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Baptists respond to growing hunger crisis around world

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–As a growing global food crisis stirs uncertainty and generates hostility around the world, International Mission Board missionaries are finding ways to help sustain both the physical and spiritual needs of the people they serve.

Poverty and famine are nothing new to the world, but as demand rises for fossil-fuel replacements like soybeans and corn, many struggle to find — much less afford — even basic food items. Political strife and natural disasters in recent weeks have only compounded the problem in some countries.

“In the area I live, things would seem perfectly normal did I not have to go to the grocery store,” said a missionary in Zimbabwe where post-election tensions have sent the local economy spiraling out of control.

“In most stores, the shelves are almost empty. Bread has tripled in price in the last two weeks.”

IMB missionaries are working alongside Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization, to help people in places like Zimbabwe and other areas of the world -– some of which can’t be mentioned for security reasons.

In recent months, Baptists have provided about 1,000 packages of food -– rice, dry beans, wheat flour, cooking oil, salt, powdered milk, canned corned beef, sugar and tea -– for Zimbabwe. Another shipment of 3,900 packages is on the way.

The inflation rate in Zimbabwe has soared to more than 200,000 percent. Shoppers pull an item off the shelf only to put it back after seeing the price. Simple items like bread and millet often are nowhere to be found.

Missionaries in the country, however, concede the situation could be far worse.

“I truly believe there are two ways we can see God’s hand at work,” one missionary reflected. “The violence has not turned into open, widespread conflict, and our churches have remained faithful to minister and make efforts to minister to those hurting and in need.”

Zimbabwe is just one country struggling with hunger. According to Baptist Global Response, 16,000 children worldwide die from hunger-related causes each day. Right now, 800 million people in the world suffer from chronic hunger.

In Niger, IMB missionaries in a drought-ravaged area have organized a two-month food distribution project to deliver rice, millet, powdered milk and goats to those unsure where their next meal will come from.

“We have only been able to help a handful of hungry people,” said a missionary in the country, “but it has been a blessing and a great witness.”

Niger is primarily Muslim and many people haven’t heard the Good News of the Gospel.

The missionary remembers sitting among a group of villagers as they talked about times they had gone without food. Everyone seemed to have a story to share -– everyone except the missionary.

“I realized that I was the only one in the group that had never experienced going hungry due to lack of food in my life,” she said. “I felt so humbled and blessed.”

The global food crisis has only compounded shortage problems and caused prices of items like bread, rice, millet and oil to skyrocket. On the West African coast in Senegal, missionaries are working with another food project where drought killed off crops of millet and peanuts.

“Someone said that in their family they had not cooked a regular meal for 20 days,” missionary Jim Vaughn said. “Others are eating one meal a day. Many farmers have been out of food and are looking for work and food wherever they can.”

Vaughn is working with local believers and volunteers in Senegal to distribute sacks of rice to 750 households -– 6,400 people -– in eight villages. They also have distributed Christian materials to this mostly Muslim people group.

“Even though it is a drop in the bucket compared to what they need to get them through to harvest time in October, it is greatly appreciated,” Vaughn said. “This is an opportunity to show God’s love to the people.”

Across the Indian Ocean, Thailand also has struggled with food shortages this year. High prices triggered riots in past months.

“Thailand, though a relatively prosperous country, has its fair share of poor,” missionary Jack Kinnison said.

“The recent radical increases in [the cost of] fuel and food on a worldwide basis have hit those at the lower end of the pay scale the hardest,” he said.

One team in the country is reaching out to people in some of the hardest-hit areas through community development projects that teach vocational skills -– goat raising, cattle production, soil conservation and fruit tree production – along with health care.

Their efforts create close relationships through which the team can share the Gospel and distribute Christian materials. Many have come to faith in the Lord as a direct result, Kinnison said.

“Pray that those who are being helped … will see God’s concern for them and turn to the One who is sending them help,” he added.
Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. For more information on how you can help support these and other relief projects, click on the human needs ministry link after going to the “Give” page on imb.org. Also check out the Baptist Global Response website at baptistglobalresponse.com.

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  • Shawn Hendricks