My friends and I made over 12,000 meals last Sunday afternoon.
If that number sounds staggering, it did to me, too. We hosted a meal-packing event with an organization called Stop Hunger Now. In less than two hours, we worked together to pour, package, seal and box thousands of meals. The meals will go to areas of the world where hunger and starvation are a crisis. We know that the number of people in this world who are hungry is staggering.
When I first heard about this organization, I knew we had to host a meal-packing day. Our congregation needed this event. I needed this event. We needed this moment of joining together in work that reaches people in need.
To be sure, my congregation does a lot of faithful work to help people in need. But something about the simplicity of the work – scooping, bagging, boxing – set next to the complexity of world hunger seemed like just the sort of challenge that would impact us.
We got busy planning. We set the date and invited people to come. The one question I heard about 12,000 times regarding these 12,000 meals was: So, how does this work exactly? What will we do?
It was difficult to imagine how the whole project would come together, especially since a major selling point of our invitation to people was: This is an event for the whole family. All generations from preschoolers to senior adults. We had never done an event exactly like this before, and some folks had a hard time understanding how we would get it done.
My friend Jeff leaned over and said, “So, this is a one time thing, right? We do this and hunger is done? I mean, it’s called Stop Hunger Now.” We laughed. But he was right to point out that the needs are greater than our one event. Our efforts seem small next to the enormity of the problem.
The idea that a few people would have the power to change something so widespread as world hunger in an afternoon sounds ridiculous. We might as well have an event called End Racism Today or Fix Homelessness Immediately.
Some volunteers unloaded supplies from the truck and the rest of got busy putting things in order. Tubs of grain, corn, and rice were carried to each table. Funnels used to pour and scales used to weigh each bag were systematically placed at each table. Though we had no idea how this whole project would unfold, our SHN Coordinator Ryan knew where every supply needed to go and how to make room for the flow of people at work. He pointed, we listened.
We just had to say yes, move stuff around, and trust that it would all make sense.
With the truck unloaded in minutes, the room began to fill with volunteers ready to work. People arrived and grabbed their hairnets. Most of the people were from our own congregation. We also welcomed people from the neighborhood, nearby CBF churches, friends from the Macon Women’s interfaith group and college students from a Mercer University service group. The volunteers ranged from age four to ninety-two years old. It looked like community to me.
Ryan showed us what to do. (Rice goes last!) He told us about the pitfalls, warned us about what not to do. Everyone just gravitated to one table or another and self-selected a job: scoopers, weighers, runners, packers, counters. We understood about 30 % of what he instructed us to do, but as we jumped right in we figured out what we were doing.
Ryan told us to remember to have fun. I wondered how many times we offer this instruction in the Church. As the music started up, we began to dance and sing along as we filled bags of rice. The scene was something to behold. Nothing adds to the dance moves of a hundred-something Baptists quite like hairnets and plastic gloves.
I got the best job of all. The practice of SHN is to sound a gong for every 1,000 meals completed. In case you’re wondering if banging a gong is as satisfying as you think it might be . . . the answer is YES. It is awesome.
We danced. We sang along. Everyone did the YMCA dance and when “Don’t Stop Believing” played we drowned out Journey with our hairnetted selves. It was the most fun I have had with a church project in a long time.
We spilled alot. Rice covered the floor. It was loud, messy, chaotic and beautiful. It was exactly the kind of work that can meet an enormous problem head on.
I was reminded what I believe about God working in and among people. It is messy. More often than not, we have no idea the exact way it will all work out.
I believe God works to heal wounds and mend broken places in this world in much the same way that we packaged 12,000 meals. God works among people gathered from many places. God works among people who show up ready to work and with generations singing, working, and dancing together.
We participated in stopping hunger. We will continue to stop hunger. We are just beginning our work to meet complex problems with simple acts.