Hunger relief president calls on members to leverage citizenship



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Hunger relief president calls on members to leverage citizenship

By Derek Maul | June 15, 2010 {1183}

LAKELAND — The good news is great strides have been made to end extreme poverty. The bad news is there is much more to do. But it can be done, if people have the will to do it.

The Rev. David Beckmann tells lay and clergy members miraculous strides have been made toward eliminating global hunger, but there’s much more to do. Worldwide, he said, 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day, and in the United States, nearly one in four children — 16.7 million — lives in a household that struggles to put food on the table. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1469. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

That was the Rev. David Beckmann’s message to more than 1,700 laity and clergy during the opening session of the 2010 Florida Annual Conference event.

It reinforced the theme of the June 10-12 gathering, chosen by Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker nearly two years ago: “Transforming the World by Eradicating Extreme Poverty.” That focus was designed to be more than a discussion point, however. It was also a call to transformational action.

During the afternoon June 10, in front of a receptive Lakeland Center crowd, Whitaker introduced Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and one of the world’s leading agents of the kind of transformational action Whitaker hopes will take place through congregations across the conference long after the annual business session.

“We’re aware that our ongoing mission is a transformation of the world via God’s grace,” Whitaker said. “We’re called to work with God. We’re mindful with great grief of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and poverty is (likewise) a great threat to God’s creation.”

The bishop expressed gratitude to Beckmann for attending and said he was genuinely excited. “Whenever I hear David talk,” Whitaker said, “he always gives me hope. God is at work, and amazing things are happening in history.”

Faith can power great change

Beckmann, who has led Bread for the World for 15 years, is a seasoned warrior in the fight to eradicate world hunger.

“Faith can power great change,” he said toward the end of his 45-minute presentation. “We are the people who can power a change in the history of hunger in the world.”

It’s a message Beckmann passionately believes. The eradication of hunger is more than a dream, he insisted. It’s a vision that, with God’s help, can be achieved.

Members address sample letters to their House representatives, asking them to urge Congress to fully fund the federal international affairs budget, which provides funding for hunger-, poverty- and disease-prevention programs abroad. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1470. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Beckmann relied on hard facts and compelling stories to make his case, beginning with a story from his recent trip to Northwest Mozambique, a nation still recovering from the ravages of its 17-year civil war (1977-1994).

“We arrived by boat and people were on the beach singing praise songs,” he said. “We all went, dancing and singing, up the hill to the mud-brick church. This is extreme poverty, where if the crop fails the village does not eat. After we were introduced, our host asked people to share how their lives have improved.”

“We have peace,” they said. “We have anti-viral drugs for AIDS … we have a school.”

“I was excited,” Beckmann said, “because Bread for the World has helped with these changes.”

Beckmann shared some startling statistics to support his belief in positive change:

• The number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has dropped by 500 million since 1982.

• There are 42 million more children attending school in Africa now than in 1990.

• Daily child fatalities from preventable causes have decreased from 55,000 in 1960 to 29,000 today.

The apostle Paul used his Roman citizenship to advance the purposes of God, and it’s clear that we must use our citizenship to advance the purpose of God. ... We have tremendous power in our pocket, and it’s important that we see citizenship as a part of discipleship.”

Rev. David Beckmann

“We are seeing historic progress,” Beckmann said. “I think this is God — our loving God — moving in history. It is God answering the prayers of hundreds of millions of people.”

Leveraging citizenship

While such outcomes are remarkable, Beckmann tempered his remarks with caution.
 
“Here in the USA, our history is not so exciting,” he said. “The same percentage of Americans falls below the poverty line today as in 1970. It’s very clear that, if we can reduce poverty in the world, then we should be able to reduce poverty at home.”

Beckmann referenced periods — in the 1960s and to a lesser extent the mid 1990s — when significant domestic gains were made. But each step forward was countered by recession.

“But when we try as a nation, when we make a serious effort, we can reduce poverty,” he said.

The solution, Beckmann said, is a shift in the politics of hunger,.

“In America, religion focuses on private faith,” he said. “But God is a God of nations and of history and laws, and God brings down nations. This nation has the greatest power and wealth and influence in the history of the world. Jesus did not live in an era of separation of church and state — when he challenged the Sabbath he challenged the law.”

Beckmann affirmed the work of churches in addressing hunger, but challenged United Methodists to put their faith to work in the political sphere.

“Churches do a great job at feeding,” he said. “Ninety percent do something — probably 100 percent of Methodist churches — but all the charitable efforts combined amount to only 6 percent of the groceries the poor receive from federal nutrition programs, including school breakfast and lunch programs and summer feeding.”

A member writes a personal letter that will accompany the sample letter to her representative. Photo by Angie Bechanan. Photo #10-1471. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Charitable interventions respond to emergency situations and are effective in helping those who fall between the cracks, he said, but any reduction in federal programs would have a catastrophic effect on the nation’s poor and hungry.

“But the federal programs are critical — (amounting to) sixteen times as much as all charitable feeding,” he stressed. “The apostle Paul used his Roman citizenship to advance the purposes of God, and it’s clear that we must use our citizenship to advance the purpose of God. Our government does what the people want; we have tremendous power in our pocket, and it’s important that we see citizenship as a part of discipleship.”

A faith-grounded constituency

“My experience is that Methodists understand the connection between faith and justice,” Beckmann said.

To illustrate the power of a “faith-grounded constituency,” Beckmann told the story of “Pat,” a member of Independent Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Ala. Pat became enthusiastic about the idea of hunger advocacy.

“It was a case of The Junior League comes to Bread to the World,” Beckmann joked. “It was spectacular how they organized.”

The Birmingham women helped U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Alabama, think differently about hunger. Later, when Bread for the World championed international debt relief for poor nations (1999), Pat petitioned the congressman on behalf of the bill, and he eventually became instrumental in its passage.

At the signing ceremony, President Bill Clinton lauded Bachus, but when it was Beckmann’s turn to speak, Bread for the World’s president turned the spotlight on a woman of faith, simply a member of a local church in Alabama.

“There is a direct line of causality,” Beckmann said, “between Pat and 42 million African kids being able to go to school.

Ushers and conference staff collect the letters before taking them to the altar to be blessed. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1472. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“God can use our grain of faith to move mountains,” he said. “God nudging each of us to take one or two or three steps. What can we do differently because of this conference?”

Much can be done

The hope Whitaker referenced in his introduction boils down to four points, Beckmann said.

• It really is possible to eradicate poverty.

• People of faith need to change the “politics of hunger” to achieve that goal.

• Bread for the World is a tool churches can use to help change the politics of hunger.

• God is calling all people of faith, right now, to change the politics of hunger and poverty.

Members got a chance to put several of those points into motion during the session. After ushers distributed paper, pens, envelopes and a sample letter to Congress, hundreds of conference participants wrote messages to their local representatives, asking them to urge Congress to fully fund the federal international affairs budget, which provides funding for hunger-, poverty- and disease-prevention programs abroad.

The letters were collected, taken to the altar and blessed during a time of prayer.

Questions

During a question and answer time, members approached microphones throughout the auditorium, using the opportunity to pose such questions as: Does Bread for the World encounter any opposition, is extreme poverty defined differently in the United States versus the rest of the world and what’s happening in the politics of international food trade?

When asked during a time of questions and answers if Bread for the World encounters any opposition, Beckmann said only that the comment is always “everything else is so important.” “What that translates to,” he said, “is that everything else is more important than hungry kids.” Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1473. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“The only opposition we receive,” Beckmann answered, “and it’s always very polite, is that everything else is so important. What that translates to is that everything else is more important than hungry kids.”

Regarding the definition of poverty, he said, the global standard is the equivalent of living on less than $1.25 a day or the ability to buy enough calories for the body to survive — but just barely. In the United States, the measure is the government’s “poverty line,” a much higher standard.

“Food aid today costs the American taxpayer $12 billion annually,” Beckmann said. “Fifty percent goes to shipping and administration, and it’s a scandal. It makes more sense to grow and supply food locally.”

Information is power

Beckmann went on to encourage participants to join Bread for the World because of the amount of information available through the organization.

But he left his most poignant remark for last, when he summed things up with a pithy rejoinder.

“The most compelling reason for the persistence of mass poverty is ‘lack of give-a-damn,’ ” he said. “It’s a fixable problem, but we must have the collective political will.”

“Bread for the World is a collective Christian voice urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad,” according to the Bread for the World website. “God’s grace in Jesus Christ moves us to help our neighbors, whether they live in the next house, the next state, or the next continent. Confronting the problem of hunger can seem overwhelming. What can one person do? Plenty.”

More information about Bread for the World is available at http://www.bread.org

* Beckmann was recently named a 2010 World Food Prize laureate. The award is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture and recognizes critical efforts of nongovernmental organizations in mobilizing and empowering people to end hunger in communities around the world. Beckmann shares the award with Jo Luck, president of Heifer International. Several Heifer programs are projects of the Advance ministry of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.




Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011