Read an excerpt sharing how the fight against global poverty has changed over the past five years, and what our call is today and for the future.
Five years after the first publication of The Hole in Our Gospel, there is no doubt that for millions of people in poverty, the world is a better place. And considering the stories I hear from readers and churches, I believe Christians have played a significant role in the dramatic progress seen on behalf of the world’s poorest people. Our progress, however, should only encourage us to complete the race as the finish line approaches. As active as the church has become, I still believe we are not doing everything we are capable of and all we have been called to do.
But first, let me share the good news. As I updated the statistics in the book, I was astounded by how much progress we have made. I’ll start with the big figure, the number of children dying each day of preventable causes. Five years ago 26,500 children needlessly died daily. Today 18,000 do. While that’s still 18,000 too many, we should give thanks to God that 8,500 children are alive today and again tomorrow and the following day because compassionate people are taking action.
In Africa child mortality rates are falling quickly. Now less than 11 percent of children die before the age of five, down from 16.5 percent five years ago. In Sierra Leone, still the worst place in the world to be born, child mortality rates have fallen by a full 10 percentage points. And the life expectancy rate has climbed from 47 in Sub-Saharan Africa to 55.
One major reason why we have made so much progress is that more children have access to clean water. Five years ago 1.2 billion people did not have access to clean water. Today it’s a different story. In the last five years churches, governments, and international agencies have drilled enough wells, built enough water catchment structures, and provided enough filtration systems so that 432 million additional people can freely drink, cook, and clean without getting sick. However, 768 million people lack a source of water that is protected from contamination. Think about that. If we could continue at this rate of progress—which will be a challenge—everyone in the world might have clean water within ten years.
Here are some figures I found so surprising that I had to double check: Malaria’s reign as a leading killer may be nearing an end. Five years ago there were five hundred million cases of malaria around the world, killing somewhere between 1.5 million and 2.7 million people. Today there is less than half as many cases (219 million) and just a third as many deaths (660,000). Think about that: a million more people alive every year because of prevention education, treatment for the sick, and ten-dollar bed nets that prevent mosquitos from biting during the night. Millions of mothers now have the opportunity to tell their children stories each night, tuck them into bed, and sing lullabies to them instead of grieving at their gravesides.
The progress on these “horsemen of the apocalypse” is indicative of what we have seen over the last five years on a range of fronts, including gender, illiteracy, hunger, and economic development. It is conceivable that you and I will eventually live in a world where so-called stupid poverty is consigned to just a handful of the most challenging regions. Of course, that assumes that efforts now under way continue with even greater intensity. These are humanity’s most persistent challenges, and they will return with vigor if we let our guard down.
While we should look at this five-year update with hope and renewed determination, the question that first nagged me remains. Shouldn’t the church be doing much, much more to demonstrate God’s love to the people in our world who are most in need? While completing this epilogue, I received the latest research report from Empty Tomb, which analyzes giving trends to churches. The research shows a fourth straight year of decline in giving to churches. According to the report, Christians are still giving 2 percent of their income to “outreach activities,” and churches give about 2 percent of that to serve the needs of their community and their world. If the trends don’t change, we soon may be doing even less.
Scholars say that a major reason why the early church grew dramatically, from its beginning as a persecuted backwater sect into the major force behind the Roman Empire, is because churches took care of the poor. Church funds dedicated to the sick, orphans, and elderly held astonishing amounts of money. As Christianity became dominant, one emperor tried to revive paganism, but his efforts were no match for the Christians’ good deeds. He complained that because Christians were known for their love in action, people would turn to them when they were in need. Christians, the emperor complained, “support not only their own poor but ours as well.”
This is what the church has always been called to do. Christians stood against the misplaced values and attitudes of the time, but they didn’t do so with angry rhetoric and vengeful behavior. Instead, they put their love into action. They were the hands and feet of Christ in the broken places, the hurting places, and the ragged edges of our world.
This is the coming of the kingdom of God, what we ask for each time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” And that is our call today, to live out the whole gospel, introducing people to the God of love by demonstrating his love to the world.
The five-year anniversary special edition of The Hole in Our Gospel includes updated statistics with the latest information on global poverty and the church. It includes a 16-page full color info graph section illustrating poverty and church trends. Extra material for churches includes a guide on mission trips and best practices for taking action in the fight against global poverty. A new poverty and justice concordance offers a guide to Bible verses dealing with poverty. Finally, a new epilogue discusses the tremendous progress that has been made since the book was first published five years ago.