Yemen is one of the countries being hardest hit by the global hunger crisis, compounding poverty that has deepened over more than seven years of conflict.
Melody Murton recently spoke with Natalie Page, a health and nutrition specialist working for an NGO in Yemen, and a volunteer member of Tearfund’s International Programs Allocation Committee, which helps make decisions on Tearfund’s funding allocations. Here, Natalie shares about hunger, prayer, and how the two find their satisfaction in God.
Can you give us an update on the situation in Yemen, how families are being impacted by conflict, food shortages and hunger?
One of the biggest things that's happened is that a kind of peace agreement that had been in place between the north and the south has expired, and it hasn't been renewed. People are waiting to see what happens in that space, but to all intents and purposes, the situation has remained the same. There are still skirmishes on the ground, local conflicts are still ongoing, there are still reports of war wounded every day on those front lines. In terms of the big aerial bombing campaigns that were happening 12 months ago for the last five or six years, that's definitely reduced. In the south, one of the biggest issues here is the economic situation. Purchasing fuel for cooking and food, the fear around being able to access that, the impact of those shortages, is really in crisis. We've just done a big house to house survey; in one of our areas, we've been in over 3000 houses, measuring kids and pregnant women for malnutrition. The rates are just not going down. The needs are still as much as they were five to seven years ago. It's the biggest program in the world for the World Food Program; in fact, it's one of the biggest programs they've had in the history of the World Food Program.
It's just so protracted and widespread. There's something like 36 million people in Yemen, and at the moment, they're saying that the number of people in need is 23 million, so it’s two out of every three people not having their basic needs met. If you think of Somalia and Afghanistan, how long it's taking for those countries to repair and heal, I think it's the same here. Things are just so broken. Health services are so damaged. It’s years before Yemen gets back on its feet.
It’s such a picture of the Kingdom to see generosity being lived out in people who are sharing their last crust of bread, and for those on the receiving end to do that graciously – it's beautiful.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray “give us this day, our daily bread”. As a health and nutrition specialist working in places experiencing hunger, what stands out to you in this line?
Thinking of all the different countries now that I've worked in, all of them have a staple bread. No matter what country you're working in, there's always bread and tea for everyone. So whether it's a flatbread, or whatever it is, a staple of bread is universal. Even people who are living in famine, the one thing that they will eat every day is bread. It might be the only thing that they eat. It strikes me that it’s really not a coincidence that the Lord's Prayer says, Give us this day, our daily bread – it might be the only thing that sustains people for the whole day or the whole couple of days. It’s made me think that if we can only have one thing today to sustain us, it's that we come to the Lord in prayer. It's not only in countries like Yemen – whether your daily bread is a baguette, or rye bread, or whether it's chapati, there's so much variety and what people consider their daily bread matches their culture and their context. It's something that brings them together.
Without a doubt, every country that I've worked in, a stark thing I’ve noticed is that people will give you their last, whatever it is that they have, and always give you the best seat to sit on. It’s humbling and so hard to be accepting of that. But you try to treat people with respect and dignity. There's something that's not great about lining up to receive food for your family when you can't afford to feed them. So however graciously you can, if you can receive their generosity, then in a way you're giving something back to them in terms of dignity and respect. It’s such a picture of the Kingdom to see generosity being lived out in people who are sharing their last crust of bread, and for those on the receiving end to do that graciously – it's beautiful.
How do you see this prayer for daily bread being expressed in different parts of the world?
Here in Yemen, you see that real sense of people’s physical needs. They need their basic needs, they need shelter, they need water, they need food. But even when they have all of those needs met they still have the biggest need of all: to know Christ. And then I go to Australia where people tend to live in abundance – but there's still that same emptiness and need. Even if all those physical needs are met and you've got enough food in your belly, but your heart and soul are still empty, you still have the same need for that daily bread. I see that same need in people's spirits. There are barriers to being a Christian in both Australia and Yemen. It’s dangerous to veer off the path of culturally accepted faith in Yemen, but in Australia as well, other things keep people trapped. The common thing is in the prayer to ‘give us our daily bread’ – it is more about a sustaining of the soul and of your spirit as well as that real physical need.
When Jesus teaches about prayer, he says don't keep rambling on and babbling on, because your heavenly Father actually knows what you need before you ask him. And yet, he still tells us to ask for what we need. What have you learned about how to relate to God as the provider of our needs?
When you're babbling, you're just talking, not listening. Sometimes you’re not sure what to do about something, or you're not sure what it is that you need, and you have a conversation with someone – and just in simply talking about it, you're like, ‘Oh, I’ve got it’. In prayer, God knows what I need, but sometimes that's not what I'm asking for, I'm asking for something completely different. But through prayer, you somehow go, ‘Okay, God, thank you. Now I get it. This is what I need’. God knowing what I need, and me having to ask for what I need, doesn't actually mean that I'm asking for what he knows I need; it can be two different things. But you can arrive at the same endpoint. It's good to ask because it clarifies what you need. The simple act of coming and asking, entering into that relationship with the holy Father, gives you a chance to listen to what's coming back.