The Hunger Games is not about hunger.
I loaded Suzanne Collins’s trilogy onto a Kindle for my recent 47-hour days of traveling to, from and between Burundi and Zambia. The story is well-enough told that it distracted me from the cramped seats of all seven of my Airbuses, Boeings, and Embraers.
Katniss Everdeen grows up in post-apocalyptic North America, where a central Capitol feeds off and oppresses the districts it governs. In the story, some do starve to death and others are savagely killed. The trilogy’s about a young woman discovering who she is, who she lives for, and what she’ll die for—classic coming-of-age stuff.
But it’s not about hunger.
Hunger, as our world experiences hunger, means not coming of age. It’s about 7-year-old Edisa, who’s the size of a 4-year-old. She’s lost all her hair except her eyelashes and those have turned orange. Her belly’s distended. Her palms are pasty with anemia. She doesn’t play or smile. If she contracts a common cold, she’ll die within a week.
Hunger, as our world experiences hunger, is about children in North American cities stealing food from the school cafeteria on Friday so they can feed their families over the weekend. It’s about school boards weighing the dangers of children waiting for the bus in -30ºF wind-chills against the dangers of those same children eating nothing because they won’t have a school lunch. Again.
Neither is hunger a game to be won. It’s not a contest where I earn the right to live and keep my own people alive.
Hunger is a mandate.
Hunger, as our world experiences hunger, is about World Relief training supervisors, who train promoters, who train volunteers from neighborhoods of 10–15 households, who practice the public health lessons they learn and encourage their neighbors to do the same. It’s about the Village Savings and Loan Associations in which these same neighborhoods pool their meager resources to provide the tiny, but critical, cushion that banks cannot. It’s about enough savings and a source of small loans to enable members to feed their kids and send them to school. It’s about a “social fund” in each group that gives ground peanuts or small fishes to Edisa’s mom, no strings attached.
Hunger, as our world experiences it, is about the Sheridan Story, matching churches with their local school’s children. It’s about each church donating specific food supplies and packing them into a child’s backpack before he goes home every Friday. It’s about a little boy feeding his family on Saturday and Sunday out of the spaghetti and peanut-butter in his pack. It’s about him eating well-balanced meals so his brain develops and he can concentrate on his education instead of being distracted by his hunger.
Hunger is a mandate to empower the poor. It’s about giving up the guilt and fix-it approach of my middle-class mentality. Hunger is about God insisting both on my participation in his development program and on my acknowledgment that participation isn’t enough to rewrite the end of our world’s hunger story.*
Hunger, as our world experiences hunger, is about God answering for starvation as he answered for thirst in Exodus 17:1–7.
Israelite griping about hunger and thirst during the exodus was a sin in every case but the first. Much to Moses’ surprise, the first time the Israelites accused God of failure to provide, he agreed.
“Summon the elders and bring your stick,” God told Moses.
So Moses convened the jury and hunted up his staff, which served as both the sign of his authority (like a gavel) and the means by which he would execute judgment (like a whip). God stood on the rock (Mount Horeb) as though he were the accused standing trial in the dock. Following God’s command, Moses ruled in favor of the Israelite plaintiffs and executed justice immediately by whacking the rock, in essence flogging God. And justice was done for the vulnerable as water ran out of the rock to satisfy their thirst.
Hunger, as our world experiences hunger, is about yielding my happy-ending cravings to God, taking up my pen, and following him.
*Corbett, Steve and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, second edition (Chicago: Moody, 2012).