Commentary

Both / And

Roger Livdahl

For the last 35 years I have been employed by, or actively supporting, hunger/poverty fighting organizations. Recently, I have heard that many congregations and individuals are no longer supporting their denominational hunger programs or participating in their community CROP Walk. Instead, they have been drawn to support more hands-on programs where they can become personally involved.

It isn’t easy to motivate active concern for poor people, even within the church.

Recently, Feed Our Starving Children (a good organization) has done a remarkable job of promoting and organizing food packaging and shipping activities among our congregations and communities. Individual congregations have paid for, packed, and shipped as many as a million or more meals for children. I rejoice that so many children and adults have had their consciousness raised by such hands-on activities.

When I started anti-hunger/poverty work 35 years ago, I felt like I was a “voice crying in the wilderness.” It wasn’t easy to motivate active concern for poor people, even within the church. The organizing around involving people in a CROP Walk or in contributing to their denominational hunger programs was very slow going.

Today, I feel very hopeful! I see many people of all ages actively involved in hands-on volunteer programs, showing that they really care about alleviating the poverty and suffering of others. Thousands of college students and other adults have made repeated trips to New Orleans and the Gulf states to rebuild housing and communities. Congregations are organizing mission or work trips for their youth and adults. Some are organizing regular working trips to Haiti, Africa, or South America. Much money has to be raised to carry out such projects.

Not either/or

While it is very worthwhile to continue providing food for starving children, this should not be a substitute for financially supporting programs which address the causes of hunger and poverty. Food handouts alone will not enable a family or community to develop their own production of agriculture or income generation. Too many handouts given unwisely can actually inhibit the necessary self-help.

Lutheran churches have long supported programs that empower people and communities to take control of their own destinies. Programs such as Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran World Federation, and Church World Service have for more than 60 years developed reliable working partnerships with self-help development agencies in more than 70 countries. Through your denominational hunger program, your gifts can be efficiently and effectively delivered in a way that promotes dignity and self-help empowerment to the recipient. Through community Church World Service/CROP events, you can join together with members of other denominations in your neighborhood to support self-help community efforts of poorer communities, both overseas and in the U.S.

I pray that you and your congregation would support both feeding and self-help.

Roger O. Livdahl was regional director for Church World Service/CROP and served as director of the ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeals. He is a retired pastor living in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, and regularly volunteers with Global Health Ministries in Fridley.

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