The Catholic liturgical calendar involves a constant interplay between fasting and feasting. Our church has entered a period of fasting. Most people who observe Lent choose something to give up for the entirety of the 40 days while they are also called to observe established days of fasting such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Even though I live without worrying about when I am going to get my next meal, there are times when I still fail to observe the fasting I’ve committed to. Surrounded by plenty, fasting is my choice to make.
If you are reading this article, then you are probably among those in the world who do not worry about where your next meal will come from. This balance between fasting and feasting is your choice, but are you aware that over 60 million children in the world do not have that choice? This Lent, your almsgiving can go to helping alleviate global hunger. Faced with such large numbers of people in need, however, what can any of us do to begin to make a dent in providing hungry children with life-saving food. Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, the founder and CEO of Mary’s Meals, thinks it’s important to focus on one child, one school, and one community at a time.
Mary’s Meals was officially founded in 2002, when the founder’s charitable organization, Scottish International Relief (SIR), began feeding 200 children in Malawi. God used the words of a child to inspire Magnus and his companions to start providing food to hungry children so that they could receive an education. On a relief trip to Malawi with SIR, Magnus met a woman dying of AIDS. She was surrounded by her six children when Magnus asked her oldest son, “What is your dream in life?” He responded, “I want to have enough to eat and I want to go to school one day.” Soon after that trip, Mary’s Meals was founded. Today the organization provides food for over 1.4 million hungry children at their place of education.
Listen to Magnus’s advice on how to live a life of service:
In an exclusive interview with The Jesuit Post, Magnus told the story of how Divine Providence and the generosity of thousands of people formed Mary’s Meals into what it is today. “I would say this about all my experience the years since what’s happened with Mary’s Meals: it’s something that’s happened to me, and I’ve cooperated with it and said yes,” Magnus said, “I’ve been constantly astonished about this thing.”
Mary’s Meals was founded in 2002, but SIR’s roots reach back a decade before that, when Magnus and his brother were having a pint of beer at their local pub. The Bosnian War was raging, and the brothers were moved to help in whatever way they could. Years before that, they had visited Medjugorje, located within the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they experienced a profound sense of God’s grace. They passed the night in that pub discussing how they could provide relief to the people whose faith had made such a great impact on their lives.
The next day, they sent out a call for food, medicine and supplies to their local village. “We made a very simple request, and we were astonished by how people responded with a generosity I never expected,” Magnus said. They began their journey to the war-torn country with a Land Rover overloaded with supplies. All this happened just three weeks after that night in the pub. “It was the first time we hatched a plan over a pint of beer that actually happened,” Magnus jokes. They dropped the much needed supplies and returned to Scotland.
When they came back, they found that the donations had kept pouring in during the period which they were away in Bosnia-Herzegovina. After a few weeks of the continued outpouring of generosity of the people who responded to Magnus’s family request for supplies, Magnus quit his job and sold his house in order to dedicate all of his time to the relief effort. “They weren’t big sacrifices or excruciating dilemmas to discern,” Magnus said, “They were just there in front of me and I knew that’s what I was meant to do.”
God’s grace and the generosity of people have been a constant source of consolation for Magnus. When asked what he is most grateful for in the work of Mary’s Meals, Magnus has a two-fold response. He says first, “How good people are. In my experience, most people I encounter in different countries and cultures, when you present them with the opportunity to feed a child who is hungry, they absolutely want to do that. I witness every day how amazing human beings are and how deeply rooted the desire to do charity is in people.” Secondly, he says, “The obvious nature of God’s providence. It seems to me that when you step out on a journey like this, the simple act of trying to help children who are suffering hunger or poverty, God never ever lets you down.” The reminder that with God all things are possible and that people are essentially good is much needed news in our divided world. It is also good to remember in the desert of Lent.
As you continue your Lenten journey, consider making Mary’s Meals a part of your prayer during this time. Their organization provides a weekly reflection that invites to read scriptural reflections as well as practice some sort of solidarity with the children they serve. You may also go to their website to learn more about how you can get involved in the mission of Mary’s Meals. Magnus says that mission is based on a singular vision, “Every child in this world should at least be able to eat one good meal everyday. That’s not crazy; that’s possible, as we know, in a world that produces enough food for all of us.” Mary’s Meals is fulfilling that grand vision, one small child at a time.