Southern Baptists have long engaged in cooperative ministry efforts to meet worldwide needs. And today the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund continues to powerfully reflect the legacy of cooperation that has come to characterize the Southern Baptist Convention.
Since 1981, three SBC entities — the International Mission Board (IMB), the North American Mission Board (NAMB), and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC)--have partnered to raise awareness of world hunger so that food can be served and a Gospel witness given to millions of hungry people around the globe, while LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC Executive Committee, and the Woman's Missionary Union readily assist them in these efforts.
"We have a renewed synergy between multiple entities related to the work of the World Hunger Fund," Bobby Reed, ERLC vice president for business and finance, said.
When Southern Baptists give to the World Hunger Fund, 80 percent of funds are disbursed to the IMB for hunger relief overseas while 20 percent go to NAMB for domestic hunger relief. In 2007, Southern Baptist hunger ministries fed more than 3.5 million meals in North America resulting in 35,000 professions of faith. Internationally $7.8 million funded nearly three hundred hunger relief projects in 2007.
One hundred percent of all funds given to the World Hunger Fund go to hunger relief, with none used for overhead or administrative costs. When possible, hunger ministries are designed to build independence from food aid.
Supporting food distribution, the ERLC emphasizes hunger as a moral and social issue that followers of Christ must address.
"Many millions of adults and children around the world are suffering from chronic and acute malnutrition," ERLC President Richard Land said. "Thankfully, Southern Baptist missionaries and volunteers are on the field, feeding the hungry both physically and spiritually. Yet without the generous gifts of Southern Baptists, they lack the food and means to aid these who are literally on life's sharp edge, leaving many worthy evangelistic opportunities unfunded. I hope Southern Baptists will give joyfully and sacrificially to the World Hunger Fund and help feed the hungry in Jesus' name."
LifeWay joined the hunger relief effort by placing collection boxes for the World Hunger Fund at the checkout area in each LifeWay store and promoting the fund in customer catalogues. LifeWay has also featured the World Hunger Fund in magazines.
Since 1997, LifeWay customers have donated nearly $500,000 to the fund.
The Executive Committee receives the funds and distributes them to the IMB and NAMB, while WMU aids in promotion of the fund.
But the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund is about more than numbers and entities. It's about filled stomachs and changed lives.
North American Hunger Ministries
More than 67,000 volunteers assisted at hunger ministry sites throughout the United States in 2007. Some 7,200 new hunger ministry volunteers were trained in evangelism, and the Gospel was shared with more than 580,000 visitors to SBC hunger ministries.
Steve Faith, administrative community evangelism director for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, told how food distribution to one family changed their eternal destiny.
Faith, head of the Southeast Indiana Baptist Food Warehouse in New Albany, partners with churches that receive World Hunger funds to distribute meals to Indiana's poor. When one couple came to a church to pick up food, they were both saved and later led a dozen relatives to Christ, Faith said.
"I do it because I just love people," he said. "Brother, there are people out there, and they really need help. We have more needs than product. It's currently worse than I've ever seen it. In this economy, many families are having to make tough decisions — do we buy food or do we buy gas so we can get to and from work?'"
Angela Bostick, a NAMB missionary in Brownwood, Texas, leads the Heart of Texas Good Samaritan Ministry in rural Brown County, three hours south of Dallas. Her ministry distributes food to 650 families each month and expands to eight hundred families during November and December.
"The majority of the people who come in are elderly or disabled on fixed incomes," she said. "Brown County has a higher percentage of elderly than the Texas average. We also have a lot of the working poor, because there are not a lot of good paying jobs around Brownwood. Most make minimum wage."
International Hunger Ministries
Internationally, two-thirds of World Hunger funds are used for developmental projects that teach people how to produce food and manage their resources. The remaining third are more traditional feeding programs related to disasters such as cyclones, earthquakes, and floods.
Because of the nature of developmental projects, the precise number of meals served is impossible to calculate. However, hunger funds have helped share the Gospel with untold thousands globally.
"Hunger funds can be used for projects that help people grow more food, get more food (access in times of crisis), use the food they have more efficiently (storage systems), and increase their power to purchase food (education programs that help to increase their capacity to earn a more gainful employment)," a spokesman for the International Mission Board said.
"Hunger funds can only be used in cases where there is a documented hunger problem. However, outside of the United States, those areas are not hard to find."
One hunger relief project in South Asia distributed rice, lentils, oil, salt, and water purification tablets to 1,850 needy families in the wake of a cyclone that devastated fields ready for harvest. Another project in Africa educated impoverished people about nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation needs to help them achieve community health.
Like the Africa project, many international hunger relief efforts focus on education in service of nutrition, teaching agricultural techniques, sanitation, or healthy eating practices. In Cambodia, for example, World Hunger funds are helping to produce low-cost water filters that clean arsenic out of drinking water.
Other programs teach hungry people how to produce crops in marginal lands or store crops that are susceptible to destruction and decay.
"In word and deed, the International Mission Board is passionately committed to sharing the love of God in Jesus Christ," Scott Holste, associate vice president for research and strategic services at the IMB, said. "In the first eight months of this year alone we have approved 226 projects totaling more than $8.3 million in order to alleviate hunger around the world. We are grateful for Southern Baptists' generous and sacrificial support of the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and World Hunger Fund that make these ministries possible."
Giving to the World Hunger Fund
All SBC entities involved in hunger relief encourage Southern Baptists to give to the fund through their local churches, designating their gift to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.
Donations may also be made to overseas hunger relief through the IMB and American hunger relief through NAMB.
A Web site (www.worldhungerfund.com) provides additional information and offers World Hunger Fund promotional resources, including a label that can be printed and affixed to an empty soup can for collecting funds.
The Web site is intentionally not tied to a specific SBC entity since it reflects the overall emphasis on bringing all Southern Baptists together to combat hunger in the name of Christ.
Celebrate Southern Baptist
World Hunger Sunday
on October 12, 2008
For helpful resources, go to www.worldhungerfund.com
David Roach is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and a PhD candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.