Hunger exists everywhere—both internationally and right here in North America. The reasons are complex, varied, and often interconnected.
Poverty is the main cause of hunger. Eradicating poverty in all its forms is an absolute requirement for ending hunger— because the root causes are often the same. Most people who are hungry are living in extreme poverty, which is usually defined as income of $1.25 per day or less.
In places like the United States and Canada, hunger often results from job scarcity, joblessness, or jobs that don’t pay enough. Hunger rates rise when economies flounder. People lose their jobs, and finding work becomes increasingly difficult. Even when the economy improves, finding jobs is not easy for everyone.
War and Conflict
During times of war and conflict, it is often the poorest who are most affected—leaving them more vulnerable than ever. Hunger and poverty can also be the cause of war when governments ignore the desperation of their people. Further, conflict creates displacement—forcing people to flee violence and persecution or to seek opportunity elsewhere. Visit our pages on immigration and refugees to learn about displacement.
Education provides opportunities for individuals and families that could break the cycle of poverty. At a global level, completing post-secondary education can mean the difference between hunger and food security for a family, but for many people facing poverty and hunger, education simply is not a feasible option.
We have made great strides in addressing structural and interpersonal discrimination, though many are still treated unfairly, have resources inequitably distributed to them, and do not have the same opportunities as others.Disadvantaged groups are often left farthest behind. In most places, these are women and racial, ethnic, or religious minorities.
Persons returning home from jail or prison face discrimination in applying for housing or a job, voting, and readjusting to society, all of which can contribute to poverty—it’s hard to find work and a place to live and to put food on the table if you have a criminal conviction. Visit our page on Restorative Justice to learn more about criminal justice reform.
Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada bear the wounds of a legacy of colonization and systemic racism that has led to poverty. Lack of access to safe drinking water, high incarceration rates, low educational achievement, and hunger find their roots in this foundation. Visit the page on Indigenous Justice from our partners at the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue to learn more.
Lack of water and sanitation infrastructure are some of the main forces behind hunger and malnutrition. Without roads, transporting food to the places it’s most needed is impossible. Without irrigation, growing enough food is impossible. Without wells, women and girls spend hours every day fetching water, often limiting their ability to attend school.
For people in extreme poverty, any rise in food prices can create hardship. Basic grains (like wheat, rice, and corn) make up the majority of calories for people experiencing hunger in developing countries. When the prices of these grains spike for a prolonged period of time, families are faced with hard choices. For example, some parents may have to pull children from school so that they can work to help pay for food.
We are facing the greatest environmental challenge in history: climate change. The poorest countries, who contribute least to the growing issue of climate change, are the most affected by it. Climate change is damaging food and water security in significant ways. Meeting the needs of these communities (and ultimately eradicating hunger) depends heavily on how we address climate change. To learn more, visit our Creation Care page.
Maternal Health & Nutritional Quality
Malnourishment is a natural consequence of hunger, and we’re familiar with what it looks like for a child to be malnourished. There is another form of malnutrition, often referred to as “hidden hunger,” that stems from the quality rather than the quantity of food. Malnutrition is particularly damaging when mothers and their child are in the pre-natal or infant stage. Lacking quality nutrients, one in four children in the developing world face health problems such as the stunting of growth and development and higher susceptibility to disease. It is equally important that mothers, in addition to their children, have access to nutritious food and care.
Why we care
We care because Christ cares.
Mass impoverishment of human beings is not God’s intention for the world. It is incompatible with the love and compassion that sent Christ to redeem the world. Such inequity is the result of human brokenness, human activity, human-built systems that enrich a few of us while impoverishing many more of us.
In accepting this reality without protest, we betray Christ’s redeeming work, violate God’s will, damage our community, and dull our relationship with Christ. The church’s witness to the gospel of Christ is threatened and incomplete.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is this: Mass impoverishment is human-made and can be ended. It is a sin, a scandal—but it is not beyond our control. In fact, when the world decides to act, progress is made. In 1990 almost half the world’s population—1.9 billion people—struggled to survive on less than US$1.25 a day. By 2015 that number was cut by half to 836 million. According to Bread for the World, at the turn of the century, one in four people experienced hunger; today that statistic has dropped to one in eight.
Because we are Christians, our commitment to end mass impoverishment is rooted in our identity as followers of Christ. By refusing to accept the status quo and by doing our part to dismantle and improve unjust systems that cause and maintain mass impoverishment, we embrace God’s will for the world, we walk more humbly (and a lot more joyfully) with God and our neighbors, and we are faithful to the integral mission God has given the church.
What restoration looks like
Restoration looks like shalom. It looks like everyone having the nutritious food and resources they need to live and flourish. The freedom God intends for us and for the rest of creation is more than from our individual bondage to sin. It is also freedom from the bondage and oppression of unjust, distorted, and damaging human-made and human-maintained economic and social systems.
Many of us do not have to imagine these changes; we’ve watched them happen, and we've been part of making them happen. You can help with restoration too—through educating yourself and adding your voice to the many others advocating for change.
Advocacy works. Adding our voices to those of people suffering injustice is a powerful ministry—especially if it is combined with the gospel witness of strong relationships and empowering love. Here are a few examples:
- In 2016, Congress passed the Global Food Security Act (GFSA), which authorized a U.S. whole-of-government global food security strategy for two years, with overwhelming bipartisan support, including a strong push from OSJ partner Bread for the World. GFSA builds on the success of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s whole-of-government program to reduce global hunger and malnutrition.
- In 2010, Congress was focusing on budget reductions. In particular, lawmakers were looking to disproportionately cut programs vital to hungry and poor people. In response, a group of Christian leaders, including a representative from the CRCNA, came together to form the Circle of Protection. They prayed, fasted, and advocated on behalf of the most vulnerable—and succeeded. Read the statement they made here.
- In Mali, several thousand Fulani families in the arid Sahel region nearly lost their land to dishonest government developers. They expected to be forced to leave their homes. . . (read more)
- When violence first erupted in Sierra Leone, seasoned missionaries Paul and Mary Kortenhoven, who were accustomed to such outbreaks, didn’t take it very seriously—until soldiers of the Revolutionary United Front began to terrorize villages, maiming, killing, and cutting a bloody swath of diamond-fueled destruction through territory the CRC had been working in for 15 years. . . (read more)
- In 1999 Nigerian Reformed churches asked the CRCNA to stand with them in their struggle to make peace between warring ethnic groups and estranged churches. A few years later they celebrated a political peace agreement in their area and a restored relationship between sister denominations. . . (read more)
- Spurred by the rise in youth homicides in Toronto, CRC pastor Fred Witteveen of Friendship Community Church joined with other faith-based leaders to stop youth violence at its roots. The coalition received a $3 million grant to carry out its proposal targeting education programs, community, and family support.