In a land of food glut and people overdosing all around us, it is hard to remember that 1.3 billion people in the world are food-insecure and the number is rising. But we did remember.
I was treating my wife to an exquisite and expensive meal at Lark for her momentous birthday. But even as she was taking another splendid bite, she remembered people who do not have food.
So the next day, I got into the IRC website and ended up connecting my wealth to the starving people of Somalia. We regularly connect with the International Rescue Committee because they often find a way to get on the front lines in the most distressed places. We also stay connected to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) because they are good at long-term solutions produced through churches or partner organizations.
I want to tell you a bit about Somalia, since you might not remember where it is and might not know how it got into the mess it is in. Maybe even more, I think I can help to show how the same elements that produce physical hunger around the world are also threatening to impoverish our souls in Philadelphia and all over North America.
The IRC puts out a yearly Watch List in an attempt to understand where the deepest crises are happening and where the greatest trouble will be in the coming year. They and their supporters want to be in those places to save lives and help form a better future. If you hit the link above and read the material, you will be much more educated.
Conflict, climate change and economic turmoil are the three key accelerators of humanitarian crisis in Somalia and all the other watch list countries. “They have a twin impact:
- exposing individuals and communities to greater shocks and
- weakening the systems and infrastructure they depend on to withstand such shocks.
These three accelerators consequently feed off themselves— and one another—to drive vicious cycles of deepening crisis.”
The United States was intricately involved in deepening the 30-year conflict that is confounding every attempt to save the lives of Somalis. You might remember Ridley Scott’s movie Black Hawk Down, which followed one of three helicopters shot down over Mogadishu when U.S. special forces were sent by President Clinton to capture or kill the warlord who was not following the U.N. peace accord brokered in 1992. If you’re not about 40, maybe you don’t remember the action itself but have run into the Oscar-winning film on Netflix (where it is “included with your subscription”).
What was supposed to be a couple of hours of in and out turned into an overnight battle the U.S. calls Battle of Mogadishu. The Somalis call it Maalintii Rangers, the Day of the Rangers.
In 1992 under the first President Bush, U.S. forces, primarily, helped end the Somali famine in the south. In 1993, the U.N. authorized a force to establish a secure environment throughout the country (which is big, as you can see). All 15 factions agreed to the terms hammered out at the Conference on National Reconciliation in Somalia. But Mohammed Farrah Aidid’s faction signed it and did not comply. So President Clinton authorized the Rangers to take Aidid out. The military objectives were achieved but the U.S. could not tolerate soldiers being killed and dragged through the streets with contempt. Within six months American forces were withdrawn and the whole U.N. experiment ended in 1995. The civil war is ongoing.
Somalia illustrates how crisis accelerators interact with each other. The country has been on IRC’s Watchlist for the past decade but recently rose to #1 as climate change and worldwide economic turmoil deepened the crisis. When well-constituted countries get a jolt, poorly-organized ones get clobbered. Somalia would have been better able to withstand the shocks were it not for decades of chronic armed conflict that destroyed and weakened many of the systems and infrastructure that protect communities in other countries when disaster strikes. What’s more, Somalia was unable to produce food locally because of conflict and climate change, so they had to rely on imports. 90% of their wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine. Last year U.S. citizens were upset at 11% rise in food costs. In Somalia, the sixth poorest nation in the world, food price inflation was about 40%.
Worldwide, a staggering 80% of malnourished children are not getting treatment, leading to roughly two million deaths annually. In Somalia nearly 8.3 million people were projected to experience crisis or worse levels of food insecurity by mid-2023, with over 700,000 facing starvation every day. With poor rains persisting in 2023, even more Somalis have been unable to access enough food and many have little option but to leave their homes to seek humanitarian assistance in urban centers or across the border in Kenya and Ethiopia. About 80,000 Somalis had crossed into Kenya by last April — that’s twice as many people as live in my zip code
The Somalia of the Soul
Last week Republican radicals in the House changed their focus of uproar to the Southern Border, where thousands of people have pressed for entry into the United States. Their insistence that we wall off the country is characteristic of their hollow Christianity and emblematic of the loveless and murderous solutions the nations of the world are implementing when it comes to growing crises.
Their reaction is much like the situation married couples find themselves in when their mutual sense of violation makes them defensive and they are caught in a recurring argument that often escalates into rage and even violence. They build emotional walls to feel safe.
The same factors that are bearing terrible fruit in Somalia and also infecting my city and undoubtedly yours, too. Conflict, climate change and economic turmoil are the three key accelerators of crisis in the U.S. too — and maybe in your homelife. They have exposed individuals and communities to greater shocks and they have weakened the systems and infrastructure they depend on to withstand such shocks. The accelerators feed off themselves to drive vicious cycles of deepening crisis. Joe Biden was trying to fight them in Arizona last week.
These accelerators create an atmosphere our souls are breathing. Each of us may, or may not have the personal, spiritual, or relational resources to screen out the toxins and have a healthy soul. If there is any hope of spiritual survival, we must begin with identifying what is choking off love and starving faith. Here are five factors making us soulsick.
- Climate change causes anxiety and withdrawal.
Climate change is real and climate change anxiety is increasing. When we are threatened we proverbially fight, flee or freeze. We might not automatically pray, connect or act. Many churches discovered they were too weak to withstand the pandemic and other recent challenges. Some became addicted to fear and no longer follow Jesus. But I see revival beginning in unexpected places. It is hope for the world if Jesus followers trust God, build community and take action.
- High food prices make us insecure
Last week a friend obsessed about whether his palatial house was actually a good deal. He could hardly enjoy it because he could only think of whether he had squandered too much of his wealth to buy it. Our first world problems are dehumanizing.
The media helped preoccupy most of us with inflation after the pandemic, which has quickly calmed down. But we were so used to inexpensive food, the uptick felts like a crisis. I refused to buy a $6 box of cereal yesterday, which gave me a little twinge of insecurity. Meanwhile the U.N. says 10,000 children a day die from hunger and related causes.
When I am in crisis because my glut of food costs more than it used to, that is being soul sick. If you have faith, your security is in God, right? If you don’t have faith, you at least have the rational capability to respond to facts.
- Violence makes us feel at risk
Last week opportunists overshadowed the protesters who were bringing attention to Judge Wendy Pew’s dismissal of charges against Office Mark Dial. On August 14, he shot Eddie Irizarry through his rolled up window during a traffic stop, on video, within 5 seconds of exiting his police cruiser. Maybe that exemplifies our deteriorating social infrastructure in a nutshell.
Instagram got looting going for a few days. The media exploded with outrage. And people got more scared and hopeless. Consider that Somalis have been enduring a much higher degree of violence for 30 years!
We are minting psychotherapists and hallucinogen providers at a quick rate, these days. They often identify any thing that bothers us as “trauma.” Our endless defensiveness makes us sick.
- Conflict blunts compassion
Last week the U.S. Senate passed further aid for Ukraine but House radicals still want it ended. This has a direct impact on Somalia. But I think it also is having an impact on our souls.
Our own interpersonal and societal conflict makes it difficult to feel well and cared for. We have become accustomed to a constant battle for power instead of collaboration to find mutually beneficial solutions. I think people actually care about others, but we are caught in a bad pattern. Again, it is like some couples I have worked with. Many of them have to spend a long time learning and implementing nonconflictual behavior before they can get back to love and hope.
- Lack of funding undermines action
Poverty leads to more poverty. Philadelphia is the poorest city in the United States like Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world. One of the main reasons is lack of or inequitable funding and poor use of the funding there is.
Likewise, a starving soul leads to a dead faith. At least that is what James said. Not long ago an AA acquaintance said they had a “high bottom,” meaning others had to hit “rock bottom” before they would turn around. I pray that soulsick people in the U.S. see the grace around them long before they hit rock bottom. Developing our souls is not a luxury it is a necessity.
The other night, we were inspired to make an investment in a living faith that has been exercised enough to be strong when it faces the deterioration of the world. We literally funded our development. Obviously, having a healthy soul is not just about about how we spend our money. It takes a lot of various investments to thrive. But if we don’t put our money where are hearts are, it surely won’t make our souls healthier.