Engaging The Work in Front of Us
John Ankele is a documentary filmmaker and longtime Bread member. He is currently working on a film profiling grandparents raising grandchildren in both the Bronx, NY, and rural Tanzania.
“Recently some of the American teenagers and their grandparents traveled with me to Tanzania,” he recalls. “These kids lived in poverty in the Bronx, but they were shocked by the poverty in Tanzania, where some of the grandmothers didn’t know if they’d be able to feed the children that evening. The focus of the teenagers shifted. Instead of concentrating on their wants, they tried to figure out how to get the Tanzanian kids what they needed.”
John was aware of hunger and poverty growing up, as well as later when he attended seminary and became a Presbyterian minister. “My family, and my wife Alix’s family, modeled generosity,” he says. “Alix’s father was an architect of the New Deal and traveled in poor areas of the United States. I remember later in his life when he said that he wanted to pay more taxes if that meant that kids would get a better education. We have tried to pass a spirit of sharing on to our own children as well.”
After seminary, John became involved with Bread for the World in the 1970s as a way to make real what he had learned. At the same time, he was working on social justice issues for the New York City Council of Churches.
Yet when he, Alix, and their young daughter later moved to East Africa, his experience was a little like that of the teenagers from the Bronx. The extensive poverty and hunger in Tanzania became ever more real to the couple as they worked for the Africa Conference of Churches.
“Some of the people we worked with were hungry themselves, yet they were committed to social justice ministries and they worked hard to make things better,” John says.
In John’s current work as a filmmaker, he is part of a larger community of people and NGOs working for change. Through his company, Old Dog Documentaries, John has produced films on canceling debt, the politics of food, and AIDS in Africa. Through all of these, he has learned that hunger is interrelated with a range of social justice issues.
“I like to think of Bread as an image of the body of Christ,” he says. “Each of us has a role to play. We get engaged in the work that is right in front of us. We work to influence our own members of Congress. Because we all participate in Bread, together we intensify the impact for hungry and poor people.”