What began with a General Assembly action four decades ago has become a program that has raised more than $125 million for hunger relief.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program celebrated its 40th anniversary with speakers, music and a raffle at the Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women July 14.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was the first denomination to state that hunger is a grave threat and moral imperative for the church, said PHP Coordinator Ruth Farrell, adding that the program was originally charged with five focus areas surrounding hunger: direct food relief, development assistance, influencing public policy, lifestyle integrity and education and interpretation.

“Those five approaches are every bit as relevant today as they were 40 years ago,” Farrell said.

PHP is valuable because it not only provides immediate assistance, but also encourages advocacy for justice, said Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion, Peace and Justice.

Lisherness read from a well-known prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero, saying:

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

Lisherness described PHP as sowing many seeds, such as coordinating a network of hunger action enablers in synods and presbyteries and providing funding and support for organizations like Bread for the World and Heifer International.

Hunger action enablers serve as educators, motivators and organizers for congregations and other groups within the church. They work to provide knowledge and skills to sustain long-term hunger relief.

Although current organizers might not live to see the end of hunger, they can — and are — doing something, Lisherness said.

She again read from Romero’s prayer: “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well … We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

Skye Murray, who participates in the monthly 40-hour fasts coordinated by PHP, spoke about her experiences in Haiti, where she saw PHP’s work firsthand. With help from PHP, Haitian farmers learned more effective gardening techniques and installed a cistern.

“Let’s give thanks to God that the Presbyterian Hunger Program is helping to usher in the kingdom where … there is enough for everyone,” she said.

Another speaker was Christi Boyd, a mission co-worker stationed in Cameroon. Boyd works with PHP’s Joining Hands program, which focuses on three areas: addressing the root causes of injustice and inequity, promoting self-sufficiency of marginalized groups, and confronting the structures of exploitation and injustice.

In Cameroon, and Africa as a whole, there are great natural resources, but many people remain poor. Joining Hands works to ensure that the country’s own resources go back into the economy to aid in hunger reduction.

Joining Hands works to use people’s compassion and turn it into compassionate advocacy, Boyd said.

Also at the celebration, the 10 presbyteries that contributed the most money through the 2008 Cents-ability offering were honored. They are West Virginia, Redstone, Peace River, Sheppards and Lapsley, Lake Michigan, Transylvania, Huntingdon, The James, Shenandoah, and The Peaks.