Mass starvation — does anyone give a … ?

May 9, 2017 by

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“I have three things I’d like to say today,” said American author Tony Campolo to a crowd at the 1982 interdenominational Spring Harvest church conference in England.

“First, while you were sleeping last night, 45,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition.

“Second, most of you don’t give a shit.

“Third, what’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact I said ‘shit’ than the fact that 45,000 kids died last night.”

Campolo’s words — for which he became infamous — come back to me as I think about the terrible food crisis in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and parts of Kenya and Nigeria.

An estimated 20 million people face starvation in those countries, the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, according to the U.N.

And it’s not as if this came out of nowhere; the disaster has been forecast for many months. And yet, for the longest time, it seemed as though the world — to use Campolo’s words — didn’t give a shit.

Except for a bit of media coverage here and there, there was virtually nothing in about the situation in newspapers, radio or TV.

There are several reasons for this — it’s hard for the media to get into the worst-affected regions, and they don’t have the resources they used to.

Then there’s the Trump effect. The new U.S. president, and his unpredictable ways, have sucked up much of the media oxygen.

Added to this is the general fatigue everyone feels over the extended Syria crisis; will it never end?

Two groups that are trying to break the silence are the World Council of Churches and the All Africa Council of Churches. The two groups have issued a call for a Global Day of Prayer to End Famine on Sunday, May 21.

Noting that “more people face famine today than any time in modern history,” the groups are calling on national and international church bodies and organizations to call on their members and supporters to pray for an end to the hunger, and to the conflict that is causing so much of the need.

“Churches have a prophetic role in calling to mobilize their members, the wider society, and governments, and making a difference during this unprecedented period of suffering,” they state, adding that “food is more than a human right; it is a divine gift that cannot be impeded.”

As of this writing, the only Mennonite body that has signed up to participate is the Mennonite Church of India.

But what to pray? The Global Day of Prayer website has some resources, as does Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Of course, it’s not just Christians who can pray; anyone of any faith can do so. When it comes to asking God to help end the suffering, we’re all in this together.

By praying, we can give an answer to Campolo — we do care that 20 million people are at risk of starvation. And the fact that so many are in danger of dying matters more than someone using the word “shit” in a sermon or a column.

As Campolo said back then in his now-infamous sermon in England: “The Christ of Scripture is not so much concerned with the four-letter words we use as he is with those who are dying and in need.”

To that, all I can say is: “Amen.”

John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and board president of Mennonite World Review.


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  • Harvey Yoder

    And the fact that there are not even any comments on this piece says volumes.

  • Gene Mast

    Lured by Harvey’s irresistible bait, may I propose that we consider the saying “Profanity is the futile attempt by a feeble mind to express itself forcefully.” Vulgarity may be subject to the same concept. Of course human deprivation is more pressing than Campolo’s, and Longhurst’s, apparently insufficient familiarity with the English language, or maybe the disrespect with which they address their audiences. This stands without comment. But it is not an either/or. You should be able to make your point without being coarse. Such expressions were once “cool”; when we were thirteen. No longer.

    Not being a member of the Anabaptist splinter that sponsors this blog makes me a visitor of sorts, one loath to offend my hosts, but perhaps editorial discretion could be a little more prominent.