An Age of Hunger
by Lynne M. Baab
I have a short list called “books that changed my life.” The first book (chronologically) on that list is Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider. It came out in 1978, when I was 26 years old. The statistics about the number of people worldwide affected by hunger stunned me. My life was never the same afterwards.
For the first few years after reading the book I focused on living simply so my husband and I could give away more than 10% of our income. We gave to our church, to a number of friends who served in various ministries, and to Christian relief and development organizations which worked to help the hungry.
I worried about the effect of handouts on the people who receive aid. In the mid-1980s I heard about micro-loans, those very small loans that help people get small businesses off the ground or help them expand their already existing small businesses. The idea of micro-loans seemed wonderful to me, truly a hand up rather than a hand out. The organization that does mirco-loans the best then (and now, I believe) is Opportunity International, so my husband and I began to give money to Opportunity. Soon after that I began to serve on one of their boards, which I have continued to do off and on for more than 20 years.
When the disaster of September 11th happened twelve and a half years ago, I found myself thinking over and over about the fact that between 5 and 10 times more people died of the effects of hunger worldwide on that day than died in the twin towers. And the next day, and the next, the same number of people died again. We were rightly outraged at the number who died in New York. Where is our outrage about hunger?
Since I first read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, the percentage of people worldwide affected by extreme hunger has decreased. So that’s good. But the actual number of people affected by hunger has increased, because the world population has increased so much. That’s bad.
How do we keep from being so overwhelmed by the scope of the problem that we are frozen into doing nothing? For me, focusing on one form of development work has helped, even though I know micro-loans are only one of many ways to address hunger. Education makes a difference, as do ministries and organizations that help improve health. When disasters strike, relief efforts are essential. All of those matter, and I’m delighted that Christians have supported and served in those areas. I have continued to give money, a bit of time, and my prayers to micro-loans. It’s wonderful to have one particular focus rather than scattering my time and energy widely. I still have moments when I feel overwhelmed by the needs, but having one focus helps with that form of discouragement.
During Lent, when we walk with Jesus to the cross, we remember the sin and injustice that took him there. We have enough food in the world to feed everyone. Poverty and lack of food are caused by political and economic realities that reflect sin and injustice. During Lent, I encourage everyone to think about the one form of relief or development work that excites you, such as micro-loans, health, education, disaster relief, etc. I encourage you to find a ministry or organization that works in that area, and to give your resources and energy to it as fully as you can. You’ll probably feel anger. You’ll probably feel frustration. You’ll experience the companionship of Jesus. The one who walks to the cross during Lent enters into every human need, including the struggle to find enough to eat. Jesus is there and we need to be, too.
Today’s post is written by Lynne M Baab. Lynne is the author of numerous books on Christian spiritual practices, including Sabbath Keeping,Fasting, and Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. She teaches pastoral theology in New Zealand. Her website has numerous articles she’s written about spiritual practices, as well as information about her books.