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Photo: Faith leaders gather on the U.S. Capitol grounds. Joseph Molieri / Bread for the World.
Standing around a wooden cross in front of the Senate steps of the U.S. Capitol, a group of Christian leaders last month prayed for God’s favor as they spoke out on behalf of people struggling with hunger and poverty and opposed legislation and budget decisions that would endanger the well-being of millions of Americans and people around the world.
The leaders are members of the Circle of Protection, a broad coalition from all the branches of U.S. Christianity who have come together around the biblical mandate to protect poor people. Bread is a founding member of this coalition.
With ashes on their foreheads and sackcloth stoles around their necks, the faith leaders spoke one by one. March 29 was truly a day of prayer and public witness.
“We pray you bring wisdom to this nation,” said Bishop Abel Palomo of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. “That you bring unity, Lord, within the government halls, to do that which is right and righteous before your presence.”
The group sang “Ubi Caritas,” Latin for “Live in Charity,” several times throughout the event and read passages of scripture — such as Matthew 5:3-10 and James 2:1-8 — to highlight the biblical basis for their advocacy.
The faith leaders concluded by lifting their hands toward the Capitol Building as Rev. Carlos L. Malavé, executive director of Christian Churches Together, gave a benediction: “May the almighty and merciful God and his Son who is abundant in love, and the courage and power of the Holy Spirit be with our friends in the U.S. Congress, with us, and with all of God’s children today and forever, Amen.”
Earlier in the day, several of the faith leaders held a press conference to express their opposition to the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal. The proposal would slash funding for foreign aid and severely cut funding for domestic anti-poverty programs, including nutrition, housing, heating assistance, and community development.
The Circle of Protection, which believes that budgets are moral documents, opposes these cuts and faith leaders are making their voices known to congressional leadership. “We also think that more is to come,” said Rev. David Beckmann, Bread’s president, at the prayer vigil. “We are going to see deeper cuts as we see what the priorities of the president and Congress are. They are going to have to find the money some place, and they are likely to find the money in programs that help people who are struggling with poverty.”
Among Trump’s proposed budget includes cuts to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports before- and after-school and summer programs for at-risk youth, and to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides energy assistance to millions of America’s poorest families.
In the U.S., 1 in 8 families struggles to put food on the table. Cuts to programs that address economic development in struggling communities or provide energy assistance to some of America's poorest families would increase hunger and hardship.
Internationally, now would be the worst time to cut foreign aid funding. Currently 20 million people are at risk of starvation due to famine, and near-famine conditions, in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria. U.S. foreign assistance funding, which represents less than 1 percent of the federal budget, means the difference between life and death for these people.
Rep. Joe Kennedy, the only lawmaker in attendance at the press conference, said, “In times of division and discourse in our government, our faith steadies us. It is our connective thread, and a common compass.”
The faith leaders acknowledged that their faith traditions differ, but that they stand together under the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
During the afternoon, the faith leaders met with Senate and House members, speaking on behalf of hungry and poor people and urging Congress to oppose budget cuts to policies and programs that hurt those struggling from hunger and poverty.
This story was written by Daulton DePatis, Bread for the World’s church relations intern, and Jennifer Gonzalez, managing editor at Bread for the World.
Photo: Margaret Glass receiving her lifetime achievement award from Dave Miner, a former chairperson of the Bread for the World board of directors. Roger Howard for Bread for the World.
At 102, Margaret Glass has seen a lot of life; spending many of her years on this earth working tirelessly to ensure that Congress hears from Bread for the World members.
In fact, her tenacity generated 200 letters to Congress last year.
Bread honored Glass last month, on March 11, with a lifetime achievement award. She was surprised with the award during an annual Offering of Letters workshop at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Ind.
“I’ve known Margaret for many years,” said Dave Miner, former chairperson of Bread for the World board of directors, who gave her the award. “I remember somebody telling me she was 100 years old a couple of years ago and couldn’t believe it. She’s so active.”
Miner added: “Margaret has a delightful positive persistent presence. She persists until we get the outcome we want from Congress.”
For the past 25 years, Glass has organized an Offering of Letters at her church, Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Ind. She has also run, along with the late Connie Wick, Offering of Letters events at Robin Run Village, a retirement community in Indianapolis, where she lives. (Residents in this retirement community are active in advocating on behalf of hungry and poor people).
After receiving her award, Glass told Miner that she was “overwhelmed by the honor” given to her and that she hadn’t thought she was “doing anything unusual, just plugging away.” She also told him she was going to work hard to organize an Offering of Letters event at her church this year.
“I hope we can stop some of the proposed dreadful cuts in food funding,” she said.
Photo: Rev. David Beckmann speaking on March 29 during a gathering of faith leaders on the U.S. Capitol grounds to protest proposed legislation that would disproportionately harm poor and vulnerable people. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.
By Rev. David Beckmann
President Trump and Congress are pushing for deep cuts in nearly all the programs that help people who struggle with hunger and poverty in our country and around the world. This is certainly a time to take hope in the promise of God’s gracious presence in our lives. I’d like to share three Bible passages that I’ve found helpful — two stories from the Old Testament and Luke’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus.
First, the Old Testament book of Esther. The book opens with a picture of the Persian emperor — powerful and self-indulgent. Plans are afoot to slaughter all of the Jews in the empire. But the emperor’s favorite wife is a young Jewish woman, Esther. Her cousin Mordecai sends her a letter, urging her to use her access to the emperor to be an advocate for her people, even though this might lead to her own execution. A community of Jews fasts with Esther for three days before she goes to the emperor. Against all odds, her advocacy succeeds!
The failure of the American Health Care Act on Friday, March 24, reminded me of a second Old Testament story — the victory of Gideon’s army over the Midianites. The health care bill, especially its Medicaid provisions, would have increased hunger and other suffering for tens of millions of people. We were happily surprised that the bill failed in the House, and we certainly didn’t expect President Trump to declare defeat and move on to other business.
What happened on March 24 is like the many Bible stories in which God suddenly makes things better for his people. The one I like best is the story of Gideon in Judges 7. Israel’s powerful neighbor, Midian, had invaded, and the Midianite army is encamped in a valley. The Lord instructs Gideon to “attack” them with just 300 men. In darkness, the 300 men break clay pots, blow trumpets, and swing torches in the air as they run into the valley. The drowsy Midianites are frightened and confused, and some of them swing their swords at each other. They give flight, and other Israelite fighters attack them as they run.
I’m grateful to all the Bread for the World people who contacted their members of Congress on the Medicaid issue. We made a lot of noise — but the victory on March 24 was due more to confusion and division among the forces that wanted to cut Medicaid than it was to our efforts. Gideon would tell us to give glory to God and be grateful for the chance to have a hand in the victory.
Finally, Luke 23 tells the story of Jesus who, while on the cross, forgives those who crucify him because “they do not know what they are doing” (23:34) and then forgives one of the criminals crucified with him (23:42-43). This is one of the most important passages in the Bible because our Christian experience of God’s love and forgiveness comes from Jesus on the cross. Jesus’ resurrection convinced his disciples that Jesus was the Christ and that his forgiving death offers grace and forgiveness to all people.
Our experience of God’s grace in Christ Jesus moves us to advocacy for hungry people. It inspires persistent, joyful advocacy year after year, even in difficult political situations.
Rev. David Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World.
House Republicans last month withdrew the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) after they could not muster enough votes to pass the bill in the House. For now, that means 24 million Americans, including 14 million on Medicaid, will get to keep their health insurance.
The AHCA was the House Republicans replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Republicans have long-wanted to repeal the ACA. However, they found themselves on the losing end of the issue when representatives began to encounter angry constituents at town hall meetings and phone calls starting pouring in to congressional offices demanding that representatives vote NO on the bill.
Your advocacy was instrumental in ensuring that this legislation did not move any further in Congress. Thank you! Despite this victory, Bread for the World urges its members to remain vigilant and ready to act when members of Congress attempt, once again, to repeal the Affordable Care Act or its key provisions.
Bread opposed to AHCA because millions of people would have lost their health care coverage — increasing hunger and poverty in the United States.
“If the American Health Care Act had become law, 14 million people would have lost Medicaid; a program that helps 70 million Americans,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “People without affordable health coverage must often choose between buying food for their families and paying for medical care. We commend the members of the House who stood up to the leadership and spoke out against the proposed cuts to Medicaid, and we urge everyone to remain steadfast in their commitment to the most vulnerable families in our country.”
Plan now to join hundreds of Bread for the World members from across the country for our annual Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 13. The day will begin with a morning briefing (including breakfast!) at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.
Afterward you will accompany others from your state for scheduled visits with senators and representatives. The day concludes with a reception on Capitol Hill and an inspiring closing worship service.
Visit bread.org/lobbyday to learn more and to register for the event. You’ll also find information about “Virtual Lobby Day” and opportunities for in-district meetings with your members of Congress.
With Lobby Day approaching, our new state fact sheets will be excellent materials to bring with you when you visit Capitol Hill. They can also be used at town hall meetings and campaign rallies.
The state fact sheets include information such as the proportion of households in the state that struggle to put food on the table; the number of state residents living in communities with poverty rates of 20 percent or more; number in the state who would be uninsured if the Affordable Care Act is repealed; and hunger and poverty rates for African-Americans, Native-Americans, and Latinos.
The federal courts have twice now blocked President Trump’s travel ban, but that doesn’t mean that immigration is not still on the administration’s radar. The administration still wants to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border.
Find out why Immigration Is a Hunger Issue at Bread for the World. The fact sheet is also available in Spanish.
You can download or order a printed copy of the Offering of Letters handbook and DVD at www.bread.org/ol or call 800-822-7323.
You may also order free bulletin inserts with sample letter in any quantity. The bulletin insert is available in Spanish and English.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben will be featured in a new video that will anchor a new series called The Hunger Reports (www.hungerreport.org). The three-part series, based on the annual Hunger Report published by Bread for the World Institute, will consist of a video, graphics, and new stories.
The first episode will focus on the link between climate change and hunger. The second will focus on the refugee crisis and hunger, and the third on bridging the gap between humanitarian and development assistance. The Hunger Reports will be marketed through targeted digital channels like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Through this series, the Institute hopes to reach and build its reputation with new audiences for the report.
The series will launch on April 20, 2017 — two days before Earth Day.
Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute won six DeRose-Hinkhouse Awards given by the Religion Communicators Council for work done in 2016. The award, given annually since 1949, is the highest honor peers can give to each other in the field of religious communications.
A top award, Best in Class for Specialized Writing, was given to the 2017 Hunger Report: Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities. The 2016 Offering of Letters: Survive and Thrive won an Award of Excellence. Awards of Merit were given to the Bread e-newsletter, the 2016 Elections Media Tours, and “Motherly Love,” the photo that was used for the 2016 Offering of Letters.
More than 250 entries were submitted for the 2016 awards. The board of judges was composed of journalists, professors, and editors from Roosevelt University, the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, St. John’s University, the National Catholic Reporter, and the Associated Press.
By Jennifer Gonzalez
Once poor and a domestic worker outside her country, Mercedita Cubar today is the president of the Farmer’s Federation of Pototan, a town considered the rice granary of the central Philippines. Despite being the eighth largest rice producer in the world, the Philippines is one of the largest rice importers. Simply put, the Philippines consumes more rice than it produces.
It is not unusual for a woman farmer like Cubar to lead such a group in the Philippines. Eight out of every 10 smallholder farmers worldwide are women, and the Philippines is no exception. However, limited fertile land, irrigation, and now climate change have conspired against farmers working to provide rice to the country’s 97 million people.
Climate change is the issue that most worries Cubar and other smallholder farmers. The resulting unpredictability of weather patterns has wreaked havoc on the ability of smallholder farmers to reliably feed people. They are unsure about what kind of rice to plant and when to do so. But now, through the federation, Cubar is teaching fellow smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change.
The Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands strung along the Pacific Ring of Fire, is ranked among the top 10 countries worldwide at risk from climate change and natural disasters. This island chain has one of the highest exposures to climate change risks like typhoons, floods, landslides, and droughts.
Typhoons cost the Philippines as much as $1.6 billion annually. Among the most impacted are smallholder farmers, predominantly women, who grow most of the rice that feeds Filipinos. Fortunately, many Asian countries like the Philippines have launched programs to help smallholder farmers adapt to rapidly changing weather patterns.
One of those programs is the Philippines Climate Change Adaptation Project (PhilCCAP), made possible through an agreement between the Philippine government and the World Bank. The United States is the World Bank’s largest shareholder, which means the U.S. gives a substantial amount of money to the World Bank for development projects that help many people, especially those struggling with hunger and poverty.
How much money the federal government invests in the World Bank impacts the success of its projects and also how many people living with hunger and poverty can benefit.
One of the hallmarks of the PhilCCAP program is that it teaches weather forecasting to smallholder farmers. This is vital, given the volatility of climate change.
Rapidly changing weather patterns have reduced farm yields in the Philippines. In the past decade, strong typhoons have wiped out entire rice harvests, and extended droughts have withered them. Harvest losses mire smallholder farmers in debt since many small farmers borrow money to buy seeds and fertilizer.
“When you owe a financier, they take what they want from the farm,” Cubar says. “It’s quite disgusting — working, working, and working for nothing. We saw that if we embrace the project, we will never lose.”
Diversification of products and integrated farming is key to a smallholder farmer’s survival. As an early adopter of the practice, Cubar now helps other farmers to do the same. She encourages them to branch out beyond rice. She says she knows that hard times may be ahead.
“So I tell them to integrate,” she says. “If you don’t have money, you sell your chickens. You still need more money? You can sell your pigs. We are trying to change our farming system, not to stick to rice alone.”
Jennifer Gonzalez is managing editor at Bread for the World.
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