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Do the Thing Before You: Ambassador Tony Hall at “Borders of Faith”

Posted on behalf of Ken LaZebnik.

I sat around a table in the Payson Library’s Surfboard Room with Tony Hall and some participants of the “Borders of Faith” symposium.  Tony leaned back, and with a look of genuine longing in his eyes, said, “If just one American president made ending hunger in America his – or her – number one priority, we could do it.  I could sit down in a week and draw up what we need to do.”  He shook his head.  “It hasn’t happened yet.”

He had just spoken in Stauffer Chapel about world hunger, about his years in Congress, about his Christian faith and how it informs his actions.  Tony Hall served in Congress for 24 years, (as a Democratic representative from Ohio), and has been a leading advocate for hunger relief programs around the world.  George W. Bush appointed him United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, and Hall currently serves as the director of the Alliance to End Hunger.

But Tony Hall began his speech with an exhortation that did not come from the political arena, but rather from one of his visits with Mother Teresa.  They were in Calcutta, amidst the overwhelming hunger and poverty there.  He remembers that she took one desperately ill man off the street, took him to the hospice she ran, hugged him, fed him, tended to him.  He knew that there were tens of thousands of other men, women and children in the streets of Calcutta, who were all hungry, who were all desperately ill.  “What,” he asked Mother Teresa, “what can we do in the face of this?”  She replied, “Do the thing before you.”  Tony Hall asked of his audience to keep that in mind.  Do the thing before you.  If each American did the right thing, gave the assistance to the person right before him or her, the world would improve in 300 million ways.

He spoke of his time working on a Middle East peace initiative.  It was really an interfaith group, that worked on building relationships with the top Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders in Israel and Palestine.  It was put together by Condoleezza Rice, and Tony felt they made real progress in developing relationships with these important figures.  For, as he noted, “The religious leaders of the Middle East can’t bring peace – but you can’t have peace without them.”  Sadly, the initiative was not continued by George Mitchell and the Obama administration.

The Alliance to End Hunger is breaking new ground, with programs in three African nations that attempt to help stakeholders in agriculture learn how to work within the governmental structures to advocate for themselves.  It is growing capacity from the ground up.

Ambassador Hall launched “Borders of Faith” with a call to moral action.  He is a plain spoken man, a man who does not move through theatrics, but rather through the steadfast and quiet Midwestern manner that is weighted with integrity.  Let us all vow to “do the thing before you.”  We might just change the world.

Ken LaZebnik
Director of Public Affairs
Pepperdine University Libraries