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May 19, 2017 Column

Global Day of Prayer to End Famine
Rev. Yme Woensdregt

This Sunday, churches and parachurch organizations like WorldVision around the world will be marking a Global Day of Prayer to End Famine.
Famine has been declared in areas of South Sudan, with Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen on the brink of famine. More than 20 million people are at risk of starvation in these four countries alone. Almost 1.4 million children are already severely malnourished. Globally, millions more are suffering from drought and food shortages—up to 108 million men, women and children require lifesaving food assistance.
The famine in these parts of the world is much more than a simple lack of food. There are many factors, including political instability, conflict, rising food prices, drought, and climate change. Somalia is experiencing the third year of crop failures.
The most vulnerable, of course, are the children. Even if they survive, they will endure lifelong consequences, including stunted growth, poor brain development and a compromised immune system—all of which lead to longterm problems with the population.
The United Nations is calling it the “largest humanitarian crisis since 1945.” The global community needs to act. Humanitarian organizations and faith communities are on the frontlines of the crisis, providing food, aid and shelter as they are able.
The WCC is a fellowship of 348 member churches in more than 110 countries, together representing over 560 million Christians. This Global Day of Prayer brings together a wide range of church networks and traditions, ecumenical partners and faith–based organizations to join in prayer to overcome hunger and famine.
Why now?
Six years ago, conflict created widespread food shortages in Somalia. More than 260,000 people lost their lives—and half died before a famine was declared. The full scale of that tragedy was not known for years.
We cannot wait for famines to be officially declared. Action must be taken now if we are to avoid a similar tragedy.
This is also a critical date, because five days later, global leaders will meet at the G7 Summit in Italy on May 26–27. This Summit will provide governments and world leaders to do their part in allocating resources to help the poorest of the poor.
As Christians and people of other faiths pray for an end to famine, they can also let their leaders know that we are all expected to act.
For Christians, we do this because it is part of the mandate and mission of the church. Matthew 25 contains a parable of Jesus in which he addresses the people at the end of time. He says to the faithful, “I was naked and you clothed me. I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink of water. I was lonely and you visited me.” When the faithful respond in surprise and ask, “When did we do this for you?”, Jesus responds, “As you have done it for the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done it for me.”
In the faces of these men and women and children, we see the face of Jesus. In their suffering, we are touched by the heart of God.
But even if we don’t follow Jesus, even if we don’t have a faith in God, there is still a moral mandate to help alleviate this kind of suffering. Gandhi has been quoted as saying that “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” In 18th century England, Samuel Johnson remarked that “a decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”
Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This humanitarian crisis deserves the best efforts of all people, and especially those like us who live among the richest people in the world.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that “In an era of global abundance, our world has the resources to reduce dramatically the massive divides that persist between rich and poor, if only those resources can be unleashed in the service of all peoples.”
The resources are there. The question is whether the will is present.
In the Christian tradition, prayer is only the beginning. Our prayers are meant to become actions of compassion and love as we live out our faith.