Exodus From Hunger: The Politics of Hunger. Westminster John Knox

David Beckmann

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Exodus From Hunger: The Politics of Hunger

Archbishop Desmond Tutu,

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
I have noticed that many people in the United States think that mass
hunger and poverty are immutable facts of life. They may volunteer at a soup
kitchen or contribute to an international charity, but do not hope for large-scale
change. They are often wary of getting involved in politics.

For most of my life, many people thought that racial oppression was an
immutable fact of life in South Africa. As a pastor, I encouraged people who
believed in God to get active in pushing for change. In the end, God blessed us
with a transition to a more just society.

David Beckmann—a winner of the 2010 World Food Prize—is both a
pastor and an economist. He is calling on people of faith and conscience in the
United States to get more active in the politics of hunger and poverty. He sees
opportunities right now to win changes that would help many people in the
United States and around the world escape from hunger.

A stronger U.S. commitment to overcoming global hunger and poverty
would be a huge help in Africa and other parts of the world. And you can
certainly overcome mass hunger and poverty within the United States itself.
Your country is so richly blessed.

David says that God is moving in our time to overcome hunger and
poverty and that people of faith in the United States can play an important role
in this great exodus. I plead with you to read this book and act on it.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

I visited an exceptionally poor area of Mozambique in East Africa last
year. Our first stop was Mtimbe, a settlement of about forty families on the
shore of Lake Nyasa—many miles from the nearest road. They had no
electricity or running water, and no shops—just mud houses with thatched roofs.

I was traveling with Dave Miner, a grassroots leader of Bread for the
World from Indianapolis who serves as chair of our board. Bread for the
World urges the U.S. government to do its part to overcome hunger. I’ve
served as Bread’s president for twenty years.
We had flown in a one-engine airplane from the capital of Malawi to a
dirt airfield on an island in Lake Nyasa. Waiting for us were Rebecca Vander
Meulen, a former Bread for the World policy analyst, and six of her
Mozambican colleagues. They have developed what they call Life Teams in
the Anglican churches of northern Mozambique to help communities deal with AIDS.

We climbed into a big wooden boat for the trip from the island to Mtimbe.
About fifty local people waited for us on shore, singing a praise song, clapping,
and moving with the music. The Africans in our boat knew the song and joined
in as we neared the shore. Martin, one of Rebecca’s colleagues, stood up in the
boat as we got close. Smiling eagerly, he shouted out the song and pumped his
arms to the rhythm. When the boat touched land, he jumped out to hug his Mtimbe friends.

Our hosts pulled our luggage from the boat and led us toward the
settlement, singing and dancing their way up the hill. They carried the luggage
on their heads, and Dave and I chuckled to see my big black briefcase, which
is usually at home in Washington, DC, making its way up the path on an
African woman’s head.

The crowd stopped outside Mtimbe’s mud-brick church, and Pedro
Kumpila, leader of the local Life Team, formally welcomed us. Rebecca
thanked the people for their hospitality and then posed a serious question. She
asked the crowd to tell these American visitors how they had improved their
lives in Mtimbe. People paused as they thought about that question.
Someone expressed gratitude for peace. Mtimbe was repeatedly savaged
during Mozambique’s sixteen years of civil war. Pedro later told us that he
once had to watch soldiers smash a baby in one of the wooden mortars women
use to pound cassava. All of Mtimbe’s residents had to flee repeatedly to
neighboring countries and live as refugees for years at a time.
The woman carrying my briefcase spoke about Mtimbe’s school. They
didn’t have a school ten years ago, but nearly all of Mtimbe’s children—even
the AIDS orphans—are now learning to read and write.
Pedro noted that people in the community who are infected with HIV and
AIDS can now get lifesaving medications. Some neighbors who had been at
death’s door are taking care of their children, farming, and teaching others about AIDS.

A few people in Mtimbe even have cell phones, which connect with a
tower across the lake. Cell phones are a big convenience in a place without
roads or motor vehicles.

Mtimbe still faces huge challenges. Each family relies mainly on a little
cassava field: if the cassava fails, the family goes hungry. Due to turmoil in the
global economy, the prices of corn and rice are high, and the government
doesn’t have the funds to bring electricity to the provincial capital as planned.
As the sun went down, we met with the entire community. We explained
that we were visiting to learn about development in Mtimbe, and the chief and
other local leaders introduced themselves. We travelers then retired to Pedro’s
mud-brick home for supper, which was chicken and a huge lump of gooey
cassava. Later in the evening, I struggled to bathe myself in a thatched
bathhouse, fumbling with my flashlight and the bucket of water I’d been given.
Pedro and his family stayed elsewhere that night so that Dave and I could sleep
up off the ground on their wooden beds.

I climbed into the bed and tucked in the mosquito net. As I relaxed and
reflected on the past few hours, I was deeply moved by the achievements and
hope of the people of Mtimbe. They are among the poorest people on earth,
but they are making strides toward a better life.

I was also struck by the U.S. government’s impact in this remote place.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had a hand in Mozambique’s civil war,
U.S. ethanol subsidies contribute to high grain prices even in Mtimbe, and
Mozambique’s government has to delay investment plans because of the
financial crisis that started on our Wall Street.

On the other hand, U.S. support for the reduction of Mozambique’s debts
helped finance schools across the country, including in Mtimbe, and the United
States funds most of the AIDS medications in Mozambique. Bread for the
World’s members in the United States helped the people of Mtimbe by urging
the U.S. Congress to support debt relief and development assistance for poor countries.

After visiting several other settlements over the next few days, Rebecca
and her colleagues took us back across the lake to the island airstrip. Dave,
Rebecca, the pilot, and I climbed into another little airplane.
The plane accelerated up the dirt runway, started to lift off, but then
dropped back to the ground. It veered off the airstrip at sixty miles an hour and
bounced violently across a field. The plane stirred up large stones, and one
smashed the window next to my face. There was a construction site at the end
of the runway, and if our plane had traveled straight ahead for one more
second, we would have died instantly.

A couple weeks later, on a jet headed back toward Washington, DC, I had
another chance to reflect. This brush with death made it very clear to me that I
should spend the rest of my life helping spiritually grounded Americans push
our government to make a bigger effort to reduce poverty. It is possible to
overcome hunger and poverty in our time. The progress that people in Mtimbe
have made illustrates this, and if a poor country like Mozambique can reduce
hunger and poverty, it’s certainly also possible in a relatively wealthy country
such as the United States. I’m convinced that the binding constraint is political
will, and that stronger leadership from the U.S. government is crucial. I’m also
convinced that God is present in this struggle, and that people of faith and
conscience should do our part, partly by changing U.S. politics on hunger and poverty issues.

Please don’t put this book down without deciding to do something to help
build a stronger political constituency for U.S. policies to provide help and
opportunity for hungry and poor people.

Progress against Hunger and Poverty
Hundreds of thousands of communities in developing countries have, like
Mtimbe, achieved improvements in their lives. The world has made progress
against hunger and poverty over the last several decades.

According to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme
poverty in developing countries—those living on less than $1.25 a
day—dropped from 1.9 billion in 1980 to 1.4 billion in 2005.1 The fraction of
the population living in extreme poverty dropped from one-half to one-quarter!
The global economic crisis of 2008–2009 slowed progress against poverty, but
the number of people in poverty is still below 1.4 billion.


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Product details
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 153 p
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 978-0-664-23684-7 (alk. paper) 
 2010 David Beckmann


Foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu ix
Part I: Where Things Stand Now
1. Widespread and Increased Hunger
2. Dramatic Progress Is Feasible
3. Countries That Have Reduced Hunger and Poverty
Part II: Where We Want to Go
4. This Is God Moving in Our Time
5. Getting Serious about Poverty Would Be Good for America
6. People of Faith Can Make Congress Work
7. Hopeful Developments in U.S. Politics
8. A Time to Change History for Hungry People
Part III: How We Get There Together
9. How God Has Drawn Me In
10. Take a Step
11. We Need God

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