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Banquet stirs awareness of worldwide hunger needs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Representatives of several Southern Baptist Convention agencies were recently guests at a banquet, but the feast was sumptuous only for a few.
Guests drew numbers for seating prior to entering the room in the convention’s Nashville, Tenn., building. Only four guests were seated at an eloquent table setting complete with china, crystal, candles and linen napkins. Adjacent to their table was a serving table which featured a salad, ham, vegetables, desert, and ladies in formal dress to serve them.
The others were seated nearby and found the table covered with newspaper along with a meal consisting of a mound of rice, a slice of bread and a cup of water. Their servers were shabbily dressed. One even had dirt smeared on her face.
Feelings were somewhat intense as everyone realized something was amiss. Yet those blessed with abundance soon were carrying trays from their table to serve those momentarily less-fortunate.
“This served as a stark reminder of the enormous contrast between those of us who have more than we need and those who have far less,” noted Bill Merrell, vice president for convention relations with the SBC Executive Committee and one of the guests who drew a place at the bare-bones table.
“I felt a strong sense of disappointment that I did not have any more than what I had,” Merrell noted. “I realized there must be many who wake up every day with a profound disappointment with life.”
While having the good fortune of drawing a lot enabling her to sit at the prosperous table, Bobbie Patterson, associate executive director with Woman’s Missionary Union, was nonetheless disturbed at the arrangement.
“I felt really bad when I realized we had so much and I saw what the others had. It was a joint decision at our table to share what we had. I don’t know what would have happened if someone had not wanted to share.”
Bill Cashion, human needs consultant with the Foreign Mission Board, also seated at the bountiful table, said, “At first I felt a sense of gratitude in thinking of how the Lord had blessed us. But in looking at what the others had, I felt a burden that we had to share.
“We cannot ignore human needs as we seek to evangelize,” Cashion continued, noting 75-80 percent of the most impoverished in the world are among the people groups unreached by the gospel.
“At my table, there were plastic bugs and a plastic tarantula, but that is life for many people,” added Donoso Escobar, director of church and community ministries at the Home Mission Board.
“It was good to see the wealthy share. But what touched me was that the wealthy did not bring their leftovers; before they took a bite, they brought the tray and served us,” he said.
Steve Nelson, director of hunger concerns with the Christian Life Commission, told the group, “Many, perhaps most, Southern Baptists are unaware that neither the Cooperative Program nor the convention’s two special offerings pay for hunger ministry.
“Southern Baptists sponsor nearly 300 hunger ministries worldwide. These are funded through gifts to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. Gifts received are used 100 percent for hunger ministry, with nothing taken out for promotion or administrative salaries. No other relief agency or charity can make that claim.”
Nelson underscored the effectiveness of hunger ministries coupled with evangelism, noting, for example, four years of hunger ministry in northern India has resulted in hundreds coming to Christ and the start of more than 400 new churches.
Mickey Caison, disaster relief director for the Brotherhood Commission, informed the group hunger funds recently helped feed victims of the Ohio River flooding.
“When Southern Baptists don’t give, these opportunities to minister are missed,” Caison said.
The event was held in conjunction with the unveiling of the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund’s new logo. The meal was prepared and served by the WMU of the Bledsoe Baptist Association in middle Tennessee.