In the last few days, Ethiopia has appealed for food aid to help 6.2 million of its citizens avoid starvation. A five-year drought, which is affecting more than 23 million people in seven East African countries, is part of the problem. Government policies designed to keep farmers on the land instead of moving to cities are also a factor. Their plots are divided and subdivided, and overfarmed so that they become less and less productive. The added stress of a drought, along with rising grain prices and fewer available funds to buy emergency supplies, only exacerbates the situation.
Turning to prayer on behalf of all these people is one way we can contribute to their welfare. There are many examples in the Bible of people being supplied with food as the result of prayer, sometimes in unexpected ways. One of them is the time when the children of Israel were in the wilderness and had no more food. Moses prayed to God, who provided something they called "manna" – possibly a breadlike substance – in the morning, and quails at night.
I love the description of that event as it's given in the book of Psalms: "Man did eat angels' food" (Ps. 78:25). This statement beautifully describes the real source of good as spiritual, and as coming from God rather than through cutting back on supplies for one needy area so that another can have a few more crumbs. When one stops to consider that God is divine Love, and that being infinite, Love is actually ever present, it follows that right where the need is in Ethiopia or some other place, Love's solutions are already at hand. The challenge isn't ultimately lack of food but the ability to see the divine answer.
Our prayers can help light the way to perceiving the solution "on the ground" in Ethiopia and elsewhere. This description of angels from Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy helps reinforce the spiritual nature of this quest: "God's thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions, pure and perfect; the inspiration of goodness, purity, and immortality, counteracting all evil, sensuality, and mortality" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 581).
Spiritual intuition can unleash inspiration so that one can approach prayer with joy and a conviction that divine Love will indeed open a way for food needs to be met. "Goodness and purity" are perfect antidotes to the corruption and greed that sometimes impede food shipments. A conviction that the men and women of God's creating are spiritual, not material, brings to light the power of Spirit to sustain its children, not in a theoretical way but through actual adjustments to their circumstances. These loving convictions, resting on the proofs that Jesus supplied in his healing ministry, sustain our hopes even as they support workers' efforts to find speedy and workable solutions.
According to a report titled "Band Aids and Beyond," the international aid organization Oxfam says that "imported food aid saves lives in the short term but did little to help communities withstand the next shock" ("Ethiopia asks for urgent food aid," BBC News, Oct. 22). This indicates that it's also important to pray for long-term answers.
In these economic times especially, people long for stability. Working together to find answers and to eliminate the shocks can do much, and our prayers can support this effort also. That description of angels as "counteracting all evil, sensuality, and mortality" is again helpful. These negative facets of thought represent what the Bible calls "the carnal mind" – that which is opposed to the perfection of God's creation. We can overcome these destructive elements by seeking the beauty, power, and strength of divinely inspired thoughts, which remind us of God's goodness and enable us to feel love for God and His children, especially the ones we are trying to help.
Angel thoughts also counteract the mentality that keeps people looking at life in material terms and feeling trapped in a constant material round of just barely surviving. Prayer for inspired government can promote a new look at policies and the emergence of solutions, easing the burden on citizens and those charged with helping them.
Our prayers don't need to take on outlining just how Ethiopia and other countries will get the resources they need. But by "entertaining angels," we can support their progress with joy and hope.