Hunger Action Advocate Finds Challenges and Rewards in Oregon and Beyond
For Don Shaw, there is no such thing as retirement. Although serving a congregation as a teaching elder, he has found work as a volunteer to be complex and different, but also rewarding and challenging.
Shaw is the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s (PHP) Hunger Action Advocate (HAA) for Presbytery of the Cascades. He describes himself as an advocate for hunger alleviation, peacemaking and social justice and a promoter of mission work. He’s involved with PHP’s Joining Hands program in Bolivia, works in connection with food/housing programs in Redmond, Oregon, and serves as an advisor for the Christian Advocacy Board in Portland, Oregon. On top of all of that, he communicates the work of the church and presbytery.
Shaw doesn’t believe a hunger issue can be clearly defined. He believes it crosses a number of ministries, keeping him involved with several major issues.
For example, Shaw has found himself working closely with the National Alliance of Mental Illness.
“Mental illness is a source of a lot of hunger,” he said. “Many who are suffering from mental illness are living on the streets, and that spills over into the need for churches to reach out.”
He added, “I don’t see clear lines when asked what I do as a HAA. It’s broader than that. We need to address the root causes of hunger, whether it’s mining pollution or land grabbing.”
Through the Joining Hands program, Shaw participates in a roundtable focusing on extraction and climate. He says many of the successes he’s witnessed have revolved around ecological issues.
“Several years ago, our Bolivian partners, UMAVIDA, asked us to send letters to the Bolivian government requesting an environmental audit to identify the source and magnitude of the pollution that was so devastating downstream from a gold mine there,” he said. “The Presbytery of the Cascades, as well as many congregations, did so. While we cannot know for sure of the impact, the government did stop stalling and proceeded to do the audit.”
Shaw says one of his biggest challenges is effectively communicating his work to those within the presbytery.
“How do you get the word out effectively and get people engaged in the work we do?” he asked. “It’s easy to get sucked into superficial Internet connections. Building relationships with people of common concerns is very important, and the church does this well.”
Shaw says advocacy is also a challenge.
“Most of us who are clergy don’t seek out controversy. It’s not in our DNA,” he said. “So it’s a challenge moving forward without being so controversial that people tune you out.”
“I recently sent out the announcement from PHP about joining the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ call for a national boycott against Wendy’s, and it unleashed a firestorm from a few,” Shaw said. “I’ve responded basically that this is what’s going on and it’s our duty to be informed as Presbyterians.”
Looking to the future, Shaw believes there are many challenges ahead.
“The government is going to have to address income disparity at some point, and that will have an impact on hunger,” he said. “There is no crystal ball to determine what those actions will be, but it’s going to happen. If it’s ignored, the social restlessness will continue to grow.”
Rick Jones, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
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PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Creator God, we are grateful for food that nourishes our bodies and for servants who, having heard your voice and felt your Spirit in their lives, share a compassionate discipleship that seeks to alleviate hunger. May your Spirit descend on us, that we too might live as those who witness to your love and grace in our community. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.