Lent 2014: A “Rice and Beans Gathering”

The last few years our family has been trying to learn more about what life is like for our brothers and sisters around the world and to follow God’s commands and Jesus’ example throughout scripture to care for the poor and oppressed. We want to raise our children in a way that they are aware that the comfortable North American existence they enjoy is not the norm for most of the world – not to fill them with guilt, but to give them hope that even they can make a difference in the world. This has not been an easy task!

So, we did this crazy thing this year. It started with an invitation to our friends and family to join us for a gathering of sorts. We timed it to coincide with the start of Lent – the Christian tradition of a 40-day season of reflection and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus. During this period, some choose to fast or otherwise give up things that hold us to our material world in order to recall our need for Jesus Christ, consider his sufferings, and repent of sin. It is a good season to rethink about how we live, develop some new habits, or make sacrifices.

We wanted to enter the season of Lent with a reflection on Isaiah 58, which describes the kind of fast God desires from his people:

No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Isaiah 58:6-7

Using a resource developed by Live58:, we planned an afternoon at our home the weekend before Ash Wednesday. We served a simple meal of rice and beans, showed the video “58:The Film” (a story of the global church in action on behalf of the poor), and discussed the implications of the film. We had a variety of hands-on activities for families to guide children in understanding issues of poverty, lists of resources and organizations, and ideas for follow-up action steps.

We ended up having 31 people at our house that afternoon, ages 1-61.

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Rice and beans were (mostly) happily consumed.

"I really like rice and beans!" - Kelly

“I really like rice and beans!” – Kelly

The kids loved the book table.

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Grownups had a book table too.

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Consistent with my nerdiness for such things, I prepared a folder with a few documents for each family who came. It included a list of organizations we love with their financial/accountability ratings, a summary of their work, and ten key areas related to poverty that they address; and some lists of action steps for raising funds, identifying with poverty, and serving your local neighbors.

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An Offering of Letters station for people to write to members of congress about hunger issues.

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An Offering of Letters for Kids – a station for kids to draw or write to a sponsored child. Jack drew a volcano because he loves volcanoes. I reminded him that Gerson, one of our sponsored children, lives near a volcano in Nicaragua. Ta-da! Random drawing turned into a picture for Gerson.

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A drawing! Two $25 Kiva cards were up for grabs. Look here for how “fasting” on rice and beans helped fund these Kiva cards: Fasting in Action

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Ellie wanted to win!

The Live58: film was very moving. It captured the hopelessness of people living in the majority world without access to basic needs, highlighted evidences of hope in the midst of poverty and injustice, named encouraging statistics of progress already accomplished (e.g., the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has been cut from 52 per cent (1981) to 26 percent (2005)), and called the North American church to action – directing our abundance to help meet the needs of our neighbors here and abroad. After the film, the kids drew some pictures about what they saw and we talked about “needs” vs. “wants”.

In Jack’s bedroom, families took a journey around the world through a series of eight hands-on stations. Each station corresponded with one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (Click on the symbols on this page for descriptions and fact sheets). These goals have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. A few years ago I came across a resource by Micah Challenge which put together “prayer stations” for each of the MDGs. I tweaked them a little and used them over a period of four sessions of my Summer Book Club for Moms and Daughters in 2012. I pulled these out again and we set up all eight around Jack’s room.

These were the highlight of the afternoon. The wording of the MDGs are pretty abstract for kids, but each one addresses something that kids could understand if given some support. So, each station had a short story and a practical activity to bring it to their level.

MGD 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

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Digging through stones to find valuable minerals

Digging through stones to find valuable minerals to demonstrate the type of work many children are forced to do in order to  survive.

MGD 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education

Drawing or writing what they have learned at school and filling a backpack with school supplies

Drawing or writing what they have learned at school, and filling a backpack with school supplies

MGD 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

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Find the girl figure hidden in the bowl of rice and stand her up equal with the boy.

MGD 4: Reduce Child Mortality

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Making a baby out of play-doh, then shaping the baby into a child who lives past the age of 5.

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MGD 5: Improve Maternal Health

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Instructions for folding an origami mother and baby.

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MGD 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Other Diseases

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Mosquito nets are a major tool in combating the spread of malaria.

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and they make one feel like a princess

MGD 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

To demonstrate shortening the distance people need to travel for water, kids moved the stone (block) path between the village and pond and built a clean water well close to the village.

To demonstrate shortening the distance people need to travel for water, kids moved the stone (block) path between the village and pond and built a clean water well close to the village.

MGD 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Search for the fair trade symbol!

Search for the fair trade symbol!

Yes, this afternoon was a lot of work. But it was so fulfilling to put into action the many things we have been learning and share it with others. We find that working through these things in community is so, so good. I am deeply grateful for our family and friends who daily point us to Jesus and care for the poor and powerless.

Finally, we give thanks to our God, the true sustainable solution to poverty and just living, because:

Psalm 146