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Topic: Hunger (11/08/04)
By Karen Jimmy
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Exasperated sighs of, “I’m starving,” could be heard across the classroom, and as the students all filed out the door headed towards the cafeteria, Sally sat behind her desk, head held between her hands, her mind already wandering back…
The previous summer she had volunteered to help lead a team of young people from her church youth group on a trip that would change her forever. The flew clear across the Pacific to Brisbane, Australia, and on from there to Papua New Guinea.
Sally had to admit she never would have imagined herself participating in such a venture. She liked her quiet suburban life and her comfortable surrounds. But when her pastor pleaded for the third week in a row for extra staff to serve on the upcoming outreach, she felt a strange twinge in her stomach. Before she knew it, she was signing her name on a staff application form, handing over her savings (originally intended for a new car) and boarding a plane with two other staff and twenty teenagers to a place none of them knew much about.
Their time in Papua New Guinea was spent travelling to various towns and villages, performing dramas in the street, praying for the sick and, wherever possible, helping out in practical ways.
What blew her away so unexpectedly and changed her outlook for eternity was when they entered the slum area in the back blocks of Lae. A local nurse named Rita had invited them to visit what she called the “Settlement” with her, to do some drama, maybe help clean up some rubbish and get to know some of the locals. Since it was only a short walk from where the team was based, and they had no other plans for that afternoon, they decided to go. When they got there, none of them could believe a place such as this existed literally around the corner from the nice neighborhood where they were staying.
Rita explained that the “Settlement” was now home to hundreds, if not thousands, of desperate people who had come down from different mountain villages in search of employment in the city. It was a place not unlike so many urban ghettos across the world, in that it was a breeding ground for racial conflict and petty crime. The people constructed homes from whatever materials they could find, and only a comparative few found work- even though it often was illegal.
As the team passed through the main thoroughfare of the Settlement looking for an appropriate place to perform a skit or two, they were disheartened. When a distressed mother held a malnourished baby to Sally, begging (for prayer or money Sally knew not), she was suddenly heartsick. All her worldly possessions and all her aspirations for owning more flashed before her eyes in that moment, and she was overcome with a strange new kind of grief.
Until that time Sally and the other members of her team had thought hunger was when you hadn’t eaten for a couple of hours and your stomach rumbled a bit. In that visit to a poverty-stricken slum on the outskirts of Lae, she saw that none of them had previously any idea what it was to be really hungry. Similarly, she had always thought “dirty” was when her stereo or shelves gathered a little dust, or when her students left crumpled bits of paper on the classroom floor. Now she had been confronted with a whole community of people living in absolute squalor.
It had only been one week since the team’s return from Papua New Guinea when she found herself once more in the comfort of her home and the familiarity of her classroom. When she heard the kids talking of how “starved” they were at lunchtime, she felt a different kind of gnawing in the pit of her stomach. As she remembered the face of that little baby in the settlement, she knew her heart would be broken forever for all those she had met…for those who really knew what it was to be hungry.