When I was a kid, I spent one week each summer at Christian Hills Church Camp, near Eureka, KS. And I loved it. It was fun, and my faith deepened there.
In the lodge, where we ate our meals, we sat with about eight people at a table, about 60-100 people in the hall. There were “hoppers,” who arrived 15 minutes before the meal, set the tables, brought the food, and cleaned up afterwards. As meal time neared, we would gather on the porch of the lodge, hang out, and preen for each other.
Once, the waiting on the porch was dragging out. We were told we were going to have a meal based on world food distribution. But rumors started circulating that there had actually been a kitchen incident. The food was burned, and they were coming up with an emergency plan.
We waited on the porch for dinner. We were getting hungry and restless.
As we entered the dining hall, the counselors gave us slips of paper, and told us to go sit at the table with our number on it. The table represented a certain country in the world.
There were about twelve tables; and I found mine, but I wasn’t sitting with any of my friends. Some of the tables had too many kids at them… so people were standing around their table. Some of the tables had just a few people and there were some empty chairs. I was at a table that had about the right number of people and chairs.
Usually, the hoppers had set the table and the food was in family-style serving dishes. But this time, our table was empty. There were plates and water glasses. But the only food on the table was a stick of butter. It looked pretty meager. But there was always peanut butter and jelly on the table in the corner. It was the safety-net option for people who didn’t like what was being served. I looked over; and, yes, it was still there. That gave me just a bit of comfort.
Then the hoppers started coming out of the kitchen with loaves of bread and pitchers of water. Only some hoppers had platters that were piled high with bread, others had a couple of loaves, and some had almost nothing.
Then, the hoppers with almost nothing went to the tables with the most kids. And the ones with platters that couldn’t hold all the loaves went to the tables with extra chairs.
Too many had too little. And too few had too much.
When our hopper got to our table with just a few loaves of bread, we asked, “What’s for dinner?” He said, “That’s all they had.” He was worried, and we looked around the dining hall as this news spread.
At that point, chaos broke out. I don’t think the counselors were ready.
As hoppers arrived at the tables with more people than loaves, kids started stealing loaves from other tables. I remember one person at a table that had way too much bread, laying on top of the bread and hugging it to protect it from other tables that had nothing. But the bread was getting squashed. And I remember someone from that same table, pulling loaves out and throwing them into the crowd.
I didn’t know what to do. I felt lucky because I was at a table that seemed to have enough food for the people sitting at it. I figured we were going to be fine. But I had no words to calm the storm. I knew that guarding bread when you had way more than your neighbors was selfish; I knew that throwing bread to those who had less was wasteful; and I knew that stealing was wrong. A lot of the loaves just hit the floor. And no one was hungry enough to pick those up. To even think about eating them.
About this time, the counselors started shouting for people to settle down, scolding us for not sharing. Real food was on the way. And the hoppers were called back into the kitchen, and they returned to the tables with pots full of spaghetti, bowls of sauce, and plenty of garlic bread. Everyone actually got plenty to eat.
It turned into a feast.
And that scene has given me much to think about. I had been singing “We are the World. We are the children. It’s time to make a better day, so let’s start givin’.” But I know in the crucial moment, my first instinct was not to share. I was glad that I had enough but not so much that people wanted to steal what was mine.
But that bread wasn’t even mine. It was just my luck that I was sitting at that table.
And so, now, when I have been so blessed with talent and opportunity, I want to share God’s gifts with more people. I want the rain to fall and the sun to shine on all God’s children. Because if we share, I believe we can turn loaves and water into spaghetti, sauce, and garlic bread.
As Gandhi said, “The Earth provides enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”