Saturday, June 17, 2017

"I Have Been Searching for You"

"I  have been searching for you," Samuel Chu said to open his reflection before members of the congregation gathered for the Erev Shabbat at Congregation Albert in Albuquerque on a warm Friday evening in June.

What did this son of a Hong Kong Southern Baptist minister and former Presbyterian pastor mean by this statement? There is a simple answer: We do not know where our path will lead us; we only know that when we end up some place that is where God wanted us to be.

Chu spoke about the series of steps in his life that eventually led him to become the synagogue organizer at  Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. He was often what would many would consider an "outsider" helping to build the core efforts of an organization. After graduating from Fuller Theolgical Seminary in Southern California, he became a  pastor at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Koreatown in Los Angeles. (There were more Latinos than people of Korean descent in his congregation). Then he served as the executive director of California Faith for Equality and California Faith for Equality Action Fund. As a straight person, he fully embraced the role of promoting the rights of the LGBT community in L.A. Later, as a Chinese-American Presbyterian, he landed the role as synagogue organizer for a Jewish anti-hunger organization.

Building the Grassroots
Chu was invited to Congregation Albert to facilitate a discussion among members on enhancing and expanding the congregation's anti-hunger efforts. He complimented synagogues and churches around the country for their direct feeding efforts via food pantries and other programs. (Congregation Albert has been involved in feeding efforts at St. Martin's Hospitality Center and the Family Promise homeless program) However, he noted that "this only meets 3% of the hunger needs in America." 

As examples, Chu spoke about the efforts of synagouges in Minnesota to work with the State Legislature to end the horrendous practice of lunch shaming in the state, years before it became an issue in New Mexico. As a result of the Minnesota effort, the legislature passed a bill providing 61,000 free lunches to low-income students in the state. And another synagogue in Southern California became involved in protecting the rights of homeless youth in the state.

Samuel Chu, Harvey & Rachel Sternheim at local Lobby Day
So what can Congregation Albert do? That is what Chu and members of the congregation were scheduled to chat about the next day. The congregation has already taken an important step through its recent endorsement of the Interfaith Hunger Coalition and the congregation is planning to host an IHC Hunger 101 Workshop, focusing on youth, on Wednesday, Sep. 13. 

As evident by the Minnesota school-lunch case, advocacy is an important element of anti-hunger efforts. Chu, Congregation Albert Education Director Rachel White Sternheim and her husband Harvey Sternheim joined a group of Bread for the World members on June 16 for visits to the local congressional offices of Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Sen. Tom Udall, and Sen. Martin Heinrich  (More on this later). Our visits were an extension of Bread for the World's National Lobby Day on June 13.

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