- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

Greenbelt Community Church’s congregation prayed, “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously,” during last Sunday’s evening jazz vespers service. Then they put their prayer into practice.

The congregation of nearly 30 gathered not only to worship, but also to write letters to House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and to other local representatives, as part of Bread for the World’s national letter-writing campaign. Church members asked Mr. Hoyer to co-author the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009 (H.R. 2139). The bill is intended to pave the way to reform the 1961 U.S. Foreign Assistance Act by streamlining our nation’s foreign-aid programs.

Bread for the World is a collective of Christian churches who organize Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox faith communities across the nation to urge the nation’s legislators to end hunger in the world.

Its annual “Offering of Letters” campaign engages congregation members all over the country to write personal letters to Congress in support of laws that aim to alleviate poverty and hunger. During worship, participants dedicate the letters to God through prayer and, in this case, through jazz.

More than 1.4 billion people in the world make less than $1 a day, and 1 billion people go to bed hungry, according to Bread for the World staff member Alisha Visan. About 1 billion have no access to clean water. Higher food prices are pushing more people around the world and in the United States deeper into poverty.

Although the United States is already the largest donor in helping reduce hunger and poverty in the world, there is no overall strategy to guide investments. The Foreign Assistance Reform Act calls for the streamlining of government agencies that work on eradicating extreme global poverty and hunger. It also calls for a rigorous system to evaluate how effectively the programs work, as well as a transparent system regarding planning, allocating and distributing funds.

So far, Bread for the World has held 335 “Offering of Letters” events nationwide, generating 32,000 letters. Ms. Visan and other organizers hand-delivered some of the letters to Capitol Hill this week, when the bill was scheduled for review by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Greenbelt Community Church has had a relationship with Bread for the World for 20 years, said the Rev. Dan Hamlin, who has been leading the congregation for 25 years. The church has a strong tradition of helping the homeless in its community, giving to food pantries, sponsoring families with Christmas gifts and helping people who need financial assistance.

Participating in Bread for the World’s campaigns almost every year helps the church take its advocacy to another level, Mr. Hamlin said. It is a small world, he said, and the church’s members need to help their neighbors both at home and around the world.

“It is a matter of faith. There is no geographic restriction on ‘Love thy neighbor,’ ” he said.

Retired nurse Rena Hull, 67, is a Greenbelt native and has been a member of Greenbelt Community Church all her life. Her family came to the area as part of the federal Works Progress Administration program in the 1930s.

Ms. Hull said Greenbelt was created by the government as a model community. Families struggling through the Depression had to be chosen to live there as part of the program to give people jobs. Now, she said, there is a connection as she writes her letter.

“Maybe someone in today’s society will benefit as part of another government to help the poor,” she said.

Husband and wife Mike and Carla Crompton have been attending Greenbelt Community Church for years, but this is the first time they participated in an Offering of Letters event.

Mr. Crompton said that they are humble people, but that they recognize Americans are privileged. The United States has so much wealth, he said, it makes its citizens more responsible to help the poor. The couple were inspired by the apostle Luke’s message that much is expected of those to whom much is given.

Mrs. Crompton added that some people have become desensitized to extreme poverty and hunger in other countries.

“If people [in the United States] give up going out to lunch and [give] up their Starbucks coffee, they feel they are suffering,” she said.

She recognizes that many people in this country are going through some tough times during the bad economy. However, while people are tighten up their belts here, the Cromptons still feel a moral obligation not to turn a blind eye to those in need abroad.

Christine Senteno is a District-based freelance writer.


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