EDITOR'S NOTE: Oct. 9 is World Hunger Sunday for Southern Baptist churches. Since 1974, Southern Baptists have fought the problem of hunger through their World Hunger Fund. One hundred percent of every dollar given to the fund is used to provide food to undernourished people all over the world -- 80 percent through the International Mission Board and 20 percent through the North American Mission Board. For more information on the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, including resources for promotion of World Hunger Sunday in your church, go to worldhungerfund.com.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- When Southern Baptists observe their annual World Hunger Sunday, Oct. 9, they will be called to demonstrate the love of Jesus, several key Southern Baptist leaders said.
Scripture recounts several instances, like the one recorded in Matthew 14:14, when Jesus' compassion for a large crowd moved Him to meet their needs. The Greek word translated "compassion" refers to tender emotions, deeply felt feelings or a deep churning in a person's spirit. That surge of compassion compels a response, said Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board.
"When the Scripture speaks of our Lord being 'moved with compassion' it refers to the kind of response we would call 'gut-wrenching,'" Elliff said. "Society is accustomed to being lulled to sleep by scenes of indescribable horror and hunger, but genuine compassion, the kind of compassion that moves a person to act, is part of the DNA of every true believer.
"The tragic plight of people, whose lives are being ravaged by physical and political upheaval that has left them reeling and often dying, is an invitation for us to express the heart of our Savior. He did not overlook the needy, and we cannot -- we must not," Elliff said. "Failure to respond cuts the heart out of future attempts to share the Gospel. After all, who wants to hear about a Savior whose followers simply do not care for the needs of those who are suffering?"
Scripture also makes it clear that Christians will be held accountable for helping people in need, said Wanda Lee, executive director of WMU (Woman's Missionary Union).
"Matthew 25 reminds us as followers of Christ, we must help when it comes to hunger issues," Lee said. "After hearing His teaching on the parable of the talents, the people asked Jesus, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You or thirsty and give You a drink?' And He answered by saying, 'Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' ... Let's be sure we do our part to minister to the 'least of these' as we join the fight against hunger."
Nearly 35 percent of American families have found themselves forced to choose between paying for food and paying their rent or mortgage, according to the domestic hunger-relief charity Feeding America. In an economy like that, hunger ministries are a powerful strategy for opening hearts to a Gospel witness, said Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board.
"So often before we try to meet a person's spiritual needs, we need to minister to their physical needs. There is nothing more basic than providing food for someone who is in crisis," Ezell said. "We're working hard to be sure our hunger ministries share the hope of Christ, while providing the help of a warm meal and a kind greeting. I want to thank Southern Baptists for their past generosity to this offering. With so many people facing economic uncertainty right now, I know we will be greatly depending on these funds in the year ahead."
Donations to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund have been trending downward in recent years -- perhaps in part a reflection of the economic challenges families are facing -- but many are praying Southern Baptists will continue to be "Jesus people" who act out their deep feelings of compassion for people in need, said Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee.
"During these days of increased need, we desperately need to reaffirm the validity of this offering to touch those for whom Christ died. One must only barely read the Scripture to understand the deep compassion that Christ had for the hungry and the poor," Page said. "I pray we will become Jesus people as we give sacrificially and prayerfully to an offering which so powerfully touches the lives of so many in this world. I pray that this year's World Hunger Offering will reverse its downward trend from the last couple of years and be the greatest ever -- simply because of a love for Christ and a love for people."
Overseas, Southern Baptist missionaries and humanitarian workers rely on the World Hunger Fund for crucial ministries, said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
"Millions of people around the world are suffering from chronic and acute malnutrition. Thankfully, missionaries are on the field feeding many of these adults and children as well as providing the expertise necessary for their communities to reclaim their lands for crops and livestock," Land said. "Yet without the generous gifts of Christians, these missionaries lack the food and means to aid these who are literally on life's sharp edge. I hope you and your church will join with others in giving to feed the hungry in Jesus' name."
Mark Kelly is senior writer and an assistant editor for Baptist Press. For information and resources related to World Hunger Sunday and the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, visit worldhungerfund.com