When Tony Hall first met Mother Teresa, she took his solid left hand in her frail one. “I want you always to remember something,” she urged the U.S. congressman from Ohio. And as she gently folded each of his fingers, she accentuated, “For…the…least…of…these. I want you to always think of this.”
Ever since he came to faith in Christ many years ago, Tony Hall has lived his life in service to those Christ calls the “least of these”-the poor, the oppressed, the vulnerable.
That combination of conviction and action to serve the least of these is why we recently awarded Tony Hall the 2010 William Wilberforce award. The award, bestowed in years past on men like Congressman Frank Wolf, Father John Neuhaus, and Gary Haugen is given to those who are making a significant impact on the social ills of the day. Hall has done just that.
In 1984, partway into his 24 years in the House of Representatives, Tony was the first congressional leader to visit Ethiopia during its deadly famine. The devastation shocked him. “In a period of a few minutes,” he said, “I saw 25 children die.” And as a result, he sensed God calling him to focus his political work on humanitarian issues-particularly the needs of the poor and hungry around the globe.
Tony Hall co-founded and later chaired the House Select Committee on Hunger-dedicated to finding solutions to national and international hunger and poverty. When the House abolished the committee in 1993, Tony shocked his colleagues when he announced that he was beginning a 22-day fast to protest the action.
“Congress has lost its conscience,” he said at the time. And for more than three weeks he abstained from all food to draw attention to the more than nine million people who die every year from starvation and malnutrition. His fast, publicized in the media and joined by others who shared his concern, succeeded in pricking the consciences of many of our leaders, who went on to pass important legislation to battle world hunger.
In 2002 Tony Hall was confirmed as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. In his three years of diplomatic service he continued as a leading advocate for hunger relief programs and the improvement of human-rights conditions around the world.
As a pro-life Democrat, Tony has courageously stood as an advocate for the rights and protections of unborn children-against his party. He has also shown concern for the rights of another group among “the least of these”-prisoners.
But his overriding passion has focused on the poor and hungry of the world, victimized not only by natural disasters such as famine, but also by political corruption and oppression. His passion has taken him to more than 100 countries. Three times he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his global humanitarian efforts.
Tony Hall once told a student audience at Georgetown University, “By working with the poor, you’re showing a sermon,” not just giving one. That, of course, is the Christian worldview in action, and an example we’d all do well to imitate.