by Wayne Geiger
I became keenly aware of intense poverty at about the age of seven. My tutor was my wise mother. My classroom was the dinner table. I don’t remember what the meat and starch were, but I remember the vegetable: lima beans.
My mother had drawn a firm line in the sand. On one side, there were the lima beans on my plate. On the other side, my fork and close-lipped mouth. Her ultimate goal was for me to put those lima beans in my mouth. I was adamantly opposed to the very thought.
It’s not that I had never tried them. I had. I vehemently hated lima beans and found them utterly disgusting! In the past, attempting to avoid eating them, I had tried to hide them under my plate, wrap them in my napkin, or give them to the dog. My mother, who would have been well-suited to serve as a detective, dismantled every secretive plot I concocted.
In a moment of frustration, I pleaded, “But why do I have to eat my lima beans?” She looked at me sternly and yet with pity and said, “Because there are starving children in China.”
The idea of starving children in China was a new revelation to me. I didn’t know where China was, much less that there were starving children there. In fact, I didn’t know what starving was. We were not rich, but we always had food to eat. But, somehow, even in the days before the Internet, my mother had this inside information.
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand how me eating my lima beans would keep anyone from starving. In fact, I came to the conclusion that my eating my lima beans was only contributing to the problem. Starving children in China were hungry. I did not want my lima beans.
Two wires in my brain connected and there was a brief spark. I thought to myself, “We could put my lima beans in an envelope and mail them to the starving children in China! I was only seven, and yet I had solved world hunger. As an adult, I realize that the issue of poverty is a real and complicated issue. But, I’m not sure the issue is always a lack of resources.
I attended an event a couple weeks ago that included a great buffet. All you can eat—and there was plenty of it. The question was not “Is there enough?” but rather, “Should I get a piece of pecan, chocolate, or coconut cream pie—or perhaps a sliver of each?” At the end of the meal, all of us were stuffed and I watched, as folks, just like me, scraped the leftover food into the garbage can.
Please don’t misunderstand. Having enough to eat should not make us feel guilty. Instead, it should make us feel thankful. We should remember how incredibly blessed we are.
We should eat heartedly and give thanks passionately. And, we should also share strategically and lovingly. The Bible says we should, “be ready to share” with others in need (1 Tim 6:17-18).
Poverty is all around us. Sometimes, it’s just hard to see. Even in our community, there are children and families who struggle to survive. There greatest priority is finding enough food to eat or the resources to take care of their basic needs.
If you get a chance, read a book by Matthew Desmond called, Poverty and Profit in the American City. It’s an eye-opener and provides great insight into the plight of poverty.
One of the things Desmond illustrated was the difference in the way the social classes perceive food. I’m paraphrasing here, but he noted that the lower class worries about the quantity of food—did you have enough to eat? The middle class worries about the quality of food—or did you enjoy it? The upper class is concerned with the plating and presentation of the food—did the meal delight you?
For me, I look in the fridge and there’s nothing in there to eat. But, don’t feel sorry for me. It’s not empty. In fact, there’s lots of food in there. It’s just stuff that I don’t want. I, probably like you, am a middle-class kind of guy. Like you, I do want to help people, but often just don’t know where to look.
Thankfully, we are blessed in our community with an organization known as, Bright Futures Grain Valley. Bright Futures is defined as, “A Grain Valley community network of schools, churches, businesses, civic organizations and residents, working together to respond to the basic needs of children in Grain Valley.” In short, as an organization, Bright Futures is not “a them.” Bright Futures “is us.” They are our students, our neighbors, our future, and our responsibility.
Getting plugged into Bright Futures is simple. For one, from time to time, requests are sent out to the community through the Facebook page, BrightFuturesGV. At times, a student will need clothing or personal items or a family will need furniture, etc.
It’s always a delight to see the community respond quickly with love and concern. The Facebook page is open to anyone who wants to connect. Once you like the page, look under the “following” tab make sure to check, “see first” so you will always see the update.
You may also choose to serve as a “lunch buddy.” The Lunch Buddy program strategically partners adults in the community with a child in the school system that needs a little extra love. It will cost you your lunch and about a half-hour a week. Oh, it will also require a piece of your heart.
There are many other ways to get involved through one-time or ongoing financial gifts, gifts-in-kind, and sponsorships.
In closing, I remember hearing a great story years ago of a man walking on the beach. In the distance, he saw a little boy running back and forth near the shore throwing something into the water. Intrigued, he walked in the direction of the boy and noticed hundreds and hundreds of starfish washed up on the beach as far as he could see.
The boy, knowing the starfish would die, was franticly grabbing them one at a time and tossing them into deeper water. The man was intrigued and confused and asked the boy, “Son, why bother? Look at how many starfish there are. You’re only one little boy. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy picked up a starfish and looked the man in the eye saying, “It makes all the difference in the world to this one.”
To solve world hunger, sticking our undesirable lima beans into an envelope and sending them off to China is probably not the best plan. And, maybe we can’t help everybody, everywhere. But, through Bright Futures, we can make a difference in the life of a child, a family, and ultimately, our community.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer. He can be reached at waynegeiger.com.