Monday, March 2, 2015

Feeding, and Encouraging, the Poor

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Last week we met with the entire leadership team of the Texas Hunger Initiative (THI). This is an organization, with offices all over the State of Texas, that's affiliated with the School of Social work at Baylor University. Our purpose: To explore opportunities for our missionaries and local Church members to provide community service as a labor of Christian love.

So what's the issue here? Consider this from a THI document: "At one Texas elementary school, they've come to be not-so-affectionately known as 'throw-up Mondays,' the first day of the week when teachers, custodial staff and even the principal brace for the big cleanup. The children, literally starving since their last complete meal (school lunch the previous Friday) show up early to the one place where they can count on being fed. Famished but smiling, they wolf down heaping Styrofoam bowls of cereal, fresh fruit by the branchful, and ice-cold cartoons of milk, all at a pace their neglected, kid-sized stomachs just can't handle. Inevitably, someone's breakfast end up on the floor. "Food insecurity' is its new, politically correct name. But no matter what you call it, hunger is still the same age-old problem. And especially in Texas, where more than 18 percent of the population including one in four children, don't know where their next meal is coming from. Here in the richest country in the world, within the borders of a state leading the nation in cattle production, cotton production, and job growth, peoplemillions of themare hungry."

Elder Elrey Tupe, from Hawaii, is one of the fine young
missionaries serving with us in Waco. Each week he and
several other missionaries volunteer their services at 
Caritas, a community organization that provides food to 
needy families. (Yes, the nice lady gave permission 
for the photo.)
In meeting with the THI leadership team, we learned that Waco has the same situation faced by many cities: dozens of organizations with a professed interest in helping the poor, but with only marginal cooperation between the various entities. In fact, "turf protection" often results in duplication of effort and missed opportunity for leveraging resources in ways that multiply their effectiveness. Who suffers? As always, the poorest among us.

Besides offering our services in leadership and implementation training for the key players in town, we're looking for ways our missionaries here can serve. In addition to their proselytizing work, each of our young missionaries is asked to provide ten hours of no-strings-attached community service each week. Rather than picking up trash at a local park (worthy though that may be), we prefer they focus on service that is directly associated with lifting the poor.

One of the many things that appeals to us about the Texas Hunger Initiative is that it is not simply a "feel good" activity. Yes, it provides essential food for poor people (about 800 families per week in Waco alone, plus many thousands more across the state). But it also has programs to help people break out of the dignity-killing dependency cycle. We still have much more to learn about THI, but it appears to be a promising partner in our missionary efforts here in Central Texas.

While much of our work has involved "relationship building" with local Church leaders and members (including some requested coaching and training), we're also teaching investigators. As we meet and interact with people here, we of course realize that not all of them will choose to be baptized into the Church. But our motivation is not about "keeping score." It's about boldly offering the invitation to learn more about the Savior's plan of salvation. Nothing more (what could possibly be more?), and nothing less.
This lovely young woman, a Baylor graduate who teaches at 
one of the local high schools, is taking the missionary
discussions from us. She has a believer's heart, is eager to
learn more about the Lord's Plan of Salvation, and keeps
every commitment we invite her to make. Very big things 
are in store for her!

Even at this relatively early stage of our mission, we know with great clarity that we are accomplishing good. And we know from our own experience how important it is for someone to extend the hand of fellowship. We are confident that our humble efforts are having an impact. Although we may not be here for every harvest, we are planting seeds and teaching others how to cultivate.

As we teach the restored gospel to good people of every age and various backgrounds, we're constantly reminded of the Lord's goodness and mercy. We're also reminded that He has big plans for each and all of us. Consider this wonderful C. S. Lewis quote (from his classic Mere Christianity):
C. S. Lewis

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought ofthrowing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage, but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."

It's so comforting to be in partnership with the very best Project Manager ever.


  1. Thank you for your example to me. I can hardly wait to serve a mission with Anne (maybe a few of them). Enjoy the greatest work in the world (outside the home at least).

  2. Thank you for your example to me. I can hardly wait to serve a mission with Anne (maybe a few of them). Enjoy the greatest work in the world (outside the home at least).