Nearly 200 people attended BCF’s first Hunger Banquet held in Lindon, Utah on September 30, 2013. Guests were randomly chosen to feast at fancy tables where they were served a multi-course dinner, or to fill rows of chairs where they could serve themselves a dinner of beans and rice. The majority of participants, however, were directed to find a spot on the floor where they could serve themselves a cupful of white rice. Our Master of Ceremonies, Davis Bell, then discussed with participants the disparity in food availability that exists between wealthy nations and resource poor countries. Though many had hunger pangs as a result of meager servings, the lesson made an impact among the parents, children, students, and professionals who attended the awareness-building event.
Polly Sheffield, MD talked about the mission of BCF and its current programs in the countries of Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, and Cambodia. Participants were also able to watch the new documentary, “Our Beloved Children,” that was produced by Ben King at Oxigeno Films. Brianna Hardisty and Stacey James shared some of their experiences as interns in Guatemala in June of 2012. We also heard from Elder and Sister Yeates, recently returned missionaries from Battambang, Cambodia, who helped establish a new program in Cambodia. At the conclusion of the programs, local dancers shared the native dances of Peru to the delight of participants.
After the program, participants were able to visit with our local coordinators from the countries of Cambodia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Peru. They could taste native foods and purchase various local wares and artwork from each of the countries. The coordinators dressed in native costume, which added a festive air to the proceedings.
In addition to the Hunger Banquet, the coordinators participated in a rigorous travel schedule and made presentations to groups in Richland, Washington; San Jose, Irvine, Los Angeles, and Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; St. George, Lindon, Orem, and Bountiful, Utah. These meetings were well-attended and many felt the spirit of these wonderful coordinators who devote themselves to the plight of the poor in their Stakes and Branches.
One touching story from their visits occurred at the home of Grant Hallstrom. He writes of his experience as follows:
Thirty-seven years ago while serving as a missionary in Otavalo, Ecuador, I had the distinct impression that a great missionary work was about to proceed among the Quechua-speaking natives living in the hills surrounding the town. However, when I met with the mission president at a zone conference a short time later he informed me that he was transferring all of the other missionaries out of my district, leaving just me and my companion. Additionally, he instructed me to not go into the countryside to teach but instead to only work with the Spanish speaking residents in town. I wrestled with this apparent contradiction the whole day during the bus ride back to Otavalo and later while lying in bed at night. There was no question that I was going to obey the President’s directive, but I struggled with the apparent conflict. While pondering this matter, the song We Are All Enlisted kept coming into my mind. Then the verse in Doctrine & Covenants 84:107 came into my mind stating that we are to send the Aaronic Priesthood before us “to fill appointments that you yourselves are not able to fill.” My mind’s eye opened up so that I could see the Quechua speaking members teaching their relatives and neighbors by themselves without direct full-time missionary involvement. The following Sunday we informed the small branch (congregation) that we were not authorized to teach in the countryside any more, so it was now all up to them. The burden of teaching their community rested directly on their shoulders, but we would help them learn how to teach the gospel message to their friends and family. We told them that they had to do a good job because I would interview everyone who wanted to be baptized and if they were not ready they would have to wait. We then proceeded to instruct the members how to be good branch missionaries.A few weeks later, one of the members asked me to interview a couple of his relatives to see if they were ready for baptism. The whole way out there the member kept saying that he had taught them everything he knew, so he kept pleading that I would “pass them.” Needless to say, they were taught much better than anyone I had personally taught.
The taller young man in the photo below was the first individual who was baptized after being taught exclusively by the local branch members. There were many individuals who followed him into the waters of baptism. In fact, the work exploded among the Quechua-speaking community. To give you an idea of how quickly the work progressed once they got me out of the way, one year later so many persons had joined the Church in this small community that they built a chapel. On my last Sunday in Ecuador, I was able to attend the first worship service this now large branch of several hundred members held in their beautiful new chapel. Two years later they formed a stake (which is similar to a Catholic Diocese with several parishes) in this community. I soon realized that because this Quechua-speaking community was so close-knit they were not very receptive to foreigners but were much more open to hear the message from individuals in their own community. As you can imagine, I cherish this photo of the first family to lead this phenomenal conversion story.
Unfortunately, like too many missionaries, I did not keep in touch with the people from my mission. I had no contact with any of the LDS members from that small town for 37 years until last night, when we held the reception for the coordinators of the Bountiful Children’s Foundation from Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, and Cambodia. I was pleased to find out that the representative from Ecuador was from this small town I served in years ago. When I showed the coordinator from Ecuador this photo hanging in a prominent spot in my den, he was shocked to see that it was a picture of his family! The Bountiful coordinator is the small child kneeling on the right side in the picture. His older brother was the first person to be baptized under this member missionary approach and is now a bishop in the Church. The Bountiful coordinator is now the stake president (similar to the arch bishop who presides over a diocese).Not only was this event last night a great tender mercy from the Lord to me, it was also a tender mercy to the Bountiful coordinator. He did not remember me, or course, but he did remember his family kneeling down and praying for the first time together and having their picture taken. To this day he wished he had a copy of this picture. Now he does.
Photo of display at the 2013 Hunger Banquet: