GOD, FOOD, AND US
Exodus 16, Psalm 105, Matthew 20:1-16
September 19, 1999 by Tad Mitsui
In God”s world, there is always food for everyone. The story of manna and quails in the desert teaches us this important truth. If we have faith in God and follow his commandments, none of us will have to starve. It wasn”t easy for the Hebrew people to learn a new way of living in the desert. They could not grow food or raise animals, as they used to do in Egypt. They had to find different kinds of food. They found manna and quails on the ground. Tamarisk trees secret sap, which become wafers like sweet cream puffs in the morning. The Hebrews called them manna. Greedy people did not profit by gathering more than they needed because manna went bad next day. You can still collect them in Sinai desert today. The quails migrate between Africa and Asia. Many of the weak birds do not complete the whole journey and fall to the ground in the desert exhausted. They provided meat. But all these foods were new to the Hebrew people. They still remembered sweet smell and taste of meat stew they used to enjoy in Egypt. It was not easy to change eating habits, as it is for us. But the message of the story is clear. God always provides.
One day in March, 1985, I was visiting a feeding camp near a place called Makele in Northern Ethiopia. Some of you remember that during the early eighties, many Africans were starving. Crops had failed completely for several years after consecutive drought. In Ethiopia alone, it is estimated that about one million people starved to death. I was working for the World Council of Church as Coordinator of Famine Relief at the time. There was no problem raising money and collecting donated food for relief. When people saw starving people on the TV, they responded generously. We targetted $100 million. But we collected $600 million in cash and gifts in kind at the end of my mandate. Surplus food was plentiful in the world, so the governments gave us grains by the millions of tons. A part of my job was to make sure that the relief went to hungry people. So I travelled extensively in 23 drought affected African countries.
Makele was the first place I visited in Ethiopia. What I saw was absolutely disturbing. People looked like skeletons, and were hardly able to even sit up. They were looking into void with wide eyes that looked like dark empty holes. Overworked relief workers, nurses, and doctors were doing their best. Bodies were wrapped in sheets and being carried to mass graves. After the tour of the camps, the grateful officials invited us to a lunch at the hotel in the city of Makele. It was a wonderful Italian dinner. I must confess; I enjoyed it. I was hungry. Looking back, it now seems to me to be almost obscene to eat such a good diner in the midst of absolute misery. But at the time, my hunger pang took better of me.
Then I came to realize one basic fact about hunger, the fact which now seems so obvious, but at the time escaped me. Hunger is not caused by shortage of food, but it is caused by poverty. People starve because they are poor. There is no such thing as shortage of food in the world. Food is plentiful in the world, especially today. In fact, there is so much food today that cheap food is becoming a serious problem for farmers. The reason why people starve is because they do not have access to food. They are poor. So, they can not afford to buy it or grow it. If you have money, you can always buy food or grow it, and eat it. Farmers can grow food, if they have access to credit. If anything, the real problem today is that there is too much cheap food in the world, and people eat too much. In our society, more people die because of health problems caused by over consumption of rich food. But in poor countries, people die because of malnutrition and starvation.
In fact, irony is that Ethiopia increased the volume of the export of agricultural products to Europe, while their own people starved. Export of beef, coffee, oranges, and sugar from Ethiopia, in fact, increased during the 1980”s. The producers of those cash crops received all kinds of subsidies from the government, because it needed foreign currency, and Europe welcomed cheap food. With generous subsidies, an abnormal climate like drought was not a serious problem. Money can solve many problems created by nature. When farmers are looked after, they will produce food.
Nobody should starve in God”s world, if we behave as we should according to God”s commandments, because there is always enough food. We can always buy or produce food in the world which God created and entrusted us with. The important question is what do you do with what God has given us. Jesus said, "No one lives by bread alone, but by the word of God." In other words, according to Jesus, the word of God is as important as food is for our survival. A recent "Maclean”s" magazine reported a result of a survey done among 4,000 senior citizens, which was conducted over six years period in North Carolina among poeple of 63 years of age and over. It found that 46% more people died among those who didn”t go to church reglarly. The survey concluded that not only regular church goers lived healthy life style, but more importantly also, they lived in a caring community where they cared for and supported each other. We lived by bread and by the word of God.
When we live by the word of God, we will create a society where we love and care for each other. In such a society a wide gap between rich and poor is not tolerated too long. Likewise, the same spirit helps us to live a productive life. You know how productive food producers can be, when a caring government gives credit to farmers. But if you don”t trust God and don”t observe his words, there will be hunger in the midst of plenty. Then, rich people die of over-eating and poor people suffer because they have little to eat. Remember. God always provides. Let us care for each other. We are all invited to the banquet of God. It is a fabulous spread of love and plenty.