Tony Hall’s 2017 Fast “For the Least of These”
May 31, 2017
Tony Hall, Executive Director Emeritus of the Alliance to End Hunger, went on a fast from Sunday, May 21 until Monday, May 29, 2017. Tony’s fast was an extended version of a fast conducted by dozens of faith leaders and congregations from across the country. The movement, themed “For Such a Time as This,” was organized in response to national budget proposals that would be detrimental to programs supporting poor and hungry people in the US and abroad. You can learn more about the movement through our sister organization, Bread for the World.
Tony logged his experience in a blog on the Alliance’s website, starting with his rationale for the fast, followed by daily updates. All of this can be seen below.
A Message from Tony Hall
Thank you for taking an interest in my fast. On May 21 I will join a number of faith leaders from around the country, as well as numerous congregations and organizations—including those from the Alliance to End Hunger—for a time of prayer, fasting and advocacy.
I will begin my fast on May 21, and will continue for what will start as one week, but could be more. This decision is very personal and spiritual to me, but I also firmly believe that it comes at an important time for our nation. My decision to fast is not one out of protest for anything or anyone. It is a decision I have made because I feel that we need to bring God closer into our lives, and reflect on how we are serving God and one another.
But this fast is for more than just people of faith. As a country, we can use this opportunity to reflect on the spirit of what makes this country great, and remind ourselves of our enduring values.
Please take a look at my message below, and follow my journey through this fast through my blog here at alliancetoendhunger.org/tony-hall-fast-2017. Thank you very much, and God bless you.
All My Best,
Monday, May 22, 2017
It is day two of my fast, and I am feeling great. Since beginning the fast, I have already felt a certain ‘cleansing’ of my spirit. I find myself able to concentrate on and reflect upon why I am doing this. While I am choosing to do this fast, I can’t help but remember that for many people in the United States, hunger is not a choice—especially at this time of month. The end of the month is a time when federal assistance runs out for many poor and hungry individuals, and decisions are made between feeding themselves or their children; or between buying food or buying medicine; or many other decisions I am fortunate enough to not need to make. I will be taking this to heart as I travel to my hometown of Dayton, OH for the next two days. Dayton is unfortunately home to many people facing these decisions right now. As I continue to fast, I will keep these people in my heart, and they will add to my strength.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
I have been reading a lot about the President’s FY 2018 Budget, which was released today. This budget is deeply disturbing and disheartening. But I once again need to take time to remember why I am fasting, and why this time is so critical for the country. As I mentioned in my original message on why I am fasting, this fast is not in protest of any policy, person, or budget. Yes, we are currently witnessing vicious attacks on programs that benefit the poor and hungry everywhere in the world. But isn’t this troubling news a reflection on our own society? Isn’t it, to some extent, a sign of our decreasing spiritual health, both as individuals and as a country?
We would do well to remember the scriptures. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells his disciples a parable about helping those in need. Verses 44-45 are eye opening, when Jesus “quotes” the wicked servants of a master as saying: “…‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
While this Bible passage has special meaning to me as a Christian, I firmly believe it applies to our society as well. Whenever we fail to help someone in need here in the US or around the world, we are leaving our own country behind. Helping those in need is beyond moral… it is also patriotic. When we fail to help those in need, we fail our country.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Yesterday, on my flight to Dayton, I found myself getting dehydrated. I have been dehydrated before, but I find it is more pronounced during times of fasting. For me, it was a little off-putting and uncomfortable for a while. I am better now, but the experience made me think about the fact that those fighting hunger-especially in famine-threatened areas of the world-are often struggling to also find adequate, safe drinking water.
When you lack food, your immune system begins to wear down. If this is mixed with a lack of water, or water contaminated with unhealthy bacteria, this can create a deadly combination. I am choosing to fast, and I was able to choose to drink more water when I knew I needed to. If the hunger I feel right now wasn’t a choice, and I wasn’t able to find water, I would be in a very scary situation.
Hunger is more than just a physical feeling. It can be terrifying. To feel hungry, as I do, is not the same as being truly ‘Hungry,’ as those in places like South Sudan and Yemen are. This fast has, however, helped me to build upon my empathy for those who are hungry. It is helping me to fast in solidarity with them, and in turn those who are truly hungry are giving me strength during this time.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
My favorite book on fasting is “God’s Chosen Fast” by Arthur Wallis, which I’ve read often. Wallis writes “…when exercised with a pure heart and a right motive, fasting may provide us with a key to unlock doors where other keys have failed; a window opening up new horizons in the unseen world; a spiritual weapon of God’s providing, ‘mighty, to the pulling down of strongholds.’”
This book has helped provide me with strength in the time running up to my various fasts, as well as during them. I realize that many people following my fast do not necessarily have a religious affiliation, but these words of wisdom from Wallis are still important. Every day, I am trying to approach this fast not out of anger or disappointment with current political discourse. Instead, I am trying to draw my own attention—and the attention of others—to the underlying reasons for our misunderstandings and misguided actions. If we don’t address this underlying narrative, we will continue to see troubling attacks on policies and programs that help the world’s vulnerable populations. Proposals like we see in the President’s budget will begin to seem less and less radical, and more and more normal. We need to challenge the normalizing of this narrative, and concentrate on what the true values and spirit of who we are.
Friday, May 26, 2017
For those of you who live in cities – or even visit a city from time to time – you have no doubt encountered someone who is homeless. The homeless population is one that is unfortunately a part of the landscape of many urban centers. One thing you may notice about some homeless people is the amount of clothing they are wearing. Even when it is hot out, you can find homeless people wearing a lot of clothes. This is something I noticed among many hungry people in poor countries around the world as well.
I bring this up because as my fast goes on, I am finding myself becoming colder and colder. I need more clothes on my body during the day and blankets at night. I’ve experienced this in past fasts as well. When you don’t eat food, your body doesn’t produce the energy needed to warm the body. It doesn’t matter what the temperature is outside – you’re cold. And with the cold is coming more fatigue.
Once again, I am choosing to do this. This cold, and this fatigue, are side effects of a fast I have chosen to do. But what about those who are feeling this cold and this tiredness who do not choose it? I can’t imagine it would be any less than depressing, disheartening, and downright scary. We need to remember the psychological impact of hunger, and not just the physical.
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Yesterday, I broke my fast. After over 8 days of fasting, I felt good about where I was mentally, physically, and spiritually. As a person of faith, I feel that my time offered me spiritual clarity, and brought me closer to God.
There is a quote that I read after breaking my fast that struck me in a profound way. In his book Primal, author Mark Batterson writes about a simple but meaningful sermon he heard: “Does your heart break for the things that break the heart of God?” This begs an answer to a simple question—when we think about the poor, and the hurting, and the shut-ins, and the hungry, are we ok with what we are doing to help these people? When we consider the families who struggle to put food in front of their children in this country, or the families with children dying of hunger in famine-stricken areas, do we think our response is sufficient?
This, of course, is not just a question for people of faith. It is our duty as citizens to ask the same questions in light of who we are as a nation. Again, with parents struggling to put food in front of their children, are we okay with potentially pulling back our helping hand? Are we honestly ok with scaling back aid and development to countries with suffering populations simply because it doesn’t immediately benefit us? This is contrary to what I always felt our values were as a country. If we are in the process of revising our fundamental values, then that is more concerning than any accompanying policy debates.
My fast may be over for now, but the experience was very important to my own faith journey, and has provided me with a reaffirmation of my own mission to stand in solidarity with those who need a stronger voice—both as a person of faith and as an American.