Run for Your Life

foodgrainsbanklogo2Canadianfoodgrainsbankphoto1

Run for Your Life.

When was the last time you had to run….really fast to get away from something… maybe a barking dog along a rural road or a farm…
.. or a bear, God forbid..in the woods…you’re out blueberry picking……. Crunch ….crunch… …..ahhh “wait.. what was that”….you think to yourself …as your stomach drops to the perverbial floor.
Maybe you’re relishing the view as you traverse in waders, a gorgeous northern river, casting a fly into a fast-moving pool .. ….. following the pristine waters further and further upstream… Without warning there is a sound from up along the steep terraine…Is it close?..is it far?… Woa… adrenaline pushes your instincts into flight…. Your hearing becomes keen as you remain perfectly still to sort out the danger..…. As the physiological responses send messages through your body… blood is pulsing in your brain… there is .. a stomach-dropping knowledge deep in your ancient DNA… the sound of something…not quite sure what it was…but every instinct told you… bear…
Then there is of course, the ever-annoying ever-present ever & engaging … horse fly..&  cousin the deer fly… .A person is relishing in this awesome day that The Lord has made… enjoying the cool waters of a favourite lake…then zzzzzzzzzz.. ..There it is ..that one horse fly that won’t give up… Chances are…you’ve dove and ducked …ducked & dove…… only to come up to find it still very much there..… scaring you back into action… There is also the beautiful bee to consider… if you are in any way in fear of anaphylaxix… I can imagine that a person would be spurred to action… all thoughts point to..medicine…. to the epi-pen… back to the camp….or car……imminent threat would dictate the next move..
I’ve dumped more than one bucket of freshly picked Saskatoon berries ….when my natural instinct to swat a hornet away…. & run for cover….led to the upheaval of the entire contents of 2 hours worth of work … Bummer yes… imminent death ..not likely.
The thing is…
. We all have stories somewhere in our minds.. that can give us a reference point.. a time when we ‘booked- er -down’… felt scared… and tried to alter our present situation. A time when we really had to boot it…
Now.. imagine what you might feel…if you really were ..running for your very life… In and from and to a place of anguish and agony ……….of having to run…really run for your life.
Well… for many …many…many people in far-flung places like South Sudan..Syria…Lebanon….The Congo..Nigeria… Darfur…..children…mothers..fathers..grandmothers..grandfathers…
brothers..sisters
babies.. are running…hiding…..and then running some more… running for their lives…. With nothing but the clothes on their back or sandals or shoes..on their feet,,,, seeking asylum from violence….famine….war… human rights atrocities….. death & destruction…. Running from a place where social justice doesn’t even have a name….They keep running for refuge to a place that is not their home… not their house… not their space… not their room….. & maybe even not with their own mother…or father ..in the case of children who get separated or….. worst…..For all intensive purposes… they are nowhere… Living in a constant state of fear & transition… A transition to nowhere..
A teacher I once had said that transitions are some of the most challenging times in a persons’ life.. …. She said… “Consider Charles Schultz’ Peanuts character, “Linus” …” Transitions, she continued,”, were like when Linus’ blanket was in the dryer.. He had nothing to hold onto… His whole life seemed to be in ruins…
It must feel like God is a very long way away when there is nothing to hold on to…a continual ebb and flow of transitioning to nowhere…

If they are lucky…they make it to a refugee camp…
together…separated… looking… searching…for relatives.. for a child… or mom..dad…sister..brother…or for friends… wondering if this new tent city will be a forever home.
Of course..no one chooses to make this a home… the demise of lingering & languishing in this state of transition… would eventually start to settle in.. and survival on a daily basis..starts to become the norm. Creating home in this new place….adrenaline gives way to exhaustion.. fear becomes less palpable.. hope becomes ….well…I suppose it becomes lost in this new place…
A place with the very real burden of disease….. infections… a place where there may or not be…anything resembling a healthcare system.. Doctors Without borders …Nurses without Borders…World Health Organization..The United Nations..World Food Relief…Amnesty International… This new place would be a collage of groups and NGO’s ….taxed way beyond anything resembling …. enough.
And within these systems of world relief… enters the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.. A uniquely Canadian original…borne out of christianity.. thriving … and nourishing people at home and abroad… with an eye to leading by example… A Christian response to hunger… The Canadian Foodgrains Bank has been sowing , harvesting grains from farms and farmers for over 30 years. In the early 1970’s, during the famine in Africa and Asia, Canadian farmers were enjoying surplus crops… Mennonite farmers, through the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada came up with the notion that ..there must be a system in place to get surplus grain to people who are starving overseas…. To their surprise… there was not… no mechanism in place to send food by Canadian farmers to starving people.. Out of this call to action from the Mennonite Central Committee came a meeting … in Winnipeg… with winnipeggers from various backgrounds.. including business, faith, academia from the University of Manitoba’s agriculture programme, as well as the grain industry…

In September 2013, Canadian Foodgrains Bank , along with the United Church of Canada, launched the Syria Crisis Appeal to help raise money to support people in that region who are in need. You may remember the Outreach Committee , here at Central, raised the issue, and created September Syria Sundays, and collected donations after service during cuppa to support this effort.

Meeting basic needs is a struggle for the over seven million people who have been displaced as a result of violence and conflict in Syria. Many families are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon and Jordan, while others are internally displaced and have fled their homes but are still within Syrian borders.

The Foodgrains Bank has committed nearly $12 million to help those caught in the Syrian crisis. Over 78,000 people a month are being reached through Foodgrains Bank members Mennonite Central Committee Canada, Canadian Baptist Ministries, Emergency Relief and Development Overseas (ERDO), Presbyterian World Service & Development, World Renew, Primates World Relief & Development Fund, our very own.. United Church of Canada, & the Canadian Lutheran World Relief.

Projects supported by these members are providing food vouchers and distributing food rations. Some of the food is being distributed in Syria, other food is going to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

Funds for these projects are being matched through the Foodgrains Bank’s agreement with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).

In December, 2013, the Canadian government announced a grant of $6.5 million in additional funding for the Foodgrains Bank response to the conflict in Syria. Food & Conflict
According to reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the conflict in Syria caused a dramatic drop in domestic food production. Production of many crops dropped by half and there is massive destruction to irrigation and infrastructure. At the same time, inflation is rampant and the price of many essential food items has risen by 200 percent.

Just under half of Syria’s population comes from rural areas, with 80 percent of these relying on agriculture for their livelihood.

Life in a converted chicken coop in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is just one of the many changes Fatima, her brother Muhammed, 11, and her mother Manha, have experienced since fleeing the conflict in Syria about a year ago. Lack of contact with family members is another.

“We have two older daughters, one in Syria, the other living like us, as a refugee, in Turkey,” Manha shared as Fatima nestled up to her mother.

Manha continued ..“I’d love to be able to tell you more, but we haven’t been able to contact them in over two years.”

As for Fatima and Muhammed, a change they feel most keenly is their inability to go to school. It’s not that Lebanese schools wouldn’t welcome them; with over a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, many of them school age kids, there’s simply no room.

Fatima sits up straight when I start asking about what the family’s lives were like back in their home of the suburbs of Aleppo.

“In Syria, we had friends,” she says. “We were happy. We had a garden we used to play in when we wern’t doing our homework.”

Fatima never thought she would begin her teenage years in a chicken coop.

“I miss my friends,” she says. “I miss going to school, and playing football (soccer).”

Five months ago, they started receiving assistance from a project supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank and implemented by its member, World Renew.

The project, which operates out of a nearby church, provides food vouchers to Syrian refugees so they can buy food at a local grocery store.

The vouchers allows the family to use the money they would otherwise be spending for food to pay the rent for their converted chicken coop home.
This past Wednesday, July 09, 2014, an urgent appeal was made by the United church of Canada, The Canadian foodgrains bank and partners…Currently running, there is an urgent appeal to South Sudan & to Syria.

The depth of human suffering, deteriorating humanitarian conditions, and the potential for widespread hunger have led a coalition of 28 Canadian non-governmental organizations operating in Ethiopia, including Canadian Foodgrains Bank, to call on the Canadian government to increase its response to the needs of people suffering due to conflict in South Sudan.

The coalition, called the Canadian Network of NGOs in Ethiopia (CANGO), cites three reasons for why the Canadian government should respond: The large numbers of people displaced by the conflict, the historical role Canada has played in responding to needs in the region, and the readiness of Canadian NGOs to scale up their humanitarian responses.

“While we recognize the constraints caused by a global surge of refugees and internally displaced people in other conflicts, a more substantial response by the Canadian government is desperately needed,” says CANGO in a letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.

Since violence broke out in December 2013, more than 1.3 million South Sudanese have been displaced, and at least 341,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

“Ongoing fighting and washed out roads from heavy rains are pushing the country into a hunger crisis,” says Foodgrains Bank Executive Director Jim Cornelius.

Noting that many South Sudanese depend on farming for survival, he adds that the conflict has meant many people have been unable to plant their crops, a situation that will only cause the crisis to deepen over the coming months.

“We are deeply concerned about the depth of human suffering experienced by many people in South Sudan,” says Cornelius.

The Foodgrains Bank, through its members, is responding to the crisis.

ADRA Canada, supported by Presbyterian World Service & Development and The United Church of Canada, is providing food vouchers to displaced people in Budi County. The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund and Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace will soon be implementing food distribution responses. World Relief Canada has delivered an emergency feeding program for displaced people.

There simply can’t be anyone living in the propserity of Western society… that hasn’t seen the images on the news about the total and unrelenting siege on the families & young children of Syria….. And while the Canadian Foodgrains bank can’t solve all the problems in dark places like Syria or Darfur, or Sudan… it isn’t trying to do that… It exists to feed people… to get grain where grain is needed… To respond in an unassuminmg way… in a Christian way…
For a farmer… to donate grain.. it means hours and hours and hours of hard work. It begins with a donated section or acreage… with incredible organization of shared labour, much like a barn-raising, farmers within the collective will push forward in a mammoth planting in spring , and harvest in late summer or fall.  Dutch Christian farmers in the communities of rural Thunder Bay The Slate River Valley.. Murillo, Oliver/Paipoonge,Gillies,Hymers, .. come together for a mammoth seed planting for wheat, or barley, or oats., ….and again for reaping the harvest.

I have seen this first hand.. My first introduction to CFGB was through Trinity United Church, and later Pinegrove United, where I was part of outreach committees there….One day, while at ThunderBayCountryMarket, a fellow Board member of the ThunderBayCountryMarket with me, shared the story of his church, Dutch Christian Reformed which was not far from my rural farm… and asked if I might consider allowing a collective of farmers access the corner acreage for The Christian Foodgrains Bank ..
Do you ever get one of those moments when you know for sure…absolutely unquestionably that God has just whispered to you… I had already started Muffins for Mission at both trinity and Pinegrove to support the Foodgrains Bank, and other mission & service projects through our outreach committee… and then..  bammm… here comes a farming friend from The Slate River Valley,  with a question for me, about my very own farm…

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The rest is history….the acreage he requested has continued to be a link in the chain…. The chain called..a Christian response to hunger… When it’s time for harvest, Dutch Christian farmers & friends in faith, come back … in strong numbers to take the grains off the field… and get it to the McKellar Grain Terminal.. where it will be transferred on to ships waiting in the deep harbour of L.Superior… Where The Sleeping Giant keeps watch in a perpetual gaze…
There are many stories like this… all across this magnificent country.. stories of farmers who give in quiet ways,,,, where they have used their unique set of skills to enrich an important mission and service organization called CFGN…. There are stories of United Churches …grassroots projects where funds raised go to support the CFGB… much like our recent Great Canadian Grains Breakfast in support of the CFGB… There are stories of United Churches who have had to close their doors due to declining numbers, and ever-increasing bills… where funds realized from the sale of the building and land has gone directly to the CFGB. Case in point are The Lake Cowichan UC & the Fingal, Ontario United church Both of these two church communities decided to take a very sad occasion, and turn it into one that is re-purposed…..one that continued with a legacy of hope and generosity.

Knowing about something… understanding… something is the first step in a call to action. Sometimes there is a flicker in our conscience..in our thoughts during the day ..that seems to niggle away…I believe that it is in these moments that we hear God whispering to us…. Calling us to action… We are all links in the chain… There is no easy answer … we are powerless in a place like Sudan, or Darfur, or Syria… But we are not without power really.. We have the peace that passeth all understanding… We have our faith… we have each other… We have a partner in faith called the CFGB… And for over 30 years…they really have been working to alleviate suffering..to feed people seeking sanctuary…to teach and mentor small collectives and farms in far-away places…. To respond in the way we know best… a christian way… The way that God has called us to be…
The late poet, champion, human rights’ activist Maya Angelou wrote the following…

AMAZING PEACE by Maya Angelou

AMAZING PEACE  by Maya Angelou

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.

At first it is too soft.   Then only half heard.

We listen carefully as it gathers strength.

We hear a sweetness.

The word is Peace.

It is loud now.

Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound.

We are thrilled by its presence.

It is what we have hungered for.

Not just the absence of war.   But true Peace.

A harmony of spirit, and comfort of courtesies.

Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers,

Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.

Peace.  We look at each other, then into ourselves,

And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:

Peace, My Brother.

Peace, My Sister.

Peace, My Soul.

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