By Stan Friedman
WASHINGTON, DC (March 17, 2014) — Ericka Elion knows what it’s like to have money and a comfortable life, and in recent years, she’s learned what it is to go hungry.
“I know what it’s like to stretch two days of food into four days and not have money for the fifth day,” says Elion. “There is no one free from becoming hungry. There is no face of hunger. You can’t stereotype. Hunger is no respecter of persons.”
That experience has only deepened the North Park Theological Seminary student’s commitment to advocate for the poor as the Evangelical Covenant Church/Covenant World Relief fellow at Bread for the World. She works with young adults and college students to help them develop their own understanding and advocacy strategies.
Elion had earned a bachelor’s degree in merchandise management, the business side of the fashion industry. She wound up working with a freight logistics company.
“I was doing very well financially,” Elion says. “I had a two-bedroom condo that was completely gorgeous.”
She became a victim of the recession when the freight company was forced to lay her off in June 2011 although she had worked there 10 years. She moved from her condominium into an apartment, and as money ran out, downsized again, renting a room.
Elion says she had been running from God’s call to ministry, so she decided to go to North Park, expecting to be able to work while going to school to pursue a dual master’s degree in nonprofit management and ministry. She enrolled at the school and excelled.
Finances were tight, however, and her unemployment checks kept her going. When she first applied for food stamps, Elion was told that her unemployment benefits were too high for her to qualify.
“I’m not trying to live off the system,” Elion says. “I’m not looking for a handout.”
Even though she wound up working 20 hours a week, it wasn’t enough to support herself. She eventually was able to receive $97 a month in food stamps. It still wasn’t enough.
“I would rely on campus meetings and hope there would be extra food or that my colleagues would cook dinner and invite me,” she says.
Meanwhile, she was attempting to pursue her call. “I know my call is to executive ministry and social justice and racial reconciliation,” Elion says.
That call became clearer while sitting in a business class. “Once they started talking about lobbying, that’s when all those engines started turning inside,” she says. “I had no idea that Bread was in my future.”
The field education coordinator at North Park encouraged her to apply for the Bread fellowship as did David Husby, CWR director, and Debbie Blue, executive minister of the Department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice.
She started last June and will continue until June of this year. Her passion for advocacy continues to grow, and she hopes to inspire others.
“Our voice matters,” she says. “It’s our responsibility as citizens and believers. It is because of what the Bible says and our yes and our submission to God that we have no choice except to be advocates for the poor and the oppressed and to feed the hungry.”
She gets frustrated when legislators and others oppose programs she believes will provide food to the hungry. “They make it sound like eating is a privilege,” Elion says. “It’s a right.”
Elion says she still intends to graduate in 2016. Although she had never heard of the Covenant when she started attending the school, she now intends to seek ordination in the denomination.
She initially enrolled because the North Park University School of Business and Nonprofit Management was the only one to partner with a seminary to offer a dual degree.
“Once I had sat in on some classes and had my tour around the campus, I felt the spirit throughout the seminary, and I was sold, I was absolutely sold,” she says. “That’s when I became intrigued with the denomination. It has such a commitment to compassion, mercy, and justice, and reconciliation.”