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Members challenged to be part of modern-day miracle

Members challenged to be part of modern-day miracle

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Members challenged to be part of modern-day miracle

By Derek Maul | July 1, 2010 {1192}

LAKELAND — Several years ago, Stan Doerr visited a refugee camp in Guinea, West Africa.

While there, he said, a 12-year-old girl handed him a newborn baby.

Stan Doerr tells members he never wants a child to die of hunger because he doesn’t have the resources to help. As president and chief executive officer of ECHO, he does. ECHO works with more than 3,000 organizations in 180 countries, Doerr said, to provide the tools missionaries and indigenous people need to address hunger locally. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1495. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“I could feel the life leaving that child’s body,” he told lay and clergy members June 11 during the morning plenary session at the 2010 Florida Annual Conference Event.

The girl explained to him that her mother had died giving birth to her sister, who was now dying. She asked him if he could help.

“She was standing there, and I was holding the only family she had,” he said. “But I had to hand the child back and say there was nothing I could do to help. In that moment, I determined never to do anything in my life ever again that wasn’t going to address that need.”

Since then, Doerr has made good on that promise. He’s now president and chief executive officer at ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) in Ft. Myers. The nonprofit provides the tools missionaries and indigenous people need to address hunger in their communities.

The ‘echo effect’

And in many situations, ECHO is uniquely equipped to help.

“A missionary, Doris, was working in a predominantly Buddhist area,” Doerr said, while describing a visit to rural areas in Cambodia. “She ran across some information from ECHO about SRI — specific rice intensification — and shared it with a rice farmer who was also a Christian pastor.”

The man used the SRI farming technique, despite teasing from his neighbors for taking advice from America delivered by a woman. But at harvest, having used just one-tenth of the seed, his yield was 25 percent higher than normal. His friends said, “Teach us how to grow rice.” They also began attending his church.

“They also asked, ‘What makes you different?’ ” Doerr said. “He did not charge them; he did not require membership in his church. But Jesus spoke through the experience, and his church is growing.”

Doerr calls the farmers’ experience through ECHO’s resources the “echo effect — small voices connected to a network reverberating around the world in the name of Jesus Christ.”

ECHO’s repository of “good ideas and techniques,” Doerr said, includes its Global Farm and Research Center, a reference library, a seed bank, a tropical fruit nursery, a global bookstore and staff offices, all at the Fort Myers campus.

Doerr shows Florida Conference district superintendents and other leaders how aluminum cans are used in place of soil as an anchor for the roots of the plant. It is an example of the “urban gardening” being implemented at ECHO. The December 2009 trip to ECHO was part of Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker’s annual fall retreat with conference leaders. File photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #10-1373. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1126, 01/21/10. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“Good intentions don’t make a difference, but ECHO can help people get to the tools they need,” he said. “God calls us to use our lives to write a letter of love to the people around us. The role of ECHO is to help us to have ink in our pen as we go around and help the poor.”

Ways to help

That calling, Doerr said, extends to Florida United Methodists, and he stressed the opportunity for hands-on involvement in the ministry by sending volunteer teams to ECHO’s campus.

“Churches can also connect their missionaries and mission organizations with ECHO as a resource,” he said. “Missionaries know the local problems intimately, but what they often don’t know is the connections to new answers.”

ECHO’s great challenge, he said, is “building the capacity of the organization to meet the incredibly growing need” and, likewise, the capacity of indigenous people to meet local needs.

Food Aid can make donors feel good, he said, but it can also destroy the infrastructure and a country’s capacity by taking the market away from local farmers.

A happy ending

Back in North Africa, Doerr found himself talking with another desperate woman, this time in the Islamic republic of Mauritania.

“A mother was holding a child,” Doerr said. “He was 18-months (old), but too malnourished to walk. This time, I had something to give her — a bag of powder from a protein-rich tree. A month later, we saw her in the village and asked ‘How is your son?’ ‘There he goes,’ she said. He had doubled his body weight and was running and playing with the other children.”

That experience and others like it make Doerr optimistic about the future.

“I’m always optimistic,” he said. “I couldn’t be in this line of work without being optimistic … to see lives radically changed because they find out they can do something. ECHO teaches people to use the things they spent their entire lives ignoring — not what don’t you have, but
how can we use what we do have.”

‘We can do it’

The Rev. Pam Cahoon is also optimistic, but about ending hunger closer to home — in Florida

Cahoon is director of C.R.O.S. Ministries (Christians Reaching Out to Society) in Lake Worth. She talked with members during the afternoon session about ways churches can connect with the conference’s outreach ministries and fight hunger.

“One in four children in our state is hungry,” she said. “Can you hear Jesus saying that’s simply not OK?”

“One out of every four children in our state is hungry,” the Rev. Pam Cahoon tells members. “People are dying — dying in every one of our communities. What would Jesus have us do? We know what Jesus did. Do something. We can do it.” Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1496. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Cahoon does; so do conference members. During the 2007 annual session, members adopted reducing poverty among children as the conference’s social witness priority. It’s also part of a larger effort to eliminate poverty altogether. Nearly 1,800 lay and clergy members gathered during this year’s annual session under the theme “Transforming the World by Eradicating Extreme Poverty.”

“This annual conference adopted ministering to the needs of Florida’s hungry children as a common social ministry,” Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker said.

One way it’s doing that is through the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger, sponsored by the Tallahassee-based advocacy group Florida Impact, Share Our Strength and the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) in Washington, D.C. The conference is among more than 50 organizations throughout the state comprising the partnership, which is implementing a strategic 10-point plan to end childhood hunger in Florida in 10 years.

In 2008, Whitaker appointed Lynnette Fields, executive director of servant ministries at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, as the conference’s representative to the partnership.

“One of four families depends on food stamps, and Florida has the largest amount of any state,” Cahoon said, underlining the extent of the crisis. “Florida’s food stamp enrollment has increased by 80 percent over four years.”

The problem is further exacerbated, she said, because 46 percent of eligible families have not applied for food stamps for a variety of reasons, including difficulty in applying and lack of access.

“Unemployment has increased from 5.2 percent to 12.3 percent in just a few years,” she said. “I’ve never seen need like I see it today. But I firmly believe if we each do something, we can start a movement. We will end childhood hunger in our state.”

“We can do it!” was Cahoon’s mantra to members.

“People need us in a way they’ve never needed us before,” she said. “If ever a time, now is the time to be the hands, the feet and the heart of God. God will again multiply the loaves and the fishes.”

A modern-day miracle

Fields picked up the conversation by affirming Bread for the World president David Beckmann’s call for small steps the day before.

Lynnette Fields challenges members to do their part to make the modern-day miracle of ending childhood hunger in Florida a reality. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1497. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“If we all just do our part,” she said, “what could we do? Two years ago, I asked if you wanted to be part of a modern-day miracle. I’m asking the same question today.”

Fields outlined the goals of the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger.

“We could be the first in the nation (to end childhood hunger),” she said. “Nutritious food leads to a stronger, healthier and better educated population.”

Fields highlighted initiatives the conference is already undertaking, such as Florida Advocacy Days at Children’s Week in Tallahassee, a joint lobbying venture between the Florida Conference, Florida Impact and the Women’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 11th District. She also lauded a Florida Impact hunger awareness campaign in Central Florida, which resulted in 5,000 additional children receiving food, and a similar initiative in Miami.

“We know we have hungry children,” she said. “What are we going to do about it? We want to hear your stories. We need churches, we need volunteers, and we need advocacy.”

Fields acknowledged that the modern-day miracle she and others envision can’t be accomplished by the United Methodist Church alone. “But let’s do our part to make it happen,” she said. “We can end extreme poverty — and I want to be able to say I had a part in it.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

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