As a person who attended seminary and worked as a pastor in churches and other faith-based non-profits for most of my career, it came as a surprise to the majority of people I knew that I wanted 25 in Change to partner with the World Food Programme instead of a Christian hunger relief organization. What I heard most often was that the WFP only feeds children (which isn’t the case), but doesn’t share the gospel with them (also not the case). They argued that we should just choose one that does both, so we get the most bang for our buck. But the truth is that the gospel has nothing do with bangs or bucks, so those seem fairly irrelevant metrics of success.
My elevator pitch for why we choose the WFP is simple: The World Food Programme is the most cost-effective hunger relief organization in the world. They are the best-funded, with the most people on the ground in countries in dire straits, with the most educated and talented administration, and they have the best logistics for tackling malnutrition around the globe. Their nearest competition is a distant second place.
These are great reasons for choosing them, but an even more important reason is that food should never be used as a method of coercion whether for political, personal, or ecclesial gain. Do the hungry really hear the gospel when they are choosing between becoming Christians or starving? Ghandi once said “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
The gospel is much more than just the story of Jesus; it is the transformative power of the presence of Christ in our lives—whether we know it or not; and this is what makes it good news. While words can be sufficient for sharing the gospel, they are not always necessary. This truth is what allowed St. Francis to say “Share the gospel, and if necessary use words.”
The most important personal reason I have for choosing the WFP is that it prevents me from coercing the person through charity to theologically agree with me; to validate me intellectually. It forces me to live out the gospel in the midst of those it is hardest to share it with: To speak kindly with my wife as I’m agitated from eating only rice and beans, to cook a delicious meal for my family and be at peace with them while eating only rice and beans, to coherently write a blog post with the possibility of not eating at all in a couple days due to lack of Partners.
My hope is that my advocacy through 25 in Change produces a sincere closeness to those marginalized by our food system so that I can transform my life to make room for the poor. Limited as I am, I cannot think of a better approach for sharing the gospel. St. Francis has another quote I’ve become a fan of: “It is no use walking somewhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” The method is the message. Hopefully over the next 25 days, I can begin to figure out how to apply this bit of Franciscan wisdom to the way I eat, and where I decide to share the gospel.
“If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:11