Layman ‘walks with the hungry’ for Lent

COLUMBIA, S.C.—Some people give up chocolate or Facebook for Lent. Some vow renewed commitment to meditation, prayer or evangelism.

But a certain few, like Matt Brodie, are embarking on a more extreme Lenten journey—one that Mr. Brodie hopes will help him better understand the plight of the hungry.

Matt Brodie, communications director for the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, is living on Stop Hunger Now meal packets for the 40 days of Lent. He hopes the sacrifice will help him better understand the plight of the hungry. PHOTO BY JESSICA CONNOR

Mr. Brodie, communications director for the UMC’s South Carolina Conference, has decided to give up the typical American approach to eating during the 40-day season of Lent. He is living on meal packets that the food-relief group Stop Hunger Now provides to hungry people worldwide. The packets contain six half-cup servings of a dehydrated rice/soy mixture fortified with 21 essential vitamins and nutrients.

“What this is doing is letting me really experience what real hunger can be like, so that I can better relate and understand for myself what it’s like and what Stop Hunger Now, food pantries and other hunger ministries are doing for people,” he said.

Mr. Brodie, who is helping coordinate the S.C. Hunger Project for this year’s South Carolina Annual Conference session, was in a Stop Hunger Now awareness meeting in January when he felt God lay the Lenten call on his heart. He went to prayer, and soon he understood he is to live during Lent on the standard Stop Hunger Now meal packets, though he can supplement with a little egg and, two days a week, a chicken breast. If anyone offers him food, he is not to turn it down—a truly hungry person would never do so—but he should not seek it out. He also can only drink water.

“As a really big Diet Dr Pepper fan, that might be the biggest sacrifice of all,” Mr. Brodie quipped.

Mr. Brodie is used to consuming about 2,300 calories a day. The meals are 210 calories per serving, so now he is getting just 630 calories a day, plus what he gets from the little egg and chicken he can consume. One week after he started his fast, he was pushing through symptoms such as fatigue and caffeine-withdrawal headaches, not to mention getting used to eating far less food than usual.

But while it is a challenge to live on so little, Mr. Brodie knows God wants him to understand what hungry people experience.

“Your typical person in America says, ‘Oh, I’m starving,’ because they haven’t eaten in four hours, or they skipped dinner the night before,” he said. “But you can’t truly understand and relate to people who are chronically hungry if you have the mentality that anytime you’re starting to feel hungry you can pull out a credit card and swing through a drive-thru.”

That’s exactly where Mr. Brodie was before Lent: He never worried where his next meal would come from. Enough food on the table was never a concern. If he was hungry and on the road, he’d grab a burger from McDonald’s.

But now, it’s not so easy. He has to think about eating—if he’s out covering a daylong event for the UMC, for instance, how will he be able to find a place to heat up his meal? When he eats his half-cup portion of food, he finds himself scraping out the last grain of rice, savoring the last drop.

Mr. Brodie is no stranger to encountering people in poverty. He has been to Africa on three mission trips, and he volunteered with the conference’s Salkehatchie Summer Service Camp as a teen. But every time, the people he helped made sure the teams were well fed, even if it meant the families they stayed with survived on table scraps or a small bowl of rice.

“I’ve seen what real hunger looks like, but I’ve never experienced it,” he said.

When he heard Brandon Faulkner, a Stop Hunger Now program manager, tell how four pastors decided to only eat the Stop Hunger Now meals for 40 days as part of a hunger awareness program, his world changed.

“I felt led to do this, divinely called,” Mr. Brodie said. “It felt like a command.”

The only doubts he had were the ones he put on himself: I don’t really want to do this; I don’t want to be that hungry.

“But then that doubt went away, and it was replaced with excitement about hearing God and following,” he said. “When you can do that, it’s exciting, even when it’s something that is sacrificial in nature.

“I’m just really happy I wasn’t called to give up food entirely for 40 days.”

Mr. Faulkner said Mr. Brodie is living through Lent on what two-thirds of the world has: less than $2 a day.

“I think it shows a great deal of faith and strength to do this,” Mr. Faulkner said. “Most folks wouldn’t do what he is doing.”

In addition to fasting, Mr. Brodie is reading a daily hunger devotional from the Society of St. Andrew. He is also doing some private journaling and may write a column on his experience for the conference newspaper.

“I was planning to keep it quiet, but friends convinced me I could help others be more aware about hunger if I shared my story,” he said.

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Ms. Connor is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, where this story first appeared.

Special Contributor to UMR

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