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From the Field: Humanizing Hunger

Pastor Dave Buerstetta Fights the Stigma of Hunger in Letters, in Person, and Online

November 2012

Pastor Dave Buerstetta did not always make the connection between his Christian faith and advocating for hungry people. "I had kind of a conversion experience in seminary," he says. "I met the Jesus who cares, the one who breaks down the barriers, who helps people who need help."

"That is the Jesus that I'm in love with. That's how I knew to live the life that I was called to."

An ordained American Baptist minister, Dave Buerstetta serves as a pastor at the Woodridge United Methodist Church, in Naperville, Ill., where he lives with his wife, Joann, and two children. At Woodridge, Pastor Dave focuses on youth ministry, outreach, and social justice. He is a thoroughly 21st century minister, maintaining a popular blog and using social media to share his homilies and fight hunger, poverty, and human trafficking.

Despite ministering to a solidly middle-class congregation, Pastor Dave has seen the hidden hunger that exists in most communities. "Even here they have a lot of need," he says, relating the story of a family who volunteered at a local food pantry for years and now needs help. Unfortunately, the stigma of hunger and poverty drove that family to seek help outside of the community instead of turning to the pantry at which they had assisted for so many years.

That stigma is a barrier that people of faith need to erase, according to Pastor Dave. He points to the new documentary "The Line" as an important resource for understanding that hunger can happen to any of us. “It puts the lie to any notion that people who are struggling are lazy,” he says. ("The Line" can be viewed at www.bread.org.)

In Pastor Dave’s experience, the faces behind the statistics give him power as he advocates as "the hands, the feet, and the voice" for hungry people. He recounts the feedback that he received from a legislative aide for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) "She said that it’s not enough to tell a moral story. In the current climate, we have to tell stories of people we know in congregations who are receiving assistance. It's not just millions ... it's Mr. and Mrs. Smith who can’t feed their daughter."

Since getting more involved with Bread after the 2008 National Gathering, Pastor Dave he has become a seasoned advocate, lobbying in person and on the phone and making the Offering of Letters a major focus in the worship service. He also maintains a one-person Offering of Tweets, sending messages to Congress and informing the world about social justice issues through his Twitter account.

Pastor Dave has seen the positive effect of his lobbying efforts and of the Offering of Letters. When visiting Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) with three other Bread members, she told them that they had received hundreds of letters from Bread and that the letters had make a difference. She also told them that she was cosponsoring a bill to strengthen poverty-focused development assistance.

"It's experiences like that that help me see the value of lobbying," says Pastor Dave.

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