Beyond Charity to Advocacy
Texas churches fight child hunger
Hundreds of U.S. congregations contribute time, money, and resources to food banks and other charities that help hungry people. But for some, the idea of advocacy—particularly when it comes to engaging with elected officials—is unfamiliar territory.
May Shen, who heads the children's ministry at Arlington Chinese Baptist Church in Arlington, TX, wanted to help her church deepen its advocacy efforts, so she decided to attend a Bread event that promised an interesting discussion of the relationship of churches and government in ending hunger.
The two-day event, called "…such as these…" An Evangelical Advocacy Response to Global Childhood Hunger, was held in June at Dallas Baptist University. Its purpose was to explore the biblical, theological, and experiential roots of hunger, and to help congregations move toward a deeper engagement with Christian advocacy.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Micah Challenge, and the National Association of Evangelicals partnered on this event. Speakers included Michael Gerson, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, Dr. Jo Anne Lyons, general superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, Dr. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northlands–A Church Distributed, and Rev. Ngwelda Paul Msiza, general secretary of the Baptist Convention of South Africa.
Shen was particularly struck by the speakers' optimism.
"They were truly positive—in a grounded and realistic way," she said. "Dr. Scott Todd [of Compassion International] made the point that hunger really can be ended in our generation. He showed us how much progress has been made in the past generation, and how this one can take it to completion."
Shen plans to use Bread materials she received at the conference to help educate her church. One resource, "Government, Global Poverty and God's Mission in the World: An Evangelical Declaration," explores the role of government in empowering people who live in poverty. The document, available at www.bread.org/declaration, emerged from a similar meeting held at Wheaton College in May 2010.
"Some of our parishioners have experienced hunger in their lives, but the idea that we can do something beyond donating food is unfamiliar," Shen said. She noted that a "hunger meal" at her church was an opportunity for parishioners to learn that Texas leads the nation in child hunger.
"That came as a huge surprise to some," she said. "Now we're paying attention to where they are willing to go next."
Shen said her congregation is taking "baby steps" toward advocacy. The next step is to begin the dialogue in small groups or Sunday school.
"We want to stick with them and bring them to the point where they ask, ‘How can I participate in the system and have a voice?'"
To learn more, please contact your Bread regional organizers: www.bread.org/contact/regional.html.