Harvesting hope

Published 11:15 am Monday, July 14, 2014

By Andrew Book

The last time I was in a field pulling in produce, it was a cold day in late fall. The dew had frozen over the turnips, and the gardening gloves I had brought with me did nothing to keep the cold, damp morning from cutting through to my fingers to the point that they ached each time I bent them. As we worked, and as the sun came up, we gradually shed layers of clothing and gradually filled large bags with turnips and greens. Before the morning was over, we had several dozen large bags full. We also had worked off the chill and added a layer of dirt for good measure.

When we finished that morning, each person loaded up as many bags of turnips as we knew what to do with and headed off. From that field, turnips went in every direction. In my case, the turnips came with me to a number of widows whose monthly checks did not pay enough for both their food and their medication, some individuals whose jobs did not offer regular work and as a result they struggled to put any food (let alone fresh food) on the table, and others who had regular jobs, but those jobs simply did not pay enough to cover everything. It was a busy morning, but there was real joy in showing up at someone’s door with a bag of produce that would help them through the day.

Fast forward to today. This weekend, Courtland United Methodist Church is sending a group of 15 youth and adults to the Eastern Shore to go out into the fields and dig for potatoes as part of Society of Saint Andrew’s “Harvest of Hope.” In fact, while you are reading this, they may well be in the fields hard at work. They will be taking part in an age-old practice: gleaning. Gleaning is the process of going behind the first harvest in order to bring in what has been missed. From the earliest teachings of scripture, God has called for God’s people to leave the gleanings for those who are in need (see Leviticus 19:9-10 and the book of Ruth). We are taking that practice one step further: since many of those who are hungry today cannot get to the fields to glean for themselves, we are gleaning for them.

Poverty and hunger have many faces in Virginia: children who have no way to provide for themselves (in fact, 42 percent of those served by food banks in Virginia are children. See www.vafoodbanks.org); elderly individuals whose pension or social security does not cover all of their costs; disabled persons’ those who are out or work or underemployed’ those with chronic illnesses; and, yes, even some individuals who could work a full-time job, but have been so shaped by life in poverty that they don’t even know where to begin.

I have also been in that category. I have stood in those food bank lines before. Those lines were not where I wanted to be, but they did provide the food I needed during a lean time in my life. I am grateful for those who made it possible for me to have sufficient food on my table during that time. I am also thankful that I serve a God who cares very deeply about whether those who are hungry receive food. In fact, in Matthew 25, Jesus goes as far as to say that when we provide food and drink for the least of his brothers and sisters, we are doing it for Him.

And so, I want to offer you a challenge: Live as someone who makes a difference in the lives of those around you who are hungry. If you are a farmer, offer a field to grow food for local food banks or the local gleaning ministry. If you are a part of a church or other organization that has a food ministry, consider how you can give generously to that ministry. If you know someone who might be hungry, take the initiative to reach out to them in a tangible way. If you don’t know where to start, check out the website of the Society of Saint Andrew (the organization we are partnering with this weekend) www.endhunger.org. You are also welcome to join us at Courtland United Methodist Church as we work toward our goal to meet 100 percent of food needs in the next five years. If you need help figuring out how you can be a part of ending hunger in our community, you are welcome to contact me at Andrew@courtlandumcva.org. Together we can make a difference!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.