Green Hunger

from the Los Angeles Times

By Edmund Sanders

AJEE, ETHIOPIA — They call it the green hunger.

Four-foot cornstalks sprout from rain-soaked earth, and wind billows fields of teff, the staple Ethiopian grain. Goats and cattle are getting fat on lush grasses — but the children are still dying.

“It’s strange to see hunger when everything is so green,” said Wariso Shete, 26, a southern Ethiopia farmer who recently buried his 3-year-old son. “But there is no food. The boy just starved.”

Once again, images of emaciated children are emerging from this Horn of Africa nation, rekindling memories of the 1984 famine that killed nearly 1 million people. This time Ethiopia has been grappling with a double whammy: drought in its traditional breadbasket and a global food crisis that has pushed prices sky high.

Although recent rains and an influx of humanitarian aid have experts cautiously predicting the crisis might be stabilizing in parts of the country, nearly 10 million people will need emergency aid to survive until the harvest in September.

Green hungers are just one oddity of Ethiopia’s long struggle to feed itself. The country, considered the water tower of East Africa because its highlands are the primary source of the Nile, suffers chronic drought. It is Africa’s second-largest corn producer, but requires hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid every year.

An exploding population is one cause. Others point to a socialist-leaning government that’s been slow to embrace market-based policies. And everyone agrees that international donors spend too little — less than 5% of all aid — on long-term development, such as irrigation.

In an interview, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi emphasized that the current crisis masks dramatic progress.

“This emergency is occurring in an environment of spectacular success in agriculture,” he said. “The vast majority of farmers have never had it so good.”

Agriculture production is growing by 10% a year, he said, and as recently as 2006, Ethiopia grew so much corn that it exported surplus to Sudan.

National pride might explain why the government initially seemed to downplay the drought, accusing the United Nations of exaggerating the number of malnourished children. Meles’ exasperation with those who portray Ethiopia as desperate and needy was evident.

“I’m telling those people to go to hell,” he said. “Ethiopians are not hapless. They are not helpless. We are making a real dent in poverty.”

One of the biggest problems is population growth. Ethiopia, with an estimated 80 million people, has doubled in size since the mid-1980s.

Simply put, the nation, in which 85% of people toil as small farmers, has reached a point where it can’t easily grow enough food to meet its needs. Although agricultural production has increased overall, it has declined per capita, according to the World Bank.

Even in a year without drought or crisis, one in 10 people rely on international food aid to survive. More than 400 children die every day from malnutrition. Ethiopia is one of the few African nations with its own factory for Plumpy’nut, a peanut-based paste used to remedy acute malnutrition.

“We have not moved far enough away from the poverty line for us to have enough cushion,” Meles said. “One unexpected weather event can push us over the precipice.”

Some praise Ethiopia’s government for its anti-poverty campaigns, which have reduced child mortality by 40%. New roads have fostered nationwide trade, helping stabilize agricultural markets. The government allocates about 17% of its budget to agricultural development, nearly three times as much as its neighbors.

But Ethiopia’s state-dominated economy is also blamed for the persistent food shortages. The government controls all major industries, and there is no private ownership of land.

Under pressure from Western donors, Meles, a onetime Marxist who preaches the free market, has opened the window to private enterprise, notably allowing private flower farms to export to Europe.

“They talk about free market, but you don’t see it,” said economist Befekadu Degefe, a government critic. “They see the private sector as a threat, as competition, so they try to eliminate it.”

In the agricultural sector, the government controls the distribution of fertilizer and, to a lesser extent, seeds; it sometimes restricts sales, as with a current export ban on cereals; and though farmers are free to grow what they want, 20,000 agricultural advisors keep close tabs, also functioning as tax collectors. “The government hand is still a little too heavy,” said Glenn Anders, USAID’s mission director in Ethiopia.

One of the government’s successes is the Safety Net, a welfare-for-work program in which more than 7 million chronically needy farmers receive cash or food in exchange for labor on new roads, mountain terraces or other public infrastructure. The proactive approach is cheaper than emergency aid, donors say.

“If the Safety Net were not there, this current crisis would have been much worse than it is,” said Viviane Van Steirteghem of UNICEF.

Ethiopia’s emergency food reserve was once seen as a model for the region. With a capacity of 400,000 metric tons of grains, the reserve could have handled the drought. But stocks dwindled over the last two years as the government released grains to ease inflation, now 40% annually.

Ethiopia’s mix of socialism and capitalism doesn’t always work, experts say.

In the 1990s, the government gave fertilizer and seeds to southern farmers, yielding a regional bumper crop. But without functioning, free markets, farmers couldn’t sell their surplus, so prices collapsed by 50% in the area.

“You can’t rely on the government,” said Telenti Kwati, 60, a farmer south of the capital, Addis Ababa. “Sometimes they give you something, then the next year they don’t”.

The author and the finisher

“For from Him, and through Him and to Him are all things.”  Romans 11:36

It is sometimes easier to get a grip on the from Him and the to Him than the through Him.  The beginning and the end of it all is beyond us.  But in between those two eternal points is the life that we live right now.

LIve it for Jesus – the author, the finisher, the perfecter of our faith. 

An important, if painful, reminder

So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

Our little dog died suddenly tonight, in a freak accident. We buried him out at the edge of the yard. We held hands and prayed around the little grave. This event, painful though it was, is a reminder how short life is. So teach us, dear Lord, to number our days…

No need to pray?

I read this today, and it stayed with me: “When an opportunity presents itself to go on a mission trip, it does not need to be preceded with prayer.”

This is true if one is already “prayed-up”. If we take care to improve our personal relationship with God, His desires will become our desires. This is surely the meaning of Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

You have been called. Are you listening?

1. You have been called to read your Bible.
2. You have been called to love the Lord.
3. You have been called to love your wife or your husband.
4. You have been called to love your children.
5. You have been called to show God’s love to others.
6. You have been called to be a servant.
7. You have been called to help your church.
8. You have been called to sing, to worship, to praise the Lord.
9. You have been called to honor God in everything you do.
10. You have been called to set the example.
11. You have been called to be faithful.
12. You have been called to be humble.
13. You have been called to be happy.
14. You have been called to tell others about God.

You have been called. Are you listening?


The Love of God

Frederick M. Lehman, a Nazarene minister, was the author and composer of this well-beloved hymn.  Thirty-one years later, in 1948, he wrote a pamphlet entitled History of the Song, The Love of God.

“While at camp-meeting in a mid-western state, some fifty years ago in my early ministry, an evangelist climaxed his message by quoting the last stanza of this song. The profound depths of the line moved me to preserve the words for future generations. Not until we (he and his wife Zelma) had come to California did this urge find fulfillment, and that at a time when circumstances forced me to hard manual labor. One day, during short intervals of inattention to my work, I picked up a scrap of paper and, seated upon an empty lemon box pushed against the wall, with a stub pencil, added the first two stanzas and chorus of the song.”

Since words very similar to the third verse of this hymn were found penciled on the wall of a deceased patient’s room in an insane asylum, it has been thought that the inmate was the original author of the third verse.  Actually, the third verse was adapted from a stanza in a very long Jewish poem (Hadamut) written by a German rabbi in the eleventh century:

Were the sky of parchment made,
A quill each reed, each twig and blade,
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
Were every man a scribe of skill,
The marvelous story, Of God’s great glory
Would still remain untold;
For He, most high
The earth and sky created alone of old.

The Choice is Mine

I can be strong, I can be brave,
I can be free, or be a slave.
I can forgive as He forgave
The choice is mine.

I can go through in storm or gale,
I can be true, or I can fail;
I can desert or set my sail.
The choice is mine.

If I would live then I must die
And bid this fleeting world goodbye
It?s treasures dear, I must deny
The choice is mine.

I?ll walk by faith where I am led,
It matters not what lies ahead,
And if the path be crimson red,
The choice is mine.

If I the King of heaven choose,
If I the things of earth refuse,
The best I gain, the worst I lose —
The choice is mine.

Ira F. Stanphill

He takes it personally

“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat.” Matthew 25:35

It is estimated that, around the world, the number of people who are malnourished is more than 800 million. That is an absolutely staggering statistic. But we are not talking about statistics, we are talking about people, human beings made in the image of God.

Hunger manifests itself in many ways other than starvation and famine. Most poor people who battle hunger deal with chronic undernourishment and vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which result in stunted growth, weakness and heightened susceptibility to illness. (

In Ethiopia alone, millions of people are on the brink of famine. The problems there are exacerbated by the fact that food prices have risen more than 40% in the past year.

Jesus said that if we give food to hungry people, he takes it personally.

On the brink of famine

“Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever” Matthew 6:13

“This is my Father’s world” is how the hymn begins, reminding us to whom it all belongs. And yet, despite its heavenly origins, our world seems full of hellish images.

Take Ethiopia for example. Several areas of the country currently are on the brink of famine, with the Word Food Program currently estimating that, of Ethiopia’s 80 million citizens, 4.5 million will need emergency food relief from July to September, a number that comes in addition to the 8 million currently receiving assistance.

Thine is the kingdom, and I am called somehow to be a worker in that kingdom.


Our highest ambition

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” Jeremiah 9:23,24

This is surely one of the verses to include in a “five loaves” version. It is easy to get caught up in our own accomplishments, rather than in our personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

It is not that God wants us to live void of ambition. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Our highest ambition should be to understand and know the God who made us. Heaven and earth will pass away, along with all of our earthly accomplishments, but our relationship with God through Christ will not. Can not.