"Close Up" is a monthly feature on current issues. Photographs and a sidebar are available with this report.
A UMNS and UMC.org Feature
By Ray Waddle*
provided by the United Methodist Committee on Relief scratch in the
front yard of a woman's home in the village of Bare, outside Kosovo
Mitrovica, Yugoslavia, in this file photograph. With funds from the 1999
ACT (Action by Churches Together, UMCOR's ecumenical partner) Balkans
Emergency Appeal, UMCOR staffers procured and distributed seeds,
fertilizer and chickens to more than 2,800 families in 16 villages in
Northern Kosovo. A UMNS photo by Mike Stanton-Rich. Photo number 03-225,
Accompanies UMNS #342, 7/1/03
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Ketcham, a Nashville, Tenn.,-based hunger relief advocate with the
Society of St. Andrew, believes it's up to the church to "mobilize and
execute" sustainability and "kick the spiritual dimension into it."
Ketcham is pictured here at Edgehill Community Garden in Nashville. A
UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo number 03-226, Accompanies UMNS #342,
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Coston picks peas for the hungry during a gleaning project held at a
farm near Lafayette, Ind. Coston, a member of Christ United Methodist
Church in Lafayette, was one of about 30 men who picked produce July 13,
2001, at Earthcraft Farm near Lafayette before the 8th International
UMMen Congress in West Lafayette. The gleaning project was organized by
the Society of St. Andrew and United Methodist Men. A UMNS photo by Tim
Tanton. Photo number 03-223, Accompanies UMNS #342, 7/1/03.
No Long Caption Available for this Story
Starr, a global justice volunteer with the United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries, works in the garden at an orphanage in northern
Russia. The 21-year-old student from Detroit spent two months working
with children and youth at the orphanage. A UMNS photo courtesy of
Terrell Starr. Photo number 03-224, Accompanies UMNS #342, 7/1/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
United Methodists are getting on their knees to
scour harvest fields for salvageable edible fruits and vegetables - 17
million pounds last year - and turning them over to families who need
They are sending hunger activists into far-flung scenarios
of war and catastrophe - 100 countries in all - to alleviate suffering
in a world where 30,000 people die each day because of hunger. Half are
children under 5.
They are sponsoring farm animals for poor
families and volunteering in community gardens to honor the New
Testament mandate to help "the least of these."
before, the United Methodist Church is building an army against hunger,
inspired by biblical values and new, sophisticated methods of food
Living by faith Now, though, in a jittery economy distracted by war and terrorism, it's testing time.
are nervous about a possibly flagging commitment in donations to
disaster relief. At the United Methodist Committee on Relief, gifts to
the One Great Hour of Sharing campaign look to be down from last year so
far. UMCOR, the denomination's worldwide disaster relief arm, relies
heavily on donations from One Great Hour of Sharing - about $3 million
last year - to meet budget needs.
Others are impatient to intensify the church's ambitions to end hunger permanently. That goal seems within reach.
the churches lived their faith better, there wouldn't be hungry
people," says Mike Waldmann of the Society of St. Andrew. The group,
based in Big Island, Va., is a non-denominational hunger relief
organization that United Methodists support in great numbers.
waste 96 billion pounds of food before it even reaches grocery stores.
We waste more than enough food to feed every hungry American."
the 1980s, TV images of the swollen bellies of African children
symbolized the deep trauma and high visibility of world famine and
starvation. Media attention soon wandered away, but the global urgency
of hunger never left.
Hunger relief efforts today continue to
race to familiar scenes of devastation. UMCOR has been on the scene in
Iraq (post-war relief kits and food aid), Liberia (emergency food and
shelter for refugees because of war) and the U.S. South and Midwest
Volunteer revolution But advocacy is
stretching in new directions too, testing strategies to get at the
economic roots of hunger. In a fast-mutating climate of war and
consumerism, activists are teaching farming techniques, health care and
job training, empowering people to pull themselves out of poverty and
malnutrition through sustainable agriculture and livelihoods.
recent years, programs have emerged to cultivate unused land and salvage
wasted crops and put the food in the hands of folks in need.
One result: A dramatic increase in opportunities for church voluntarism.
a great revolution going on: We are engaging in hands-on missions as
never before," says David McAllister-Wilson, president of United
Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.
if you're in a church and want to serve, you'll be presented with all
sorts of opportunities for mission. Before, you were given a chance to
join a committee.
"The question is: Is it causing a changed
heart? Will we still be on the case even if the economy turns bad?
That's the question for us as United Methodists."
He and others
credit the impact of the Disciple Bible Study program for stirring
interest in activism across the denomination. During the past decade,
some 1 million people have taken the series of 30-plus-week courses,
which aim to draw out the deep connections between biblical faith and
"You come out of Disciple Bible and you ask, 'What can I do?'" McAllister-Wilson said.
way United Methodists are volunteering is through the Society of St.
Andrew. Some 43,000 people, including Methodists, are pitching in to do
the work of the Society, which focuses on domestic hunger. The group
organizes volunteers to glean farmers' fields for fresh produce that is
left behind during harvest. Volunteers collected 17 million pounds of
edible food that way last year, donating it to food banks and soup
A second program, the Potato Project, swoops in
dramatically on short notice to pick up vast amounts of rejected but
edible food from trucks - typically 45,000-pound loads - and distribute
it to soup kitchens, Native American reservations, hunger agencies and
churches. St. Andrew distributes about 20 million pounds of food that
way each year.
The reason produce is rejected: usually slight
imperfections of size, shape or surface quality. In Arkansas recently, a
truck broker was stuck with two truckloads of Florida citrus - 100,000
pounds. A retail distribution point wouldn't accept his huge load of
fruit because the crates had no bar codes and couldn't be inventoried.
He called St. Andrew, which arranged to pick up the load and deliver it
to nearby food relief agencies.
"We were able to find feeding
agencies within a 30-minute radius that could take the food," Waldmann
says. "Instead of going to waste, 100,000 pounds of top-grade citrus
went to feed the hungry."
The Society's goals are to place a
hunger relief advocate in every United Methodist annual (regional)
conference in the United States through the Commission on United
Methodist Men, and to mobilize similar potato drives and gleanings.
Hunger relief advocates are at work in about 20, or nearly a third, of
the conferences now.
Biblical practice Speaking on National
Hunger Awareness Day, June 5, Elizabeth Dole, senator from North
Carolina and a United Methodist, told members of the Senate about the
biblical practice of gleaning.
"Gleaning immediately brings to my
mind the Book of Ruth," she said. "Ruth's story starts with a famine;
she gleaned in the fields so that her family could eat. In Leviticus
Chapter 19, we read the words, 'And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard,
neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave
them for the poor and the stranger.'"
Dole is advocating for a White House conference on hunger.
isn't enough to feed those who are hungry - we must also starve the
systems that create hunger," says James Winkler, top staff executive
with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the
denomination's social action and advocacy agency in Washington.
happily stand in solidarity with Sen. Dole," Winkler says. "I sincerely
hope that such a conference does take place. It is desperately needed
in our country. We, who like Sen. Dole, are United Methodists, are
deeply concerned about bringing an end to hunger and poverty in our
United Methodists are also volunteering with Habitat for
Humanity and contributing financially to organizations like Stop Hunger
Now and Heifer International. Heifer, based in Little Rock, Ark.,
provides farm animals to poor families around the globe, giving the
families a means of generating income and sustaining themselves. Stop
Hunger Now, co-founded by United Methodist minister Ray Buchanan in
1998, focuses on hunger abroad and partnering with organizations to
ensure efficient distribution of food.
United Methodists are also
working with Bread for the World, a Christian advocacy organization
focused on eliminating hunger. A revised edition of a hunger resource,
"Hunger No More," has just been released by the organization. Stories
from Scripture and contemporary life illuminate each theme, and a
six-session leader's guide for use with adult and youth discussions is
At the government level, President George W. Bush
announced last year an anti-poverty, anti-hunger program called the
Millennium Challenge Account, through which the United States is
expected to contribute at least $1.3 billion in 2003 and will
incrementally increase funding to $5 billion annually by 2006.
Such a commitment is sorely needed.
a nation, we spend less than one-half of 1 percent of our budget on
programs to fight world poverty and hunger," says the Rev. John
McCullough, head of the Church World Service staff and a United
Last year, an unusual Hunger Summit met in Washington,
organized to build momentum for eradicating hunger itself. The Society
of St. Andrew, Wesley Theological Seminary and the Board of Church and
Society sponsored the event. Topics ranged from promoting sustainable
farming to enlisting church youth to work in poor neighborhoods.
Spiritual dimension "Sustainability
is in the Book of Discipline," says Del Ketcham, a Nashville-based
hunger relief advocate with the Society of St. Andrew, referring to the
denomination's book of laws and policies. "It's time the church itself
should act that way."
Sustainability covers various economic
strategies to make farming feasible and help impoverished communities
"It's still very sporadic," Ketcham says. "It's up to us to mobilize and execute it and kick the spiritual dimension into it."
is a mainstay at UMCOR, too, one of a vast array of approaches that the
agency uses as the denomination's leader in relief work. It is based in
New York with contacts all over the globe.
On a recent weekday
in his New York office, UMCOR's executive director, the Rev. Paul
Dirdak, had just returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
where years of war have resulted in a major refugee crisis and hunger
A couple of days later, he was off to preach in churches in Nebraska.
"I like doing that, and we have an obligation to do that," he says. "A lot of churches need to hear the UMCOR story."
Dirdak where UMCOR's work is focused today, and his list will bounce
from Africa to Europe to Latin America to Asia to North America. A visit
to the Web site http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor suggests the vast scale of
needs and UMCOR's responses. To name three, the agency is: Â· Working
to provide credit, small loans and health education to African women to
help them build self-sufficiency for their families. Â· Playing a
key role in rebuilding Bosnia by fixing war-damaged houses, initiating
agriculture projects, and promoting recovery and reconciliation. Â·
Teaching techniques of sustainable agriculture, improving houses and
revitalizing worship committees through its Khanya Program in South
"Our work can be seen as an hourglass," Dirdak says.
"There are two large groups - those who give generously and those who
are motivated to organize the self-help of a local community, with our
assistance. UMCOR exists at the pinch point of that hourglass to
coordinate the work between the two groups."
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*Waddle, former religion editor at The Tennessean newspaper, is a writer and lecturer in Nashville, Tenn.