When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’
Our Sunday Gospel reading (Matthew 14:13-21) is Matthew’s version of the story we read from Mark on Tuesday. Both accounts include Jesus’ clear instructions for the disciples: “You give them something to eat.” I posted Part I of this reflection about the drought and famine in Eastern Africa on Tuesday, talking about conditions in the refugee camps, the need for immediate aid, and the work that Episcopal Relief and Development is supporting there. The need is urgent; any compassionate response to the situation must include giving what we can to alleviate the terrible hunger and suffering in that part of the world.
But the size of this crisis in terms of both the number of people in need and the degree of the food crisis means that we need to do much more than send money in order to give our sisters and brothers in Eastern Africa something to eat. This week the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) called on Episcopalians to send a message to our representatives in Congress asking them to protect famine and drought aid to Africa. Noting that UNICEF has “called this the most severe humanitarian emergency in the world and the worst drought the region has experienced in 60 years”, EPPN reports that the House Appropriations Committee has proposed reducing humanitarian aid by 12% and food assistance programs by 18%. Along with sending our own dollars to aid agencies, we can advocate for compassion to remain as a priority in our national budget. A template making it easy to contact Congress is available from EPPN here.
Given that large-scale and long-term droughts are predicted to become more frequent as our climate warms, there are two more things people of faith are called to do in relation to drought and famine. First, we must continue to do all we can to curb global warming, working to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and being willing to make changes in our own lives so that others might live.
However, with 393 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and 350 ppm being the safe limit for human life, warming will continue for a significant time even if the nations were to put policies in place that would limit greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level. And so there is one more thing for people of faith to do: pray, reflect, and develop policies to meet the need for humanitarian aid that is expected to grow as the effects of climate change – droughts, floods and disappearing coastal lands, windstorms, and loss of fish populations – become greater.
Our plans must include even more than the traditional aid response of food, supplies, and aid workers. As these needs increase, and especially as the number of climate refugees grows, there may well be a temptation by some in wealthier nations like ours to tighten our borders and hold tightly onto what we have. Christian compassion and Christian service may be in short supply. Our plans should perhaps include ways to prepare ourselves spiritually to remain compassionate to those in need, to be welcoming to strangers, and to be certain in our hearts that God cares for all of God’s children and all of God’s creation.