The Baptist World Alliance observes October as Hunger Month. Why is this necessary? Consider the statistics that appear on the Bread for the World Web site:
–There are 854 million people across the world who are hungry, up from 852 million a year ago.
–Every day, Nearly 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes–one child every five seconds.
–Hunger is the most extreme form of poverty, where individuals or families cannot afford to meet their most basic need for food.
–Hunger manifests itself in many ways other than starvation and famine. Most poor people who battle hunger deal with chronic undernourishment and vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which result in stunted growth, weakness and heightened susceptibility to illness.
–Countries in which a large portion of the population battles hunger daily are usually poor and often lack the social safety nets other countries enjoy, such as soup kitchens, food stamps, and job training programs. When a family that lives in a poor country cannot grow enough food or earn enough money to buy food, there is nowhere to turn for help.
If the church is to faithfully fulfill the mandate Christ has given us, we have an inescapable obligation to address the situation that exists.
Because of the enormity of the need, we need to determine how to network with others to offer immediate relief. We cannot pause for debate while the hungry are dying. We cannot refrain from action while we contemplate and seek to justify the options open to us. Crushing problems resulting either in denial of human dignity or in loss of life require immediate action.
For this reason, we need to act swiftly to relieve the burden faced by the hungry, to halt the needless loss of life resulting from their plight, to save the hungry from their despair. Yet, we must do more than this. We also have the obligation to understand the cause of the plight of the 854 million hungry people in the world.
What are the institutional arrangements that predispose our societies to accommodate two opposite extremes? On the one hand, there is abundance: people amass riches; they face the challenge of excess. They do not know what to do with the earthly treasures they have.
On the other hand, people are caught in the clutches of despair as daily–despite their sustained efforts–they see their children go to bed hungry at night. On account of their plight, often displaced and forgotten, they see their children dying one by one, and soon they die–their bodies washed up on the sea of malnourishment.
Remember the words of our Lord who once said: “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Mt 25:45).
In the spirit of him who read from the scroll in the synagogue in Nazareth, let us never forsake the hungry people of our world.
Neville Callam is general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.