A wide variety of people come to the soup kitchen where I volunteer - seniors struggling to stretch their monthly pension checks, and families with parents who look more scared than the children.
There's Alonzo, who has his own apartment but is still working out drug dependency issues. And Dennis, who blesses even those who don't put money in his cup when he stands outside McDonald's.
It's a supportive community. They celebrate when someone gets a job or when someone finds a way to pay for school.
Even though my love for them has grown to be wholehearted, at first I struggled. I wanted to help, but was serving meals just a stopgap that would keep these people from finding a permanent solution?
I was the "gofer" for the volunteers who prepared and served meals to almost 100 people every day. I filled in the gaps, offered the prayer before the meal, served water, and taught the Bible class afterward. Still, could I really help these people who had reached the bottom of their barrels?
I had to fight nausea each week on my way there. I knew the physical pain was a byproduct of my inward struggle, as I wondered if our collective efforts were doing anything to solve the problem of hunger. I spent a lot of time in prayer, trying to know how to help these people and find peace for myself.
One day as I reached out again to hear God's message, I heard these words: "You are evidence of the solution." The nausea stopped.
At first I was perplexed. How were my puny efforts as the water girl for the soup kitchen evidence of the overall solution?
The rest of the answer came as I walked around the tables that day. There were so many smiles of welcome. Alonzo wanted to tell me about recognizing his own mistakes. A woman who was a prostitute visited Bible study; she was celebrating her second anniversary of being drug-free.
Someone asked about Russ, who hadn't been there for a long time. I'd just seen him and could share that he had a new job and was living with his brother.
These people were my friends; they were worth knowing. The love between us was reciprocal.
Toward the end of the meal, one of the younger men came up to say goodbye. He'd been reunited with his family in California and was leaving in the morning. He wanted to thank me for the prayers before the meals.
"You know why we listen to you?" he asked. Because you respect us. That helps me more than you could ever realize."
Now, when I think of hunger on a world scale, I know the solution has to do with caring about the people who can't feed their children before they go to sleep. Caring for people is a byproduct of respect. It's hard to find solutions to hunger if you don't believe people are worthy of being fed.
Watching the other volunteers in the soup kitchens - the way they acknowledge the thanks, the shared laughter with the guests, the heart-tug they feel when they hear the stories of how lives have broken down - I'm reassured.
Each volunteer is evidence of the solution. And though it seems that eliminating world hunger is still in the embryo stage, I know the solution will be genuine and long-lasting if nations and cultures build relationships of respect.
God is present for all of us, no matter where we are in the social scheme of things. My prayers for the folks at the soup kitchen prepare me to recognize that God is loving them all, and that each of them is part of the universal salvation. This expands my heart for humanity and helps me expect to see progress in everyone.
So even though my work there started with a desire to help them, my own thought has been rescued. Today, I'm less susceptible to agreeing that hopelessness is a possibility for anyone.
Adapted from www.spirituality.com