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From September 6 – October 15, individuals and congregations will commit to fasting for a day or more in order to call for debt cancellation for desperately poor nations, joining Jubilee USA in supporting the Jubilee Act, H.R. 2634. (See Sojourners’ August issue for coverage of the debt crisis.)


Rev. David Duncombe will be fasting, praying, and lobbying for all six weeks of the Jubilee USA fast. In 1999 and again in 2000, he engaged in 45-day lobbying fasts, part of an effort that helped to bring about Congress’ authorization of $435 million to forgive some debts owed to the United States. Here, Duncombe reflects on what it’s like to fast for justice while offering a prophetic—and pastoral—voice on Capitol Hill.


A typical day in the sixth week of my water-only fast would find me hobbling down the corridor of the House office building, leaning into my walker and headed for the office of a Republican member of the Financial Services Committee. Today I had with me a published statement on debt cancellation by the bishop of the congressman’s church—which I hoped he would read.


This would perhaps be my fourth visit to his office. Although I had yet to meet him personally, I’d gotten to know his chief of staff and some of his front-office people. We’d talked of how foreign debt is crushing impoverished third world nations and how Jubilee’s bill (H.R. 2634) proposed to cancel most of it. (I’d also done some informal marriage counseling with their harried receptionist.)


I’d been up since three this morning, in prayer and preparation for the six or seven office visits I’d make today if my strength held out. Each day it was harder to make my rounds down these long corridors. Yet often when I felt at the end of my rope, a refreshing surge of new energy came and I hobbled on.


As I grew thinner and weaker, office staff would ask, “How’s it going today, Reverend?” Some began to worry about me. With a smile, I told them I was doing better than most of the 50,000 or so who starved to death that day (and whose plight I hoped to symbolize by my wasted body).


If my upcoming fast goes like my previous two extended fasts for debt cancellation in Washington, its effectiveness will depend not so much on what I say on my office visits, but on what is said by the fast itself—the day-to-day silent witness of a body growing visibly weaker. In a sense, a fast like this takes on a life of its own apart from me. There is something of a sacramental quality to the fast, something that carries its own grace and power. I am simply a vehicle for a fasting body, the sight of which seems to touch the souls of others.


Rev. David Duncombe, a retired campus minister and social activist, lives in White Salmon, Washington.

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