|Sam Upton, IMB missionary|
Officials estimate that 300,000 people could die in the next several months from famine caused by drought, floods, civil war, AIDS and other factors. The United Nations has requested more than $600 million for food, agriculture and health aid, and relief organizations are sending thousands of tons of food into the region.
Missionaries in southern Africa are partnering with local believers to identify groups overlooked by major aid organizations, which often focus on heavily populated areas.
“We attempt to identify the cracks in the plans of the major donors to see where we can be of some help,” said Sam Upton, a Southern Baptist missionary who is coordinating relief work in Malawi.
Upton and other believers have made plans to share Christ’s love with at least 8,000 families using $90,000 in world hunger funds. The believers will work in all three regions of Malawi, including the mega-city of Blantyre.
“Over the last 40 years, Malawi has been one of the most responsive places in the world to the gospel,” says Upton. “We pray that this opportunity for sharing the gospel will continue to stay open wide.”
Mid-September through mid-October, missionaries and local believers will distribute starter packs of seed and fertilizer in hopes of facilitating a better harvest next year. They will use churches as distribution points, and pastors will share the good news. Believers and non-believers alike will receive aid.
Next January through March, when hunger is expected to be worst, they’ll share maize with the people — beginning with the elderly, widows and orphans.
“It may get worse before it gets better,” said Jim Brown, International Mission Board human needs consultant.
One pastor reports that families in his village are eating just two meals per day, usually skipping the noon meal so they don’t have to go to bed with empty stomachs. He anticipates they will cut down to one meal before the April harvest.
After the pastor’s adult daughter died, he began raising her children, along with his own. Eleven hungry people look to him for food. Many grandparents are in this situation, as hunger — magnified by drought, disease and the AIDS crisis — takes its toll.
“AIDS has really decimated the southern part of Africa,” Brown said. “It hits middle-aged, productive people, and you’re left with grandparents and kids.” Many grandparents don’t have the health or the skills to earn a living, so children are forced to quit school and work to support their families.
“My wife, Marlyn, and I are praying that, as in biblical times, God will just stretch the corn, and it will not run out,” Upton said.
In Angola, where decades of civil war have just ended, close to half a million people face starvation. Four million people — a third of the population — have been driven from their homes.
Southern Baptist missionaries have been providing food, blankets and other supplies to the displaced people of that country, and they’ve looked for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Because of the generosity of Southern Baptists, missionaries around the world have hunger funds to turn to — and doors for the gospel are opened. When missionaries alleviate physical suffering, non-believers see the love of Christ in action and often become curious about the love that motivates Christians to help them.
As missionaries meet physical needs, they earn credibility and are able to share the gospel with village chiefs and government officials. Disciples are made as local believers serve side-by-side with missionaries.
Southern Baptist workers in Malawi have used $15,000 in world hunger funds to begin the relief effort. Over the next several months, they will need $75,000 more.
It’s a relatively small amount of money, but the missionaries have a well-developed strategy to reach people with food, farming supplies and the gospel.
“The plans are very strategic,” Brown said.
In the southern part of Africa today, Southern Baptists are seeking to meet hunger needs before the situation becomes a crisis.
“There is shortage of food and hunger in Malawi, but we are not yet to the stage of famine,” Upton said. “Whether or not we reach that stage will depend upon the response of the world community, including Baptists.”
Contributions toward the efforts can be sent to: International Mission Board, Southern Africa Relief, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230. Every dollar given will be used 100 percent for relief ministries in southern Africa.