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Posted: December 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Feast and famine

This is the season of feasting - and it shows. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, most Americans gain between one and five pounds from Thanksgiving to New Years Day. This may not sound too bad, but according to the study, the holiday weight gain stays with us, accumulating over the years, so the extra weight we carry really is last year's turkey, fruitcake, divinity and fudge. Duane Alexander, M.D., said, "These findings suggest that developing ways to avoid holiday weight gain may be extremely important for preventing obesity and the diseases associated with it."

On the other extreme, there are nearly a billion people around the world without enough food to eat this Christmas. On Dec. 9, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization issued a statement saying that there were 40 million more people suffering from hunger this year than there were last year. This is like saying that all the people in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee were now going to have to survive on one meal a day, or less, indefinitely, and this is just the 2008 increase in world hunger. According to the UN, the total number of those undernourished worldwide is now 963 million people. Nearly one out of every seven people on the planet is undernourished. According to the Global Hunger Index, the countries with the most undernourished people are all in Africa: The Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Burundi, Niger, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ethiopia.

There is a way to both help curb our seasonal weight gain and at the same time do something to for the hungry. We can fast for a day - that is, go without eating for three meals this holiday season - and then we give the money that we would have spent on food to an agency that helps with world hunger.

A short fast could be a welcomed rest for our stomachs, and it could also help us spiritually as well - increasing our sympathy for those who regularly go hungry. (This may be part of the reason why our Lord taught fasting, both in word and example - see Matthew chapters 4 and 6).

We could all miss three meals, especially if you stretch this out over several days, but where do we send the money that was saved? How does a person identify honest, efficient, and actually-helping-people charities? There is a very useful Web page called "Charity Navigator, Your Guide to Intelligent Giving" found at charitynavigator.org. It rates charities on their efficiency and effectiveness, giving four stars to the best charities. You can look up a particular charity, or look up a need and find a charity. (If you do not have the Internet, the public library in Covington does and the librarians would be happy to show you how it works, or you can call the Charity Navigator at (201) 818-1288.)

Another way to find the right charity is to ask your church leaders. Most likely your church is already involved in an effort to feed the hungry. For example, the United Methodist Committee Relief supports ministries in more than 80 countries around the world, including all of the hardest suffering countries named above. UMCOR is also a rated a four-star charity by Charity Navigator. To find more information about UMCOR's ministries to help feed the hungry, go to www.umcor.org.

This is the season of self-indulgence, but we can dare to be different, to be countercultural. Fast, and give the savings away, and when you sing of the savior come to "bring peace on earth and good will toward men," you can say, "I'm helping with this too."

Rev. John Donaldson is the Pastor at Newborn and Mansfield UMC and can be reached at john.donaldson@ngumc.net.

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