A dire United Nations report issued May 30 underscores the problem of hunger still looming large for many people around the world. And a recent 1996-98 U.S. Department of Agriculture study noted that some 10 million U.S. households did not have enough food to meet their family's basic needs.
"Most Americans hardly ever miss a meal unless it is their choice to do so, but many people in the U.S. and around the world are not so fortunate," said Steve Nelson, director of hunger concerns for the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "Even in this day of material abundance, hunger remains a serious life-threatening issue for many people."
Southern Baptists have an extremely efficient funding vehicle for domestic and international hunger projects, Nelson explained. Gifts to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund provide the means for Southern Baptist missionaries and volunteers in the United States and around the world to feed the needy while introducing them to the gospel of Jesus Christ. One hundred percent of every dollar given to the fund goes to the field, he said, noting that nothing is directed from the funds for administrative or promotional purposes.
Yet Nelson said giving to the World Hunger Fund is down dramatically from previous years, and that leaves many missionaries unable to start or sustain relief projects for the hungry. "Gifts to the fund were down more than 15 percent last year," he explained; for the year 2000, receipts for hunger and relief were $9.6 million and fell nearly $1.5 million in 2001.
For the first four months of 2002, giving was off more than 5 percent when compared to the same months last year, Nelson continued.
Because of the drop in giving and out of his concern for the plight of the needy and for the missionaries who are stymied in their ministry initiatives, Nelson and the SBC's Inter-Agency Hunger Council, composed of representatives from several SBC entities, decided to challenge churches to hold a BEAT Hunger Weekend.
BEAT Hunger, which stands for Believers Everywhere ATtack Hunger, was launched three years ago as a program for youth groups to dedicate twenty-four hours to gaining an awareness of hunger issues and then devising a "hands-on plan to attack" the hunger problem in their community. Nelson said BEAT Hunger Weekend is an extension of the original emphasis and is designed to include the entire church.
"Too often ministry to those in need is little more than a footnote in a church's ministry plan, and the SBC's World Hunger Fund receives little or no attention," Nelson said. "BEAT Hunger Weekend will introduce church members to an easy and effective way to help people who are in need. Hopefully, it also will spur some local churches to start a local hunger ministry in their area."
Nelson said churches that participate in the BEAT Hunger Weekend are asked to address hunger needs in their town by hosting a canned food drive or serving at a local shelter, and to have church members raise money in support of the SBC World Hunger Fund.
Registration for the event, with a suggested date of Oct. 11-13, 2002, is available at www.beathungerweekend.com, Nelson said, noting supporting resources are available to aid churches in the emphasis. For more information, contact Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While missionaries from the SBC International Mission Board and North America Mission Board are actively working with many SBC volunteers to feed the hungry and help locals provide for themselves with agricultural investments, the needs on the field are far greater than what Southern Baptists are doing at the current time, Nelson said. During 2000, the IMB underwrote 230 hunger, agrarian, and relief projects in fifty-three countries. In 2001, NAMB-directed hunger ministries provided more than 3 million meals in North America.
Government officials in Zambia said May 30 that their food crisis is a national disaster, warning the country's corn crop for this year will be completely gone by August. On the same day, the United Nations said about 10 million people were on the brink of starvation in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Swaziland, the result of a severe drought that grips the region.
"Without the compassionate giving of Southern Baptists and others to the World Hunger Fund, many in our world would go without the most basic of food necessities that we take for granted every day," noted Jim Brown, the IMB's human needs consultant. Hunger projects around the globe open doors to share the gospel that otherwise would remain closed, he said.
And in the United States, 31 million Americans, or 11.3 percent of the population, live at or below the federal poverty level according to a 2000 U.S. Census Bureau report. USDA surveys reveal 33 million Americans live in households that are food-insecure, meaning they are either hungry or at risk of hunger.
A NAMB church and community ministries missionary in Cleveland, Ohio, recently told the mission board that with the area's third-largest steel producer and Ford Motor Company announcing plant closings on top of an already soft economy, along with drastic reductions in hunger funds to serve her community, she needs more help to feed people who are in need.
"Southern Baptists are more than able to make a real dent in the number of families who are starving or malnourished," Nelson said. "If a small number of Southern Baptist families, just 50,000, gave $20 to the World Hunger Fund every month, hunger receipts would more than double.
"BEAT Hunger Weekend is a time for churches from all across our nation to work together to raise awareness of the hunger needs in our world, and it presents a fine opportunity to raise support for the World Hunger Fund," said Women's Missionary Union spokesperson, Kristy Carr. "Together, we can work to eradiate world hunger."
And Nelson said the BEAT Hunger event is not only designed to raise funds for SBC hunger and relief ministries, but to reap a spiritual harvest as well. "When someone gets an introduction to hunger ministry, they will be prompted to get involved in caring for the hungry and needy," he said. "In church after church I visit, I see those who involve themselves in this type of ministry experience revival and spiritual growth like never before."
A Child Shall Lead Them
At the West Main Baptist Church in Alexandria, TN, four-year-old Brooke Martin began coming to the altar and praying each Sunday morning for weeks. As several children came regularly to pray, her going failed to attract much attention. However, after some time, it was revealed that her heart was broken for hungry children. She had seen a commercial on television with graphic images that haunted her and she wanted to help. When the church learned of her burden, the children began collecting change in plastic banks to turn in each month. Each month, the church matched whatever the children raised. After just six months, the church and the children had given over $8,000 to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. They have proven the truth of Isaiah 58:10 as they have seen their light "rise from obscurity." Not only are they touching thousands of lives of people they will never meet, they are doing it without mobilizing for disaster relief or mission trips. Also, regular church budget receipts are up in excess of 50 percent.
In 2001, over 3 million meals were served in the U.S. through World Hunger Fund supported ministries. The average cost per meal was 43 cents. More than 15,500 professions of faith were recorded as directly related to these ministries.