n a crisp spring morning in 1983, Bruce Neal boarded a plane to Winnipeg with the hopes of answering one vital question: how can the Church work together to help end world hunger?
At that time, the number of people facing hunger around the world was growing amid food emergencies in countries like India and Ethiopia. Neal was flying from his home in Mississauga, Ont., to represent Baptists from across Canada. Representatives from the Mennonite, Lutheran, Christian Reformed, and Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Canada joined him in Winnipeg. They, too, were pondering the same question: how can the Church work together to help end world hunger?
An idea was there. Western Canadian Mennonites had already paved the way with a pilot project called the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Food Bank.
Through the Food Bank, prairie farmers shipped excess grain overseas to developing countries where people were experiencing famine. It was inspired by the “Joseph principle” from the Old Testament – storing up grain in good years for use in leaner times. The Canadian government supported the Bank by matching every dollar donated in grain or cash on a three-to-one basis to help cover the cost of freight, storage and handling. The pilot was a success, and the MCC was now inviting other Christian churches to join their efforts.
“I confess I had had no experience with Mennonites before a ‘Believers Church Conference’ the previous year,” says Neal, who was President of the Baptist Federation of Canada and Chair of The Sharing Way (the Canadian Baptist relief and development arm) at the time. “So I was ‘discovering’ the Mennonites.”
Canadian Foodgrains Bank was born the next day. Neal, along with those other denominational representatives, came together to create this joint Christian response to global hunger.
During those first meetings, Neal served as Vice-Chair of the Foodgrains Bank board of directors. “I really had enough on my plate, but I so believed in this new venture and trusted the Mennonites to guide us during the first three years that I readily agreed,” he says.