April 30th, 2010 at 4:26 pm
SAN ANTONIO – For Job Gonzalez, cycling 415 miles during the Bike Out Hunger tour April 19-24 wasn’t just a test of his own strength and competition. It was a personal journey driven by the hungry children and families he sees daily as he rides through then the colonias near his home in McAllen, areas that don’t have clean running water or adequate sewer systems.
Gonzalez, the worship leader at Baptist Temple in McAllen, cycled hard and fast because he knows what it’s like to be hungry, sharing that his family didn’t always have enough to each when he was a child. Because God provided for his family when they were hungry, Job wanted to return the gift, riding to raise awareness about the 1.3 million hungry people in the state and to support the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger, an offering that supports more than 100 hunger and development ministries in Texas and around the world.
“I’m doing something for a great cause, raising awareness about hunger,” Gonzalez said. “I’m here riding across Texas, about 415 miles, just loving what we do. I feel like I am representing the area where I am from, and I do it with all my heart. There are moments with steep hills, and I just want to give up. But I picture myself and all these people from all over Texas on the side of the road cheering me on to finish.”
Each day, the group of cyclists composed of pastors and church members stopped to hold hunger rallies at Baptist universities and churches along the way, riders and hunger offering advocates shared the reality of hunger in the state. Some shared stories of a child stealing a teacher’s lunch because he was so hungry from having nothing to eat during the weekend. Others talked about students intentionally failing classes so they could attend summer school and receive a free lunch, one they otherwise would not have.
Gonzalez also shared his heart with those he encountered, stating that the church must be willing to meet physical needs as they share the hope of Christ.
“It is time that we come together as one body, as one community and start serving our community with whether it is one meal or whatever we can do,” Gonzalez said. “We have to feed their stomach so that they can hear us.”
In Texas, hunger is a problem that affects more than 1.3 million people, and the state leads the nation in the highest percentage of children who are food insecure. More than 47 percent of Texas children in public schools are on the free or reduced lunch program.
But hunger is not only an issue in Texas. It is one that affects more than 1 billion people worldwide. It’s a problem that leaves more than 16,000 children a day dead from hunger-related causes – that’s one child who dies every five seconds from hunger.
Because the need is great, Bike Out Hunger brought together? more than 50 cyclists, Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative and Baptist universities in the state to help raise awareness of these hunger issues. Five cyclists complete the entire 415 miles, riding about 70 miles a day. Seven additional riders completed multi-day rides and more than 30 others joined to ride each day.
Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, a Baylor University School of Social Work and Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission partnership effort aiming to make Texas food secure by 2015, stated at a hunger rally at Truett Seminary that there is enough food in the world to provide for everyone who is hungry, but the problem is distribution. To help with distribution problems, volunteers through the initiative are trying to connect the faith-based community to share resources and provide adequate distribution sites around Texas.
Everett spoke strongly to those who attended a few of the Bike Out Hunger rallies, stating that the church must take responsibility for the issue of hunger and start acting, striving to change the reality at hand.
“You are your brother’s keeper,” Everett said. “Right now we live in a world that says it is all left up to personal responsibility. You pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and I’ll pull myself up by mine. But we know that is not the way that Jesus model? time and time again in Scripture.”
For Steve Dominy, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gatesville – a church that opened its doors to the cyclists as they passed through the city, hunger is an issue that is literally at his doorstep daily. The church is rigorously involved in fighting hunger in their city as members hand out half a ton of food each year to people in need.
“Poverty is an issue here in Gatesville,” Dominy said. “Approximately 50 percent of our kindergartners and first graders are at or below poverty level. We work with our local care center to help them raise food and funds. We have a ministry here that sells food at reduced cost. And we work with boys and girls clubs to make sure that there are no kids that leave the club Friday and are hungry until Monday.”
The church helps because “he whose stomach is empty stomach has no ears to hear,” Dominy said. Even with the church being involved with hunger ministry, Dominy said that there is still much more to do. And churches in Texas must unite with others in order for all hungry people to be helped.
“It ticks me off that Texas is hungrier than any state in the nation,” Domini said. “Texas is the greatest state in the nation and there is no way that that should happen. And I am willing to bet that 99 percent of the population doesn’t know about that. So I hope they raise awareness about hunger issues in the state and mobilize some people to get off their butts and do something about it.”
To help raise hunger awareness among his students, Jeff Mitchell, an adjunct math professor at Howard Payne University, cancelled his classes to ride for a day in the event and to open the door for his students to do the same. Also, a weekly breakfast group that Mitchell attends decided to skip breakfast that week to support the hunger offering and Mitchell’s efforts.
“You can give money to lots of things,” Mitchell said. “You think about that for a moment, but when you get involved, you think about that for a lifetime. Several students asked why we didn’t have class and I got to explain about Bike Out Hunger. Actually one of my students rode here. It was great to ride with one of my students and to see the other students excited about getting involved.”
For Ryan Musser, student minister at First Baptist Church in Hewitt, and Morgan Woodard, pastor of First Baptist Church in Golinda, the ride wasn’t just about raising awareness in others. It was about letting Christ continue to teach them what it is like to be in poverty, to be the ones needing help.
More than 60 days ago at the beginning of Lent, both men decided to give up something for Lent that would help them understand poverty on a new level. For 40 days, the two men set aside their car keys and used bikes for transportation.
The men wanted to understand what it was like to be part of the working poor – many of whom do not have a personal vehicle, the more than 30 percent of Waco-area residents that suffer from. During this time of riding, Musser and Woodard learned about Bike Out Hunger and knew it would be a great way to share with others the lessons they learned about hunger.
For three days, the two men rode, learning additional lessons on the way about the sacrifice Christians need to make in order for the state to be completely food secure.
“I learned something today about mile 42 in the middle of a hill,” an exhausted Musser said after he arrived at the finish in San Antonio. “I was reminded that the call to take up our cross is not an easy task, and it involves sacrifice. So many times we talk about world hunger and we say that task is just too big. The kingdom of God isn’t about doing easy things. It’s about doing right things. And we were given a way to live, and a sacrificial way to live. And if it hurts, we are supposed to continue pressing on because that is what our King has already done.”
Through the ride, the cyclists raised more than $9,400 for the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger. The offering will provide food and meal distribution, agriculture and livestock initiatives, clean water and sanitation, micro-enterprise development and job training for people around the world, attempting to bring them out of the cycle of poverty. The offering supports more than 100 feeding ministries in Texas, the nation and abroad.
Additional stories, photos and videos from Bike Out Hunger can be found at www.texasbaptists.org/bikeout. Texas Baptists is already making plans for Bike Out Hunger in 2011. Interested riders should follow updates posted to the Web site in order to sign up for next year’s event or send an e-mail to Rand Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.