“But what difference can we make?”
That is the question on the hearts and minds of millions who see debilitating hunger but feel helpless to do anything about it. One church not only asked the question but forged an answer.
In 2009, Hayes Barton United Methodist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina (USA), began packaging meals through Rise Against Hunger (formerly Stop Hunger Now). The dehydrated meals offer a nutritional boost through soy protein, rice, vegetables and a packet of twenty-three vitamins and minerals. The meals go to places where “transformational development” is most likely to happen: primary schools, medical clinics and vocational settings, with some reserved for disaster response. After initially packaging 40,000 meals (six/bag, about 390 g each), the church set out to package many more – and did so.
By 2012, leaders were beginning to wonder about the big picture. Beyond the meals, what greater difference could their church make? Was there a way to devote resources to a particular area of the world? After much investigation, a four person vision team set out for Kampala, Uganda, including Anne Bryan, Roger Christman and Sara Bryant from the church, along with Rev Steve Hickle, Faith Outreach Director for Rise Against Hunger (formerly Stop Hunger Now). Their task was to witness meals in use and propose a larger investment by their congregation.
Hosted by Pastor Solomon Mwesige (Good News Church, Bulenga), the team visited three educational settings: King Solomon’s Academy, a UN school at the Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement, and an “orphan” school. While many needs emerged, these five became priorities:
- The four schools at the Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement have no water, so thirsty children were leaving during the school day – and sometimes forgetting to return! Within six months, a church-sponsored well was completed at one of the schools.
- To support teachers in the several schools overseen by Good News Church, an egg business is devoted to teacher salaries. The church increased the “egg” operation significantly with a grant to build a second coop and fill it with hens.
- At each school, the team asked, “Where are the books?” Few, if any, were to be found. In light of that severe and chronic book shortage, Hayes Barton launched “A book for every child,” partnering with the local YMCA to gather, sort and ship 2,000 books.
- To impact the lack of jobs, a start-up “microfinance” program was begun. By the time seed funds were made available, fifty women had received training and were ready to apply.
- Recognizing the value of Rise Against Hunger (formerly Stop Hunger Now) meals for both nutrition and an attraction to enroll and stay in school, Hayes Barton continues its commitment to meal packaging.
Within one year from the time of the vision trip, all of those projects were completed. But that was not the end. A March, 2014, visit from Pastor Solomon found him at Hayes Barton, where his impassioned Wednesday night supper report fell on the ears of a guest – one who happens to dig wells in Africa. His organization, Global H2O, funded three more wells in Uganda, while Rise Against Hunger (formerly Stop Hunger Now) raised funds for five more. Four of the wells have been dug, four more are underway. They are located at both the Rwamwanja (western Uganda) and Kyrandongo (northern Uganda) refugee settlements.
Many church leaders raise the identical question raised by Hayes Barton’s, but in sheer frustration or imagined weakness, do nothing. This church prayerfully investigated, took a close up look, and acted. In so doing, the added greatly to the building movement to end hunger.