Gary Gunderson and Andy Loving practice what they preach. Almost nightly a van from their church, Oakhurst Baptist, leaves the well-fed Atlanta suburb of Decatur and goes downtown to pick up as many as a dozen people who don’t have bed or board. Gunderson and wife Karen, or Loving and wife Becky, or other friends cook dinner for the homeless, then offer them a shower, clothes and a place to sleep for the night.
But these are only a few hungry people. There are countless millions in the world, and Gunderson and Loving want to help feed them all. Their tool is Seeds, a magazine which started out in 1977 as a newsletter to tell fellow Southern Baptists what they can do about the world’s sin of starvation. “We’re trying to plant seeds in people’s minds and hearts,” Loving says, “trying to plant a vision of what a church can be and do when it comes to the poor and the hungry.”
In its five years Seeds has grown in staff and stature. Recently it earned one of Kenny Rogers’ first World Hunger Media Awards, sharing the spotlight with the likes of the New York Times.
Inspired to contribute a total of $100,000 in prizes by his longtime friend Harry Chapin, who died in 1981 leaving a legacy of concern about hunger, Rogers gave Seeds its $10,000 share of the money at a ceremony last November at the United Nations in New York. “Having little-known but really worthwhile groups like Seeds win an award,” Rogers says, “makes me feel we accomplished what we set out to do. We brought attention to important work that otherwise may have gone overlooked.”
Gunderson, 31, Seeds’ editor, and Loving, 35, its “network director,” run their operation from converted Sunday school rooms on the church’s third floor, a recent step up from the basement. But their goals are far loftier. They want to remind Christians that the Bible “has more to say about how we deal with the poor and hungry than it has to say about almost anything else.” So the magazine informs its 3,000 subscribers about hunger in America—in cities and rural Appalachia—and the world, from Haiti to Latin America to Africa. The issue that won the Rogers prize focused on women’s role in feeding the world.
Gunderson and Loving want their readers to do something more than give money in response to the problems of hunger, and almost every issue presents practical ideas: how to start a food co-op, or even how to get involved in political action at local and national levels. “Southern Baptists for the last dozen years or so have spent more money paying off the interest on their buildings than they have on all their mission causes,” Loving points out. “We can say all we want that we love Jesus, but it sounds like we love buildings more.” And money, they argue, isn’t enough. “Money is easy—Baptists have lots of it,” the magazine editorializes. Feeding the hungry takes work and time too.
“We know that hunger is caused by what people do to people, and not just what nature does to people,” Gunderson says. With that in mind, the editors keep a close eye on politics—following legislators’ voting records on hunger-related questions and often suggesting an appropriate response.
Gunderson and Loving were both sensitized to the problems of hunger while studying at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Later they both went to the Oakhurst Baptist Church, which offered them space and a little money to start Seeds. For their first two years the two men took no salary (their wives worked to support them) as they learned to put out a magazine, not by trial and error, Gary says, but by “error and error.”
Today Seeds has a staff of five, all of whom are seminary-trained. The top salary is $14,500. Salaries and production costs are paid for by $9,000 from the church, individual contributions, a typesetting business and $10-a-year subscriptions.
The Rogers award was sorely needed, Gunderson says, though ironically it “is responsible in part for devastating our fund raising. We thought we’d be in high cotton with the award. But now everybody says, ‘Oh, they’re doing all right. They won that award.’ ” Still, they were glad to have it.
Gunderson and Loving have no grandiose plans for their magazine. “Seeds is not flashy,” says Loving. “It’s pretty mundane.” It just tells the sad facts and tries to do something about them. For instance: In the five minutes or so it has taken to read this story, about 140 people—most of them children—died of malnutrition and related diseases.