Embarking on the Hunger Games

Guest blogger Kenny Namkoong, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

$554.  9 individuals. 2 weeks.

Sounds like a reality show?  Well, these numbers are what we have to work with throughout the 6 week time period.  9 individuals of Siloam’s Community Health Immersion programs (CHI) have to work with $554 on average per 2 weeks.

First week shopping trip, the CHI participants find values at the local Aldi store.

First week shopping trip, the CHI participants find values at the local Aldi store.

In addition to living within the refugee community at the Highlands, the participants have to work with each other in order to survive the food budget set to imitate the food stamps that most of the families in the Highlands receive.  We also received $60 per person for personal spending for the whole 6 weeks.

…$1.47 per meal?

When we first obtained the gift cards containing the budget, I had mixed feelings.  I was excited to get underway with the program and start a new life with 8 others.  However, $1.47 per meal? How are we going to do that?  In addition to the budget, we were expected to include the four essential parts listed in MyPlate: grains, vegetables, fruits, and protein.  The task seemed impossible and daunting.  May the odds be ever in our favor.

The task seemed impossible and daunting.

The CHI crew gathers for "family meals" each evening.

The CHI crew gathers for “family meals” each evening.

On the first day of grocery shopping, the group decided to come up with a battle plan.  We could not just go out there and hope for the best.  One of us suggested that we go to Aldi, a grocery store frequently used by our neighbors.  We accomplished our first shopping with ease, spending about $100 on groceries for the meals for the following week.  However, as the week progressed, we began spending money on things that were unnecessary to our survival. I guess seeing the overwhelming choices presented at Walmart got us excited.  The spending spree stopped short thanks to some of our analytical members; they directed us towards “the light.” Despite cutting down on shopping at places like Walmart, which was surprisingly expensive, we still needed some assistance.

Thankfully, Siloam health community members came to the rescue!  The staff members took turns to help feed us once every week.  They kindly took us into their homes and fed all 9 of us, from pancakes and bacon to burgers and fries.  We got to enjoy the proteins that we direly desired.

…breaking bread in their homes,

they received their food with glad and generous hearts…

It reminded me of Acts 2:45-47, “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (ESV).  The last part especially rings true.  I believe the Lord will provide for the ministry of Siloam day by day for taking part in our hardships and those in the community.

…it is serious business…

On a $10-meal-for-a-family scavenger hunt, Davies gets the shaft on his suggestion of catching mice to add protein to their diet.

On a $10-meal-for-a-family scavenger hunt, Davies gets the shaft on his suggestion of catching mice to add protein to their diet.

Whether it is eating at the house of Siloam’s staff or just eating at home amongst us, the dinner times are a pleasure.  The enjoyment of the whole process seems to be present starting from buying groceries, eating together, and worrying about the next meal.  However, it was a great lesson for each one of us.  While this process is temporary for us, for those living in the Highlands, it is serious business.  Immersing in the meal budget helped me to see things from the inside.  For example, how will these refugees worry about buying nutritious food and exercising when thinking about next meals itself is a war.  Living on a food budget helped me internalize the attitude of the refugees and the point of view at which they approach us.  It brings a whole new meaning to holistic patient care.  Therefore, if I were to do this program again with the budget limitations, I would gladly volunteer.

Curry and Questionings – Part 1 of 2

There have been very few frustrations in this immersion program so far.

CHI participant, Jane, enjoys both food and friends in a Burmese house church.

CHI participant, Jane, enjoys both food and friends in a Burmese house church.

In fact, the only one that I can think of right now is my total incompetence when it comes to learning words in a different language. We have spent three weeks with a Burmese congregation and the only word that I know is Jesu-be or “thank you.” Fortunately for me, I have plenty of opportunities to express my gratitude using this simple expression.

My time with the Burmese has been an amazing adventure and a wonderful experience. We attend the Sunday service every week, located in the Bethel World Outreach church. Here, the 2-3 dozen or so attendees worship, pray, read scripture, and share stories of God working in their daily lives – all of which is conducted in the Burmese language. Needless to say, I cannot understand anything that is being said, sung, or shared. What I can understand, however, are the smiles on their faces, the passion in their words, the tears in their eyes, and the love on their hearts. I find this to be true not only on Sundays but also Saturday nights at the house church. Actually, the relaxed setting makes the experience even more powerful because it is a much more informal and personal interaction.

Spending Saturday evenings at a church member’s apartment is what I look forward to most about the weekend. As Jane highlighted in her previous blog, (found here: http://siloaminstitute.org/2013/06/11/my-burmese-family/) the house church is “no ordinary experience.”

The large mat covering a majority of the floor serves as the only “furniture” in the room; we all sit around it and I am reminded of kindergarten during show and tell – except we are asked to share testimonies of the presence of God in our lives the past week. Listening to these stories is very encouraging; even the smallest blessings are spoken of with excitement and exhilaration. I am always taken aback when I look around the room and witness the pure, raw, unbridled emotion in their words and actions while sharing, praying, and singing. This is what true gratitude toward our Father is: always acknowledging His presence, seeking Him with our thoughts, mimicking Him through our actions, and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow from our being.

After we are done worshiping and sharing, we are met with a wave of food – noodle soup, egg-rolls, and curry to name a few. Simply put, it is delicious. Not only are we fed these cuisines, they find great delight in continually giving us more and more until I feel as if I am going to burst!

In addition to their generosity, we are showered with excellent conversation and stories about their lives and where they have come from. The more I hear the more intrigued I become and the more my own faith is challenged.

Many stories include fleeing their native state in Myanmar (Burma) to a refugee camp in Thailand or Malaysia. From these camps, they have been able to travel to America, finally ending up in Nashville. This pattern repeats itself from one person to another but each individual has a different take and a different experience through the process.

One constant that I have found in every story is their faith. Throughout all of their trials, turmoil, travel woes, and tribulation their faith remains. Everyone is so grateful not only for the blessings, new beginnings, and friends accumulated but for the hardships as well. Their faith hasn’t been shaken but strengthened; I long to experience this same abandonment of personal feelings in order to focus on our Heavenly Father.

With the opportunities and blessings I have been given why do I not always feel this confident in my faith? In my next blog, I will write about how this summer is affecting the way I approach my own “hardships” and personal wrestlings dealing with my faith in action.

Manzella, Elias - 2013  Elias is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.


Food, Glorious Food

Editor’s note:  The SMI students, as a group, were given the equivalent of food stamps (based upon a zero-income household) and told to purchase and prepare all of their own food.  For a family of five in Tennessee, this amounts to $200 weekly – about $1.90 per meal per person.  Additionally, they were each  given a $10 bill for their own personal use (laundry, personal hygiene, etc.).  

Cameron Michael writes of this experience…

The first day of the SMI when we received our food stipend I looked down at the cash in my hand and wondered, “What am I going to do with this?”  However, after taking some time to look around and find reasonably priced healthy food, I learned that living on food stamps is not all that bad.  The prospect of not having enough money to buy your own food has frightened me from childhood.  This idea persisted and has been a part of the reason why I want to be able to consistently provide for my family.  However, I learned that the food stamp budget is one that can be easily lived on.  I realized quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to get the foods that I had always enjoyed whenever I wanted.  I had  to budget things out and make sure that I had enough food for the week, and as time moved on I became more used to getting what I need first.  After I got everything that I needed I might then be able to buy a candy bar or snack food.

Coming from a household where I could get a Snickers bar whenever I wanted to, this was somewhat of a hurdle for me.  There were several occasions when I was craving a caramel mocha Frappuccino, salt and vinegar chips, or Arizona sweet tea and was unable to get it because of my lack of funds.  This really showed me that I am living such a privileged life.  There were so many things that I took for granted before the SMI and this is just one of them.

“Faithful Eating” lecture- an opportunity for growth

Shown above is one member of Siloam’s Board of Directors- Keith Meador, speaker- Dr. Wirzba, and the Siloam Institute’s Director- Dr. Wills. Click on the photo or here for the opportunity to listen to the lecture!

Rachel Davis blogs…

Sunday, April 29th,  as a social work student at Belmont, I had the privilege of attending the Institute’s inaugural spring lecture entitled “Faithful Eating: A Matter of Life and Death.” Our distinguished speaker for the evening was Dr. Norman Wirzba, Research Professor of Theology, Ecology, and Rural Life at Duke Divinity School. The event brought together some of Nashville’s most experienced community health advocates, academicians, and professionals interested in the topics of good food — and good eating – as they are essential to human life and health. It was wonderful to be surrounded by 120 distinguished individuals united around such pressing issues!

 The evening began with the conviction that for us to eat, something else/another must die – even if only a plant. What a powerful thought! In all God’s creation, why did he  make it so that we must eat? It’s our most intimate interaction with the world. As we ingest the nourishment for our bodies, it becomes a part of us. Through food, we are in fellowship with others, in which we have the opportunity to honor the world, workers, producers, and the food itself! God has given us the gift of nourishment and health, but how has that transitioned into the food commodity system that is so focused on efficiency as it exists now? In gift giving, we are able to give ourselves to others to appreciate. So how do we adequately love our loved ones, yet let them live lives that could kill them? What messages are we sending out in allowing our world to function this way- what is the meaning?

 It’s plausible to say that this thought-provoking lecture could change lives. But what can we do to take a step in the right direction? And for that, there is no right answer other than just to start something! By something, almost anything could have a positive impact: get to know who or what is producing your food – knowledge is power; learn more about community supported agriculture (CSA) in your area; and finally practice hospitality in the mindset of providing others with the gifts of nurturing, healing, and mindfulness!

Below are pictures from the event.