LONDON (BP) — “Please, sir, I want some more.”
Who can forget these haunting words of a desperately hungry 9-year-old boy in Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist”?
The story is a powerful condemnation of 19th-century England’s social and economic injustices, London in particular, including child labor and the cruel treatment of children. Children of the day often were put in workhouses, abused and starved. The novel provides a graphic description of what it’s like to be hungry.
Hunger is awful, and starvation is even worse, often ending in a slow and painful death.
People hunger for different things. On one side it could be for social justice and equal opportunity. On the other, it could be for the smallest morsel of food, followed by a precious sip of water.
The effects of either can lead to panic. The desire for “more” can be fatal.
Having recently moved from Africa to the United Kingdom, I saw both happening at the same time. While tens of thousands of young Brits rioted in the streets of England’s cities, thousands of refugees at a camp in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu rioted, fearing food meant for distribution was being stolen by government troops.
In England, rioters escaped with looted computers and large-screen, high-definition televisions. In Mogadishu, seven refugees on the verge of starvation died trying to safeguard food that would save their lives.
Images of both crises are etched in my mind. Hooded youth pelting armored policemen while cars and buildings burn in the background. Emaciated children and dead cattle on the dusty roads of Somalia.
Is one situation more urgent, more critical, than the other, I wonder? Some would scoff that I even ask the question.
“There is no comparison,” said Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision-Australia. What he sees is a generation of youth in a first-world country who have a warped sense of entitlement while, in the Horn of Africa where Somalia is located, millions literally face starvation if something isn’t done immediately.
Costello said, “You just want to shake [the rioters in England] and say, ‘Get some perspective!'”
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 13 million people in the Horn of Africa are hungry and undernourished, while 3.5 million face starvation in Somalia. The WHO calls it the region’s worst drought-related famine in 60 years.
At the same time, Sky News analyst Ed Conway said that, in economic and social terms, “London has been a tinderbox for some time.” Of course “London” can be broadened to include multiple urban centers of the UK.
“There’s no one root cause for the riots across the country,” Conway said, “but a range of economic indicators often associated with social unrest have been on the rise.”
News articles identify youth unemployment, income disparity and lack of education opportunities as some of the catalysts behind the rioting in England.
One thing is certain: Both the UK and Somalia face long-term problems with no easy solutions. There is hunger in London and there is hunger in Mogadishu. Both are wanting, if not desperately needing, “more.”
Jesus, noting a hunger and a thirst that only He can satisfy, calls His followers to action.
Jesus indicates that to go about His Father’s business is to share living bread and living water that satisfies a spiritual hunger that is deep within all humanity. At the same time, He demands that we offer a cup of water to the thirsty and provide clothing to the naked.
Thirty-three-year-old Zimbabwean immigrant Paul Machaka, who came to England in 2001, said, “People can try to take the situation into their own hands, but at the end of the day they can’t create real change. Real change comes from God. Answers are found in Him.”
So is the “more” they are looking for.
Charles Braddix is a writer for the International Mission Board based in the UK. For information about reaching London with the Gospel, visit adoptlondon.com or check out the 2011 International Mission Study on London at wmu.com/london. To help victims of the famine in the Horn of Africa, visit imb.org.