Each year in early October, deacons and church secretaries in Christian Reformed congregations across North America go into their storage closets and church basements to pull out boxes of orange plastic fish.
By mid-October, the fish-shaped banks become a source of energy and excitement as Sunday school children and their parents fill them with coins and bring them to church for World Hunger Sunday, designated by synod as the first Sunday in November.
It’s a tradition that Christian Reformed churches have observed for years—a tradition that makes a difference in people’s lives around the world.
The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s annual World Hunger Campaign celebrates its 30th birthday this year. In 1978, synod (the broadest decision-making body of the CRC) stated that “the alleviation of hunger at home and abroad is an integral part of our Christian responsibility.”
To assist with this mandate, the church set aside a special Sunday once a year to focus on world hunger and asked CRWRC to provide educational and support materials for this day of prayer and fasting.
The first World Hunger Sunday was held in 1979. While the themes and promotional elements of the campaign have changed over time, the overall mission of CRWRC’s World Hunger Campaign remains the same: to help members of the CRC remember the needs of people around the world and become part of the solution to end hunger and poverty.
One Church, One Day, One Country
In its early years, the World Hunger Campaign focused on a single country: Sierra Leone. The denomination chose this West African nation and sent CRWRC and Christian Reformed World Missions staff there.
The first four years of CRWRC’s World Hunger Campaign focused on the work of the church in Sierra Leone and encouraged congregations to pray, fast, and give as they considered the needs of their neighbors.
By 1983, however, the outreach of the CRC and CRWRC had grown, and the content of the annual World Hunger Campaign was expanded to include facts and stories from around the world. CRWRC was also receiving requests from churches to provide more education, activities, speakers, and presentations than could fit into one Sunday service.
As a result World Hunger Sunday expanded into a multi-week World Hunger Campaign usually starting the week after Canadian Thanksgiving in October and extending to the first Sunday in November.
A Fish Is Born
Perhaps the most memorable part of CRWRC’s annual World Hunger Campaign is the bright orange fish bank. These “Peter Fish” were designed as part of the 1995 World Hunger Campaign to provide children and families with something enjoyable and visual to get them excited about the campaign.
The name “Peter Fish” refers to the story in Matthew 17 where Peter catches a fish that has a coin in its mouth. It also refers to a fish in the Sea of Galilee that carries its young in its mouth to protect them. When the young go out on their own, the mother fish fills the gap in her mouth with a coin, a bottlecap, or some other round object she finds. The locals call the fish “St. Peter’s Fish.” When they catch one, they sometimes find a coin in its mouth.
The 1995 campaign included education around the proverb “If you give someone a fish, they eat for a day. If you teach them to fish, they’ll eat for a lifetime.” The campaign explored CRWRC’s long-term and sustainable approach to helping communities in poverty.
Since 1995, Peter Fish banks have continued to be an integral part of the annual campaign. So much so, in fact, that when Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., distributed the banks around campus in support of the campaign, students remembered them from their childhoods and eagerly took them back to their dorms.
Today, every CRWRC World Hunger Campaign includes daily giving suggestions to raise awareness of the needs of people around the world and give supporters an opportunity to put money into their Peter Fish banks.
What Good Does It Do?
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the percentage of hungry people in the developing world has dropped dramatically over the past 30 years. In 1970, approximately 37 percent of people in the developing world were hungry. In 2007, that number had decreased to 17 percent, due in part to efforts such as the one launched by the CRC through CRWRC.
Last year, more than 500 churches, schools, and businesses participated in CRWRC’s World Hunger Campaign and raised about $1.1 million for CRWRC’s work around the world. As a result, CRWRC was able to work in 30 countries to help individuals, families, and entire communities improve their lives, income, and food production in lasting ways.
There is still much to do. The Food Agricultural Organization estimates that there are 963 million hungry people in the world today. Join CRWRC in responding by participating in this year’s World Hunger Campaign or attending a World Hunger Sunday service on Nov. 1. For more information, visit www.crwrc.org.
CRWRC at a Glance
- CRWRC was incorporated in 1962.
- Today CRWRC works in 30 countries around the world, plus areas that have recently suffered from disaster or conflict.
- Provides training and consultation to more than 105 local churches and community organizations to help them improve their communities in lasting ways
- Provides immediate and long-term aid to communities in North America and around the world following disasters
- Last year, more than 888,000 people improved their lives thanks to CRWRC programs. CRWRC has offered materials for World Hunger Sunday to the Christian Reformed Church since 1979. This year’s campaign, ONE TABLE, reminds us of our global family in the body of Christ. As we strive for unity with God’s people everywhere, we are reminded of the disparity between us. While some sit down at tables of plenty, others are left hungry. The campaign offers suggestions for how to go about changing this. For more information, or to order materials, see www.crwrc.org.
- In addition to the World Hunger Campaign, CRWRC works with the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action to offer suggestions on things we can do to change our lifestyles and advocate with our governments to benefit those in need. For more information, see www.crcjustice.org.