“For I was hungry and you gave me food”

9

December 13, 2011 by Ron Madson

“For I was hungry, and you gave me food…”

(Matthew 25: 35)

There are tens of thousands of LDS children that are suffering from chronic malnutrition—leading to lifelong cognitive and physical defects, and in some cases contributing to their death. After extensive research and on the ground work for years in South and Central America, Dr. Brad Walker, who founded and operates the Liahona Children Foundation, offers these sobering numbers: “We estimate 80,000 active LDS children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and about 900 die from malnutrition each year.” While these findings may appear inconceivable to many members throughout first world countries, the everyday reality of the acute needs among children in less developed countries is known by those who live with it every day:

“Elder Walker, please go back to Salt Lake City and tell the missionaries who worked here how desperate we are for food and medicines. I have no money to help hungry children in my stake”—plea from a current Stake President in Ecuador

To grasp the magnitude of the need, Dr. Brad Walker has submitted a blog post with By Common Consent as well as a detailed article with Dialogue.

President Kimball understood the need for us to know of the suffering of others when he said: “I do not worry about the members of the Church being unresponsive when they learn of the needy as much as I worry about our being unaware of such needs.”

Fortunately, there is a non-profit organization made up of volunteers who give their time, money and resources to provide direct relief for LDS children suffering from malnutrition. The Liahona Foundation started in 2008 and works with Stake Members (member children can bring a non-member friend) to come and be screened for malnutrition. The Liahona Foundation indicates that on average 25% of the children screened are suffering from chronic malnutrition—some severe. These children (usually about 100 per stake) are then placed on a daily nutritional food supplement for an entire year. The cost for each child is only $50 a year. These vitamin rich daily supplements are critical in their development.

At this point in time, the Liahona Children Foundation has grown in the last year from seven stakes to seventeen stakes/districts. There is a need to not only make sure that the children in these stakes can continue to be funded each year, but that the Liahona Children Foundation can penetrate many other stakes that are in just as desperate need for assistance.

The Liahona Foundation does not want to sensationalize the suffering with pictures of severely malnourished children, but when they see children that attend church on Sunday who are so weak that they cannot hold up their head due to hunger, they know that something must be done now. With each passing day, week, month and year that a child’s nutritional needs are not addressed is time lost. Studies show that if you measure a child’s brain at 3 years of age that was suffering from severe malnutrition as compared to a child who was not, the size of the malnourished child’s brain is literally half the size of a normal child. Just as troubling is the reality that when a child succumbs to the many diseases facing children in less developed countries, that more often than not the primary component in their inability to overcome illness is their malnourishment. Thus, giving a child the proper nourishment is essential in cost effectively enriching and preserving life. There is no greater return dollar for life.

When we feed infants/small children we are truly helping the least among us. They cannot thank us, they cannot know, but their needs are truly the greatest and most urgent in our faith community. Some critics might suggest that if you simply feed the hungry then there is no recognizable return—you just have to keep feeding them over and over again. But there is another way to look at it. While we can and do invest in buildings, temples of granite and steel that give returns in spiritual environments, the investment in a child’s health and development is eternal long after buildings, and even temples crumble. So why invest in feeding children? Because that is what Jesus did. He fed the multitudes for He knew that one child of God is of greater value then all the riches and monuments of the world—no matter their inanimate beauty.

Through inspiration, our church has added a fourth mission of the church—Providing for the Poor. In October, President Uchtdorf in the last Priesthood Session (October 2011) highlighted the needs:

“This very hour there are many members of the church who are suffering. They are hungry, stretched financially, and struggling with all manner of physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. They pray with all the energy of their souls for succor, for relief.”

And then after emphasizing the needs, President Uchtdorf taught us that we must not wait for Salt Lake to solve these massive problems, but that we must take it upon ourselves to find solutions. President Hinckley had previously echoed the same sentiments: “I think there is a tendency among us to say, ‘Oh, the Church will take care of that. I pay my fast offering. Let the Church take care of that.’ We need as individuals…to reach down and extend a helping hand without notice…to give of that which the Lord has so generously blessed us.”

While we cannot solve all the hunger/malnutrition in the world, we collectively have the means to save every single LDS child from the ravages of malnutrition. If each of us even gave a little consistently we would have the ability through the Liahona Foundation to make sure that every child in our faith had the nutrition necessary to live a happy and fulfilling life. Please consider donating and then pledging (whether $5 a month or sponsoring in whole or part with others an entire stake) a consistent amount to the Liahona Foundation.1 Call or write if you want to host a meeting/presentation at your home. The contributions and those who serve with the Liahona Foundation are making a real difference in the lives of these children—we must find a way to reach all the children—and we can.

You can make donations and learn more about the Liahona foundation at http://www.liahonachildren.org/

Ron Madson/ madsonron@aol.com


1 The Liahona Children Foundation is a non-profit, tax deductible charity.

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9 thoughts on ““For I was hungry and you gave me food”

  1. Joseph says:

    This is a nice post. Very good points made. The information that Dr. Brad Walker shares is heartbreaking, but we need to hear it.

    On a technical note, it seems the link for the Liahona Children’s foundation is not working. Is this a temporary thing?

  2. Ron Madson says:

    Joseph,
    I hope the link to the foundation is just a temporary thing. I just tried it and it worked. Let me know if it still does not work. Sara Walker also just recently completed the end of the year Newsletter which I am trying to figure out how to link here.
    thank you for taking the time to read Dr. Walker’s articles.

  3. Forest Simmons says:

    I’m glad to see people that don’t need to be commanded in all things bringing to pass much righteousness.

    It does seem to me that the most basic necessities for sustaining life should be provided for from the fast offerings, and when they fall short from tithing. Certainly, when I was bishop of a ward I was not limited in my ability to access food orders for the members of my ward.

  4. Ron Madson says:

    Forrest,
    I wasn’t either. But they are in third world countries. The spending limits are such that these needs are not allowed to be taken care through church funds. That is just the way it is. You would think it would be otherwise. President Uchtdorf let us know that we have to find our own local solutions. In the case of these less developed countries unless we provide private assistance for such needs they will not be met.

  5. Forest Simmons says:

    There’s something else that I recently learned. Once a child has been undernourished long enough, the digestive system starts to shut down. Bacterial overgrowth by harmful microbes and infestation by parasites complicate the picture. It isn’t just a matter of supplying plenty of food. Many people, especially children die because they cannot assimilate the food that finally becomes available.

    In other words, if the starvation is not detected and treated in the early stages, it can easily pass the point of no return. At that stage if there is no expert medical intervention with IV fluids, etc. all of the food and drink in the world won’t help.

    Given typical third world lack of community medical resources, if the members wait too long to ask for help from the bishop, food orders will not solve the problem.

    Even in the developed nations when anorexic kids wake up to the fact that they are starving themselves to death and start trying to eat more to recover their health and weight, they find that they can no longer digest and assimilate enough food to reverse the weight loss. In many cases it is only with medical intervention that they can turn it around, even when there is no longer any psychological impediment against eating larger quantites of food.

  6. Forest Simmons says:

    To round out my previous comment I mention another problem. In the Spanish language edition of the Liahona, the version most available in Latin America where this good work is being done, the English expression “self-reliance” is always translated as “autosuficiencia,” which has all of the negative connotations of the English “self-sufficiency,” attached to it.

    Latino members think that church authorities are admonishing them to be individually self sufficient, and that it is shameful to ask for help rather than to be temporally independent. Therefore, there is an incentive for some of the more conscientious members to wait until they are in desparate straights to ask for food assistance from their bishop or branch president.

    At that point some of their children may be past the point of no return. [See my previous comment for an explanation of this concept.]

  7. Ron Madson says:

    Geez, Forest. What is even more sad is even if they ask the funds are not allotted to meet those needs. I do not think I can even express my true feelings/thoughts publicly and in writing on this topic—only privately. But thank you for sharing that piece of information.

  8. erincita33 says:

    ron- how do you know the hunger needs of members aren’t met? that’s not what i witnessed in Portugal and Bolivia- but obviously lots of things go on I don’t see. :) where did you find that out?

    • Ron Madson says:

      Good question. I would suggest go to the link in this post and read the summary by Dr. Brad Walker that was posted in By Common Consent some time ago and then go to the Dialogue article linked there for more information. From what I understand the malnutrition issue is a country to country issue depending on what programs they have or rather do not have for infants/small children pre-school. Nearly all countries have school lunch type programs once they start school and that is why our program is targeted only for pre-school. Some countries like the ones you mentioned probably, I hope, have infant feeding programs like we have in the USA.

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