04 April 2015

Daily bread

One of the big projects that MCC started this year in response to the ongoing crisis in Iraq is working with an Iraqi organization, ZSVP,  to provide six months of food (from March to August) for almost 700 families who fled from the Islamic State group last year and are living in two small towns in northern Ninewa governorate.

Photo credit: Abid Hassan, March 2015.

While I was collaborating with ZSVP and MCC staff in February to get the proposal off the ground and running, I learned that another international organization with funding from the World Food Programme (WFP) did a distribution in early February for the two towns that we were planning on targeting, with plans to continue with monthly distributions for as long as they had funding from WFP.

I pushed strongly to keep these two towns for ZSVP distributions instead of having them be absorbed into the broader WFP system.  I succeeded: these two towns were recognized by the coordination system as MCC/ZSVP's responsibility for March-August 2015.  I felt great; I took on the big system and got what I wanted, I advocated on behalf of our local partner, who would provide higher-quality food baskets than what WFP provides, and I avoided going back to the drawing board with the project design.  Win, win, win.

And then our implementation was delayed and didn't begin until March 30, instead of March 1.

As a result of my success, the regular supply of food for these families was delayed.  Instead of waiting four or five weeks between distributions, three thousand, nine hundred, and forty-eight people had to wait seven weeks, with only the assurance that it was coming to sustain them.  No one starved because of my actions---there are resources and safety nets beyond these food distributions that covered the gap---but people probably did go to bed hungry because of me.

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I know that "if only"s have limited use.  I also don't know what other factors beside my personal decision to fight back contributed to this existing situation, or what other factors could have intervened in an alternate reality to delay the food distribution regardless.  However, I also know that I have sinned against thousands of people who I do not know, over whose food security I have arbitrary and extensive power.

Having a regular and predictable source of food is one of the main keys to not just surviving but thriving.  This is true not only for people in large-scale disasters like what's happening in Iraq and Syria now, but also for people in the United States and everywhere who are in the slow-motion crisis of poverty.  With this on my mind, I was struck by how receiving food is built right into Jesus' model of prayer, right after proclaiming the kingdom of God and before asking forgiveness for sins:  Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive our sins.  Help us forgive others.

Our intentions are good, but that does not lessen the pain that we cause others. We see, think, and love imperfectly, and we are lucky if our best attempts come out even.  Nevertheless, we keep praying: give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Photo credit: Chris Ewert, November 2014.

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