A Sermon for November 17, 2013

I was invited to speak about the work of PWRDF at two churches this morning, in Woodstock and in Huntingford, Ontario. As last week was the launch of our new “Fred Says” food security campaign, I focused on food with the stories that I told.

This is, more or less, the text of what I said. Typos are likely and I know I ad-libbed as I went – for one thing they used the old lectionary (and only read 2 of 29 verses of the OT reading) so I had to quickly make up a connection between what I’d prepared (Isaiah) and what they read (Micah) and the gospel. And, as I was told they wanted to have pictures, I had to write it out to give to the person controlling the powerpoint slides so that they would know when to switch from one picture to the next. Most of the pictures I used were my own, from trips to Kenya and South Africa, though I took some from the PWRDF Flickr account (licensed under Creative Commons).

We seem to be at that time of year when we our readings get “all end-timesy”. (That is the technical term I learnt in seminary.)

I hear the gospel this morning and it is a little disheartening: wars and insurrections, earthquakes, plagues, and, if I can add one, typhoons… There is enough devastation in the world, we don’t need any more.

And then I went back to the Isaiah reading and was a little encouraged: That is going to end. In the words of a social media campaign, “It gets better”.

But what about the here and the now. I’m not one to sit and wait for that switch because I believe that God has called us to be involved in our world NOW.

Reflecting on that change between the destruction in the gospel and the hope in Isaiah, I was reminded of a technique I’ve used in my counselling practice called  “The Miracle Question”.

The Miracle Question goes something like this:

   After church is over today, we’ll all head to the hall to have coffee and then you’ll head home, have lunch, and do whatever you need to do the rest of today:  finish the crossword, take the dog for a walk, help your kids with their homework. You’ll eat dinner, maybe watch some TV. Then it will be time to go to bed. Everyone in your household is quiet and you are sleeping in peace.

In the middle of the night, a miracle happens and the problem of world hunger – the availability of food – is solved! But because it happens when you are sleeping, you have no idea that there was an overnight miracle that eliminated world hunger!

So when you wake up tomorrow morning, what might be the small change that will make you say to yourself, “Wow! Something must have happened! The problem is gone!”

It might be something as simple as not seeing the guy who is usually panhandling on the corner or not having anyone show up at the soup kitchen for lunch. It might be a little closer to home, and your kitchen pantry actually has food in it.

This is the question and the contrast that I hear echoed in the words of our readings this morning.

And then there is a follow up question, one that needs to be asked in my counselling sessions as much as it needs to be asked this morning:

“What are we going to do about it?”

We have identified the problem, we know there is a solution, and so now we are called to action.

So let me tell you a little bit about the work that you are already doing – yes, that’s right, I said you are already doing!

The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund is working on behalf of Canadian Anglicans on issues relating to food security – whether someone has access to healthy food every day – both within Canada and around the world. This is your Fund! And we rely on your support, both in prayer and finances, to support the amazing work that is going on around the world.

Our primary mode of operating is through partnership, which means we link up with local, grassroots organizations who are doing incredible work around the world and support them in whatever ways they need.

We participate in relief work:

Right now, as you may know, there is an incredible amount of relief needed in the Philippines. Our partners there have already delivered 5000 food packages. As of Thursday, PWRDF had received $47,000 worth of donations towards typhoon Haiyan relief – every dollar of that to be matched by the federal government.

In 2009 I was able to visit Kenya through our partners, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. There I spent a month with a food distribution project in rural Kenya.

Each community was unique, though the stories we heard were all the same: the big rains had not come in over three years. The small rains had come, but the big ones, which sustained life, hadn’t fallen.

In each community we would sit with the villagers and hear their stories, hear about their families, their hopes and their dreams. One man cried as he told us of the shame of not being able to feed his family.

Through the Canadian Foodgrains bank, families would receive giant bags of dried beans, dried maize, and a 3L jug of oil.

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is nutritious and will feed a family of eight for a month.

The challenge of a food distribution project is that you can’t go to everyone. The distribution centres were chosen for their centralized location, but people still had to travel to get home. So they would strap the food onto their donkey, or figure out some other way to carry it, and begin the long trek home. Some would walk all day to get to and from the distribution point.

Some of the communities requested to have a “food for work” program whereby we would help them develop their community in exchange for food: they would work and we made sure they had food.

So one community we visited had begun an irrigation project: they put canals through the fields and had dug a reservoir. Their hope was that they would be able to capture what rain did fall and prevent such a dire situation from happening again.

Our international and national development work is less of an emergency response to disaster and more partnership with communities to develop their capacity to support themselves.

This past December and January I had the opportunity to visit a partner in South Africa, the Keiskamma Trust.

The Trust is based in Hamburg, in the Eastern Cape. This is a part of South Africa that was badly affected by the apartheid years.

Decades of neglect and mismanagement and a lack of basic healthcare and education means that this is a very impoverished part of the country.

The HIV/AIDS rate is around 40% here, with at least one in three pregnant mothers being HIV positive.

Up until about 10 years ago, this part of the Eastern Cape did not have access to any antiretroviral medications (ARVs) to make living a healthy life with HIV possible and to prevent the transmission of HIV from mum to babe.

In the early 2000s, South African physician, Dr Carol Hofmeyr, came to live in Hamburg. She quickly realized the need for ARVs in the community and started the Trust as a way of educating and providing health care to people in the community.

One of the things she did was train community health workers who do HIV testing and education as well as go into people’s homes and ensure that they continue to take their ARVs as prescribed.

Through their efforts, the HIV/AIDS rate has dropped in this region and they have been able to, in many cases, prevent the transmission of HIV from positive mum to baby.

One of the things that we have come to realize with ARV treatment is that it only works if you have food. Our partners at Keiskamma have approached that in a unique way: living in a place that is fertile enough to grow food, they have begun an organic gardening project that teaches gardening skills to community members, employs community members, and feeds the community.

However not everywhere is that fortunate. Our partners in Mozambique are also working with people affected by HIV/AIDS. Except they don’t have the same ability to do gardening. What our partners were finding is that people were having to stop taking their life-saving medication because they didn’t have any food.

So they began to give out food baskets of beans, corn flour, oil, and fresh vegetables – enough to last for two months – to people taking ARVs and the difference was night and day. Life and death.

As of right now, they have been able to give out 400 foodbaskets to people in the community living with HIV so that they can continue to take their ARVs. Our goal as PWRDF is to raise enough money for 600 more baskets by the New Year.

Food baskets. Organic gardening. Training Community Health Workers. Irrigation projects.

On their own, they can seem like small steps towards eliminating hunger. But together they add up to a beautiful vision of what is possible if we all work together to make that “overnight miracle”  a reality.

Amen.

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