Guatemala (MNN) — Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, created in 1966 by the United Nations to address social injustices based upon race. While many might see racism as an issue of skin color or ethnicity, Gary Edmonds of Food for the Hungry says marginalization often takes place within people groups based upon heritage and gender — and he believes faith and dignity are core to restoring hope.
Take a Listening Posture
Food for the Hungry’s work in Guatemala includes serving indigenous people groups. Extreme poverty and isolation take their toll in malnutrition, lack of education, and limited access to employment. He says ministering to these people begins by listening.
“In the strategy of Food for the Hungry, when we go into a village, we don’t simply just walk in and say, ‘We’ve got the solutions or we’ve got foodstuffs and we’re willing to help you.’ We go in and say, ‘We want to walk with the community.’ We go in with a listening posture. ‘Let us get to know you, let us hear your story.’ We walk people through a process whereby we say, ‘Let us get you get in touch with your own history, get in touch with your own story,’ and so we raise the dignity of these people.
“We’re able to go into those places and communicate that foundation to all people is that you are an image-bearer of God, you are created in the image and likeness of God. We start with that as a foundational truth, a foundational principle. ‘You are of inestimable value and worth, and therefore we want to listen to you, we want to relate to you, we want to hear your story.'”
Edmonds says he has often heard from community leaders that they have felt ignored by their own country. At the end of one of his visits to a community, he asked, “’Tell me from your perspective, what’s the most significant thing we have done for you?’ Those in the group began to cry, ‘Because we now realize that, by your very presence, we matter to God, that God has heard our cry. We are not simply people who have been oppressed.’ When we talk about people who discriminate against others — against tribal groups, discriminate against gender, native people in a community — is that those kinds of people get diminished in value. Food for the Hungry is saying, ‘No, we’re going to raise your dignity.’”
Focus on Hope
One of the things monitored by Food for the Hungry as they minister to communities is hope. Edmonds says hope levels are evaluated prior to beginning a program. “How do they self-identify? How do they see themselves? Do they see themselves as people of worth, of value, of dignity? Do they see themselves as people who can become change-agents in their own environment?” After work as been established within that community, hope is measured again. Without fail, that hope rises dramatically.
Edmonds continues, “I was in one community where the hope level was between 0-20, and only two years later, it rose to 40-60 on the scale of how they viewed themselves as a valuable people who are loved by God and are significant in their nation.”
The struggle with discrimination is global, and Food for the Hungry’s work focuses on its elimination in every country it serves. For centuries in the remote Indian village of Madhya Pradesh, daughters have been sent into prostitution to provide for their families. Revealing true worth to those families has included providing education and job skills training to the girls.
“These are boarding schools, so they’re being trained, they’re being loved, they’re being cared for,” says Edmonds. And the work doesn’t stop there. Parents are taught to envision more for their children so the cycle of abuse and poverty may be broken. “That’s helping hope to rise in new dynamics.”
Hundreds of the girls are now professing faith in Christ because of the care they are being provided.
Edmonds says true care is a holistic response. “It looks at the physical, the social dynamics, but it also clearly looks at the spiritual dynamics of one’s life. When we talk about the elimination of racial discrimination in our world, I am very conscious of the fact that communities of people and nations of people will go no further, rise no higher, than the level of love and trust they have with one another. And so it behooves us to push back against all forms of discrimination, we need to be change-agents against any form and all forms of discrimination.”
If Edmonds could share only one message to believers about addressing discrimination, he says it would be this: “The world many times is fueled by fear. And I think discrimination gets repeated and passed from generation-to-generation by fear. But Jesus has told us over and over again to live by faith, and in that faith to love our neighbor as ourself. And so as we see people who are different than us — whether that’s skin color or tribal or ethnic group or it’s a different gender — I think what Jesus would be saying to us is, ‘Don’t be motivated by fear.’ As you enter into these relationships, get to know these people by name, and let God use you to raise the level of hope and dignity through your loving people who otherwise would be the marginalized of our society.
“Get to know the people by name, don’t live motivated by fear, but live by faith, and enter in.”
Join Food for the Hungry in their efforts to eliminate all forms of human poverty – including marginalization and oppression.