pass the Global Food Security Act!

In passing this legislation, we can help solidify U.S. leadership in fighting poverty and claim another victory in our fight against hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty over the long-term. We look forward to a day when 805 million chronically undernourished people in our world becomes zero.

Call (800/826-3688) or email your members of Congress today, and urge them to support the Global Food Security Act (H.R. 5656 and S. 2909)!

Ryan Quinn is a senior policy advisor at Bread for the World

 

Advent Devotions: Listening Distractions?

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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. Bill Johnson

I Corinthians 1:3-9           

For me, today is special: It's my 80th birthday!   Far more important than my birthday celebration is the promise that we have as we listen to and encounter God as made known to us in Jesus the Christ.   God is to be listened to; Jesus is to be celebrated - especially as we begin this new, yet ancient, Advent season.  

I have never been a good listener; I prefer to talk or read or cook or collect antiques or travel. Some of you might be like me in some ways. But, I have learned over the years to try to listen to God: sometimes as I read a biblical passage; sometimes through a sermon; sometimes via my wife or dear friends; sometimes through events in my community or our world; sometimes even through fact or fiction books.   I kind of try to listen to "the still small voice" of God, which isn't always still or small.   Sometimes it is a movement like a soft rustling breeze or a roaring wind; sometimes it shakes and rattles me like an earthquake.   But, God speaks. Why? Because "God is faithful...."

From the time I was in junior high school I studied with music in the background.   Just ask my classmates at UCLA or SFTS. Even when I write sermons, there is always classical music or jazz. But, somehow God has always broken through my self-made distractions so that, like some of you, I am privileged, blessed, even forced, to listen to God.

Here, in I Corinthians, we see Paul reminding the church of God's faithfulness - strengthening us in spite of the cacophony of distractions bombarding us from every direction. God speaks.   The question is: Do we listen?   And not necessarily in conventional ways.

During Advent, discover your listening level - and your distractions - as you are surrounded by the grace and peace of God in Jesus. That is all we really need to hear. 

Rev. Dr. Bill Johnson is an alumnus of San Francisco Theological Seminary

Hunger in the News: Lame Duck, Childhood Hunger, Food Aid, Long-Term Unemployed, Ferguson

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A regular, non-comprehensive roundup of current news links on hunger and poverty issues from around the Web.

Lame-Duck Congress Crams Stacked Agenda Into Final Days,” by AP, CBSDC.  “Their to-do list includes keeping the government running into the new year, renewing expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses and approving a defense policy measure that has passed for more than 50 years in a row.”

World AIDS Day 2014 ~ thoughts from Mozambique,” by Rebecca J. Vander Meulen, Views from Mozambique.  “Mona’s daughter, Fernanda, who didn’t believe in antiretrovirals (ARVs) and was convinced they would make her sicker, now vigorously runs her household and serves as an informal neighborhood ARV officer, hounding her positive neighbors when they are late in going to the health post to replenish their ARV stock.”

Exploring The Urban-Rural Divide Of Childhood Hunger In Oregon,” by Dave Miller, Think Out Loud, Oregon Public Broadcasting.  “The state of Oregon has one of the highest rates of child hunger in the nation.”  Dave Miller interviews Sharon Thornberry, community food system manager for the Oregon Food Bank, and OPB reporter Amanda Peacher.

What comes after Ebola: Hunger,” by Hilal Elver, AlJazeera (Opinion). “As Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, leaving approximately 5,000 people dead, the region is now on the brink of a major food crisis.”

Feast and famine,” The Economist.  “As the world’s economy has grown, the prevalence of undernourishment—eating too few calories to sustain an active life—has fallen only half as fast as poverty (see chart). But at least it has fallen. Micronutrient deficiency is not falling at all.”

Less food stamps = more hunger. Duh!” by Nathanael Johnson, Grist.  “We provide food stamps (though they aren’t actually stamps anymore) to keep people from starving. The flip side is that, when we provide less food assistance, more people go hungry.”

Feeding the future will require great innovation,” by Erica Quinlan, AgriNews.  “Over the next 30 to 40 years, the world population is expected to increase to at least 9 billion people.”

Syria conflict: WFP suspends refugee food aid scheme,” BBC.  “The World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to suspend a critical food aid scheme for more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees because of a funding crisis.”

Common Misconceptions About Long-Term Unemployment,” by Dan Ritter, Wall St. Cheat Sheet. “In October 2014, 2.9 million Americans accounting for 32% of the total unemployed had been looking for work without success for more than six months."

Finding freedom in Bradenton: Boy flees Honduras to reunite with immigrant parents,” by Amaris Castillo and Richard Dymond, Bradenton Herald.  "Christopher, as he has asked to be called, is one of more than 24,000 children who decided to risk the treacherous journey last year into the United States, most of them from Central America and Mexico. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate, according to a 2014 United Nations report."

Boston church reflect on turmoil in Ferguson,” by Jeremy C. Fox and James H Burnett III, Boston Globe. “It comes from poverty; it comes from poor education systems; it comes from mass incarceration; it comes from just not having the basic accommodations that people ought to have as Americans.”

Voices Crying Out: Comfort and Transformation in an Age of Mass Incarceration (Isaiah 40:1-11),” by David G. Garber, Jr. Huffington Post Blog.  “For the past five years, I have been blessed to witness such transformation as a member of the Faculty Advisory Board for the Certificate in Theological Studies Program at the Lee Arrendale State Prison for women in Georgia.”

Bread for the World Celebrates World AIDS Day

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World AIDS Day Ribbon at the White House (photo courtesy of the White House).


By Jennifer Gonzalez

Today is World AIDS Day, a day for the world to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for those living with the disease, and to reflect on the lives of those who have died.

Bread for the World has long advocated for and continues to support the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is a federal government initiative that funds programs to improve the lives of people suffering from HIV and AIDS around the world.

Hunger affects people with HIV or at risk of HIV profoundly. Food insecurity can sometimes lead individuals to make risky choices that expose them to infection. And once infected, hunger deepens because individuals need to use their money for treatment rather than purchasing food.

Another reason HIV and hunger go hand-in-hand is that, as a disease, HIV is a health issue. People with HIV need good nutrition in order for their bodies to fight the disease and for their medication to work properly.

Bread supported the PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act of 2013, which extended important provisions and reporting requirements in order to strengthen the program. PEPFAR has been praised for curtailing AIDS in Africa and other developing countries.

This year’s World AIDS Day theme is “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation.” An estimated 35 million people are living with the disease worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States the figure stands at 1.2 million. Significant progress has been made in combating HIV worldwide, but more work needs to be done. The majority of people living with HIV or at risk of HIV do not have access to prevention, care, and treatment, and there is still no cure. More than 1 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses worldwide in 2013.

HIV does more than affect an individual. It impacts families, communities, and entire nations. Many of the countries hardest hit by HIV are also dealing with other large-scale problems such as infectious diseases and food insecurity.

But PEPFAR support is making an impact. As of Sept. 30, 2013, 6.7 million men, women, and children worldwide had received life-saving antiretroviral treatment through PEPFAR support. That number is up from 1.7 million in 2008 – a four-fold increase since the start of the Obama administration.

PEPFAR support is also stemming mother-to-child transmission of HIV. In fiscal year 2013, more than 12.8 million pregnant woman received HIV testing and counseling. Of those women, 780,000 tested positive for HIV and were provided with antiretroviral medication to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

Because of PEPFAR support, 95 percent of those babies were born HIV-free. In fact, last year, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that one million babies had been saved from becoming infected with HIV. He made the remark during a speech celebrating the 10th anniversary of PEPFAR.

Great strides have been made to combat HIV and AIDS worldwide. Today, the disease is not a death sentence, but instead, a chronic illness that can be managed with daily medication, regular lab monitoring, and lifestyle changes.

In addition, two PEPFAR targets set by the Obama administration in 2011 have not only been met, but surpassed: the treatment of 6 million people by the end of 2013 and the treatment of 1.5 million HIV-positive pregnant women in 2 years.

Because HIV and AIDS are a cause of hunger and vice versa, Bread looks forward to the day when both the disease and hunger are no more. 

Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World

Advent Devotions: Are You Ready to Be Seen?

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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. Ruth T. West

Isaiah 64:1-9         

I am struck by the power that these words evoke as the writer of Isaiah recalls God's awesomeness. I imagine, as I read, the glory of God's majesty lighting up the night sky like a fireworks show at the end of a triumphal event. Creation quakes at the very anticipation of God's presence in the world.

When we are faced with troubled and troubling times, there seems to be some hope and comfort in remembering or invoking images of a powerful and majestic God.

As we recall the magnitude of what we think God has done, we are by necessity and comparison humbled to acknowledge our collective smallness. It seems there is an inner lens that makes it easier for us to see the sin, perceived sin, or wrongdoing of others. We righteously force humility onto ourselves by chanting together corporate prayers of confession. But can we see our individual selves - that is, can I see myself - the way God does? It is not particularly easy for me to be so specific about my own lapses in character.

Yet the writer seems to invite us to stand before God and ask to be seen.

Not only can God forgive our iniquities (sins), God is able to NOT remember. The stains of our shortcomings become invisible - not severed from our experience - rather they are present and yet un-seen.

So our request to be seen represents our hope for God's loving-kindness to embrace us despite our very selves. It encourages us to be open to be changed, and to be thankful that we are made to be malleable. It invites us to recall our personal experiences of God and to speak to a hurting world through them.

Rev. Ruth T. West is program manager for the Christian Spirituality program at San Francisco Theological Seminary

Advent Devotions: The Advent Listeners

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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. Scott Clark

Luke 2:25-40        

This year, the story of Simeon and Anna concludes our Lessons & Carols services, and it begins our Advent devotions. It may seem a strange story to include at all in our Advent storytelling. Advent is the season that leads up to and anticipates Christmas. It is a season of waiting and looking and listening. But this story takes place eight days after Christmas, after Jesus is born. Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the Temple, and there they encounter Simeon and Anna. The parents put the baby in Simeon's arms, and Simeon and Anna announce: "This is God's salvation; this is God's light of revelation." They speak and begin to share this embodied Word. In the first days of Advent, this story may feel a little bit . . . out of season.

But there is an Advent story here, too: When this story opens, Simeon has been waiting for years and years "for the consolation of Israel." He lives in a world dominated by empire - a world of war, and oppression, and bare subsistence living. Simeon waits and watches and listens for God's word of consolation.

So too, Anna. Anna is an 84-year-old prophet and widow, who has lived most of her years waiting for that word, too: "Anna never left the temple, but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day."

Anna and Simeon are the original Advent listeners. In the years leading up to this story, Anna and Simeon are waiting and watching and listening - listening for God's word of consolation and hope and peace. And in this story, the long-awaited Word is made flesh in the midst of them.

Our Advent theme this year is "Listening for the Word Made Flesh." At Christmas, we celebrate the miracle of incarnation: "The Word was made flesh and dwelt in our midst . . . full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) During Advent, we listen and wait for that embodied Word. This year's theme asks us to join those first Advent listeners -- Anna and Simeon, John the Baptizer, Elizabeth and Mary, Zechariah and Joseph, shepherds, a people longing for liberation -- to listen to their stories, and then to listen in our world for the Word made flesh in the midst of us.

Where do we hear a Word in their stories?

Where do we hear an embodied Word coming to life in ours?

Rev. Scott Clark is chaplain and associate dean of student life at San Francisco Theological Seminary

 

 

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