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Partnership means millions of meals for hungry Koreans

PYONGYANG, North Korea (BP)–Starving North Koreans are receiving millions of meals because Southern Baptists gave generously and joined hands with others to share the good news of God’s love with people in need.

More than 1.8 million servings of dehydrated vegetable soup mix were shipped in April to the reclusive Asian nation — at a cost of 3.6 cents per meal — because of a remarkable partnership between Southern Baptists, American farmers and an interdenominational food bank.

The project was possible because Southern Baptist churches gave generously to their World Hunger Fund in 1996, reversing several years of declining gifts.

North Korea teeters on the brink of famine after two years of massive crop failures. Eyewitnesses say as many as 20 million people are going to bed hungry every night, many reduced to eating grass, tree bark and even soil. In some areas, government rations have shrunk to 3.5 ounces a day — less than one-fourth of the level needed to maintain body weight. Children reportedly have begun to die of malnutrition.

Three overseas freight containers, containing 1.86 million meals total, were shipped in April for only $60,000, said Bill Cashion, a Southern Baptist human needs consultant. Expenses were minimized because farmers in Colorado and Texas donated surplus crops and Breedlove Dehydrating Plant, a nonprofit ministry of an interdenominational food bank in Lubbock, Texas, provided its services at cost.

“These farmers have given a tremendous boost to this relief effort because they were willing to give away their surplus harvest, rather than turning it under,” Cashion said. “In fact, they offered 200 million pounds of potatoes and vegetables, but even at this low cost, it would have taken $9 million if we had processed and shipped it all. We just don’t have that kind of resource.”

Cashion praised the farmers and the dehydrating plant for helping keep the project’s cost at a minimum.

“The wonderful thing about working with these people is their heart for sharing Christ as well as feeding people,” he said. “They have been working hard to reduce the cost of these shipments. That makes for much more efficient use of hunger funds Southern Baptists are sending.”

Southern Baptist officials were able to release another $140,000 to extend the project, however — providing perhaps another 4.3 million meals. About $1.2 million of Southern Baptist hunger funds have been released to relieve the food crisis since August 1995 floods destroyed much of that year’s rice harvest.

Southern Baptist relief money has helped feed a city of 50,000 people for a year, as well as assisted 3,000 children at risk, Cashion said.

“We believe that compassionate ministry in the name of Christ will continue to reveal to North Koreans the depth of love God has for them,” Cashion said.

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  • Mark Kelly