Sometimes when I’m praying to God about the big things in life, at the back of my mind even though I have complete faith that He can do anything, I struggle to believe that some problems will ever go away even if every Christian prayed about then constantly. Part of this is my lack of faith, but part of my thinking is that in order to fix some problems like extreme poverty, it would require a massive intervention from God. Given that the Bible constantly goes on about poverty in one form or another, it’s impossible to argue that God doesn’t care about it and that means I need to care about it too. If it’s that important, I’ve got to be persistent and not give up.
One of the things that brings my faith to life is that rarely do I feel I need to begrudgingly do something because the Bible tells me I have to. Most of the time I find that I’m passionate about the things God is because he’s set them on my heart. I also know that when I pray, often the answer is given not through supernatural miracles, but through people.
When I’m thinking through the economic issues that we’re currently going through as a country, I sometimes remember that though poverty is a reality in our country and causes misery for hundreds of thousands of people, extreme poverty affects very few people here. Extreme poverty is currently defined as having to live on $1.25 or less per day by the World Bank. It’s most recent data from 20o8 estimates 22% of the developing world’s population – or 1.29 billion people – are on or below the extreme poverty line. That’s an unimaginably huge figure and it’s very hard to understand what that means for those people. The only way I’ve been able to get close to appreciating this level of poverty and deprivation is by seeing it with my own eyes. A few years ago I spent some time in Kibera, which is Kenya’s biggest slum and probably the fifth biggest in the world. To western eyes the standard of living is shocking with makeshift houses, open sewers and the streets littered with rubbish and excrement. Once you see these sort of conditions your mindset is changed forever. You begin to feel disgusted with some aspects of your lifestyle knowing you have so much when others have so little. It makes you want to do something about it.
With the world’s population increasing so rapidly I had assumed until recently that extreme poverty must be on the rise globally, but in the course of researching this piece, I’ve discovered I was wrong. Back in 1990, 43% of the developing world’s population lived on $1.25 or less a day. In 1981 the figure stood at 52%. That’s a massive drop in the last 30 years. There are a whole range of reasons why this number has been dropping, but as I read the figures something that I thought was impossible, suddenly became a possibility. Large scale extreme poverty can potentially be eradicated and within our lifetime. This became even more believable as I read an article on the BBC website quoting research from Oxfam that the 100 richest people in the world earned enough last year to end extreme poverty four times over. Obviously the practicalities of wiping out extreme poverty are far from simple, and as we are often reminded, throwing money at a problem won’t fix it unless that money is able to be used in a focused and purposeful way.
Just think though; 100 people could do something remarkable on a global scale if they chose to that could affect hundreds of millions. In fact it’s happening through some of them already. The second and third richest men in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have pledged to give their fortunes away to charity. Between them they’ve given away over $68 billion. Giving this year’s BBC Dimbleby Lecture, which will be broadcast on Jan 29, Gates talked about his motivation to give so much away:
“My wife and I had a long dialogue about how we were going to take the wealth that we’re lucky enough to have and give it back in a way that’s most impactful to the world,” he says. “Both of us worked at Microsoft and saw that if you take innovation and smart people, the ability to measure what’s working, that you can pull together some pretty dramatic things.
“We’re focused on the help of the poorest in the world, which really drives you into vaccination. You can actually take a disease and get rid of it altogether, like we are doing with polio.” (full Telegraph article)
What I love about this is that when we follow biblical principles of giving with such enthusiasm, irrespective of whether we realise we’re following God’s call or not, we have the ability to change the world for everyone’s benefit. Certainly everyone is capable of being generous, but this should be especially so for Christians When you have experienced God’s generosity in your own life through His forgiveness and blessing, it’s only natural to want to share this generosity:
‘Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
Extreme poverty is something we all can seek to eradicate whether we have billions to give away or very little. This not an issue just for Christians to tackle although I’d expect to see Christians right at the heart of something this important. And they are.
Today over 100 charities and organisations are coming together to campaign to see global hunger wiped out, which is another big step on the way to seeing all people having their basic human needs met. It’s backed by Bill Gates, Desmond Tutu and others. The campaign’s name is IF, it’s expected to be the biggest movement since the Make Poverty History, which made a huge impact. This year our government has promised to provide 0.7% of national income for aid and to host a Hunger Summit. In June, the world’s most powerful leaders will meet in the UK at the G8. This is an incredible opportunity to tackle something that shouldn’t exist. We need to see world leaders commit to eradicating extreme poverty and keep these promises.
As I look at this possibility of extreme poverty being overcome. I get the strong feeling that God is answering the prayers of myself and others. He’s not doing it through some flashy fireworks show. It’s not His style, but He is doing a miracle in people’s hearts and minds fostering compassion and a desire to radically change things for the better and give thousands of millions of people release from regular hunger and starvation . The more I see this, the more it makes me want to be an answer to my own prayers too.