The Rice and Beans Challenge: Experiencing A Taste of Poverty
The Rice and Beans Challenge
Grabbing the church bulletin, I peeked through it, to see what goodies the church was publishing this week. What I saw immediately grabbed my attention. "Rice and Beans Challenge" was what the insert said. Fascinated, I immediately started to read.
Eat rice and beans for five days, and learn to identify with those in third-world countries. Wow. Talk about living out your faith, and getting out of your comfort zone! Later on in the service, the drama team did a play showing a family, at the kitchen table, experiencing the "Rice and Beans Challenge." The pastor also talked about it extensively, and showed pictures of children from Swaziland, who were receiving food from missionaries over there, sent from the church.
We had just recently started attending this church, and I was impressed at how the leadership of the church was getting behind this project. They truly seemed to put reaching out into the world as a top priority.
Whispering in the Pews
Talking In Church
Smiling, I turned to my husband. "Do you wanna try it?" I whispered.
"You're going on a diet?" he asked, being somewhat deaf, especially when I try to talk to him while surrounded by 300 people singing.
"Do you want to do this challenge?"
"What? You want to go the lounge?" he asked again, puzzled.
"Never mind. I'll talk to you after," I replied.
Half an hour later, the service was finished, and I asked my husband once again if he would like to try the challenge.
"Naah ..." he responded. I expected as much. He was a man: used to being fed, and this just sounded like a bit too much.
"Okay, well, I'm just going to go over and sign up." So we ambled over, and went to sign up on the pictures of beans they give out for you put up on the wall.
"Okay, so I'll just put my name?" I ask, angling a bit for him to take this challenge with me.
"Sure! Let's try it!" my husband says, with enthusiasm.
"Are you sure?" I ask, finding it hard to believe what I was hearing.
"Yeah, let's do it!" he bubbled.
Well, my husband sometimes takes a while to get used to a new idea, but once he's in, he has to be one of the most enthusiastic people on the planet. So he was in. And we were officially enrolled in the "Rice and Bean Challenge."
Eat Only Rice and Beans
"The Rice and Beans Challenge" was hosted by our church, in conjunction with a series called "The Justice Journey," about social justice in our world. The challenge was designed to let pledgees experience what it is like to eat as someone in a third world country. Here is how the challenge works:
- The first day we eat only rice and beans. This is like the 1.1 billion people world-wide who survive on a $1/day.
- The second and third day we can add one seasoning for the day, and half a cup of mixed vegetables. This is like a family who has been sponsored.
- The fourth day you can add a piece of homemade African Chapatis flatbread. (one piece a day) to what you are already eating. This represents the 3 billion people across the globe who live on $2/day.
So, it's a five day challenge. It sounds challenging, for sure. Will we make it? We will try. I go out to stock up on rice, and beans, and get ready to go, the following day. Surprisingly, we do not pig out the night before. I feel calm.
Words to Ponder
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
Matthew 25: 44-45
Jesus said that if we turn our back on those that are in need: hungry, or thirsty, naked, sick, lonely, or in prison, we are turning our back on Him.
The night before, I soak the beans for half an hour, and then place them into the slow cooker. I am used to cooking with a lot of spices, and it feels so strange to not use any seasoning. I will cook the rice tomorrow morning.
The next morning, I get up earlier than my husband, and cook up the rice. I grab a bowl of the rice and beans together. Not too bad, but the beans are bland. Better than I expected, though. When my husband gets up, I serve him a bowl. He has a slight frown on his face, not enjoying the idea of rice and beans, at all. But he does not complain.We remind each other that some people eat like this every day. The rest of the day passes by without incident. We both are off work that day, so we are fairly relaxed.
The next day, we have the option of adding a spice, and a half a cup of vegetables. This is to mirror the conditions of a third world family that has been sponsored by someone from North America. So, instead of just plain rice and beans, they can have plain rice and beans, with a tiny bit of veges and one spice. Still not a lot to get excited about, from my bloated Western perspective!
I cheat a bit, and test a couple of the spices to see which one tastes the best. I go with the garlic salt. I am craving flavour, much more than I am, food. This morning, I go to work, and my husband stays home. (He has taken some of his holidays.). At work, I share with one of my coworkers that we are doing this challenge. She doesn't say much. I am in the classroom for three hours, and I start to feel a bit light-headed. I find myself less alert, when students are asking me questions. This is actually getting harder. I feel a wimp!
My husband and I eat a dinner together. He prays with power, and asks the LORD for our needs. I find myself feeling so grateful for the portion that I have. I still feel calm, although a bit light-headed.
Swaziland Video from 2009
Words To Ponder
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
The Apostle James wrote that pure religion was taking care of the needy in our community.
The Challenge Was Over
The third day, we both get up, ready to go on the challenge, but both of us feel so light-headed that we start getting grouchy and crabby with each other. We feel tense, and start to spout stuff we wouldn't normally say. We are already have a lot of stress in our lives, right now, and are dealing with some very difficult situations. This was one more thing, and we just caved. It's hard to believe what a comfort food can be, when in the middle of a crisis.
We decide to start eating again, a lot just because the other stresses in our life that we were dealing with, seemed like too much, and it was hard to concentrate on doing the challenge. I feel bad, knowing we were not able to stand up in solidarity with the billions in the world who have no choice, but to live like this every day of their lives. It did not feel good to give in, but it was also eye-opening. Those in countries with these poverty issues countries do not have the luxury of deciding to eat, if they feel stressed out. They don't have a choice about eating, at all. And that is a harsh reality. We do depend on the comfort and sustience of food, to carry us through the difficult times.
Even the acting of eating a delicious meal together bonds us as a family, and a couple. Through the hardest times, we still manage to have meals, and decent food. Going without this basic of life, when other things were difficult, too, seemed so difficult!
Our challenge is over, but we have been deeply moved by this experience. It has given me a newfound gratefulness for all that God provides for us, every day. We are so blessed to have so much: even when we feel broke, according to North American standards.
My husband says that he has experienced a fresh desire to read the Bible, and he too feels grateful for what we have.
We were not able to go the full journey with our brothers and sisters in those countries that have nothing. This speaks to our North American pampering. We had a choice to go off of this diet, but they don't. We were able to stop our symptoms of hunger and extreme discomfort, merely by deciding to eat again. I know that they can't. I can't imagine living in this reality, day in and day out. But for over 3 million people, there is no other reality.
How can we help? Sponsoring a child from a hungry country is a good start. Being aware is the first step. And consuming less, so we can have money to send is very good. We can't change whole countries, by ourselves, but we can be part of the solution.
During the challenge, we also had one more person involved: my stepson. He did not take part in the challenge, and so he watched us, as we were eating this food. We talked about it, afterwards, and we agreed that him watching us, was akin to the way North Americans sit and watch the rest of the world, while they starve. There's something not right about half the world regularly spending $30 every time they go out for one meal, while the other half gets by on $2, or even $1 for feeding a family, for one day. It's definitely not fair, or right.