Harvesting Hope

Harvesting Hope

Canadian Churches Partner Together To End Global Hunger

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.

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Bruce Neal was especially excited about the opportunity to involve Baptists from rural communities, particularly in western Canada. This would allow them to participate in efforts to end global hunger by doing what they do best: farming.

“Western Baptist wheat producers could offer what none of the rest of us could,” he says. “Of course, from the beginning, the concept of a bank gave all of our people an opportunity to make monetary gifts. Non-farmers, urban or rural, could make deposits to feed the hungry.”

Rural Baptists answered the call, and farmers across the country began sharing and shipping their grain overseas to help families in need of food. In Alberta, a group of farmers from Brownfield Baptist Church got involved.

“I remember when that first load went in 1983,” says Brownfield farmer Byron Richardson. “I helped load the truck with my dad, who was one of the founding directors of our group. The Mennonites were cleaning wheat at Linden, Alta., bagging it and putting it in boxcars for the hungry, and that’s kind of what we heard first. We thought it was pretty cool, so we loaded our own semi [with grain] from different donors in the church.”

Richardson laughs as he thinks back on that first delivery.

“It’s a bit memorable,” he says. “On the way to Linden, there’s this great big hill crossing the river. Dad was driving with our pastor at the time, and the brakes for the truck weren’t set up properly. The differential [part of a vehicle that enables wheels to turn] blew halfway up the hill, and the truck ended up rolling backward and jackknifed into the ditch. So that was our first delivery of grain – and our pastor was trying to decide whether he should ride or jump!”


During that first year, Baptist farmers shared in grain shipments with other Foodgrains Bank members. Together, they shipped 8,000 tonnes of wheat to India for food-for-work development projects, 6,000 tonnes of wheat to Zimbabwe after extreme drought caused crop failure for many farm families, and 2,600 tonnes of corn and black beans to El Salvador after a year of poor harvests.

“Our first shipment entirely on our own was in November 1984,” says Neal. “Drought, yet again, had stunted food crops in the Kenyan lowlands southeast of Nairobi and emergency aid was needed.”

CBM had been working with a local church in that part of the country for several years prior, so they were well positioned to respond to the hunger needs. They sent 600 metric tonnes of corn and 300 metric tonnes of beans. Neal explains that corn is notoriously fragile to ship, so they put it in bags and then separate containers to keep it safe.

“It went well,” he says. “They went by rail to Montreal, by boat to Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya, and by rail again to Nairobi and truck to Machakos for distribution,” says Neal. “And thousands of people in that part of Kenya were fed.”

By the next year, many more Baptist communities got involved. “There were farmers and non-farmers, members of various churches in each area,” says Neal. “In the process, hundreds of Canadians came together to share with thousands of hungry folk in some hurting parts of the world.”

[top, left]: In November 1982, representatives of Christian denominations in Canada met to discuss plans for an inter-church Foodgrains Bank, which eventually led to the creation of Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

[bottom, left]: Volunteers help prepare a shipment of grain in the early days of Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

[top, right]: Since 1983, Foodgrains Bank members across Canada have provided food-related assistance in more than 70 countries.

[bottom, right]: Grain bags donated by Canadian farmers are unloaded in North Korea, where Foodgrains Bank members were responding to widespread hunger in the mid-1990s.


Today, the Foodgrains Bank is made up of 15-member church agencies that represent nearly 30 different Christian denominations in Canada. Since 1983, Foodgrains Bank members have provided over $1 billion worth of food-related assistance for tens of millions of people in more than 70 countries.

Canadian Baptists continue to play a key role in this Christian response to hunger.

“Food and nutrition are such an important part of God’s kingdom on earth and what God is seeking to do in the world through the Church,” says Terry Smith, CBM’s Executive Director. “Canadian churches are making such a strong contribution because of our collaboration, and we are able to accomplish something so much greater by doing it together than if we were trying to do it on our own.”

The spirit of working together isn’t lost on the Brownfield community. Since that first grain shipment in 1983, community members have come together each year to support efforts to end global hunger through CBM and the Foodgrains Bank.

“The project has taken different looks over the years,” says Richardson. “But we’ve always done something.”

These days, Canadian farmers no longer ship grain overseas. Now, they sell their crop on the Canadian market and donate the funds to the Foodgrains Bank. This enables Foodgrains Bank members like CBM to purchase culturally-appropriate food closer to the source of need and avoid denying local farmers of a market to sell their crops.

In recent years, Brownfield farmers began setting aside portions of crop sales from their own land to donate to CBM’s account at the Foodgrains Bank. Despite the cost of inputs, such as seed and fertilizer, the group works hard to ensure nearly all the money raised from the crop is used to help end world hunger.

“We’re intentional about not using the proceeds from the crop to pay for the crop, so in other words, most of the grain from 1983 until basically the present has gone beyond ourselves,” says Richardson.


A special partnership between two urban Baptist congregations has helped the Brownfield farmers keep this incredible commitment to ending global hunger. Each year, Westview Baptist Church in Calgary and Lorne Park Baptist Church in Mississauga raise money to cover the cost of farm inputs like seed and fertilizer for Brownfield’s efforts to help families facing hunger overseas.

“It’s really significant,” says Richardson. “These urban churches taking care of the cash side of things has made it doable.”

But having churches many kilometres away – in Lorne Park’s case, thousands of kilometres – raising money for these farming efforts in Brownfield doesn’t just provide monetary support.

“When you give a dollar and it inspires someone else to do something that can create a bunch of dollars, then your gift has multiplied itself exponentially. Lorne Park and Westview could have given straight to the Foodgrains Bank, but by choosing to funnel it through us, they brought an encouragement to us to keep doing what we’re doing. Their monies have encouraged our efforts and there’s a multiplication of that,” says Richardson.

When donations from the urban congregations are used to plant and grow a crop, their donation often increases after the crop is sold. Then, through the Foodgrains Bank’s ongoing grant agreement with the Canadian government, donations are eligible to be matched up to four to one.

Similar projects have started in other parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, providing even more opportunities for urban and rural Baptists to work together toward a world without hunger. Through CBM and the Foodgrains Bank, Canadian Baptists have helped end hunger for many families overseas. They’ve provided emergency food to Syrian refugees, helped farmers in Kenya grow more and healthier crops for their families, and worked with mothers in India to increase their children’s nutrition.

“It’s a huge expression of our faith,” says Richardson. “It’s a privilege that we have been given so much, and I believe to whom much has been given, much is required. We want to exhibit God’s heart for the lost and hungry. Great things happen when we give sacrificially.”


When he thinks back to those first days in 1983, Bruce Neal is deeply inspired with how the Foodgrains Bank has grown. He reflects gratefully on the overwhelming support from Baptists across the country and the opportunity to work alongside Christians from different denominations.

“It was one of the best things we ever did and the best ecumenical experience I ever had,” he says. Above all else, he’s moved by the life-changing support Canadian Baptists have provided for families in need of food.

“Sitting at that table in that meeting room when we first began, we hardly knew what we were starting. The way it’s evolved is a marvelous gift of God’s grace.” If you’d like to get involved in CBM’s efforts to end hunger with the Foodgrains Bank, visit cbmin.org/growhope.

Shaylyn McMahon serves as Communications Coordinator
for Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

2020-09-23T15:56:10-04:00Tags: , , |