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Iowa church sows seeds of hope through longtime partnership

Growing Hope Globally helps communities around the world fight food insecurity

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

First Presbyterian Church in Conrad, Iowa, has a longtime partnership with Growing Hope Globally to help fight food insecurity in other countries. It raises money for the program and helps build public awareness. (Photo Courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — Almost 20 years ago, some members of First Presbyterian Church in Conrad, Iowa, heard a presentation about a program in which U.S. farmers and churches team up to raise money to help subsistence farmers in various parts of the world.

Arlyn Schipper, a member who also happens to be a farmer, “looked at me after the meeting and said, ‘Why can’t we do that?’ and the rest is history,” said the Rev. Kerry Carson, longtime pastor of First Presbyterian.

Since then, the church has raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars as a supporter of the program, Growing Hope Globally, which brings U.S. farmers, churches and surrounding communities together to raise money and awareness to reduce world hunger. The money allows poor communities around the globe to get tools and training to help in the growing of their own food, according to the Growing Hope website.

“It’s a great community project and a great way of learning about what rural communities are facing in other parts of the world and to be in community with them,” said Alex Morse, regional director of East and Midwest Growing Projects for Growing Hope, formerly known as Foods Resource Bank.

In turn, communities in Africa and other parts of the world receive assistance to help them become more self-sufficient at growing their own food while retaining their dignity.

“We don’t send food overseas,” Carson said. Money is “way more efficient and doesn’t sit on a dock and rot some place while political organizations try to figure out where it should go.”

U.S. churches choose how they would like to support Growing Hope. Some raise crops and donate the proceeds to the program while others hold events, such as auctions, dinners, bike rides or 5K races to help fund agricultural development projects internationally.

“It’ll not only change your life, but it’ll change the people’s lives overseas,” said Schipper, a board member at large for Growing Hope, which held its national summit in Conrad in 2019 with First Presbyterian.

Over the years, First Presbyterian has worked collectively with a handful of churches from various denominations in the area to help raise funds, initially relying on growing field crops on land the churches would donate. More recently, due to shifts in the farming business, First Presbyterian has relied more on produce from First Presbyterian’s youth garden.

First Presbyterian Church receives guests from different parts of the world, including Central America, as part of its partnership with Growing Hope Globally. Pictured from left to right: Don Linnenbrink of First Presbyterian, Alex Morse of Growing Hope, Arlyn Schipper of First Presbyterian, and guests (front row). (Photo Courtesy of First Presbyterian Church)

Prior to the pandemic, we would have “a big community corn feed to celebrate our harvest in August,” Carson said. While gathered at the park “we roast corn out there and people can buy vegetables and enjoy an afternoon together… It’s kind of a great way to end the summer and get ready for the new season, and everybody in the community can be participating in that project that way.”

Growing Hope benefits people in about 35 countries in various parts of the world, including Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, as well as the Middle East, Morse said. About 500 churches are involved.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve been able to help over 2 million people achieve food security, and this last year, we were able to help almost a quarter of a million people with improved agricultural training,”  Morse said.

Carson said First Presbyterian has helped people in about 25 countries. We’ve either sent people there, we’ve contributed funds there, or we’ve received guests from there.”

One of the best things about the program is that international partners “self-identify what their greatest needs are in terms of finding food security,” Carson said. “Sometimes that’s improved plantings. Sometimes it’s water resources. Sometimes it’s seeds to provide diversity of food so that they can be healthy. Sometimes it’s food storage. Sometimes it’s infrastructure like being able to get produce to a major highway or market so that they can be sold.”

Schipper was attracted to the program because it makes use of something he and his Iowa community already do: grow food. He said he also gets satisfaction from knowing that he’s helped someone who really needs it. “It’s a helping hand, not a handout,” he said.

He’s been involved in several ways, including rounding up people to help harvest corn, traveling abroad, receiving visitors from other countries and even allowing some to drive his farm equipment. “It’s been tremendous for me.”

Valéry Nodem, associate for International Hunger Concerns with the Presbyterian Hunger Program. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Valery Nodem, associate for International Hunger Concerns for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, said that support from churches like First Presbyterian “enables people in poor regions, including our partners, to grow their food and lift themselves out of poverty.”

He added, “In our ministry of fighting poverty, responding to disasters and alleviating hunger, we have learned that if we want to have a sustainable impact, we can’t do this work alone. We have to work in partnerships.”

“For almost 20 years, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Growing Hope Globally have been partnering in supporting communities around the world in their efforts to build lasting solutions to hunger and poverty,” he continued. “Working with Growing Hope, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance have implemented programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Malawi, Madagascar, India, and very recently in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cameroon. These partnerships have improved food security and improved the lives of thousands of families and communities. They also have educated and mobilized people in the United States about global hunger and ways to be better neighbors with siblings in other parts of the world. We celebrate two decades of collaboration and look forward to this work in the future.”

The Presbyterian Hunger Program and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance are part of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Both are supported by your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.


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