AMITE, La. (BP) -- Instead of preaching a sermon for World Hunger Sunday, pastor Mike Foster divided the congregation into three groups and played the Poverty Bean Game.
The game, which demonstrates the disparity of wealth between developed countries like the United States and Third World countries like Haiti, stirred members of First Baptist Church in Amite, La., to put nearly $30,000 in the offering basket -- more than three times the usual Sunday morning offering.
"It was amazing -- it just confirmed that God is great," Foster said. "It really opened our eyes to see there is a world out there that needs help. It was more than we've ever taken up for the World Hunger Fund."
The World Hunger Fund is the channel Southern Baptist churches use to provide financial resources for hunger ministries in North America and overseas. It's a "dollar in, dollar out" initiative -- 100 percent of each donation is used to feed hungry people. Nothing is withheld for administrative expenses or promotional costs.
Foster, who served with the International Mission Board in Mexico and Costa Rica before becoming First Baptist's pastor six years ago, said he was inspired to host the Poverty Bean Game after reports from summer camp. His wife Miranda returned home burdened for the world's hungry as did daughters Lilly, 14, and Jadi, 12, and Laura Clemons and Marty Morris who lead Girls in Action, the missions discipleship organization for girls in grades 1-6 promoted by Woman's Missionary Union.
In addition to Girls in Action, the missions outreach of First Baptist, which averages about 125 in attendance, has grown from one small group trip a year to three annual trips involving multiple groups in the church.
According to the Poverty Bean Game rules, the congregation was divided into three groups. Five percent of the congregation represented First World countries, receiving 20 beans of "money" per person. Fifteen percent of the attendees represented Second World countries with 15 beans per person and the remaining 80 percent represented Third World countries with 10 beans per person.
"The First World is like the United States and Canada which has plenty," Foster said in describing the First Baptist activity on World Hunger Sunday, Oct. 14. "The Second World is like Russia, up and coming nations which have almost enough to survive, and the Third World -- not near enough to survive."
To win, or at least survive, each person had to have 17 beans at the end of the game.
As the members stood in line to purchase index cards representing food, water, shelter and medicine from "stores" in the sanctuary, two people acted as "natural disasters" and could take as many beans from each person as they wanted. First Worlders, meanwhile, could take a bean from a Second World resident who in turn could take a bean from a Third World resident.
"So you have the First and Second World taking from the Third World while they are standing in line trying to buy their necessities for life," Foster said.
As the game progressed, several "missionaries" would walk up to a person and say, "In Jesus' name, here is a bean," Foster said. "But they ran out of beans pretty quickly."
After the game was over, the First World went to one side of the auditorium, the Second World went to the other side and the Third World residents filled the center.
"Just about everybody in the First World survived and just about everybody in the Second World survived but we quickly realized most of the Third World died out," Foster said. A vigorous conversation followed.
"There were kids trying to hide because they didn't want people to take their beans," Foster said. "Some people chose not to participate and that was part of the sermon too -- we sometimes choose not to participate in the Lord's work, and who suffers?
"During the invitation time, we asked if God has laid it on your heart to give," Foster said, "and when we counted it was $29,300. Some more is coming in, so we'll be over $30,000." The average weekly offering is around $8,000, he said.
"The people in this church have a heart for missions," Foster said. "God is showing us that the church is not just brick and mortar but going out and reaching the lost."
Exercises like the Poverty Bean Game can provide a helpful dose of reality to Americans who don't realize how difficult life is for the majority of the world's people, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response.
"More than 385 million people live on less than $1 a day and another 275 million people live on less than $2 a day," Palmer said. "If you haven't traveled into that world, it's hard for an American to fathom the poverty, but Southern Baptist workers who serve in the really hard places see the harsh reality every day.
"I was visiting with some of those workers not long ago, in the Horn of Africa," Palmer continued. "Every single one of them told me they couldn't begin to do the work God has called them to do except for the World Hunger Fund. They are deeply grateful for the generosity of churches like First Baptist in giving to the World Hunger Fund. They want you to know that the World Hunger Fund is saving and transforming lives and changing the destinies of entire communities."
Mark H. Hunter is a correspondent for the Louisiana Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of churches affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
More about the World Hunger Fund
The World Hunger Fund is on the Internet at www.worldhungerfund.com. Since its inception in 1974, Southern Baptists have given more than $235 million through the World Hunger Fund.
World hunger awareness and fundraising event ideas, including speakers, are available from Baptist Global Response (www.gobgr.org), the international relief and development organization that partners with Southern Baptists' International Mission Board in hunger relief initiatives overseas.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also provides resources at www.erlc.com/hunger, including articles on biblical directives for combating hunger and poverty as well as how to begin a hunger ministry. Also available are two sermons, "The Ministry of the Open Hand" and "Do Justice to the Afflicted and Needy."
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