Perhaps you have heard of the famine in the Western regions of Africa. There has been some press, not a lot, as we here in the United States grapple with our own issues, particularly our involvement in Iraq.
But a famine does exist, affecting several countries, including Niger, a place the United Nations has called the second poorest country in the world. On its website, Concern, an Irish-based relief organization initiated to assist with the Biafran famine in 1968, offered poignant information regarding the plight of the Niger nation. In a country of 12 million people, 6 million are affected directly by the lack of food, 3.6 million are at risk, and of that 3.6 million, 800,000 are children. What drought, locust infestation and lack of enough seeds to plant new crops translates into is people barely surviving on eating a bowl of thin millet soup every other day. Most of us living in the United States have no way, intellectual or experiential, to even begin to hold on to this information long enough to grasp it, or understand it.
Organized relief efforts are underway, including by Concern, and have been all summer. Beyond worldwide awareness, the main issue has been creation of a distribution process once the food arrives. How do you feed 800,000-3.6 million people who need nourishment now in an equitable fashion ?
Although not dealing with famine conditions, the disciples ran up against food distribution issues in remote Bethsaida after a long day of preaching and teaching with Jesus. They were all for sending the crowd away to let them fend for themselves in the surrounding villages. Jesus disagreed. "But he said to them, 'You give them something to eat.' They said, 'We have no more than five loaves and two fish-unless we are to go and buy food for all these people,' for there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, 'Make them sit down in companies, about fifty each.' And they did so, and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. and all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces." Despite their initial reticence and subsequent confusion over Jesus' directions, the disciples figure it out, follow through and get the job done with great success. The crowd appears to have responded well and were grateful.
It's quite easy to judge the disciples as incompetent, as easy as it is to exonerate ourselves from any direct responsibility to understand or help a country so distant and foreign from our own. It is easy to smile about the befuddlement of these future leaders, and equally easy to settle our own consciousness with the belief that we have very little to share if we try to spread it out among so many people. But in our human dilemmas, God's directions, albeit not always printed on the side of a box ready to be read off in order, are usually available if we pay attention. In the Biblical account, Jesus basically told the disciples to divide the people into smaller groups, ask them to sit down and then proceed after asking God's blessing.
The concern contingent has moved forward in their task in much the same way. Having a larger crowd to assist, they have begun with 6,000 grateful people, and along with other agencies, will continue to move among the crowds until all are able to eat and be satisfied, no doubt also welcoming God's blessing.
About The Author
Cory L. Kemp
As an ordained minister, I have worked in educational ministries in several congregations, as well as pastoring a church in the Midwest. My writing has focused on nonfiction essays, and I have recently submitted a theological memoir for publication. Creating Women Ministries is an adventure born of a blended love of God and writing, a website dedicated to encouraging theological dialogue, particularly among women, through workshops, journaling and personal spiritual development. Our site can be found at: www.creatingwomenministries.com. We can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.