Yesterday, the head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) issued a stark warning about the impact of Covid-19 on food shortages in some of the world's poorest countries. (BBC News: 'Coronavirus: World risks 'biblical' famines due to pandemic - UN').
David Beasley was speaking following the publication of an annual report on Global Food Crises (external link). The report includes some very dire predictions around increases in food shortages and famine, highlighting 10 countries where starvation is likely to be widespread. On that list were South Sudan and DR Congo.
Two pictures came to my mind when I heard this news.
The first was this photograph taken after a worship service in Rhino refugee camp Northern Uganda in October 2018.
We were in an area of the camp populated by people from DR Congo, their self-built, UNHCR tarpaulin homes were right beside the church. I wondered why they were so urgently piling onto the back of such a little truck after service. Someone explained that today was food distribution day, and that food could only be collected in person. These folks whose homes and livelihoods were far away in DR Congo were anxious to get to the food distribution point over ten miles away to receive their rations.
I wondered what the scene would look like if Covid-19 has an impact on the availability and provision of these already sparse rations. I thought of the empty pasta and toilet roll shelves in my local shop; incomparable scenes, incomprehensible inequality.
When there were previous reductions in rations at the camps, the UN stated that the most vulnerable people in the camps would continue to receive a full ration. As I contemplate what the current crisis might mean for those who are old, sick or suffering from disabilities, I was immediately reminded of this photo also taken in Rhino refugee camp.
Rev. Donna Steckline and some others from the 2018 CMSI Peace and Reconciliation Team were visiting parishioners of Bethlehem Parish in a South Sudanese part of the camp. We prayed with this elderly lady and her daughter. It was just the two of them together in their camp family, and Mama was weak with age and joint pain. They live twelve miles from the food distribution centre; they have no means of transport. Mama has no way to get there to collect her food ration, so they live on only one.
I wondered how these two people would survive on their shared portion if food supplies dwindle further. I thought of the shopping I deliver weekly to my parents staying safe in their home. Daughters with the same responsibility and love, but the gap so wide it is hard to see how it might ever be closed.
These pictures are likely to repeated throughout many part of the countries where our Global Partners live and minister. This is therefore where I should write the 'neat and tidy' closing lines: asking you to pray and to give.
But my own hands are too dirty and all simple solutions are too simple. Yes, this requires an emergency response, but it also requires a long-term, Global Church response. It requires true partnership that doesn’t dissipate when our horror at world events passes.
So, if I was to ask you to pray or give today, I would also ask you then to stay. Stay with the Global Church as they help their communities develop resilience after this crisis and before the next. Stay in prayer and in an attitude of humility with a passion to close the gap. Stay as an active part of the worldwide Body Of Christ.
It’s not neat and tidy and there is no clear exit strategy, but staying is the only way to bring real transformation for all of us.