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They are amazing! Hollywood stuntmen face life-threatening risks to bring danger to life in breathtaking performances. Those like Bud Ekins, Paul Manz, Yakima Canutt and others.  Through extraordinary athleticism and skill, they survive falling from skyscrapers, rolling in flames and crawling away from five rollovers in a burning, speeding, crashed up car. We marvel at their risky job. Hollywood is dangerous. But this week I met a kind of stunting that has no director saying “cut” and no going home at the end of the day.

STUNTING is the clinical term for the insidious robbery that happens to millions of children because of malnutrition. Stunting is when growth falls at least two standard deviations below normal. Let that sink in – what if month after month your child had growth that plummeted down two standard deviations and kept falling? Simple nutrition can change the trend, and I know I would be ready to leap through a flaming inferno to get it. But what if there was no food to change it – no matter my passion, maternal drive or willingness to sacrifice?

If stunting happens in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (conception to 2 years), its effects on the brain and the body are irreversible. Now, consider the 19 countries of the world where stunting is robbing healthy futures from 30-40 percent of the children. Their precarious days are fragile because they often cannot survive even a routine childhood disease like measles. Stunting is what makes “malnutrition the world’s most serious health problem and the single biggest contributor to child mortality,” according to the World Bank.

So who are the heroes on this set? In part, you are. The U.S. churches, the U.S. government and U.S. medical and nutrition specialists are joining with health and community heroes in Africa and the rest of the developing world.

A hospital we visited recently in Zambia was a pediatric malnutrition unit with mothers and fathers at the bedside of tiny children.  Many of the children were being treated successfully to bring them back to normal weights. But the population of the ward had tripled, mushrooming to over 140 in one week. ” It will continue to grow” the attendant noted sadly. “We expect it to triple; it is the beginning of the hunger season.”  The hunger season.

The children were, of course, at different stages of malnutrition and each family worthy of a story all their own. I will just mention briefly a beautiful young mother with her son Godfrey who was 1 year and 5 months. He had been in treatment two weeks, and his mother Ruth was delighted that he was almost ready for discharge. We studied his growth chart where she showed us how he had dropped weight initially when he came into the hospital. The doctors told us that was a result of the edema that results from the malnutrition. Once the fluid is gone, then the child can turn the trend and start to gain weight.

This was true of Godfrey’s chart, and after day three, he began to gain weight properly. Ruth was so proud and relieved at his progress, and when I asked “is he stronger now?” she gladly lifted him up from the bed and put him down to show us that he could walk in that happy toddler, leaning-forward walk, a few steps to a green toy car. It was joy and hope personified. This was a moment of universal connection as I was reminded of all the precious toddlers that I have cheered on as they have trundled toward my waiting arms. As it is with each child, so it is with the world.

There is a simple plan to tackle the lethal danger of stunting.  Nations, groups, women, parents are committing to SCALING UP NUTRITION in cost effective ways.  At home and abroad, join the effort! Target stunting in our ministries, philanthropy and charitable efforts. Maintain U.S. aid and support. Act on your faith. End hunger.

-Written by Suzii Paynter, Director of Advocacy/Care Center of Texas Baptists.

Side note – One way to help is by riding in and raising money in Bike Out Hunger.