USA (MNN) — Stories of love abound on Valentine’s Day, but what does real love look like? For Gary Edmonds and Food for the Hungry, it is lived out in relationships that restore dignity and self-worth.
Edmonds shares, “When Food for the Hungry takes a look why we do what we do, we actually go back into Genesis – the first three chapters – and we say, ‘What was broken originally when sin entered the world?’ Four primary relationships were broken: relationship with God, relationship with ourselves, relationship with the created order — but the fourth part of that is a relationship with others.”
Mentorship is a powerful tool in restoring relationships as Food for the Hungry works to end all forms of human poverty. “It’s to get to know them by name, to begin to walk with them,” says Edmonds. “I say it this way: through my relationship with these people, I’m able to connect the poor and the vulnerable to other people who would be outside their sphere of knowledge or insight. I’m able to connect them to other ideas, ideas that I might know or have, but they’re not familiar with. And then I can connect them to other tools or resources which they do not necessarily have access to now.”
Food for the Hungry invites the people they serve to contribute to the mentorship process. One way is through savings groups.
Edmonds says, “We’re helping people learn how to save, how to organize themselves, establish rules, and help each other.” No money is provided by the ministry for the savings groups. Rather, those who join the groups pool their own resources together so they are multiplied. Small loans are then provided to help members run their business, manage healthcare or educational needs, and serve their families well.
“In Bangladesh, we have about 900 savings groups right now with women that are helping them to rise to a place of dignity, save money, collect money safely, and be able to transfer it one to another.”
Cascade groups are another form of mentorship that results in transformation. These groups are primarily focused on healthcare issues, and allow women to lead and care for other women in the community.
“It’s taking mothers and teaching them such things about health, nutrition, breastfeeding, sanitation, hygiene, how to care for their children. You’ll have a staffer from Food for the Hungry who coaches that lead mother, who works with them in a mentoring relationship,” continues Edmonds. “And we’re watching dramatically child mortality decrease, we’re seeing a place where domestic violence is decreasing. They move beyond what they would be able to do if they were independent in isolation one from another.”
The transformation that takes place in lives when mentorship is included in ministry is awe-inspiring. Only four percent of individuals in highly impoverished situations will fulfill their hopes and dreams. Provided basic training, that rate increases to 20 percent. If an actual development plan is created, around 40 percent will rise up to fulfill their dreams. But, according to Edmonds, “If you walk with them, if you coach, if you mentor them, it rises to literally 88 percent who begin to move forward in fulfilling their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations.”
Edmonds says it’s those dreams and opportunity to share Christ’s love that compels Food for the Hungry to keep investing in the lives of the vulnerable. “We want to support people, we want to help create accountability, we want there to be a place of training and encouragement, of simply just love, of walking alongside of these people. Because by doing so, they’re going to rise to a whole new place of what it is to be human, to find a sense of fulfillment, and to be self-sustaining in their own lives.”