Suffering increased for poor, hungry in 2011
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
The year 2011 was not kind to the poor, hungry and marginalized.
The worst drought in decades compounded by civil strife has affected more than 13 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. Problems with food shortages in the Horn of Africa have been building over the years but came to a "critical mass" this summer, said Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR executive for international emergency response.
On the heels of news of severe suffering in Africa came a U.S. report finding another 2.4 million children joined the ranks of the poor during the past decade. The U.S. Census Bureau announced the total Americans living below the poverty line has climbed to 46.2 million.
The continuing bleak economic outlook has left more than 2 million people jobless for the last two years and 700,000 for three years.
Income inequality is increasing in much of the developed world driven by disparity in wages, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Skilled workers have the largest share.
As Congress and the Obama administration faced off over budget cuts and debt ceilings, faith leaders joined hands to form a "Circle of Protection" around programs that affect those with the most to lose: the unemployed, uninsured and homeless.
Two United Methodist faith leaders were among a group of 11 arrested July 28 in the U.S. Capitol as they refused to stop public prayers asking the Obama administration and Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Their arrests came after months of protest and prayer vigils held on the grounds of the United Methodist Building in Washington.
Bridging the gap
From the halls of Congress to the sands of Somalia, United Methodists are working to fill the gap between the rich and poor.
A few examples:
- Hundreds of job seekers come to Roswell (Ga.) United Methodist Church for a weekly dinner and range of workshops every second and fourth Monday.
- Open Table, a nonprofit organization founded by Jon Katov, a member of Paradise Valley (Ariz.) United Methodist Church, brings a group of volunteers together as mentors for people in poverty. The people selected for Open Table become "sisters" and "brothers."
- UMCOR has been funding aid programs in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia since July. As of Nov. 11, the agency had raised $874,921.23 for Horn of Africa relief and approved $430,929 in grants. The situation is not hopeless. UMCOR is continuing to seek donations for Horn of Africa famine relief.
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries launched a web site Ministry with the Poor to track how the church is engaging in ministry with the poor around the world.
In a striking example of the power of one person to make a difference, the Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith of San Antonia, Texas, sold all her possessions, rejected her pastor salary and benefits and traded her safe warm bed for a park bench or a blanket under an interstate overpass. The petite pastor asked her bishop to appoint her to the streets so she can be in ministry with the poor and advocate for systemic changes.
She is trekking across the country speaking to churches, seminaries and other organizations. Her Facebook page documents her travels.
"Found me a good little high spot next to the creek," says one of her recent posts. "Had to put up my tent in the rain, but all good and dry inside the tent now.
"It is such a privilege and I pray that the Spirit always guides my calling."
* Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.