More than food: lasting change

Hunger Logo - FINALBy Mary Lewis Dassinger
Special Contributor

I recently watched “North of Dover,” a YouTube video produced right here in Arkansas telling the story of Dover United Methodist Church. Their story epitomizes my hopes for the 200,000 Reasons to Fight Childhood Hunger initiative.

Our motivation is Christ’s call to serve, combined with the knowledge that approximately 200,000 Arkansas children go to bed hungry each night. Our mission is for 100 percent of UMCs in Arkansas to participate in this initiative to significantly reduce childhood hunger through feeding ministries, public witness, and education for long-term stability. But our mission ultimately can lead to so much more.

It can lead to lasting change, the kind for which Christ lived and died and rose from the grave. Meeting the physical need for food is a great starting point, and we hope United Methodist congregations will build relationships and be instruments of change in the emotional and spiritual lives of hungry children and their families.

Watching the video about Dover UMC, I heard how they responded to the immediate need of providing food. In taking time to get to know the students they were feeding, they invited them to come to Vacation Bible School. Then, their families started coming to church. After welcoming the families into the faith community, they have continued to care for them. No one is the same; they have all experienced a lasting change.

PaysingerRegisterAre the families still hungry? I would assume some hardships still exist. Yet, now they have a community that is a source of support and encouragement. The Holy Spirit is not done yet. Change is still happening.

Unfortunately, I don’t think we can end hunger for everyone; the poor will always be with us. Yet, our churches can make a difference in the lives of so many. Donations, food distributions, hot meals and emergency food give kids one more meal, moms one more week, families one more month. But is it lasting change? That’s not easy to answer. Nonetheless, it’s a necessary starting place for lasting change.

Risks, time, priorities

We will have to risk more, spend more time building relationships, and prioritize these relationships over doing what is easiest or feeling good about ourselves. I do believe that United Methodists can end hunger for a significant number of Arkansans. It requires that we do more in addition to meeting immediate needs.

According to research, hunger ministries that include SNAP (food stamp) application assistance, financial skills training, cooking classes and training in shopping skills tend to bring lasting results. These ministries empower hungry families and teach them how to make changes that can provide more stability.

PaysingerBannerThey also require more time and vulnerability from those of us who already have that stability.

For example, First UMC Little Rock’s ministry called Friends and Neighbors Network (FANN) is a unique food distribution program. Hungry neighbors and church members have regular community meetings where they order and distribute food together as well as offer skills training. The neighbors are empowered to make decisions for their group and their families in regards to the food bought and training they want. Church volunteers stand alongside them in these decisions offering guidance, education and support.

The result is a more connected community centered on faith and friendship. Through ministries like FANN, lasting change can continue to happen.

Getting personal

Moreover, personal relationships with the hungry we serve have an impact on our assumptions about poverty and hunger. We as Christians, called to be compassionate about the plight of the poor, must extend that compassion by being public witnesses.

We must stand alongside those who need a louder voice in society because of lack of resources, education and power. When we change our societal and economic policies so they empower the hungry to get the assistance they need and provide real opportunities for improvements and employment, then more people have a better chance to change their circumstances.

Arkansas United Methodist churches make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform the world. Christ’s transformative power does not leave us as we are. Likewise, hungry children cannot remain hungry and reach the potential God designed for them.

Christ has asked the church to help—to serve, to include and to empower. 200,000 Reasons is about meeting people where they are and inviting them into relationship—relationship that can bring transformative power and infinite possibilities.

Mary Lewis Dassinger

Mary Lewis Dassinger

Dassinger serves as coordinator for 200,000 Reasons to Fight Childhood Hunger. She is a member of Pulaski Heights UMC Little Rock and holds a Master of Arts in Religion from Memphis Theological Seminary.

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View “North of Dover