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Hunger relief in Mali: Give to God and He will multiply it

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.

MALI, West Africa (BP)–New believers who recently started meeting as a young church in the Mali bush were angry. Starving farmers in the area were about to receive 500 tons of free grain to help feed their families until the next harvest.

But the Christians wanted more grain than everyone else. After all, they argued, Christians from the United States were sending the grain through the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. Why wouldn’t they feed their own first?

“The palm tree is a bad tree,” the new Christians told International Mission Board worker Steven Roach, using a Bambara proverb. “It casts its cooling shade far from its roots. Don’t be like the palm tree. The [non-Christians] are laughing at us.”

Roach, who has worked among the Bambara for the last five years, hoped to use the opportunity to strengthen the disgruntled new believers in the teachings of Christ.

In fact, Roach expected their reaction.

“Any project like this is going to face some issues,” Roach said, “but when they told me they were eating the weeds on the side of the road, I knew I had to do something anyway.”

In the last 18 months, Roach enlisted help from Beulah Baptist Church in Hopkins, S.C., which has sent teams repeatedly to help the village church grow. Pastor Brad Bessent brought a team to help facilitate the food distribution, but at night, he gathered the new believers for a moonlit Bible story under the stars.

By the glow of a lantern, Bessent put two sardines and five pieces of bread on a plate. Through a translator, he told about a young boy who had packed this small lunch, but when he heard about all the hungry people nearby, he gave it to Jesus to distribute. Jesus multiplied that food and fed more than 5,000 people.

“Not all of them were Christians,” Bessent told the Bambara men, “but Jesus had compassion on them.”

The believers listened intently, the lantern throwing shadows into the creases of their pensive faces.

“So if I give to God what I have, He can make it more than if I kept it for myself,” said one believer.

Bessent nodded. He challenged them to move beyond their anger and use this grain distribution as a chance to reveal God’s power and compassion to all the Bambara in the area.

The believers hung their heads low, ashamed. One even fell to his knees before his teachers to ask forgiveness.

Throughout the following days of grain distribution, the Bambara believers joined in the work, loading and repairing grain bags, sharing Christian literature in the Bambara language.

Some said they plowed their fields at night so they could be ready to work at the distribution site the next day.

“Their attitudes have really changed,” Bessent said. “I think they really see what God is doing in this … and how the Gospel can spread in this area.”
Emily Peters is a regional writer covering West Africa for the International Mission Board. For information about the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, visit worldhungerfund.com.

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  • Emily Peters