That dreadful year found the people suffering through a terrible drought. No rain meant very poor crops in the bread basket of the nation; and very poor crops meant folks would soon be starving. As the drought turned into a famine, people were dying by the thousands. A famous author in this nation wrote an op-ed piece asking for help from those who were able.
A relief agency was formed, headed by a very capable engineer, and just over 300 volunteers took up the cause of feeding these hungry folks. When the volunteers arrived in country, they found a desperate scene: people were dying by the thousands. In fact, at the height of the famine, the relief workers estimated some 100,000 people were dying each week.
How in the world could this relief effort fight such a terrible famine? The very capable engineer lobbied the government to allocate 20 million dollars to buy corn from farmers who sat on a huge surplus that year. Thousands of tons of corn and wheat was purchased to relieve this desperate famine.
But, it was not enough just to buy the corn and wheat, all of this had to be transported. Once transported, it had to be distributed – in a country whose infrastructure was compromised. What horses were left (that hadn’t been eaten), were weak from overwork with little fodder.
How in the world could this relief effort fight such a terrible famine?
What does prayer mean? How does prayer make a difference for us? Can we learn to pray better, pray more, or pray with faith-filled hearts?
Well, for two posts, now, we’ve talked about prayer. What does prayer mean? How does prayer make a difference for us? Can we learn to pray better, pray more, or pray with faith-filled hearts? We’ve talked about prayer being protection and covenant. As we read Isaiah 55 today, I want us to consider how prayer is provision.
At the height of the famine, about 100,00 people were dying each week, and there was a great struggle to get the food stuffs to the people. With no horses, the relief workers turned to camels. No kidding. Hundreds and hundreds of camels ferried the corn and wheat to the starving people.
At the height of the relief effort, some 19,000 kitchens fed upwards of 11 million people per day. Despite all the difficulties, all the setbacks, all the struggles, the American Relief Association (or A.R.A.) managed a herculean feat of feeding a starving nation.
never forget who fed us
One man interviewed in the documentary I watched, remembered his grandmother telling him: “Anatoly, Anatoly, never forget, the Americans fed us that terrible year. Never forget.”
It was the great famine of 1921 in the Volga River Valley in Soviet Russia. Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks had managed to maintain power after World War I, but they couldn’t feed the people after this horrible drought.
Many brave men and women formed the A.R.A., volunteering to help feed the starving people in the steppes in central Russia. They found things they could not have imagined from starving and dying children packed in houses to instances of cannibalism.
That capable engineer, who helped make and manage this relief effort, is not remembered for this work. He’s not remembered for helping feed much of Europe after World War I; he’s not remembered for helping General Marshall feed Europe after World War II. He’s not remembered for being the vanguard of U.S. humanitarian relief efforts in the 20th century.
No, in one of the great ironies of history, the man who was the Secretary of Commerce during this great famine, became the President of the United States, and he couldn’t help lead his country out of the Great Depression: Herbert Hoover. Unfortunately, that’s what folks remember about him.
my thoughts are higher than yours
What in the world does that have to do with provision? Well, first, I couldn’t manufacture a story that good, strange, difficult, and ironic. So, neither could we imagine a stories like the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 or the prodigal son in Luke 15 or the thief on the cross in Luke 23. All those stories are good, strange, difficult, and ironic, too.
God comes to us in ways we can’t anticipate, understand, or even sometimes explain. That’s what Isaiah tells us. God not only provides the water and the food and the wine and the milk, but God promises to be with his people in “an everlasting covenant” of steadfast, sure love (Isaiah 55.3).
To top all this, God communicates to us his sovereign power and sovereign grace through these powerful words: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55.8-9).
treat others the way you want to be treated
His ways are certainly higher than our ways. Mitchell loved basketball; he had played since he was a kid. Mitchell had a developmental disability, though, and the best he could do was serve as the manager for the Coronado High School Thunderbirds in El Paso, Texas.
The last game of the season, the coach had a surprise for Mitchell. That game, Mitchell would suit up. Suiting up was enough of a thrill for the faithful manager, but the coach had something more in mind.
With 1:30 to go in the game, Coronado is 10 points ahead, and the coach puts Mitchell in the game. Oh, his teammates try to help him score several times, but he can’t seem to get the ball in the hoop. A few seconds before the game is over, he mishandles the ball and it goes out of bounds. Have a look at this video:
Who could predict that wonderful kind of gift and amazing moment? The young man on the other team simply said, “You know, I’ve been taught growing up to treat others as I want to be treated.”
God’s provision comes to us in ways we can’t always anticipate, understand, or even explain.
If we learned about God’s protection and God’s covenant in prayer, is it really any surprise that we learn about God’s provision in prayer? Only, God’s provision comes to us in ways we can’t always anticipate, understand, or even explain.
But, we can hear it, and see that provision in a story; stories like the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, or the thief on the cross teach us about God’s sovereign power and God’s sovereign grace. We can see it in America feeding the starving in early Soviet Russia, and we can see it in one team helping another person to thrive. Grace is unpredictable, unmerited, and oftentimes offensive.
Why in the world would the father receive his reprobate son? Why in the world would Jesus forgive the thief on the cross? Why in the world would we feed our enemies? It is the power and wonder of God’s gracious provision. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways….”
give me something more precious
“A monk found a very precious gemstone. He put it in his knapsack and carried it with him. One day he met a traveler in need who asked the monk to share some of his provisions with him. The monk opened his knapsack to share his food, when his fingers found the gem. So he lifted out the stone and gave it to the traveler.
“Overjoyed by his good fortune in the valuable stone, the traveler went on his way. A few days later, however, the traveler caught up with the monk. He begged him again: ‘Please, give me something more precious than this stone,’ he said. ‘Please give me that which prompted you to give the stone to me.’”
I don’t know what the monk told this traveler. But, what if he told him the most remarkable story about provision, a story that begins like this: “On the night in which he gave himself up for us, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and he said, ‘Take, eat, this is my body given for you….’”
A text for the table: Isaiah 55.
Textual notes: “The Great Famine” story from The Great Famine, American Experience on PBS 2011. “The Monk’s Story” from HomileticsOnline.
Photo Credits: “Growing Oregon, “God is Love,” “The Great Famine,” and “Herbert Hoover” (Creative Commons).