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Bread for the World president says impacting government policy meets long-term hunger needscomment (0)

October 8, 2009

By Brittany N. Howerton

Delivering a message of empowerment and hope Sept. 23, David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, encouraged around 70 students at Birmingham-Southern College to take action against world hunger.

This was one of three stops Beckmann made in the Birmingham area Sept. 23–24. The others were at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church and Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church.

Although dozens of organizations fight hunger and poverty in an immediate way with soup kitchens and food pantries, Bread for the World seeks to encourage long-term changes on a governmental level by influencing policy and legislation.

“The United States has tremendous power to change laws and systems that provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people in our country and around the world,” Beckmann said. “And we have power as people who live in this country to push the U.S. government to do its part to reduce hunger.”

Bread for the World’s Web site reports 3 million children die every year before the age of 5 because they are undernourished. But Beckmann told the students that they can “change history for hungry people” by being educated on current issues and taking the initiative to write letters to their senators and representatives.

The Church has an important role to play in reducing hunger and poverty as well, he said at a Sept. 24 breakfast at Dawson Memorial Baptist.

“It’s fundamental to the integrity of the gospel in the United States that Christians wake up [and] … help poor people, not just with money but by shaping laws and structures to provide money and open opportunities so people who can’t feed their children now can become productive enough to (do so),” Beckmann said.

That’s the kind of example Christ set, added Suzanne Martin, an adjunct professor at Samford University in Birmingham and director for Leading Edge Institute, who attended the breakfast.

“People that are Baptists say they know the Bible and love the Bible, so you have to go back there to what’s in the Bible,” said Martin, chairwoman of the Justice Issues Forum at Baptist Church of the Covenant, Birmingham, and a member of its Bread for the World chapter.

And in the Bible, social justice is the second most prevalent issue, she said. “This causes me to actually have to care whether all the children in Alabama have access to a decent education because this whole metaphor of being connected to the body of Christ is my responsibility — and a responsibility that comes with being a citizen of the United States,” Martin said.

It’s a responsibility that some have heeded, and progress has been made in some parts of the world. But there are still others in which improvement is needed, Beckmann said.

In the early 1970s, about one in three people in developing countries was undernourished. Today that number is down to about one in five, he said.

And in Africa, 29 million more children are in school today than in 2000, thanks to the efforts of Bread for the World partners and concerned citizens who advocated for U.S. legislation that reduced the debt of other countries, allowing their governments to be able to provide funding for schools.

“But in other areas, we haven’t changed because we haven’t mobilized a sustained effort — we haven’t tried on a consistent basis,” Beckmann said. “Even during rapid economic growth (in the United States), reducing poverty was not a high priority and hunger and poverty increased.

“If countries like Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Brazil (and) Mexico … have substantially reduced poverty, do we think it’s possible to do that in Birmingham?” he asked the students at Birmingham-Southern.

Answering his own question, Beckmann said, “If we could mobilize [people to care], I think we could do it.”

There are three key areas in which Bread for the World is seeking to make change, Beckmann noted.

1. Foreign assistance — to improve quality and effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance by developing a coherent response system that helps poor people around the world

2. World hunger initiative — to impact hunger and poverty by strengthening farms and agriculture in developing countries

3. Childhood hunger in America — strengthening child nutrition programs to provide additional food for children and families by fighting to maintain and expand tax provisions that help low-income and working families to have additional financial resources

“To not act is a sin,” Martin said. “To know it and do nothing is a sin. … It’s not easy or fun or comfortable to challenge the system, but it needs to be challenged.”

Beckmann added that now is a “crucial time” and expressed hope that people would become a part of fighting world hunger.

For resources and information about current bills, visit www.bread.org.

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