Every night, 811 million people go to bed hungry.
In Bangladesh, flooding and pandemic-related shortages have caused the cost of food staples to double. Powdered milk, a necessity for families in Sri Lanka who don’t have refrigerators, has increased 206 percent, with one package of milk now costing two days’ income. Bread and rice in Haiti have increased by over 300 percent. Globally, families are eating less or not at all.
The last five years have presented significant setbacks in the economically developing world. Forward momentum has stalled, and, in some areas, we’ve lost ground due to conflict, extreme weather, and the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which are contributing to a rising cost of living worldwide.
We understand why this is happening, but how do we—who are called to feed the hungry and help the oppressed—fix it?
For pastors, making decisions about how to best use church resources is a constant balancing act. There is no shortage of need, both in the local community and abroad. Discerning how to best support global missions and to make a dollar go farther is the work of good stewardship, especially when choosing how to engage the members of your congregation to give of their time, talents, and resources.
While food and donation drives meet immediate needs, what can pastors do to ensure they are offering more than a temporary Band-Aid? Ultimately, short-term action must be aligned with long-term solutions, and the most effective organizations are ones that invest in communities in sustainable ways.
The Task of Meeting Needs
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says in the Book of John. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” In this moment, Jesus is inviting his listeners into a relationship that will feed and nourish them spiritually, but that invitation comes with the miracle of the loaves and fishes that satisfies their bodily hunger as well.
Contrast this gospel story with the experience of a missionary who asked for help starting agricultural microbusinesses in his rural community. His home church offered to send Bibles. Dejected, the missionary told his friends, “What am I supposed to do with Bibles? The literacy rate is below ten percent, and there isn’t a school for miles.”
Often, our approaches to help lack a holistic understanding of what’s needed, both immediately and in the future. We are quick to donate money or volunteer our time in the aftermath of an emergency, but when the crisis is over, what systems have we created to prepare the community for the next tsunami or fire? As a church, we raise funds to build an orphanage in Haiti, but how are we helping those local families escape poverty?
For more than three decades, many people have been wrestling with these questions around food scarcity, hunger, and inequality. In 2015, the UN created 17 Sustainable Development Goals to identify the largest areas of global concern and to create implementable plans for change. The UN’s conclusions emphasized one main idea: All progress must be made with sustainability in mind.
Sustainable work, that which fosters independence rather than dependence, first addresses physical needs: food, water, medical care, and safety. But the real focus is on long-term solutions. Once people are no longer hungry, sick, or living in fear, they are better equipped to imagine what the future holds.
Think of a young girl living in Ethiopia, whose mother is sick and unable to work. A local church offers a daily meal program where this family can eat. After learning about the mother’s illness, church leaders connect her with the medical care she needs. Months later, she is back to work.
The young girl can now return to school because she no longer has to care for her sick mother. A few years down the road, a teacher sees her potential and encourages her to attend college, where she studies to become a nurse who meets medical needs in her community.
All along the way, the local church has invested not only in her spiritual formation but in life-sustaining opportunities this young girl would not have had otherwise. The beauty of this approach is that it’s symbiotic—the community directly benefits from her success
If systems are built with sustainability in mind, the child who eats today is tomorrow’s community leader.
Jesus’ Call to Feed His Sheep
As pastors and church leaders, you are tasked with leading your sheep well. In the midst of financial strain and distraction, you want to find organizations that are actually doing this work, aligned with the Great Commission. How do you ensure that the actions of your people have the greatest practical and kingdom impact?
The first step is finding a trusted source for information and resources for affecting real change. For more than 70 years, Compassion International has followed a Christ-centered, child-focused, and church-driven model, which means they are motivated by a Christian ethic and concerned with the long-term physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of people in their care. In partnering with more than 8,000 local churches abroad, they are actively deploying holistic child development programs throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but instead of Band-Aids and one-off campaigns, Compassion seeks to support sustainable change that breaks the cycle of poverty for people around the world.
One of the most accessible ways to help your congregation understand how these programs break the cycle of poverty is taking The Compassion Journey. This family-friendly experience invites your congregants to learn about the realities faced by children growing up in extreme poverty. To access this free resource, contact Compassion International today.