In recognition of our faithful call and of this time in history, the Council’s annual Lenten guide focuses on poverty and the ways we can respond to our sisters and brothers of low-income. We hope you and your family will find cause for reflection and inspiration for action as you share this intergenerational resource together. May we continue building as a nation toward a place where God’s love is felt by everyone through the meeting of basic human needs and the extension of true opportunities for progress.
Click here to download “A Time to Mend: A Social Justice Study for Lent.”
Scripture: Psalm 126:5-6 (NRSV)
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
Social Justice Reflection
“Got food? Thank a farmworker.”
I’ll never forget how it felt to serve dinner to this group. About 30 hungry, tired farmworkers arrived back at their camp just as it was getting dark, and they were kind enough to welcome us into their humble space for a shared meal. This group of mostly young men had been busy harvesting sweet potatoes down East. Most were indigenous Mexicans who learned Spanish as a second language, who didn’t know any English.
As we spooned out rice and beans and poured soda from two-liter bottles, I was struck at how rare it is for any of us to meet the people who actually produce and harvest the food we eat. From our history of slavery to our modern industrial context, our society has not really reckoned with the grim reality of those at the bottom of our food chain.
Many of us don’t think much about where our food comes from. Did you know that almost all of the fresh fruits and vegetables that you eat were picked by hand? Farmworkers have always been the backbone of agriculture, yet too often their invaluable contributions go virtually unnoticed. Today, farming and agriculture is a $70 billion industry in North Carolina alone, but a farmworker’s average annual salary is less than $12,000.
Lent is a season for seeing things clearly, a time for level-headed reality checks about our complicity with counterfeit conveniences. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described “cheap grace” as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” When it comes to food in America, we enjoy a status quo that Bonhoeffer might describe as a “cheap abundance.” The paradox of cheap abundance is local stores without local food, calories without nutrition, farmworkers without food.
Farmworkers, like all different kinds of people in dire poverty, face challenges not only in getting enough to eat but also in other areas like housing and health. For example, farmworkers endure the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries and skin disorders of any workers in the country. Fewer than 20 percent of farmworkers receive health care.
But Lent is not the end of the story; resurrection is. Easter is coming. Jubilee is coming. The day is coming when those who sow seeds with tears into North Carolina topsoil will return home with shouts of joy because their hard work has been rewarded fairly. The day is coming when a worker who is hurt on the job can go to the hospital without risking his job, when a worker who is cheated can report his boss to the authorities. The day is coming when all farmworkers will earn living wages while living in safe, modern housing.
The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is because we’ve chosen to wait. We’ve tolerated an unfair status quo for far too long. Will this year be the year of change?
Worker God, who intends good for all your children, we seek your wisdom and courage as we work to change the harsh conditions under which so many labor. We remember the farmworkers, the growers, and the corporations. We ask that we might be your witnesses for good work, fair pay, and human dignity. Amen.
By Edie Rasell, NFWM Board representing United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries (http://nfwm.org/education-center/worship-resources/prayers)
When you sit down to dinner, ask children if they have ever thought about the workers who helped pick the fresh fruits and vegetables in your meal? Ask them where their food comes from.
Help them to understand that food begins on a farm and there are many steps before it reaches your table. Tell them that often their food is grown and harvested by migrant workers.
Read the story “Amelia’s Road” by Linda Jacobs Altman. Discuss migrant workers and some of the conditions that have an impact on them. Explain that most migrant farmworkers receive low wages and are poor. They may be hurt as they work or become sick from the pesticides the farmers use. Healthcare may not be easily available to them. They often live in housing that is inadequate, crowded, and unhealthy.
Ask children if they can think of any actions they might take to understand migrant workers and to show their appreciation by helping them.
- Arrange a visit to a local farm. Interview the farmer about the process of producing a crop and getting it on a family’s table.
- National Farmworker Awareness Week is March 24 – 31, 2014. Visit http://saf-unite.org/farmworkerawareness for information.
- Participate in the 28th Annual Pilgrimage for Peace and Justice, April 13-19, 2014. Get more information at http://www.wfpse.org/event/28th-annual-pilgrimage-peace-justice/
- Organize a teach-in or presentation about farmworker issues. You can find farmworker facts here that you can use to create a presentation. And you can use short documentaries found here: http://saf-unite.org/content/fact-sheets; http://saf-unite.org/content/documentary-projects.
- Host a farmworker-related film screening and discussion in your church.
- Download farmworker factsheets and make table tents to put in your next meal at church.
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