By: Jennifer Bailey
January 22, 2013
“For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” –Matthew 25:35-40, NIV
God is hungry and waiting to be fed. This hunger is reflected each day in the faces of children standing in long soup kitchen lines and in the panicked voices of desperate fathers searching for a way to put food on the table for their families. Each day their numbers grow as God waits to be fed, the text of Matthew 25 resounding in repetition. When God’s creatures are hungry, God is hungry. Through the living witness of my work I have come to believe that our God is one who laments with us and feels the depths of our pain.
The face of hunger in America is changing. It is no longer distant, but the face of our neighbors, fellow church members, and loved ones. In my role as the Food Stamp Outreach Coordinator at Community Food Advocates in Nashville, Tennessee, I see the face of hunger each day. The organization’s mission is to end hunger and create a healthy, justice, and sustainable food system. Every Monday, I have the privilege of doing outreach at a local organization that serves the homeless population in East Nashville. Several times a week with the help of volunteer groups, the staff prepares a hot meal to serve the community. The piano in the large cafeteria has become my ‘office’. I set up shop with my pamphlets, applications, and businesses cards as Charles, one of the guests, often serenades me. Over the past six months, I have gotten to know these guests well. There is Robert, a military veteran, who after a work injury lost his job and eventually his family and home. There’s David, who is as brilliant as he is feisty and always willing to engage me in political debate. Though their narratives are diverse, they are each bound together by a tenacity and resilience to survive against even the greatest obstacles. As the “Food Stamp Lady”, the nickname by which I am affectionately known, I can only address a small portion of the complex issues they face, but as I have learned even a little bit of assistance goes a very long way in helping individuals maintain their dignity.
As the Body of Christ we are left with a sobering question: What prevents the Church from responding to the cry for justice found in the tears of the food insecure? I believe that as a communion we have bought into the “myth of independence,” an American cultural ethos in which self-reliance is glorified and asking for assistance is shameful. This stands in direct opposition to the narrative of the early Church. The Book of Acts notes that in the early Church, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45 ESV). The narrative implies that sharing or providing for those in need is not shameful, but rather a core part of what it means to live in community and be fully human.
According to Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann, prophetic ministry requires a two step process: grieving and energizing. We must grieve the state of the world as it. We must lament the reality of hunger and the unfaithfulness found in our inability to address it. Yet we cannot become a slave to our guilt. Instead, we should emerge out of our lament energized and ready to go about the difficult Kingdom building work of addressing both the symptoms and root causes that cause hunger to persist: racism, poverty, broken education systems, and wage inequality. Organizations like Community Food Advocates, Bread for the World, the Alliance to End Hunger, and the Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative are already leading the way.
We must be Christ’s hands on the Earth. The time is now. Will you join us?