A common response to Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:11 that we often hear is that, “Why should we prioritize helping the poor over evangelizing?” Such argument has dwindled in recent years (people might just have been too embarrassed to talk about it publicly) until Rick Perry, one of the 2016 US president candidates, Texas’ former head of state, and a conservative Christian, definitively reciprocated the exact thoughts while being interviewed by the Washington Post about the large income gap in Texas. Today we are going to take a closer look into some possible explanations of this verse.
The sights of lifeless and dirty refugee children gathering in the tents set up by the United Nation, or a girl whose face is covered in blood, are only seen on news and donations soliciting advertisements, and could never be seen in Hong Kong… or could they?
In 1814, Napoleon lost and Paris fell; in 1914, World War I started; it’s now 2014 and humans still have yet to learn from history. There are people being plunged into an abyss of misery and our land is beset by war. From the news and messages circulating on online communication media, people are extremely concerned about the brutalities of ISIS, an extremist Islamic organisation in Iraq. Children and civilians are killed or forced to leave their home in great fear. The world has no idea how to bring this to an end.
Efforts to improve the distribution of international food aid amounted to roughly US$2 billion each year by the US Government achieved some successes in the recently enacted Agriculture Act of 2014 – commonly referred to as the Farm Bill – but the food aid mechanism used by the world’s largest donor continues to be driven by the needs of US commercial interests.
The positives are: a pilot project taken in the 2008 Farm Bill aiming to test the feasibility of local and regional procurement of food aid during emergencies has been transformed into a regularised programme that results in $80 million of local and regional procurement (LRP) each year. The new Farm Bill also increases the percentage of funding that can be spent on non-emergency components in the largest food aid programme, Food for Peace, from 13 to 20 percent, so more funds can be spent with cash-based resources or commodities rather than through the much-criticized vehicle of monetised food aid.
These are important developments. But the Farm Bill still fell well short of providing USAID with flexibility to use cash, vouchers or LRP where those would be the most appropriate food assistance tools. The main US food aid programme still remains legislatively restrictive in demanding that commodities be bought in the US and shipped from the US (at least half of the cargo must be on US flag vessels). This causes needless waste and delay without generating much benefit to the US economy.
The modest reforms of the Farm Bill are hopeful intimations of things to come. NGOs trust that this is actually the beginning of a reform conversation.
Meditation on Scriptures:
‘When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.’ Deuteronomy 24: 19-22
Deuteronomy 24 teaches us to leave what remains for the poor. May we follow the teaching of Deuteronomy, to donate, share and care individually or as group for the need of the poor alone.
Pray for the world:
May the donor nations and NGOs put the need of the poor and disaster victims as the top priority in allocating the aid resources;
Pray that all governments and international aid agencies will continue to collaborate closely together to improve the existing relief and aid operation so more effective and appropriate assistance can be provided to the impoverished and suffered communities.