RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--Checked my retirement fund the other day. Nearly choked. Guess I'll be working a little longer than I had anticipated -- like, forever.
I'm not complaining, though. I've still got a job. I know plenty of people who've lost their jobs and their homes, who can't find work anywhere, who wonder how long they'll be able to provide for their families. You know some, too, I'm sure. You might be one of them.
The great economic recovery-that-wasn't seems to be settling in for the long haul. Maybe years. It's global in scale, and even a coordinated international response -- which world leaders seem to be stumbling toward in agonizingly slow motion -- will take time to produce results.
One thing is for sure: No matter how bad you've got it, somebody else has it worse. While many struggle to pay bills, others are fighting to stave off hunger. In places where hunger was already a daily reality, the ongoing global economic crisis has made survival even more tenuous.
A national survey a few years ago revealed that lower-income folks give more generously to help the needy than the rich do. Maybe they give more because they know what it's like to need a helping hand themselves. It reminded me of the Apostle Paul's tribute to the selfless givers of the early Macedonian churches. They looked past their own struggles with poverty and anti-Christian persecution to give a sacrificial offering for the desperately needy Jewish followers of Christ in Jerusalem:
"In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord's people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us" (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).
Paul shared that motivational nudge with the relatively affluent believers in the church at Corinth, whom he also hoped would contribute to the offering for the poor in Jerusalem. It's a timely message for us, too, as Southern Baptists observe World Hunger Day Oct. 9. (For more information, visit http://www.worldhungerfund.com or http://www.imb.org/worldhunger.)
Regardless of the harder times Americans now face, this is no time for us to forget people in far greater need.
People such as Najia Khatun,* age 17. Najia and her 14-year-old sister, Amila,* began studying at the Light of Hope Center in Bangladesh when it opened in 2006. Today the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund helps support the center. Najia, Amila and the other 12 girls who come to the center live in slum shacks, but the landlords expect rent. Najia's father comes and goes; her mother doesn't work. One older sister is sick. Najia and Amila are expected to bring home money, however they can get it.
Some of the girls at the center were raised by beggars to become beggars. Others have mothers who work as prostitutes. But inside the center, they eat a healthy breakfast, take showers, put on clean school uniforms, hear Bible teaching and sing Christian songs, then begin their studies. Before they go to their places of work as paid apprentices or trainees in jobs arranged by the center, the girls eat a lunch of rice and lentils with vegetables, eggs, fish or meat.
"Before, there were a lot of problems in my family. There was no money for food," Najia said. "Now I have a job, and I am able to help my family. I am the main breadwinner in my family." (Read Najia's story at http://asiastories.com/features/ starting Oct. 10).
She also loves and serves Christ. That's effective ministry. Southern Baptist World Hunger giving helped fund such projects in some 70 countries in 2008. Yet Southern Baptists donated just $4.3 million to the World Hunger Fund in 2010 -- only two-thirds of what they gave through the World Hunger Fund in 2000 and less than half of what the IMB received in total contributions for world hunger during a 12-month span a decade earlier.
"We are now at a 'red alert' time for our human needs funding," said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization, in July. "The overseas hunger relief fund is down to $4.1 million -- enough to meet the needs of Southern Baptist international hunger projects for six months. These projects help the poorest of the poor, the most neglected and marginalized and some of the most lost people groups in the world. We are approaching a baseline where we are going to have to start denying funds to critical projects.
"Last year was the lowest donations to the World Hunger Fund have been in 20 years. This is very disturbing, seeing the huge need of the crisis looming in the Horn of Africa . Our Southern Baptist avenue of seeing the lost, last and least be helped both physically and spiritually is about to dry up."
Hunger and malnutrition remain the top risks to health worldwide, according to the World Food Programme. Every day, nearly 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. Right here in America, 49 million people struggle with chronic hunger and malnutrition, including 17 million children, reports the Feeding America relief agency. An estimated 35 percent of poor American families are forced to choose between buying food and paying their rent or mortgage.
Twenty cents of every dollar given to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund goes to the North American Mission Board to support hunger projects in the United States. Eighty cents of every dollar goes to the International Mission Board to support direct hunger ministry, well drilling, agricultural education, water purification and other efforts that help create independence from reliance on food aid. Every cent goes toward ministry. Mission personnel are already in place; administrative and promotional costs are provided for through Cooperative Program contributions and by other budgets.
The Good News of salvation through Christ is shared whenever possible.
The Macedonian believers in Paul's day had it a lot harder than we do. Yet in "their extreme poverty … they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability" for the hungry brethren in Jerusalem. Let's do the same for hungry people all over the world today.
Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Goldie Frances, an IMB worker based in South Asia, contributed to this column.
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