Looking Back, Looking Forward
Updated: Jan 21
Today is my first day after retiring from nearly three decades as the president of Bread for the World.
My heart is awash in gratitude. Many people – Bread’s members, staff, and board, members of Congress, and coworkers in the churches and other partner organizations – have, in lots of ways, used the occasion of my retirement to celebrate what we have been able to achieve together during the last three decades. Hunger, poverty, and disease in the world have declined dramatically, partly because we helped to quadruple and improve the quality of U.S. international aid. On domestic poverty issues, Bread and our partners helped to fend off constant attacks on our nation’s safety-net programs. Without these programs, twice as many Americans would be living below the poverty line. We have also strengthened the advocacy capacity of Bread, the Alliance, and the network of organizations who work with them.
I thank God for what has been achieved, and for the opportunity I have had to be part of it. I am confident that Bread for the World will thrive under the leadership of Eugene Cho. He is deeply grounded in God, Jesus, and work for the kingdom of God. He is very much a pastor and relates to everyone in his life with personal care. He is also super smart and savvy about social media. I have high hopes for the Alliance to End Hunger too. The Alliance has proven its effectiveness in helping organizations build their capacity for policy education and advocacy. In April, the Alliance coordinated a letter from more than 750 diverse organizations to Congress urging an increase in SNAP food assistance.
As for me, I’m planning to keep working on issues related to poverty, God, and politics. I look forward to having more time and freedom to study emerging opportunities to change the politics of poverty, and I’ll share what I learn on social media and this blog. I look forward to your feedback and help in passing useful reflections on to others. I’ll also be providing quiet support for my successors at Bread and the Alliance.
Our country and the world are now struggling with huge problems. Personally, I’m most alarmed about the risks posed by President Trump and Trumpism. I’ve worked with people and politicians from both parties for decades, but this president is singularly dangerous – to all of us and especially to low-income people and people of color.
I am encouraged by emerging evidence that many people are experiencing this crisis as a wake-up call. That’s a biblical way to experience national crisis.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress have worked together to pass massive COVID-response legislation, partly because lots of constituents are urging them to take action. A senior Senate staffer told me that their office is hearing from six times as many constituents as before. We all need to weigh in with our members of Congress now to urge passage of another COVID response bill this month. It should include measures to help the people who most need help, notably increases in SNAP food assistance and international aid.
The country is also newly awake, at least right now, to structural racism, especially police abuse. Tens of thousands of people across the country have participated in demonstrations, and two-thirds of Americans say they agree with the Black Lives Matter protesters.
Finally, President Trump’s standing in the polls recently plummeted. Based on Gallup polls, 20 million people who thought he was doing a good job a month ago don’t think so now.
I also take encouragement from my favorite Bible verse, Matthew 17:10. Jesus said, “If you have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, you can move mountains. Nothing will be impossible for you.” The main message of Christianity is that God loves us. As St. Paul wrote, we are connected to God, not by our own stumbling efforts to be moral, but by the grace of God that we experience through faith. And in this gospel passage, Jesus says that we don’t even need much faith. If we have just a little bit of faith, God will use us to move mountains. That’s been my experience over the last three decades. God has used the people in Bread for the World’s network, with all our weaknesses, to help bend the arc of history toward justice.
As we all now confront an uncertain future, God invites each of us to do our part to overcome our collective problems, and we have this promise: “Nothing will be impossible for you. You can move mountains.”