by Mark Seaman
Those who have not experienced hunger cannot fully understand the devastating impact that it has. Fortunately, this includes me. I have never gone to bed hungry, even though I was only one generation from abject poverty.
Like most Americans I have lived an insulated life and experienced many of the privileges tied to the time and place of my birth. Extreme poverty is mostly related to the family that we are born into. If you have been born in poverty it is very difficult to break out.
Unfortunately, my reality it not everyone's. There are many that lack basic needs for survival through no fault of their own. Those who live lives of privilege are reluctant to see the need, because it demands that we accept responsibility.
It is time that we move to respond to the need around us. The pandemic has revealed how bad things have gotten in America. The wealth gap is the largest that it has been in over 100 years.
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos hold the wealth of 40% of the poorest Americans. The richest 0.1% hold almost the combined wealth of the bottom 90%. This doesn't feel quite right. But we regular people can do little about this except to agitate our leaders to care for the poor.
The pandemic has also had a devastating impact on the poorest people, and made survival very difficult. They have no resources and so have no margin in their lives. Children suffer the most. Disaster falls unevenly when it comes. Those at the bottom take the brunt.
I believe that everyone should eat. This is a cause that I am personally committed to. Poverty has cousins and other problems that it produces. But hunger is something that is readily addressable. Investing is good for everyone. Producing a safety net creates benefits that far outweigh the cost.
Responding to suffering is not an all or nothing proposition. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Be practical; be proactive. Act simply - act immediately.
While this is important for all people it is absolutely critical for church people. For anyone who expresses a faith in God, this is not optional. In fact, care for those in poverty is the way that you demonstrate your faith. It is absurd that people would focus on evangelism without caring for those in need. This is the true test of spiritual legitimacy.
Several years ago, our church embarked on a journey to embrace three initiatives in our community: End Hunger, Seek Justice, Strengthen Families. During the pandemic all three of these initiatives took on new meaning, not only for us but for our community. We realized at a gut-level that to follow Christ is to serve the poor and disadvantaged.
We created a food pantry and began giving out food. We partnered with other community organizations to help feed people. Over the last several years we have been expanding our impact as we learn how to be more effective. During 2019 we distributed 900 pounds of food to perhaps 50 families.
When the pandemic hit the need in our community skyrocketed. We became aware that many were beginning to starve and these were mostly children. I've seen the photos of lines for soup kitchens from the Great Depression but I never dreamed it would happen here. It breaks my heart to see people in such need.
As all churches were closed due to the quarantine, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to serve our community. We converted much of our church building to food distribution. Throughout 2020 and 2021 we have seen huge demand and are seeking to respond. The 900 pounds in 2019, has turned into 26,000 pounds of food in 2020. We have easily served 500 families. This is far larger that our small congregation.
This feels like the Gospel to me. There is so much hopelessness and grief in the world right now. And America is filled with angry, extremist, and arrogant voices. This is the opposite. Just regular people doing something good. This feels like the Good News to me - expressing God's love for those who are hurting.
Each one of us has a moral imperative to do the right thing. A crisis reveals what we value most. A crisis also transforms us into more of what we were already becoming. Who are you becoming in this time of crisis? Is it who you want to be?