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Paul Black Paul Black, Director of Communication Ministries for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church

This guest post was written by Paul Black, Director of Communication Ministries for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Today, May 28, World Hunger Day is being observed. This global celebration, organized by the World Hunger Project, turns the spotlight on the global hunger problem.

Being from the Midwest, where some of the most fertile soil has blessed us with bumper corn and soybean crops, makes this issue hard to conceptualize and yet, it exists. Our farmland has been called, “The Bread Basket of the World,” because enough is grown in our region of the United States to literally feed the world—and yet hunger kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. And 90 percent of those suffering with hunger and poverty are living in other parts of the world not affected by famine, earthquake or flood, but because of the chronic persistent hunger that exists in the developing world, in particular, Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

This is a problem that can and should be addressed. Typically, there are two approaches.  One is to provide food to those areas where chronic persistent hunger exists. This approach can create a cycle of dependency, and people are rarely given the opportunity to have a voice in the decisions that affect their community due to a lack of income, education and basic skills.

A better approach is to devise a plan to provide the basic things needed to empower people to care for themselves and to teach them basic farming and livestock care so that they can become self-sustaining.

The good news is we do not have to re-create the wheel. There is a working model employed by Heifer International that has been empowering people around the world through its “Living Gift” program that enables people and congregations to be involved in giving a hand up instead of a handout.

The concept is simple: Living Gift Markets “sell” food- and income-producing animals like bees, chicks, goats and heifers. These markets enable shoppers to honor a friend or loved one by giving in his or her name, while at the same time empowering an impoverished family by providing an animal and training.

Baton Rouge Living Gift Market 2011 2011 Living Gift Market in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The family, in turn, receives the training on the care of its animal, and then gives the firstborn offspring to another family, which provides a sustainable income through products to sell or barter.

Our church, the Jerome United Methodist Church in Springfield, Ill., donates to Heifer annually through our Five-Star Mission offering. Heifer is our UMCOR Advance Special, which receives our “Spare Change Offering for Second Mile Giving” on the third fifth Sunday of the year. With an average of 35 congregants on Sunday morning, this congregation has raised hundreds of dollars for Heifer International because we are sold on the concept.

animal crackersVacation Bible School is a way in which we have involved the community’s children as they bring their offerings all week in order to help children such as themselves to have a chicken or a goat or a milking cow to provide the basic necessities of life. Whether it is Fill the Ark, Feeding 5,000 or Animal Crackers, Heifer International has key resources that can assist your congregation in becoming a living gift partner.

The old proverb is right: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”  Empower those who are hungry and you will see the difference between a handout and a hand up.

Paul Black serves as Director of Communication Ministries for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church. From 1997 to 2006, he was assistant to Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher and is a former newspaper reporter, deputy city clerk and Congressional staff assistant. A three-time General Conference delegate, Black has served as a lay supply pastor for the past 30 years, including the last 11 years at the Jerome UMC in Springfield, Ill. Black has been recognized by United Press International, Associated Press, the Association of United Methodist Communicators and the Religion Communicators Council for his writing.


Linda Meyers

Linda Meyers, an Arkansas transplant originally from St. Louis, Mo., started working at Heifer International in 2011. She enjoys dragging her three children on nature hikes and snapping photos of them and everything around her. She has a bachelor’s degree in English has been “in the process” of writing the great American novel for 24 years.