Some Thoughts on Famine

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Starving children in 1922(Berdians'k) Ukrainian SRR. Photograph reproduced come from the documents of "Union international de secours aux enfants", deposited in the Canton Archives of Geneva. Via Wikimedia Commons

The word “famine” appears almost 100 times in the Bible, depending on which translation you’re using, and the topic also appears frequently in writings which survive from ancient times in many other civilizations all over the world. Apparently, it was pretty common back then. But most people who are alive in 2020 and living in the economically developed regions of the world have no direct knowledge of famine.

That might be about to change.

The UN (which, whatever else you might say about it, is very good at statistics) issued a report in early June estimating that as many as 250 million people will be classified as “food insecure” by the end of 2020, due to the multiple, overlapping crises deriving from the COVID-19 pandemic. This represents more than a doubling of the number of people who were suffering from food insecurity worldwide in 2019. The trends which caused this dramatic increase are likely to continue and even intensify, meaning those numbers are likely to increase as well.

Damage to transportation, distribution and supply networks, labor markets and many ancillary problems caused by the pandemic, as well as natural disasters including floods, droughts, heat waves and massive locust infestations, have combined to wreak havoc on agricultural production all over the world. On the other side of the equation, tens of millions of people have seen their income drop dramatically as a result of the economic fallout from COVID-19, making it more difficult for them to pay for their basic needs, including food. This has even happened in wealthy countries, including here in Israel.

Again, this crisis is still in its early stages, with the possibility that things could get a lot worse.

We who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ have much to think about in these circumstances, and I hereby offer some of my own thoughts. This is, by no means, a comprehensive list and I will probably write a follow up blog to this one based on the feedback (no pun intended) I get.

First, we must pray EARNESTLY for those who have less than we do and then work hard in whatever way we can find to help alleviate their suffering. That might include volunteering and/or donating to a food bank or soup kitchen if there’s one in your area.

Second, fasting is something that Jesus Himself did and expected His followers to do. There is much spiritual value in fasting and in a time of food shortages, it also has practical benefits. The meals you skip on Mondays could allow you to stretch your own personal food budget for the month, as well as leaving more food in the supermarket for others. Or, you can simply give the food you were going to eat to people you know who need it.

Third, this is definitely a good time to cut back on discretionary expenses so that we can give more money to our own congregations and other agencies which care for those who are in need. If your congregation doesn’t have a program to help such people, ask your pastor to let you start one. Don’t forget the congregations here in Israel, which also need all the help they can get in feeding the hungry here.

Fourth, for those who are more ambitious and/or have a little extra time on your hands (i.e. if you’re unemployed or retired) I don’t think its alarmist or overwrought to say that now is a good time to take up the hobby of vegetable gardening. Gardening of any kind and on any scale is not as easy as they make it look in the movies. It’s a learning experience and your first few attempts might not be very successful. But if things get as bad as some are saying they might, gardening might soon turn from a hobby engaged in by a few into a way of life for many, so it’s better to learn how to do it sooner rather than later. There are many videos on youtube which can help you.

If you’ve already got a garden but you’ve been using it for flowers, maybe try putting in something you can eat instead. If you live in a rural area and there is a bit of land available which isn’t being used to grow anything, think about planting something that’ll grow there that you can eat. If you live in a city, try growing some food on your balcony, or even just on your windowsill. Whatever you don’t eat yourself, you can give to others who need help.

Additionally, if you’re the pastor of a church, there are SO MANY Biblical lessons you can teach your congregation, especially children, by having a vegetable garden. You can then easily use the produce from such a garden in your programs to help feed those in need.

These are, as I said, just a few thoughts I’ve had in recent months as I’ve watched the specter of famine spreading here in Israel and around the world. The Book of Revelation speaks of famine as being a key feature of the End Times, and it is surely an issue the Church will be facing sooner or later. Whether you believe we’re in the End Times or not, the time has definitely come to do some hard thinking and earnest praying about it.