“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”—Matthew 25, verses 31-40 (New Revised Standard Version)
Please join me in prayer . . .
Dear Lord, you have spoken to us through the Bible, and you have spoken to us through your works, and Lord you have spoken to us through people around us. We ask today that you speak in this place through me. I pray that the words I say and the words that all of us hear might be pleasing and acceptable in your sight. Amen.
“Just as you did it to one of the least of these . . . you did it to me.” Those are some very, very powerful and profound words coming from the mouth of the Son of God. He’s telling us that when we help to feed people who are hungry, we are feeding Jesus Christ. That’s what I’ve come to talk to you about today.
The story as to how I became personally involved with hunger ministry, particularly through the Society of Saint Andrew, is an interesting one that begins almost four years ago. In early 1997, I lived right here in Fairfax County, about halfway between Chantilly and Herndon, and I was a freshman at Chantilly High School. My father, Ken Bradford, who I believe spoke here several years ago, was a Commander in the United States Coast Guard stationed at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, DC. Nearing his retirement from the service and feeling a calling to ordained ministry, he had been attending evening classes at Wesley Theological Seminary and had intended on taking a student-pastor position that summer.
Well, God changed the calling, as I think he tends to do sometimes just to keep us guessing. Somehow or another, a fund-raising position at the Society of Saint Andrew came to my dad’s attention and he applied, got the job, and soon we were off to the thriving Metropolis of Bedford County, Virginia.
In the time thereafter, my father and I had many discussions about hunger and I had been up to the Society’s office several times, but it was almost a year later before I participated directly in any of their ministries. Under a heavy influence from my father, I half-willingly signed up for a Harvest of Hope event held on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
Now in case you don’t know, Harvest of Hope is the ecumenical study, worship, and action retreat program that the Society does in several places around the East Coast, designed to educate youth and adults about the problem of hunger. It had been described to me at the time as a week of picking up fruit.
Well, frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to it. It didn’t really sound like the most fun way to spend a week of free summer time. But I went anyway, and by the second day I knew that it was a lot more than just picking up fruit – it was truly a life-changing experience.
A typical day at Harvest goes something like this . . . All 50 or so of the participants wake up at about 6:00 in the morning, this being one of the more difficult parts of the day. After a healthy breakfast, there is a time of worship and fellowship before heading out to the fields to glean.
We’d go and spend about 3 hours per day picking up food left in fields that would otherwise go to waste. The first day at my first Harvest of Hope we went to a corn field, the farmer who owned it could only sell his very best corn, just one ear off of each stalk. The average stalk in that field had three ears of perfectly edible corn on it. In those few hours that morning we gleaned something on the order of 20,000 pounds of corn, and we barely even touched 1/4 of the field.
After that, we go to an area church on the Shore that provides us a lunch, and then we return to camp. The afternoon is mostly free time for fellowship and recreation, and then in the late afternoon we gather into small groups of 8 people or so to discuss hunger in America and the world.
Then we eat dinner, which on one of the days during the week is a hunger-awareness meal to demonstrate percentage-wise how many people are hungry in the world, and that percentage of the participants get to know what it’s like to not have much of a meal.
After dinner, we gather in a large circle where all the people there can discuss their feelings on the day, and just engage in general discussion about hunger and what can be done about it. And then finally we have another worship gathering.
The days are tiring, and so as soon as the final worship of the day is over everybody goes straight to bed for some much-needed sleep. But despite the physical fatigue of all the hard work, the event fills you with an amazing energy. While you’re there, you’re doing God’s work, and you’re doing it surrounded by some of the most interesting and wonderful people. There’s almost never a dull moment.
On Friday, the last full day of Harvest, instead of gathering in small groups, participants gather with their church groups to develop a plan they can take back home to help the hungry where they are. Harvest of Hope is not designed to be a standalone event, it’s designed to get people motivated to continue helping people in need.
Harvest of Hope is broken down into six different key components. There’s Gleaning, which is an opportunity to actually feed people in a very hands-on way. There’s Study, a good college word, which helps people to understand what causes hunger, and how to make a difference. There’s Worship, so participants can learn about their Biblical Christian responsibility toward the poor and disenfranchised. There’s Meals, the event stresses good nutrition and cutting back on food waste. There’s Fellowship, the friendships that are made during these events can last a lifetime. Some of my best friends I met at Harvest of Hope. And finally, there’s Commitment, Harvest of Hope challenges people of faith to respond to the call of the Gospel to feed the poor.
Anybody can do it, anybody can help the “least of these”. Harvest of Hope is a great way to do it, because you get service, fun, and all sorts of other good stuff wrapped up in one nice package. In addition to the week-long summer youth events, there are intergenerational events open to anybody held on weekends mostly through October and November, and there is also a new adult week-long event in the fall. Anybody can do it, and if you have the opportunity I think you should.
In the 1999 season of Harvest of Hope events, 558 people from 11 different states gleaned over 187,200 pounds of produce. That provided about 560,000 servings of food to people who otherwise might not have had any. Those 558 people made a difference, and the experience of it made a difference in them. It made a difference in me.
Before I went to that one event in 1998, I was never motivated to be active with my faith. I believed in God and Jesus and all of that Christian stuff, but I had never gone out and done something about it. It’s easy to be a Christian in concept, and then not be one in action. I can honestly say that my experience with Harvest of Hope changed my life, it gave me a dedication that I’d never had before then. It opened my eyes to the fact that I can do something to help people, and that I’m required to do so by my faith. This is the kind of motivation that Harvest of Hope gives you.
There are an estimated 32 million Americans who are hungry or at risk for hunger. It’s a daunting number, and when you think about the task of providing 32 million people with food, it seems just seems so impossible. You get that overwhelming feeling that no matter how much you do, the job will never be complete. But then I think back to that first day I was standing in a corn field on the Eastern Shore. That day, about 50 people picked up 20,000 pounds of corn. Imagine what 100, or 1,000 people could have done in that same time. Then I think about the other fields on the Eastern Shore, then Virginia, then the entire United States with just as much food sitting there, waiting to be picked up and taken to hungry people.
The more you think about how much food there is in this country, the less impossible it seems that we could feed a mere 32 million. There is enough, it’s just a matter of getting it all from fields on the Eastern Shore to the tables of the hungry, and that’s what Harvest of Hope, and the Society of Saint Andrew, is all about. It’s really not such an impossible task, all it takes is we Christians standing together to solve the problem of hunger.
“‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?’ . . . And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'”