EDITOR'S NOTE: Sunday, Oct. 11 is World Hunger Sunday for Southern Baptist churches across North America. Since 1974, Southern Baptists have fought the problem of hunger through their World Hunger Fund. One hundred percent of every dollar given to the fund is used to provide food to undernourished people all over the world -- 80 percent through the International Mission Board and 20 percent through the North American Mission Board. For more information on the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, including resources for promotion of World Hunger Sunday in your church, go to worldhungerfund.com.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As Christians, it is our responsibility to care for the downtrodden. Scripture makes clear the joy inherent in doing so. Proverbs 14:21 observes that "whoever shows kindness to the poor will be happy."

The biblical account of Boaz, a "prominent man," and Ruth, a young widow attempting to support herself as well as her widowed mother-in-law, is a beautiful example of personal financial sacrifice for the sole purpose of helping someone living in poverty and despair.

Scripture recounts that after Ruth asked the workers harvesting Boaz's barley crop if she could walk behind them and pick up, or glean, the grain they had dropped, Boaz instructed the men: "Be sure to let her gather grain among the bundles, and don't humiliate her. Pull out some stalks from the bundles for her and leave them for her to gather. Don't rebuke her" (Ruth 2:15-16).

Boaz was following the instruction to God's people from Leviticus 9:9-10: "When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap to the very edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You must not strip your vineyard bare or gather its fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident." Note that Boaz not only followed the law but also went beyond what it required. And being a man "of noble character," he made sure that Ruth would be protected while working in his fields and not rebuked or humiliated because of her vulnerable state.

You can make compassion for the poor a part of your Christian lifestyle by practicing modern-day versions of gleaning. You might offer to pick up the day-old bread from local grocery stores and distribute it to food ministries, or you might simply use a bread bank to collect your family's change for the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.

Proverbs 21:13 tells us plainly that our prayers will not be heard if we close our ears to the cries of the poor. It seems unlikely, therefore, that the church in America will experience blessing and revival if we fail to demonstrate concern and care for poor and hungry people.

And the bottom line is that meeting physical needs through hunger ministry opens doors for sharing Christ. As believers, that's what God expects of us.

Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
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Original publication date: October 12, 2009