Category Archives: Current Events

Famine in the Horn of Africa

Back in 2011, there was a famine in the Horn of Africa. The famine killed thousands and disrupted systems in ways that have not yet been fully overcome. And now the region is facing famine once again. A famine is an extreme, widespread scarcity of food. Famines are usually caused by wars or environmental conditions that prohibit the growth of grass and crops, resulting in the death of livestock and eventually people. The famine that Eastern Africa is facing right now is caused by a drought that is killing off the vegetation and plant life.

The Horn of Africa is a peninsular region on the far eastern side of the continent, and includes the nations of Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. The famine right now is particularly bad in Somalia, a nation of 10.8 million people on the eastern edge of the Horn of Africa. In the north, Somalia is just over 20 miles from Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, so the culture is influenced by both East Africa and the Middle East. The environment is hot, and rainfall is normally irregular, though right now it’s pretty much nonexistent.

According to UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), nearly 1.4 million children in Somalia are expected to be acutely malnourished this year. Obviously one can die from starvation, but malnourishment can also cause stunted growth, physical and mental impairment, and decreased immunities that leave children susceptible to life-threatening illnesses. Famine also causes people to leave their homes in an effort to find a better situation. This migration upsets education and tears families apart.

This situation is devastating and heartbreaking. Famine isn’t caused by laziness or bad choices, it’s just plain bad luck. And try as we might, we can’t bring back the rain. So while opportunities like education and access to capital are usually the best solution for poverty and hunger, in a situation like this people need an emergency handout to bridge the crisis period. Many of the world’s hunger relief organizations are on the case, arriving with food, water, and medical care to see people through this crisis. But the need is huge. UNICEF estimates 1.4 million children will be affected by acute malnutrition this year, but the adults who care for them will face the same challenges, so the actual number affected is probably double that.

There are three things that we can do from here to support Somalis during this crisis:

  1. Pray – Pray for rain to return to the Horn of Africa. Pray for those who are suffering. Pray for the missionaries and non-profits working to bring relief. Pray that donors and volunteers would step up the challenge.
  2. Give – Non-profit organizations have carefully fundraised budgets and planned programs to manage around the world. This crisis is an additional burden on their organizations. I’ve signed up to raise donations for Feed My Starving Children’s Somalia initiative this summer, and you can make a gift or learn more about that here.
  3. Volunteer – No, I’m not suggesting you fly to Somalia. In fact, I would discourage it. They don’t need more mouths to feed right now! But there are things we can do from here. Research organizations working in the country, and help them raise money. Use your social media following to raise awareness of the problem and the organizations working in the region. Some organizations even have ways that you can help hands-on. Here in the Twin Cities, FMSC is having a special packing weekend June 2-5 at the RiverCentre in St Paul to provide for this extra demand on their resources. I’ll be there packing on Sunday evening and Monday afternoon that week. If you’re in the area and would like to sign up to help, you can find that information here.

This draught and famine will eventually pass, but how many lives will be lost in the meantime? Do what you can, starting, and ending, with prayer!

If you know of other organizations working in the area, or other things that we can do to help, please leave a comment!

 

We the People

On Tuesday America held a very contentious election, and today we honor current and former military personnel with Veteran’s Day. As the election results have been rolling in, people around the country have been expressing both hope and fear in loud, angry ways. Social media is practically unbearable right now as some gloat while others mourn. But tucked among those posts, I came across these thoughts from my very wise and well-spoken friend, Laura. Laura is a Godly woman, a former member of the Army National Guard, and one of the smartest people I know. She is a natural writer, and has put together her thoughts on the election with such eloquence that I asked her to let me share them with all of you. Please remember that if you chose to leave a comment on this page, it must be civil. You may disagree with certain points if you like, but any rude bashing of individuals will be removed. Thank you.

 

Today’s verse of the day struck a chord with me and I hope it resonates also with some of you. 1 Peter 2:15-16 “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.”

This election has polarized America, a country I love, a people I would gladly die to protect. There are a lot of problems with the way our government is run and many changes do need to happen. Whether right or wrong, THAT is the reason Donald Trump was elected. He was not elected based on his character (let’s face it, neither viable candidate would have been elected on character). He was not elected because Americans are filled with hatred for one another. On the contrary, the majority of Americans – even those who can’t see or don’t understand the plight of their fellow citizens – do not hate or fear their fellow Americans and residents.

My fellow Americans, we need to stop, take a step back, and breathe. Many of our fellow citizens and residents are scared of the future. They are afraid that the minority of hate-filled, bigoted Americans will send us 50 years (or more) back in time and they will lose the BASIC rights afforded to those who live here. Many are afraid that they will be unfairly and unjustly deported, many are afraid that their parents who aren’t here legally will be justly deported, still others believe they will again be judged by the color of their skin, their religion, or the lifestyle they live – and whether we agree with them or not, their fears are real. In some instances, their fears are justified. We have come a long way in America, and I would hate to see this country torn apart by hatred and fear.

I don’t know what the next four years holds. I don’t know if Trump is an answer to prayer, or a silver-tongued deceiver, but I do know that this is MY country. This is OUR country and “We the people” is more than just a line on a really old document. It cannot and will not fall apart unless we do. Is it possible for the next four years to be bleak, for it to take years after he leaves office to recover? Yes it is. But we’ve had bad leaders before who’ve made terrible mistakes – and we have recovered. Is it possible for us to be surprised by an unlikely leader who is both Republican and Democrat, who will actually try to work in the best interest of the country and its people? Yes it is. Is it possible for this to be just another four years of nothing amazingly good or bad – much like the last 2-3 years? Yes it is. Only time will tell what kind of leader he will evolve into, but “We the People” are what’s important here – regardless of what he or the government as a whole does.

So I call on my fellow believers, and fellow citizens who may not believe exactly as I do. Let’s silence the ignorant talk of foolish people, not by responding to hate with hate, but by doing good. Sometimes things get shaken up in our world to help us understand what is important. This country has lived through wars, through feast, through famine, through natural disaster, through politicians, and political movements because of its people. Because we are able to set aside our differences when it matters most and unite as brothers and sisters in one great American family.

So the next time you see someone voicing their fears, don’t attack their fears. You don’t know where they have been. Respond in love and let them know you are there for them and so are the majority of Americans. The next time you see someone acting out of hate, don’t react with more hate. Remind them how far we’ve come as a nation and that it doesn’t take hatred and violence to bring about the changes we need as a nation. Just like any family, it takes love, it takes respect, it takes compromise and understanding.

Four Benefits of Volunteering as a Family

Tomorrow, Saturday October 22, is national Make a Difference Day! Sponsored by Tegna, The Arby’s Foundation, and Points of Light, Make a Difference Day encourages Americans of all ages to find a way to serve their community. They provide a project finder to connect volunteers with needs, and awards to honor people and projects that are making a difference. To find projects near you, visit their website.

Why is practicing regular volunteer work as a family important?

1. Volunteering encourages gratitude and a realistic view of wants vs. needs: All the moms said “amen,” right? It’s hard to teach gratitude to our kids. But “you should be thankful,” and “when I was your age,” don’t speak as loudly as hands-on, face-to-face experience.

2. Volunteering teaches us that we’re not so different after all: Living a sheltered life makes it easy to think that real hunger doesn’t happen in America, or that all poverty is the result of bad personal decisions. But working with people in need, right in our own community, reveals the reality that most people in need are hard-working and want opportunity, not a handout. They have the same hopes, dreams, and concerns for their kids that we all do. You might make some new friends, too.

3. Volunteering makes us sensitive to the needs of others: Kids don’t understand why the elderly and infirm are slow. They don’t get it that others can’t afford to have the things that they have or go to the things they can go to. Volunteering is a great opportunity to talk about how much we have to be thankful for, as well as ways that we can be sensitive, considerate, and make life easier for others.

4. Regular volunteering from a young age teaches kids that this is just what we do: It’s just like dressing up for church. Someone warned me about this when J was a baby, and we stuck with it. Every Sunday we dressed him up for church, and he didn’t question it until he was practically a teenager (and by then no one under 60 was dressing up at church…). At the same time, I had friends tell me that if they tried to “make” their kids get dressed up they would have a mutiny on their hands. J didn’t argue because that was the normal he knew. The same is true of community service. Start the kids as young as you can and they will understand that this is just what we do as Christians and members of our community.

Actions speak louder than words. Model a life of service and include the kids as much as possible. If you’re looking for ideas, search this site for “service projects.” I’ve written blog posts about a number of possibilities. If you have ideas about service projects that families can do together, leave a comment. We’re always looking for more ideas!

ALL Lives Matter

ALL Lives Matter

I don’t want to write this post. I don’t want to live in a world as sad and messed up as ours seems to be right now. But I can’t hide my head in the sand. I can’t ignore the elephant in the room any longer. Even though Food Shelf Friday is primarily about hunger, I have to address the racial situation in our country. After all, a big part of the hunger crisis in this world is about inequality.

 

Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. – John Stuart Mill, 1867

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. – Isaiah 1:17

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

As many of you know, I’m an historian by trade. I have a degree in history, and am just a few thesis revisions from a Master’s in public history. I work at a history museum. My specialty is 20th Century America, with an emphasis on local history. Mostly what that means is that I’ve read a lot of books…

When I was working on my B.A., we once had a welcomed day off while our professor attended a conference on slavery in the modern world. When she returned, she shared with us this thought: by talking about slavery as if it ended in 1865, we have done a great disservice to those living in slavery and those trying to fight it today.

As I watched the news these past few weeks, especially the happenings of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area where I live, I couldn’t help but think: by talking about racism as if it ended in 1965, we have done a great disservice to those living with unfair racial prejudice and those trying to fight it today.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ended the practice of de jure (by the law) segregation. But even more difficult to pinpoint and control is de facto (in actuality/in fact) segregation. De facto segregation is segregation as it plays out, not in the legal system or the school districts, but in unregulated social practices and in people’s hearts and minds.

We don’t like to think that we’re racist. We prefer to believe that racism was a southern problem and that it ended when President Johnson signed those laws. After all, we know mixed race couples, have black friends, and even elected an African-American President. We’re so much more enlightened than we used to be, right? It’s progress, sure, but if a black man doesn’t feel safe innocently driving around town, we still have a problem. If sports teams’ money and “traditions” are more valued than an entire race of people whose feelings are hurt by a racial slur, we still have a problem. If race limits employment or educational opportunities for anyone, we still have a problem.

I know the answer. And no, I’m not going to say, “can’t we all just get along?”though it is that simple, it’s not that easy.

The answer is, “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord” (Lamentations 3:40).

  1. Examine your heart: I know you’re a good person with good intentions, but see if there is any aspect of your life where you can be judgmental or self-serving. Really look deep, past the layer of tolerance, and see if in your heart of hearts you have followed God’s commands to seek justice, to fight for the powerless and abused, to share with others who are not like you. It’s not easy, but we have to get past excusing ourselves and even patting ourselves on the back for getting away from de jure segregation when the residue of de facto segregation still remains and clutters our hearts.
  2. Take responsibility: After you have examined yourself, resist the urge to blame society or your parents or whatever made you who you are, and start taking responsibility for your own attitudes and actions. Recognize your imperfections and commit to change. You’re not a bad person or a racist, but I’ll bet you make snap judgments now and then. I know I do. The first step to healing is to admit that there is a problem, even if it’s a small one.
  3. Get involved: Now, I’m not saying you have to go out and protest, and I’m definitely not advocating violence. What I am suggesting is that you start giving of yourself to love people who are not like you. Get to know your immigrant neighbor. Write a letter to your elected officials. Give or serve with an organization that fights for justice or creates opportunity. And most of all, pray.
    If you spend time on behalf of another, it will change your heart. You will stop seeing “other” or “threat” and start seeing “child of God.” If you get to know someone, serve, and pray, you will learn to love.

If you have something to say about current events (and it seems like EVERYONE has A LOT to say these days), feel free to leave a comment. You don’t have to agree with me, I’m open to discussing different opinions, but you do have to be respectful. I will remove comments that I deem to be offensive or rude.