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Issue 8-02

Hold a Starving Child in Your Arms

The problem with most of us is that we have never held a starving child in our arms. Consequently, the reality that one-third of all children under five suffer from malnutrition, and that every year 15 million children die of hunger, somehow just doesn’t impact us, no matter how often some parent says, “Eat all your food; children are starving in Africa.” UNICEF reports that 40,000 childen die each day of diseases that are preventable.

In her book An African Awakening: My Journey Into AIDS Activism, Valerie Bell recounts meeting a little child, Faith, about four years of age:

“They’ve dressed her out for our visit in her best—a pink crinoline party dress. I’d guess it was vintage missionary barrel, circa 1950s. Really, I could have worn that dress as a child. She is stoic, as if the spark of life has been sucked from her small body. Her eyes are dulled by fever. Her too-thin arms and legs dangle from her body. Clearly, she is failing.

“Fiona, a World Vision staffer, fills in this little girl’s story. Faith’s mother and father both died from AIDS-related complications, leaving four young children, including Faith, who was infected with HIV. Ashina, Faith’s married older sister, herself a mother of four, took in her four orphaned siblings. Ashina’s husband was wealthy by Maasai standards; he owned a herd of more than two hundred cattle, plus many sheep and goats. But he felt strongly stigmatized by Faith’s HIV presence in their home. Soon he forced his wife to choose between him—with the security and support he provided—and her orphaned brothers and sisters. Ashina chose her siblings. Consequences quickly followed: Ashina’s husband abandoned them, taking all their cows, a Maasai’s primary source of income and food. Putting his family behind him, he moved to another village and started a new family. Ashina receives no help from him, and without a source of income, she struggles to provide for her family of eight children.

“Holding Faith in her arms, Fiona finishes this family’s dire story with Faith’s medical prognosis—this four-year-old weighs only sixteen pounds. Unfortunately, Faith is three pounds too underweight to be considered a candidate for antiretroviral treatments. She is too weak, too little. With or without drugs, she is dying. The precious treatments must be given to better candidates. As I scan the circle of adult faces in that dank and dark place, the emotion we share is the same unspoken frustration. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men—all our combined church and personal resources—will not save this child. We are three pounds too late.

“If I say that to a person we ache to comfort this child, it is an enormous understatement. She is handed to me first and comes without protest, as if all fight is gone. Every maternal cell in me wants to comfort, pray and sing into that darkness “Jesus loves you, this I know.” I try to make my moments with her count. Massaging her hot little head and molding her weak body to my own, I rock and bend toward her ear, whispering words I know she can’t understand but that hopefully contain something of the comfort of a mother. Faith neither protests nor responds …

“Later that night, writing in my journal, I find the words that had escaped me earlier that day: Oh resigned little girl. I hate this disease and how it’s reduced you. And that dress. We used to call that a ‘twirling’ dress. I wish I’d seen you in it, dancing and laughing with dizziness. Crinoline dresses were meant for partying, not for dying—just as four-year-old girls were meant to scatter the magic of their laughter and joy into the world, not to break hearts with their suffering. It’s so twisted …

“I’m so overwhelmingly sorry. What kind of a world is it that can be three pounds too late and never know it? There should never be a ‘three pounds too late.’”

This past year, through jewelry sales, Hungry Souls has sent almost $2000 to the St. Martha’s trust, a microcredit organization that helps to support HIV/AIDS widows who live in Nairobi’s Kibera slums. Through fair-trade sales of African-made shopping bags, $3614 has gone to support bag-makers in Nairobi. A church recently donated $4500 to set up the sewing room at the Nairobi Evangelical School of Theology, and this gift will allow us to not only hire more seamstresses but to buy more sewing machines.

Global Bag Project

The Global Bag Project stateside has sold about $3000 of American-made bags, allowing us to pay for a graphic designer to create a logo and design a brochure. Year-end gifts allowed Mainstay Ministries, our parent organization, to allot $1500 toward a Global Bag Project Web site, which is now being started. We also have enough money from sales to create and print bag tags that read “Every Bag Has A Story,” with the description of Mary N. from Kenya and Mary M. from Sudan—women and their children that our small amount of funds have helped to sustain.

My goal for this year is to “hold a starving child” in the only way I can—by growing the Global Bag Project, a business enterprise sponsored by Hungry Souls where the margins of income help to sustain life, before it is “three pounds too late.”

There are several things you can do to help:

1.  Sponsor a “Beads, Bags and Bangles Party.” We now have some African-made bags. If you are interested in gathering friends for a February or March event, please .

2.  Accompany Karen and David Mains and Carla Boelkens to Kenya, March 25 to April 6, 2009. We must know by the end of this month if you plan to go, and if so, you must have a passport that does not expire in the six months after April 6. You must also have a Kenyan visa. More details are available

3.  Take a small group, several families, or concerned friends to Feed My Starving Children in Aurora, Illinois. One of my grandsons held his birthday party there and the entire family packed food packets for starving children in Haiti. It was a powerful experience for us all and a great birthday-party idea. For more information, go to their Web site at or phone the Aurora office at 630-851-0404.

4.  Or, hold a starving child in your arms.

Karen Mains

Listening Group Leader Training

Hungry Souls is conducting another morning of Listening Group Leader Training at Karen Mains’ home in West Chicago. The date will be Saturday morning, February 7, 2009, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. To register and receive directions to the Mainses’ home, or call the Hungry Souls / Mainstay office at 630-293-4500 and talk to Susan Hands.

For those of you not in the Chicagoland area, we have scheduled a teleconference training for Listening Group Leaders:

Date: Saturday, March 7
Time: Noon to 2:00 p.m. (Central Standard Time)
Cost: None
Pre-requirements: You must read the short Listening Group papers. to register and request the papers. We will give you the phone access codes (to dial into the teleconference) at that time.

Retreat Leader Training

Do you think you have the ability and the desire to lead Retreats of Silence? Is this something God seems to be whispering into your heart? Karen Mains and Sibyl Towner, plus a number of other leaders, will be spending time in partial silence at St. Mary’s Monastery in Rock Island, IL. Our goal for this time together is to develop a template for the 3-day retreat and to develop retreat leaders by introducing Silence Exercises and then participating in them. The dates are Sunday, April 19 to Wednesday the 22nd. The cost is $150 for three days; meals and a room included.

A Word of Thanks

Randy Hands, the computer guru who services our tech systems here at the Mainstay office, volunteered his great skills most of last year in publishing the biweekly Soulish Food e-newsletters. We are deeply grateful to him for his gifts to us and want to acknowledge his kindness to us all. Randy has passed the e-publishing baton to our copy editor, George Koch, and provided instruction on the newsletter process. Thanks so much Randy.


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the bi-weekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"What kind of a world is it that can be three pounds too late and never know it? There should never be a 'three pounds too late.'"

Recommended Reading

An African Awakening: My Journey Into AIDS Activism
By Valerie Bell

Enter the world of AIDS and prepare to be bombarded by overwhelming statistics, confusing medical acronyms, and complex global inequities. In her own conversational style, Valerie Bell crashes through the clutter as an earnest seeker bent on understanding the world’s greatest humanitarian emergency and how one person can make a real difference.

Highly revealing and challenging, Bell’s soulful reflections resemble intimate journal entries from a pilgrim intent on seeking God in all of His creation; a world that includes wrenching poverty, social injustice and AIDS.

Bell provides a useful guide in understanding the critical issues pertaining to global AIDS. On a deeper level, An African Awakening is an essential companion if compassionate response is a life-long goal. This book helps answer the inevitable question that arises when one experiences a transforming interaction with victims of the AIDS pandemic: Now what?
(Steve W. Haas, Vice President, World Vision/United States)

VALERIE BELL is an author who travels widely as a conference speaker and is frequently a guest on radio and TV. She lives with her husband, Steve, in Kildeer, Illinois.

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