“Behold the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing of the words of the LORD.” — Amos 8:11 ESV
The United States of America remains by far the world’s largest agricultural exporter, shipping $177 billion of food to other nations around the globe. That represents about 53 billion moderately priced meals by our relatively high American standards. This of course is after the $1.05 trillion of food we Americans already ate at home and the $1.34 trillion we scarfed down at 750,000 restaurants.
Still, we’re starving.
Famine is one of mankind’s most vicious enemies. From 1907–1911 famine itself ate an estimated 25 million people in east-central China and another 55 million in the Great Chinese Famine between 1958-1962. In 1845, 2 million people crossed America’s unfenced borders in just four years leaving behind a million of their loved ones as famine-consumed corpses in cold Irish graves. Why even at this hour more than a million people in southern Madagascar, including 460,000 children, struggle to survive amid a famine caused by severe drought. Joseph, son of Jacob, distinguished himself at Pharaoh’s court by mobilizing ahead of a seven-year famine that would have otherwise toppled one of the world’s then-mightiest empires. It is an old, persevering enemy.
But we do not write here of “a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water.”
The horror of famine is so resonant with all of mankind that when we seek to accentuate the urgency of our gospel endeavors among unreached peoples around the world, we will often speak of them as “theologically famished” peoples. We use the palpable horror of famine of bread and water to call attention to the greater, eternal danger posed to those elsewhere who have not yet heard the words of the Lord. It’s a meaningful and appropriate use of language.
But it’s well past time that we admit that the people of the United States of America are themselves a theologically-famished people group. The vast majority of our most immediate neighbors are themselves starving for the words of the Lord. There is a famine in our own land.
God’s ways are—if we’re honest—no longer the American Way. What was once right is now declared as wrong. That which not so long ago was considered perverse and abominable is regarded as chic. What was wrong is now championed as desirable or even laudable. Nature itself is offended right before our eyes on any given day. Sense once considered common is deemed unsophisticated. The wisdom of the ages is counted as folly. Everyone does what seems right in his own mind. Most Americans, in terms of The Bible, are more than just functionally illiterate.
To say so is not at all reactionary. It is by habits of mind and heart that we express that which we so obviously observe. To sadly and begrudgingly admit that our “Shining City on a Hill” no longer gleams with the light of God’s truth is not to cluck of a falling sky, nor is it to sound a political fire bell in the night.
To say that the United States America is theologically famished, is to urge God’s people to greater gospel ambition, to mobilize them to feed the starving right here at home, as well as every tribe and tongue around the world.
Congressional appropriations and resolutions will not sate this grinding hunger. The U. S. Supreme Court won’t serve us even an appetizer of biblical sustenance. The requisite emergency nourishment is not forthcoming by way of 2024 primaries, caucuses, or conventions. No cabal of smart and wealthy people on some Swiss mountain will ever pontificate its way out of this starvation. Philanthropic tech titans won’t solve the problem by either their calculating wiles or big-check benefactions. Professors and ponderers in our elite universities…well, let’s face it, they hardly seem equal to the task.
The sole solution to this American famine rests in the sovereignty of God and the gospel ambition of the disciples of Jesus Christ. We labor in his vineyards and pray for revival.
And that’s why we write. Bethlehem College and Seminary is by no means the largest famine relief organization in the world, nor do we lay any triumphant claim to abilities. But at it we are. Day after day, year after year, equipping men to shepherd God’s people with biblical clarity and Christ-exalting affection. Day after day preparing men and women to treasure Christ and witness for him with wisdom and wonder in every sphere of life.
It calls to mind an essay, improved in popular adaptation, about a man who encountered on the beach a little girl picking up stranded starfishes and throwing them back into the sea.
“But, there are so many of them. How can you possibly make a difference?”
The girl takes another starfish by the ray, hurls it like a discus into the ocean, and says:
“It made a difference to that one.”
We are alert to this American famine and determined, as God may help and supply, to make a difference to someone. We of course also see the global famine. With God’s help we are responding on our watch as best we can. Will you help us help the starving around the world…including right here in America? Pray whether you might activate or increase your support of The Serious Joy Scholarship, the instrument that permits our students to receive an academically rigorous education saturated in “the words of the LORD”, and then be able to launch immediately into life and ministry without a burden of student loan debt.
Pulpits are being filled with pastors who know how to handle the words of the Lord with theological integrity and care. Ministries are being staffed. Nations are being made glad. Homes and families are both made and redeemed. Churches are being led by biblically-minded members. Workplaces are being seasoned with the aroma of Christ. The theological academy is being held to fidelity to God’s word.
All this emanating from one little corner in downtown Minneapolis that God has blessed with an extraordinary passion for his supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. A little school with disproportional impact for Christ on the world, by virtue of God’s continuing favor and your generosity.
Let us be newly awakened to the state of things around us. Our closest American neighbors—most of them—are suffering the most vicious famine of all, the one with hunger pangs that will endure throughout all of eternity, but for the saving grace of the gospel…the words of the LORD.
If you’ve already contributed to The Serious Joy Scholarship in 2023, pray on the basis of this neighbor-urgent appeal whether you might be called to contribute yet again, before January 1. If you haven’t yet contributed, please do so by then. The scholarships for the current school year remain largely unfunded. Please also consider setting up a monthly gift beginning in the new year, or an early-in-the-year gift before June 30, to benefit the students currently enrolled.
May we all regard the work as more urgent and necessary than ever before as we witness a famine unleashed on us in our day, in our own country, on our watch.
He is with us in this work, as always. We needn’t be anxious about the future. He will prevail. May we not be found fearful, rather faithful as we undertake the work of his works while it is day.
Rick Segal is Vice President of Advancement and a Lecturer of History and Political Philosophy at Bethlehem College and Seminary.