you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one." - Mother Teresa
It was nine months after my layoff. Id searched for jobs
throughout the fall and winter, but found nothing. And the Sierra Nevada foothills where
wed been staying were still humid enough to make my wifes arthritic spine lock
So that spring we headed south with our tent trailer, looking for work
where the air was even drier. Los Angeles, with its smogs effect on our lungs, was a
clear "no." San Diego, our previous home, was now too damp for Yvonnes
spine. Finally we circled northward to check the Mojave Deserts aerospace/defense
My unemployment checks had ended. Government statistics no longer
counted us unemployed. But that didnt help us buy food!
A promising job lead turned up at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center.
I chose to wait for a possible interview. That meant parking our tent trailer within
driving distance, yet high enough to be out of the Mojaves fierce summer heat. After
a few days near Lake Isabella, we chose the Indian Hills Ranch campground, a comfortable
5,000 feet high, and began attending church in nearby Tehachapi.
At our first Sunday service we introduced ourselves to the minister and
briefly explained why we were there. When we arrived for the next service, on Wednesday
evening, the entire foyer was lined with more than 40 boxes and bags of food. Curious, we
asked the pastor if the church was having a missions food drive.
He smiled and said "No, this is for you!"
I was speechless!
Finally I managed to stammer "But were not even members of
Again the pastor smiled. He pointed toward the ceiling.
"Youre members of his church, arent you?"
Hunger is widespread in this world, even in "wealthy"
countries. American Association of Retired Persons president W. Lee Hammond says that in
the US hunger affects nearly 9 million 50-year-olds or older (AARP, The Magazine,
December 2011/January 2012, p. 55)..
How does God view "neighbors" who need food or clothing?
Hes filled with sympathy and love.
Jeremiah, the "weeping prophet," was moved by the sight of
starving children and adults during the fall of Jerusalem:
"I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart
is broken, my spirit poured out, as I see what has happened to my people; little children
and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets.
"Mama, Mama, we want food, they cry, and then collapse
upon their mothers' shrunken breasts. Their lives ebb away like those wounded in
battle" (Lam. 2:11-12.).
More Scriptures: Deut.10:18; Ps. 107:9; 107:35-38; 109:30-31; 111:5;
132:15; 136:25; 145:15-16; 146:5-7; Isa. 49:10; Lam. 1:11; 1:19.
Are we to feed and clothe the needy?
"The crowd replied, What do
you want us to do? If you have two coats, [Jesus} replied, give
one to the poor. If you have extra food, give it away to those who are hungry"
While we lived in Orlando, one of my co-workers lost her job. We
had nothing extra in our own budget, but she and her son needed food. So, while we
did our own shopping, we took a step of faith and bought food for them.
Our own weekly grocery cart usually cost about $125. That week, we
added five good-sized bagfuls for them. That should have cost us more than half again as
much close to $200. But the total came to just five dollars extra!
Wed have bought their food anyway. But to this day I ask: how
could that have happened? And the only answer Ive ever found is: God.
"There are two ways to look at life. One is as though nothing is
a miracle; the other is as though everything is." Albert Einstein.
More Scriptures: Deut. 12:12; Prov. 22:9; 25:21-22; Isa. 21:14;
58:4-12; Ezek. 18:5-17; Matt. 10:42; 25:35-36; Luke 12:42-44; Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:8-9.
How did the Old Testament provide for feeding the poor?
Part of each crop was left for immigrants, orphans, and widows.
Every seventh year the land was left unplanted, and the poor shared any
"volunteer crops" that grew.
Every third year all the nations tithes went to immigrants,
orphans, widows, and Levites.
"When you harvest your crops, dont reap the corners of
your fields, and dont pick up stray grains of wheat from the ground. It is the same
with your grape crop dont strip every last piece of fruit from the vines, and
dont pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and for
those traveling through, for I am Jehovah your God" (Lev. 19: 9-10).
More Scriptures: Ex. 23:10-11; Lev. 23:22; 25:1-7; Deut. 14:28-29;
23:24-25; 24:19-22; 26:12-15; Prov. 27:18.
These principles come alive in Ruths romantic story:
"One day Ruth said to Naomi, Perhaps I can go out into
the fields of some kind man to glean the free grain behind his reapers. And Naomi
said, All right, dear daughter. Go ahead.
"Boaz went over and talked to her. Listen, my child,
he said to her. Stay right here with us to glean; dont think of going to any
other fields. Stay right behind my women workers; I have warned the young men not to
bother you; when you are thirsty, go and help yourself to the water.
"She thanked him warmly. How can you be so kind to me?
she asked. You must know I am only a foreigner.
"At lunch time Boaz called to her, Come and eat with
"So she sat with his reapers and he gave her food, more than she
could eat. And when she went back to work again, Boaz told his young men to let her glean
right among the sheaves without stopping her, and to snap off some heads of barley and
drop them on purpose for her to glean ... So she worked there all day, and in the evening
when she had beaten out the barley she had gleaned, it came to a whole bushel! She carried
it back to the city and gave it to her mother-in-law, with what was left of her lunch.
"So much! Naomi exclaimed. Where in the world
did you glean today? Praise the Lord for whoever was so kind to you. So Ruth told
her mother-in-law ... the owner of the field was Boaz.
"Praise the Lord for a man like that! God has continued his
kindness to us! Naomi cried excitedly. Why, that man is one of our closest
"Well, Ruth told her, he said to come back and
stay close behind his reapers until the entire field is harvested.
"This is wonderful! Naomi exclaimed. Do as he
has said. Stay with his girls right through the whole harvest; you will be safer there
than in any other field!
"So Ruth did and gleaned with them until the end of the barley
harvest, and then the wheat harvest too" (Ruth 2:2; 2:8-10; 2:14-23).
What are some examples of feeding and clothing our "neighbors?"
"Pharaoh ... ordered Moses arrested and executed. But Moses ran
away into the land of Midian. As he was sitting there beside a well, seven girls who were
daughters of the priest of Midian came to draw water and fill the water troughs for their
fathers flocks. But the shepherds chased the girls away. Moses ... rescued them from
the shepherds and watered their flocks.
"When they returned to their father, Reuel, he asked, How
did you get the flocks watered so quickly today?
"An Egyptian defended us against the shepherds, they
told him; he drew water for us and watered the flocks.
"Well, where is he? their father demanded. Did
you just leave him there? Invite him home for supper." (Ex. 2:15-20)
"The Lord appeared again to Abraham while he was living in the oak
grove at Mamre ...One hot summer afternoon ... he suddenly noticed three men coming toward
him. He sprang up and ran to meet them and welcomed them.
"Sirs, he said, ... Stop awhile and rest here in the
shade of this tree while I get water to refresh your feet, and a bite to eat to strengthen
you. Do stay awhile before continuing your journey.
"All right, they said, do as you have
"Then Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, Quick!
Mix up some pancakes! Use your best flour, and make enough for the three of them!
Then he ran out to the herd and selected a fat calf and told a servant to hurry and
butcher it. Soon, taking them cheese and milk and the roast veal, he set it before the men
and stood beneath the trees beside them as they ate" (Gen. 18:1-8).
"When David arrived at Mahanaim, he was warmly greeted by Shobi
... Machir ... and Barzillai ... They brought him and those who were with him mats to
sleep on, cooking pots, serving bowls, wheat and barley flour, parched grain, beans,
lentils, honey, butter, and cheese. For they said, You must be very tired and hungry
and thirsty after your long march through the wilderness" (2 Sam. 17:27-29).
While we lived near Tehachapi, California, we watched a lone car climb
the thousand-foot-high grade leading to the Indian Hills Ranch Campground, pull in, and
park beside us.
Art, an 80-plus-year-old member of our church, stepped out and came to
the camper door. After exchanging greetings, he said "Ive been wanting to go
for a glider ride at the airport, and Id saved up the money. Then this morning the
Lord spoke to me. And I thought, how can I take a sailplane ride when my brother is
Art then took the price of the glider ride from his wallet and gave it
to us to buy groceries! His selfless act was one of many ways God helped our family
through nearly six years of living with no home, sparse income, and never any public aid.
More Scriptures: Gen. 24:17-33; Judg. 13:10-21; 1 Sam. 30:11-12; 2
Kings 4:8; Job 31:31-32; Prov. 31:19-31; Acts 9:36-39; 11:27-30.
Is withholding food or clothes from the needy a sin?
Jobs friends thought God was punishing him for not feeding the
"Is it because you are good that he is punishing you? Not at
all! It is because of your wickedness! Your sins are endless! For instance, you ... must
have refused water to the thirsty, and bread to the starving" (Job 22: 4-7).
Matthew 25:31-46 teaches that were leaving Jesus
hungry and naked when we dont feed or clothe the poor!
More Scriptures: Judg. 8:15; Job 24:2-12; 31:19-23; Prov. 11:26;
Isa. 3:4-9; 3:13-15; 32:5-8; Ezek. 18:10-17; Matt. 25:31-46; James 2:14-17.
How did the early church feed its hungry?
The leaders of the newborn
Christian church wanted to preach and also to feed the hungry. But they didnt have
time to do both. What was the solution?
"With the believers multiplying rapidly ... those who spoke
only Greek complained that their widows were ...not being given as much food, in the daily
distribution, as the widows who spoke Hebrew. So the Twelve called a meeting of all the
"Now look around among yourselves, dear brothers, and select
seven men, wise and full of the Holy Spirit, who are well thought of by everyone; and we
will put them in charge of this business. Then we can spend our time in prayer, preaching,
"These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for
them and laid their hands on them in blessing" (Acts 6:1-6).
Those men were called "deacons," from the Greek word
"diakoneo" ("serve," "wait on," "help," or
At first, feeding the hungry daily was the deacons only
responsibility. Gradually they took on other duties. Today many deacons have no feeding
programs to oversee. By early-church standards, thats a scandal!
The churches in Philippi and Ephesus had deacons 30 years after
Christs crucifixion (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). That was too short a time for
deacons responsibilities to have changed much. So its safe to assume both of
those churches had active feeding programs. And those two letters of Pauls sound as
if all the early churches had deacons. If so, they likely all had feeding programs
Early Christians performed many miracles, but when it came to aiding their hungry they
relied on practical, down-to-earth help, and on people specially chosen to make sure it
was done well. The key was love.
Yes, miracles do still happen. A special one happened to us one
rainy night on a lonely western North Carolina mountain ridge.
A cold, overcast dusk fell as our little car labored up a roughly
graveled mountain road toward a friend-of-a-friends cabin, where we planned to spend
the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
The road was the steepest Id ever seen. It switchbacked up a full
thousand feet in just one mile an average 20% grade!
The road forked at the crest of the ridge. The main branch climbed
another half mile to a group of cabins spread across the summit. We turned downhill along
a shorter dead-end track, parked at the top of a steep hill, and began carrying our gear
down to the neat, attractive cabin.
Now we needed lights, water, and heat. Armed with the owners
directions, I went to turn them on. The lights responded, but neither the water nor gas.
Several tries gave no better results.
What to do? We needed those utilities. By now it was fully dark,
raining intermittently, and cold. No lights showed in any other cabin. There was no phone
service. If we drove back down to the caretakers, I doubted wed get back up. Besides
being steep, the track was now muddy and slippery.
We prayed energetically, but sensed nothing. However, we did need to
finish unpacking the car. So, during a lull in the rain, my five-year-old son Bill and I
walked back up the hill for more boxes.
From the car, we could see up to a turn on the "main" road
just above our access track. And, suddenly, a pair of headlights eased around that curve
and bounced slowly down toward the junction!
A chance for help! "Quick," I told Bill, "follow
me." But immediately we saw wed never get close enough to signal the car before
itd pass the corner and go on down the mountain. It couldnt see us in the
The headlights reached the junction. And stopped! "Run," I
told Bill. He did. The lights still didnt move. Then, just before we were close
enough to be seen, the vehicle started moving away. I shouted. And the lights stopped
Gasping for breath, we reached the pickup. The driver was the
developments maintenance man, Jim. We explained our dilemma. He followed
us to the cabin, easily turned on the gas, and went back to the mountaintop to turn on the
water. It started out brown and muddy, and never cleared completely all weekend, but we
were as thankful as if itd been sparkling clear Perrier!
Jim explained that hed been working alone on top of the mountain.
As he came back down the upper road, he spotted a teen-ager on a three-wheeled off-road
vehicle. Since the development was private, and the teen didnt belong, Jim chased
But, when Jim rounded the turn where we saw him, the teen had vanished!
Jim was puzzled, because the mountainside was too steep for anyone to get off the road. He
stopped to try to see where the boy had gone. And that gave Bill and I just enough time to
get within shouting distance!
Jim was, in fact, the only other person on the mountain that
night except for us and the teenager. Bill and I had reached the one spot where we
could see his truck mere minutes before the only time all night that hed come
down that road. The mysterious teen and his three-wheeler disappeared at the single
place that could stop Jim where we could hail him. We marveled at how it had all fit
The next morning Bill, my daughter Yvette, and I hiked up the now-sunny
road to the mountaintop. There we reveled in the fantastic views 1,500 feet straight down
to the Catawba River valley and across it to a 150-mile expanse of the Blue Ridge.
And during that walk we discovered there may have been more to the
incident than wed realized.
Id assumed that the road switchbacked all the way to the summit,
and that the teen had just left the road while he was out of Jims sight in some
turn. Now we saw that, instead, the road curved gently through an open meadow to the base
of its final steep ascent.
Jim was right. The only place where the teenager could have
gotten out of his sight was the curve leading to our junction. Even then, hed have
been in Jims sight during the first half of the turn, and in ours all the way
Except we never saw him!
We saw and heard Jims pickup clearly. But we saw no other lights!
In the quiet mountain night we heard no other engine. No other tires crunched over the
gravel. The teenager had to come into our sight before he could get out of
Jims. Yet he never did. And then he vanished, even from Jims view!
Perhaps there was a simple, natural explanation none of us thought of.
At the very least, what happened to us that night on that lonely mountain ridge was a
marvelous example of Gods perfect timing.
But ever since its left us with one persistent, unanswered
Do angels ride three-wheelers?
If that was an angel, he definitely helped us through a difficult
situation. Biblically, angels do that. But he didnt provide us, or any of the
areas needy, with food or clothing.
Thats our job.
Are food programs valuable?
Even in the wealthiest countries, disturbing numbers of people
dont have enough food. In the US, the Census Bureau says the number of Americans who
go hungry every year has risen steadily since 2000. Many more middle class families now
resort to food banks. Yet donations to such organizations have been shrinking.
Food banks provide vital aid. Yet many can only give families a few
days worth of food a month.
Some stores help food banks by donating unsold groceries. Others throw
away disheartening amounts of staples (like potatoes) because they fear lawsuits. Should
laws be modified to better protect "Good Samaritans?"
Food stamps aid many families below the poverty line.
Rescue missions feed some of the neediest once or twice a day.
Most churches at least operate a small food pantry. Some other
institutions do too. While I worked at Northwest University, the campus bookstore
maintained a food pantry for needy students.
Some churches band together to feed the needy. During our travels we
saw that effort centered at a Methodist church in Burley, Idaho, and at Catholic churches
in Laramie, Wyoming and Desert Hot Springs, California. Other wonderful examples of
multi-church efforts include Gateway Community Outreach in Deerfield Beach, Florida, and
the Grace Resource Center in Lancaster, California.
Even the smallest food programs help. They deserve support and
Our six homeless years taught us how important it is to provide enough
food to meet peoples needs. Those needs vary. If, like us, you
cant get work and still cant qualify for welfare or food stamps, how can you
feed your family? Sometimes the answer is: you cant. We only did thanks to a long
chain of answered prayers, like those in Tehachapi.
We learned first-hand that many people earn too little to cover their
essential expenses, yet too much to qualify for aid programs. That gap needs to be filled.
What does Josephs story tell us about how to budget for "help"
While Joseph was in prison God gave Pharaoh two disturbing dreams. Pharaohs
magicians couldnt interpret them, but his wine taster told him Joseph could.
Joseph did. The dreams predicted that Egypt would experience seven
prosperous years, followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advised Pharaoh to prepare for
that famine. He said, "find the wisest man in Egypt and put him in charge of
administering a nation-wide farm program." Thinking no one could be wiser than the
man whod interpreted his dreams, Pharaoh appointed Joseph.
Joseph divided Egypt into five districts and built warehouses to store
the extra crops during the seven prosperous years. When the famine struck, Joseph began
selling that surplus food. After the Egyptians money was gone, they paid with their
livestock and then with their land. Finally they became Pharaohs serfs, paying him a
20% yearly tax. (Read the whole story: Gen. 41:1-49; 41:53-57; 47:13-26.)
Its noteworthy that Joseph could save good-year surpluses.
That wouldnt be allowed in many places today.
When I was a city division head (as city librarian), each division had
to spend all of its budget every year. No exceptions. The City Council believed
that if we didnt spend it, we hadnt needed it, and wed lose it the next
year. But staff turnover and unfilled orders almost always meant we entered December with
a surplus. And wed scramble for valid ways to use all the funds in time!
Joseph reversed that rule. Today his budgeting policies could cause
scandal. But his story teaches us that it is wise to set aside reserves in good
times. Its our policy, not his, thats imperfect.
Josephs approach solves one of todays nagging civic
problems. During lean years the government must spend more money for jobs, unemployment,
and welfare - but only has it during good years.
Its like the old hit song about wealth: "If you got it, you
dont need it. If you need it, you dont got it. Try to get it, shame on you!
Funny, funny, funny what money can do!"
In the long run setting aside money during good years to use during
lean ones provides more work, lower taxes, and more money when we need it. Done right,
its a good idea, as Josephs administration showed.
"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it
will be too late." Ralph Waldo Emerson.