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A needed channel for food & the Gospel

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Oct. 12, Southern Baptists will observe World Hunger Sunday and congregations across the United States will collect offerings for the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. Since its inception in 1974, Southern Baptists have given $230,877,650 through the fund. In 2007, Southern Baptists gave more than $5.5 million; in the first six months of 2008, $2.3 million has been received. For information on the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, visit worldhungerfund.com.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It wouldn’t surprise you to hear that hunger remains a problem around the world, but in America?

Nearly 7 percent of households in the United States are at times at the risk of hunger, according to various analysts. In a 2006 report on “household food security,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that these families have lower quality diets — by necessity not choice — or must resort to emergency food sources because they are unable to afford the food they need.

The same report said 4 percent of U.S. households experience hunger, with members of the family frequently skipping meals or eating too little. A significant number of children are in both these groups.

In response to this need, more than $1.2 million was given through the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund to underwrite 2,200 hunger ministries overseen by the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board in 2007. Yet, serious needs remain.

Why support the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund rather than other charities? “[Because] only the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund uses 100% of all contributions to feed hungry people,” according to the fund’s worldhungerfund.com website. This promise is made because other income lines support the mission personnel on the field, while other budget lines cover administrative and promotional costs of the fund itself.

The goal of the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund goes beyond feeding hungry people, in not only caring for individuals’ physical needs but also looking to “build relationships” and “make disciples for Christ,” the website states. When food aid is given in emergency situations, the ultimate practical goal is “to create independence from rather than dependence on food aid.”

Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted, “Providing the food and relief people need is never predicated on them making spiritual decisions. Southern Baptists are well-known for their humanitarian spirit and their concern for the spiritual health of all people, but we do not confuse the two,” Land said.

Contributions to the World Hunger Fund, unless otherwise designated, are split 80/20, with 80 percent directed to hunger relief work by International Mission Board missionaries and 20 percent for the work by North American Mission Board. Every dollar that is received at the national level for the fund is used to help those in need, Land emphasized, adding, “Not a penny is skimmed off the top to cover administrative or other costs.”

Due to rising unemployment, high costs of energy and food, and the aftermath of several hurricanes, needs are great along the U.S. Gulf Coast and elsewhere around the country. World Hunger Sunday is Oct. 12 this year. Last year, the Gospel was shared with more than 560,000 people in North America through SBC hunger ministries.

Land emphasized that while the Southern Baptist calendar has one day designated as World Hunger Sunday, people are hungry every day of the year. “God’s Word clearly expresses His compassion for the poor and hurting,” he said. “When we neglect this scriptural responsibility to care for those in need, we are being disobedient.”

Every church should make benevolent care a key component of its ministry to those in the community and those in its own church family, Land said. “It dishonors the incarnation of our Savior to talk about the bread of life and heaven and be insensitive to the fact our hearers are hungry and homeless and thirsty,” he said.

As a Christian, what should you be doing to combat hunger? Proverbs 14:21 says, “He who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.”

“Leviticus 19:9-10 tells us not to go over the fields a second time but to leave something for the poor and the alien among us…. How can we practice gleaning [if we’re not farmers]?” posed Steve Nelson, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., in a Sept. 11 article in Baptist Press.

Nelson encourages Southern Baptists to consider their excess, posing the question: What has God provided for you beyond what you need? Nelson suggests figuring out a way to regularly set aside a portion of that for people in need — clothes, small checks, canned goods, he said.

If each Southern Baptist gave $1 a year, it would double what is being given currently to the World Hunger Fund.

If a church is struggling with sacrificial giving, argumentative conflicts or a lack of any visible fruit of the Gospel, the answer is, “Minister to the poor,” Nelson said.

The worldhungerfund.com website provides resources for churches to use for encouraging their members to give. Many of the resources are downloadable from the website at no cost, including customized soup can labels that families can use to create receptacles for donations to alleviate hunger or a downloadable two-page Impact bulletin insert on hunger and human needs.

Other resources are available for purchase, with more information available on the website. A special four-page Impact bulletin insert provides information and insight on the issue of world hunger, while World Hunger Fund offering envelopes encourage support of this ministry. A World Hunger Fund video on the website offers images and personal stories to make world hunger needs more relevant, with challenging Scriptures and statistics. It can be downloaded or streamed directly from the site to introduce Southern Baptists to the work that is being done in Jesus’ name to bring hope and relief to those in need.

How is the hunger fund impacting the world? Gifts to the fund allowed nearly $100,000 to be given to the recent relief operation in the embattled Baltic state of Georgia, according to a Sept. 23 article in Baptist Press.

Another example of the impact of the World Hunger Fund can be found in Mali. The needs there are great: Average lifespan is 50, most earn less than $1,000 a year, malnutrition claims the lives of many, granaries are empty, pride sometimes overcomes their hunger, and human development is among the five lowest in the world, as reported by Baptist Press Sept. 11.

But the greatest need in that nation is that 99 percent of the 4 million Bambara in West Africa do not know Christ.

Southern Baptists’ gifts to the hunger fund provided 500 tons of grain to be distributed freely among starving farmers in the Mali bush. Local Christians participated in the outreach.

Since the World Hunger Fund’s inception in 1974, $230,877,650 has been given and targeted for people in need. Land said that while much has been given, the needs are greater still, noting any idea there is a separation between a “social Gospel” and a “spiritual Gospel” is a totally false idea.

“There is only one Gospel and it is a whole Gospel for whole people,” he explained. “It is a denial of the Gospel for Christians to seek to feed the hungry and not tell people about the bread of life. It is a denial of the Gospel to seek to house the homeless and not tell them that in our Father’s house are many mansions,” Land said.
Andrea Frankenfeld is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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