Serving on ‘God’s Wave Length’ for 39 Years

January 8, 2016
Bread member Cathy Brechtelsbauer. Photo courtesy of Dakota Wesleyan University.

By Marc Hopkins

During the McGovern Hunger Summit at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., in mid-November, Cathy Brechtelsbauer got official recognition for the advocacy that many have admired for decades. The longtime Bread member received the McGovern South Dakota Hunger Ambassador Award for her efforts to spark systemic changes that address the root causes of poverty.

“She exemplifies what it means to put together passion and a big heart,” said Michael Troutman, who oversees Bread’s Midwest donor relations, and who presented the award to Brechtelsbauer.

While Brechtelsbauer was recognized for advocacy, she’s really a gifted storyteller whose talents span visual arts, plays, and music. During her 39-year involvement with Bread, her narratives have helped to educate the public and advance causes that drive the organization’s values.

Her credits include the song “Justice Means,” which has been used at Bread workshops. It starts:  
“Justice means that all are fed and everyone will have their bread, a place to lay their heads.” And there’s the play she wrote during the campaign on developing world debt that’s been performed in numerous churches. The plot is inspired by the Bible’s jubilee theme of debt forgiveness, and some of the main characters are indebted farmers from developing countries.

A visual display she was once part of has had a lasting impact for South Dakota's children in need. In the early 1990’s, Brechtelsbauer led a group that wrapped a half-mile chain of 13,000 paper dolls around the state capitol building in Pierre to draw attention to the 13,000 children who were denied a cost-of-living increase under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program. (The program is now called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families following welfare reform in 1996.)

At first, the state’s government ignored the spectacle. Undeterred, the following year, Brechtelsbauer, who serves as Bread’s state coordinator in South Dakota, positioned the dolls along a CROP Walk route. The display motivated the Sioux Falls Ministerial Association to write the governor’s office to get the kids in the budget. Since then, the state’s cost-of-living increases have usually included the children.

Brechtelsbauer is Lutheran (ELCA). The passion for her work is driven by the call for justice in the Gospel. “You hear the Bible say, ‘Do justice,’ but you don’t have a handle on how to do it,” she said. “I think Bread for the World gives you a way to work for justice.” She continued, “I feel like it’s a faith calling. You’re kind of on God’s wave length when you’re working on hunger. It helps you get God’s agenda to be part of your own agenda.”

Currently, Brechtelsbauer’s efforts have expanded to payday lending. She’s part of an attempt to force a ballot initiative in the general election that will cap interest on such loans at 36 percent. The state average is 574 percent. “There’s a reason we call this predatory,” she said.

Even as Brechtelsbauer gears up for new challenges, she wrestles with old ones too, like working to get food exempt from the state sales tax. After many years of including a cost-of-living increase for children in the state budget, it was dropped in 2015. She’s working to have it restored next year. But these setbacks don’t discourage her. “I feel like we’re not necessarily called to have success. But we are called to be faithful.”

Marc Hopkins is a writer living in Silver Spring, Md.

Justice means that all are fed and everyone will have their bread, a place to lay their heads

from the song "Justice Means" by Cathy Brechtelsbauer

Tools
from our Resource Library

For Education

  • The Nourishing Effect

    Hunger and food insecurity add at least $160 billion a year to U.S. healthcare costs.

  • Mass Incarceration: A Major Cause of Hunger

    Mass incarceration has far-reaching effects in the United States. It poses a significant barrier to ending U.S. hunger and poverty by 2030—a goal the United States adopted in 2015. But the connection is not always obvious.

  • Advancing Nutrition through Food Aid Reform

    The United States has long been a global leader in responding to humanitarian emergencies. Food assistance that includes nutritious food for pregnant women and young children is both a life-and-death matter for individuals and an economic imperative for countries.

For Faith

  • Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

    A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

    Dear Members of Congress,

    As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are...

  • In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement

    This devotional guide invites deepened relationship with and among Pan-Af­rican people and elected leaders in the mission to end hunger and poverty.

  • Sermon by David Beckmann at Duke University Chapel

    Remarks delivered October 1, 2017 at Duke University Chapel in Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

    Thank you for inviting me to preach here at Duke University Chapel. And I especially want to thank the Bread for the World members who have come this morning.

    Bruce Puckett urged...

For Advocacy

  • Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit

    A set of how-to sheets for carrying out advocacy and fact sheets on the current issues Bread for the World is working on.

    For new and current Bread grassroots hunger activists.

    Ideal as a starter toolkit for new Bread activists or as a set of updates for current activists.

    ...

  • Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017

    Unnecessarily long prison sentences, combined with the lack of rehabilitative programs for people in prison, exacerbate hunger, poverty, and existing inequalities.

    Overly harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences have contributed to the rapid increase of our country’s prison population. The...

  • Health Care Is a Hunger Issue

    Learn more about the principles that Bread for the World supports regarding health reform.