On Sunday, Advent members from all three of our worship services and members of the community came together to pack 24,129 meals and write 135 advocacy postcards.
As I roamed around taking photos, I decided to ask people: "Why is it important for us to be doing this as a church?
Avery, the first person I asked, responded with the typical, awkward bluntness of a 7-year-old: "So people can eat and not die." His answer, while it may be oversimplified and make us uncomfortable, has truth in it.
His grandmother, Eleanor, added: “As I told Avery before the event, people in need of food assistance are our brothers and sisters. This is God's love in action.”
I wandered over to another group of youth, college students, and adults.
“Why is it important for us to be doing this as a church?” I asked them, as they poured rice, beans, and textured vegetable protein into a funnel and caught them in a plastic meal kit bag.
A teenager offered the trope, “feed the world," with a bit of self-aware sarcasm.
“Well, a small piece of the world," someone nearby qualified.
"Okay, yes,” I said. “We're not feeding the whole world or solving hunger today. So, why is this still important for us to do this?
Jill, a visitor from the community who joined us for the event, responded: "Because whatever we can do is important. It just shouldn't be that people don't have food in 2018. We have enough, and yet we’re so wasteful with it, particularly in this country. So it's our responsibility make whatever impact we can. Today provides that opportunity, and it makes my heart feel good."
Next, I visited another table with a mix of kids and adults working together, and asked them: “Why is it important for us to be doing this as a church?”
Sochitl replied, "Estamos en unos tiempos difíciles donde es muy importante la unión humana para poder ayudar a las personas que no tienen trabajo, no tienen un hogar, poderles ayudar en lo más importante, que es la comida. Es el punto por el cuál estoy aqui poniendo un poquito de ayuda."
In English, that means, “We're facing difficult times in which unity among humans is very important to help those who are without a job or a home. Being able to help with something so important like food is the reason why I'm here putting in a little bit of help.
Another Advent member brought a totally different perspective.
"For me, today is Matthew,” he said.
“Like -- the Gospel of Matthew?” I asked. “Which part?”
He paraphrased Jesus’ words in Matthew: “Do not worry about tomorrow, or about what you will eat, but seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and God will give you everything you need.”
“Earlier this week, I had 90 cents to my name,” he elaborated. “But I trusted God and my community, and people came through -- in the strangest and most surprising ways, too. Now, I have the opportunity to do that for someone else. That’s what this community is about."
In addition to the food packing activities, we had an advocacy table where volunteers wrote 135 advocacy postcards to our representatives. I asked Pastor Margay, who was helping to run our advocacy table, why it was important we have this in addition to the service project.
Pastor Margay said, “It's important to not just feed hungry people, but also speak up for hungry people. Otherwise, your impact will always be temporary, because the underlying issues causing hunger in your community are not being addressed.”
Zella, an NYU student majoring in food studies, agrees about the importance of advocacy.
“What I really appreciate about Advent is that we have the meal packing going on, and it’s providing immediate relief for who need it most. But solutions like meal-packing events won’t solve hunger long-term — and yet, right outside we have the advocacy table.
“That is how you get systems to change. That is how you address people’s needs long-term.
“As a church, Advent has the unique ability to be in the community seeing and addressing people’s immediate needs; to engage generosity and unity amongst people in that community; and to advocate for the systemic change that needs to happen to eliminate hunger on a more holistic level.”
Next I wanted to hear from another teenager, to see what they might be learning from the experience.
Ludjina, an 8th grader, said she needed some time to think about it. After she’d had more time to seal completed meal kits and place them into their boxes headed to local food pantries, she said:
“It’s important to recognize that not all people within our community have the same opportunities that we do -- and yet we are a community, together. So it’s important to care for each other. I think it’s especially important we care about the kids in our community, because with the right nutrition and resources, you never know what they could be someday.”
Hearing all these responses and seeing everyone working together — there was clearly something special about it all. In the moment, I think Lídia captured it best:
"Nos hace pensar lo bendecidos que somos, que tenemos la oportunidad de tener comida para nosotros. ¡Es nuestra responsabilidad! Tenemos que sentirnos responsables por el bienestar de las demás personas. Es una lección muy grande para todos pequeños y adultos, de compartir nuestro tiempo, lo que tenemos, y lo que somos."
It makes us think about how blessed we are that we have food for ourselves...but its also our responsibility! We have to feel responsible for the well-being of other persons. Its a great lesson for all, children and adults, to share our time, what we have, and who we are.
I wish I had asked more people why doing was important to them, and taken more pictures. We had over 120 volunteers join us throughout the day. Looking back, the day gives me an moving feeling I still can’t quite put into words . . . perhaps, I might choose “Holy Spirit.”
One thing’s for sure: It was amazing to see all our whole church and people from the community come together -- people of different ages, races, cultures, languages, and backgrounds -- to talk about hunger, serve alongside each other, and be united in their compassion and love for their neighbor. That is amazing. That is church.
This kind of multicultural, multilingual, intergeneration expression of compassion, service, and advocacy offers a beautiful glimpse of both who we are now and where the Holy Spirit is moving us as Advent Lutheran Church.