Local Focus? Global Focus? Let’s say “and”… not “or”


Ross Carper

ross carperBecause of our youth ministry’s enthusiasm about the 30 Hour Famine, there are times when my students, volunteers, and I get a certain brand of questioning. It usually goes something like this: shouldn’t we be worried about hunger right here in our own country?

Sometimes it comes from a parent; sometimes from a potential partner or donor; sometimes from another youth worker who is trying to understand why we make such a big deal out of the Famine. And we try to make sure everyone in our community knows that the simple answer to their question is, “Yes.”

We say “yes” to the idea that food security is an issue in the United States, and we don’t downplay it. In fact, when this issue comes up, our hope is to invite the questioner to join us next month at The City Gate, a neighborhood mission partner who provides nutritious meals to those struggling with homelessness and poverty. Our middle schoolers love working there as restaurant-style servers. They bring friendly smiles and excellent Thai food to the table (thanks to a local restaurant who faithfully cooks each first Sunday). Actively fighting hunger in our community is something we invite students to be about as they are learning to follow Jesus.

But… there is a “but.” The question itself sometimes implies that we should focus first and solely on local hunger, even to the exclusion of globally focused projects like World Vision child sponsorship or 30 Hour Famine. When we hear this implication, as youth workers who care about truth, we need to (respectfully) reject it as false, because it is.

There’s actually a name for this sort of mistaken thinking: it’s a fallacy known as the “false dichotomy.” There is no good reason to create an “either/or” to force a choice between loving local or global neighbors. In fact, Jesus gives us reason to strive for a “both/and” approach. Remember, the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) was a “neighbor” to someone who wasn’t his physical neighbor at all. He encountered a man on the Jericho road, beaten by robbers, and loved him with a love that crossed all kinds of cultural, religious, and ethnic barriers. He loved him with God’s love, as one of God’s fellow children.

Today, we are not isolated from the global poor: the Internet serves as a sort of Jericho road, and through the windows of YouTube and Vimeo, our students can see needs with their own eyes. They can see communities and individuals crying out for Christlike, neighborly love—both in our own country and across the world. I’m encouraged by the fact that our students aren’t willing to turn a blind eye to either group.

Instead, they believe fully that hunger is a problem both near and far. In the U.S., food security is nothing to take for granted (read a report about it here, from the Dept. of Agriculture). But we don’t kid ourselves either: not all hunger is equal. While too many homes in our nation are food insecure, official statistics aren’t generally even gathered on U.S. citizens dying from starvation because it is such a rare occurrence. Compare that to the over 20,000 people, mostly children (U.N. estimate), who die each day of hunger or hunger-related causes. Or check out another U.S. government report that shares a chilling stat: of the 870 million people affected by hunger today, 98 percent of them live in developing countries. Because of the sheer proportion, intensity, and disastrous results of global hunger, it is truly an emergency that deserves border-crossing, barrier-breaking love.

So, if you’re a youth leader or student and you’re excited about the Famine, don’t let anyone deflate you by saying you should focus only on local hunger. Choose not to choose between loving local and global neighbors. Take the “both” approach: people around the corner and around the globe will thank you for it.