ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As thousands of families across America gather around their dinner tables tonight, bow their heads and thank God for the meal they’re about to receive, a Mexican family will be sending their children to bed hungry.
That family, however, does not live in an impoverished town south of the border. They live in New Mexico, where 15.87 percent of the population faces food insecurity — they don’t know where their next meal will come from. According to North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary Carl Russell, New Mexico has the highest food insecurity rate in the nation — higher, in fact, than some countries in Latin America where the food insecurity rate is 11 percent.
“Our office provides financial support to nine food service ministries in the association,” said Russell, ministry evangelism coordinator for the Central Baptist Association in Albuquerque. “The ministries we assisted last year fed approximately 150,000 people. That may sound like a lot, but it was just a drop in the bucket.”
Russell uses money provided by the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund to support ministries like the food bank at First Baptist Church in Bernalillo, N.M., and Noon Day — a ministry where Albuquerque’s homeless and near-homeless can find a nourishing meal and other basic provisions.
First Baptist Bernalillo — located about 18 miles north of Albuquerque — gives away between 50 and 70 bags of food every Tuesday.
“This is a beautiful and wonderful ministry,” said Ora Coree, director of the church’s Spanish ministry. “We are a small congregation and our church is in need of some repairs, but we prefer to see our money going to feed, to clothe and to teach those who are in need.”
In addition to stocking its own food bank, First Baptist Bernalillo also provides food to Steamboat Lake Navajo Ministries and Joshua’s Vineyard, an organization that feeds the homeless in parks throughout Albuquerque. “We serve the needy and the people who are doing God’s work,” Coree said.
Noon Day Ministries, started by a Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Albuquerque, has become an independent nonprofit organization serving 5,000 meals per month. Noon Day director Danny Whatley has seen the number of people being fed climb as the economy has declined. Noon Day fed 700 more people in June 2009 than in June 2008.
One of the hardest things to see is the increased number of families with children, Whatley said. Of the 300 people who attend meals and services each day about 20 are kids. Roadrunner, another local food bank, reports that one in four New Mexico children suffer from food insecurity.
“There’s often a disconnect when people think of ‘world hunger,’” Whatley said. “They think of it as a far-away issue, but there is a great need right here at home. We see it every day — the need is growing. The numbers are going up but the donation dollars are going down.”
Southern Baptists have an opportunity to help ministries like Noon Day and First Baptist Bernalillo ease the pangs of hunger throughout North America by giving to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund. Since 1974, Southern Baptists have given nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to alleviate hunger worldwide.
A percentage of those funds are disbursed to ministry sites in North America. Since the North American Mission Board’s inception more than a decade ago, domestic hunger funds have decreased from $1.5 million in 1998 to $1.2 million in 2008. Fortunately, NAMB and its partners have been able to sustain and even see growth in domestic hunger ministries. While donations have mostly decreased over the past decade, the number of meals served has increased by 1.3 million and the number of ministries has increased from 1,048 to 2,019. The greatest increase has been in the number of professions of faith directly related to hunger ministries. Since 1998, professions of faith have increased from 9,259 to 36,074 in 2008, when World Hunger Funds provided an estimated 5 million meals through 2,200 hunger ministries across North America.
But some are still going hungry. Requests for assistance from the North American Mission Board’s Hunger Relief Ministry increased 25 percent in the last quarter of 2008.
“We were forced to turn down $150,000 in requests for assistance last year due to lack of funds,” said Sandy Wood, NAMB hunger ministry specialist. “We hope our Southern Baptist churches will consider supporting the World Hunger Fund’s domestic program. It’s been a tough year. The need is greater than it’s been in a long time and funds are hard to come by.”
Wood said NAMB’s Hunger Relief Ministry assists churches, associations and state conventions so that in the process of distributing food, the Gospel can be shared with people in need.
Hunger ministry provides churches with a unique opportunity to share the Bread of Life along with bread for living and is a great place for churches to begin ministering in their communities, Wood said. Hunger ministry can be as simple as taking up an offering or holding a food drive, or as ambitious as starting a daily soup kitchen.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Becher is a writer for the North American Mission Board. For ideas on how your church can get involved in feeding the hungry, visit namb.net/hunger or worldhunger.com. Oct. 11 is World Hunger Sunday for Southern Baptist churches across North America. 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 www.namb.net/hunger.)