Letter to the editor

I was at the Concord Mall on Tuesday to help distribute food to unemployed families. It was an inspiration to have Feed the Children come to Elkhart. But as a Mennonite minister, a former Goshen College professor (of the New Testament) and one who cares deeply about the jobless, the homeless and undocumented immigrants in the area, I saw and felt another side as I stood inside the mall and watched the show.

Bob Thatcher (president of Concord Mall) was never so completely out of touch with reality as when he used that platform to praise his mall. Thatcher made glowing statements about the blessings of Michiana and glorified our state for having a budget surplus of $1.2 billion.

Thatcher seemed to forget that Gov. Mitche Daniels’ tax structure has forced the local principalities to raise hundreds of millions of dollars locally to cover the short-fall from the state, thus allowing the state to have an impressive political surplus, while passing critical budget problems off on the local schools of Elkhart County.

Thatcher’s other comments were equally insensitive, promoting his own success and the riches of the area, citing a $62,000 average area income without sensing this is a useless statistic for those jobless families who have virtually no income.

The second concern involves the event coordinators. We were to start food distribution at somewhere around 9 or 9:30 a.m. People began arriving around 8:30 a.m. to receive food assistance. Yet we had to wait nearly two hours to start the distribution so that we could have a prayer and get national media coverage.

Does it fit the spirit of Jesus’ ministry to force people to sit in their cars in the rain while we wait for a multimillionaire Texas preacher (Joel Osteen) to offer a one minute prayer and get his multiple photo-ops. It just didn’t feel right as once again the religious establishment glorified itself while making the “poor and the hungry” sit in the rain and wait.

It sounded so much like modern-day Pharisees standing on the corner so people could see them pray. I was saddened by it. I even wondered whether it would be appropriate to do a modern “cleansing of the temple” and upset their expensive tripod cameras (probably not!).

I am honestly thankful for the ministry of Feed the Children, and it was exciting to see all those trucks in the parking lot. But I was also disappointed at the way the church wanted to be sure the world knew who was doing this.

For many of these people in their cars, this was a new experience. They are good people, legitimately proud and many were embarrassed at having to be there to receive free food. This was a first for them. They are the people who make the casseroles and desserts for their neighbors when someone is sick or there is a death in the family. It was hard for them to be on the receiving end in this way, and we (the religious, the wealthy, the employed) made them wait while we did our own self-congratulatory religious thing for the TV media.

There was much that was good happening on Tuesday at the Concord Mall, but in a strange way it had a very “un-Jesus-like” spirit as well. Perhaps the next time, the poor and the hungry can be given a higher priority, and the rest of us can have the courage to share what we have without having to make sure the whole world sees us do it.